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Putin using Moscow attack as excuse to intensify war on Ukraine

Putin using Moscow attack as excuse to intensify war on Ukraine
Putin using Moscow attack as excuse to intensify war on Ukraine | Ian Bremmer | Quick Take

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

A Quick Take to kick off your week. Lots we could be talking about. But I want to go to Russia, where we have had a major terrorist attack with over 130 Russian citizens gunned down, killed by terrorists.

The United States has warned the Russians both publicly so that American citizens would know about the concern, but also with actionable intelligence privately over the past couple of weeks that ISIS was planning an attack on an area with major crowds in Moscow. Putin publicly dismissing that, kind of wish he hadn't, but that we are where we are. And Putin has now spoken to the nation. There have been a number of gunmen that have been rounded up and arrested four, that we know of, Tajik citizens and Putin did not mention that ISIS has taken credit for this terrorist attack, nor that they then released videos of some of the attackers as they were engaging in terrorism inside the rock concert venue.

Instead, he spoke implausibly about links to Ukraine that don't actually exist. Why would ISIS-K do this? I mean, the main reason is because one of their two home bases, Syria and Iraq, in Syria, destroyed by Bashar al-Assad with the direct help from Putin and the Russian military. Nobody else doing that with Assad on the ground. And there have been many terrorist attempts against Russians as a consequence in that regard, but none with spectacular success for them like we've just witnessed.

Why wouldn't Ukraine be responsible? Well, first of all, because they haven't actually been targeting civilians at all. In fact, the one time that they engaged in terrorism and it was terrorism was an attempt to kill an individual, high level Russian extremist, but who was not a political figure. He had been informally an inspiration to the Kremlin and been calling for pogroms against Ukraine, which he said shouldn't exist as a nation. And they didn't get him. Instead, they got his daughter and the United States and other NATO allies were quite angry about the fact that Ukrainians were engaged in that. But aside from that, it's been attacks on critical infrastructure. That's another thing. And certainly, if you want to talk about the Nord Stream pipeline, highly unlikely the Russians would have blown up their pipeline. Much more likely the Ukrainians either by themselves with support would have been responsible for that. The investigations have been inconclusive. That strikes me as not enormously plausible.

Also, Ukraine has been hitting a lot of refineries, Russian refineries, and that's a pretty big deal. About 5% of Russian exports are now offline. Oil exports. That could go up a lot. It could be more than half easily in coming weeks to months of over 3 million barrels a day that the Russians export. If Ukraine starts hitting Black Sea facilities, which they're certainly capable of doing. So global economic impact of this war continues to be very significant. Ability and willingness of the Ukrainians to hit targets inside Russia as well as occupied Crimea, Ukrainian territory, but the Russians annexed it back in 2014 illegally, all of that is certainly par for the course. But the idea that the Ukrainians would be involved in large scale terrorism or support it is not only implausible on the basis of the evidence, but also implausible in terms of what they've been doing historically. But of course, that doesn't matter to Putin, who now intends to use this to drive more military efforts against Ukraine, more civilian casualties.

And that's what we saw in the initial 48 hours after the attack. Unprecedented levels of missiles being sent against the capital, Kyiv, with lots of civilian targets as well as west Ukraine, Lviv in particular. We are seeing that Putin is indifferent to civilian deaths, those of the Ukrainians and, of course, those of his own people. And we probably do now see a much more mobilization from Russia, especially now that the election, the so-called election, is over and more Russian weapons that are going to be used against the Ukrainian people.

The most concerning piece of all of this, I mean, leaving aside the fact that Russia now has a second front they need to fight on, they have, you know, a concern with radical Islamic terrorism that has grown in terms of the capabilities and whether or not Putin says he's going to fight it, he's going to need to fight it. And that's going to take away scarce resources for him and it's going to put more Russian civilians at risk. But the bigger concern, the global concern, of course, is the potential for this war to expand. And there are a couple of incidents that should raise those warning bells. First, the fact that just over this weekend, of all of the missiles that were launched by Russia against Ukraine, one went through Polish airspace for less than a minute, something like 40 seconds, but nonetheless, a Russian missile that actually went through the airspace of a NATO ally. Clearly wasn't targeting that NATO ally.

But Polish and other NATO allied aircraft scrambled. And that is not something we have seen so far since the war started a couple of years ago. Also, the fact that there were a missile explosion targeting Odessa just a couple of weeks ago when President Zelensky was there, in addition to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. And it was literally only a few hundred yards away that this missile exploded while those two men, those two leaders were on the ground and exposed very clearly. I don't believe that Mitsotakis was targeted, but the fact that he could have been hit as an NATO leader would have also put us in unprecedented danger in terms of the geopolitical order.

Certainly since anything we'd seen since 1962, the Cuban Missile Crisis. What's behind that? Well, I mean, I think the most likely thing behind is that Putin doesn't have complete and operational control over everything that's going on on the ground. His military is badly trained and organized. And this was probably a mistake. Woops. But, you know, the fact is that when you have lots of people go into Ukraine and borders, look, you know, they look very defined on a map, but they're very porous in real life. And the potential for mistakes to lead to extraordinary escalation, pretty high. And certainly the willingness to allow for those mistakes to be made is higher than you would like it to be. The checks and balances there don't seem to be all that concerning for the Kremlin or for Vladimir Putin. Of course, a worse explanation would be that Putin actually is prepared to take those risks to brush NATO back. And that, of course, would lead to much more likelihood that we would have escalation that would bring a NATO ally into the war, something that clearly nobody out there wants to see.

But it's worth talking about in the context of all of this, it's much more likely the Ukrainians are now going to get their 60 billion of support. That would be the largest piece of military support so far from the United States, approved likely in mid to late April. They're seeing more ammunition, more economic, more military support from the Europeans, even though the lion share of the military support is from the US and the war continues to be dangerous, continues to be unstable and continues to be no end in sight.

So that's where we are after some very unfortunate headlines and events over the last couple of days. And I'll talk to you all real soon.


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