Russia-NATO confrontation is coming: Putin will escalate
There’s not an off-ramp in sight, and that’s a problem. More than 60 days into the conflict in Ukraine, Ian Bremmer believes the chances for a negotiated settlement are looking slim.
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:
Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, and your Quick Take. And got to talk about Russia-Ukraine.
We are 62 days now into this war and on pretty much every front, we continue to see international relations deteriorate. You kind of hope that there would be some kind of off-rampin terms of a negotiated settlement, in terms of freezing the conflict, but it really doesn't look that way at all. Some of that's good news. Some of that is the Ukrainian government being able to really inspire the advanced industrial democracies around the world to win the information war against the Russians. As a consequence, getting an enormous amount of support and holding off the Russians. Certainly, Zelensky in much stronger position today than he ever was since he's been elected president and his regime is not about to be overthrown.
Leaving that aside, the level of direct conflict and indirect conflict with the Russians is only picking up. And what do I mean by that? Well, first on the economic side, we continue to see a move towards oil embargo being discussed now by the French, after the elections, by the Germans as well. By the end of this year, you kind of expect to see that. You also had the Polish government saying they're going to cut off gas. And after that, the Russians said, "Well, you know what? We're not going to send you any gas starting now." Same with Bulgaria.
The Europeans are unhappy about this, but they've also declared economic war against the Russians. So it's not a surprise to anyone. The only reason there's any gas still going is because the Europeans need it. Otherwise, they would've cut that off too. And so the fact that the Russians are now starting to squeeze the one economic lever they have left against the Europeans, or at least some of them. Particularly, let's be clear, the Poles and the Bulgarians are the East Europeans who have been strongest in their desire to help Ukraine push back the Russians, provide more advanced military capabilities, squeeze the Russians harder economically. So I mean, there's a lot of tit for tat going here, but the point is that this relationship is really being severed and, if anything, that's only speeding up. It's not slowing down.
Then you have the fact that the Finns and the Swedes are now saying that they will go to apply NATO together in May. That will get approved by the end of June at the Madrid summit. Again, a much worse position for the Russians to be in than they would have been before they invaded Ukraine, if they hadn't chosen to invade Ukraine. Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Minister, very unhappy about all of this and saying that this is becoming dangerous in terms of a potential World War III, potential nuclear escalation.
The Russians have said that now on no fewer than six or eight occasions that I can count over the last couple months. I don't take it at face value, I don't take it literally, but I do take it seriously in the sense that Russia-NATO confrontation is coming. And I think that is true because the Russian economy is going to be permanently in a state of free fall. And that's going to squeeze Putin to a degree. I say it in part because the Europeans are going to be continuing to treat Russia as enemy number one. That includes lots of military capabilities, arrayed at Russia.
And I also believe that because Zelensky himself will be this international hero for the West, running a country that the Russians do not see as legitimate, that Putin doesn't see as legitimate. And the idea that Zelensky is going to be there with maximalist aims against Russia, because they've invaded his country, saying, "Give us more military support, give us more political support, more economic support," and getting it. That's an unacceptable outcome for Putin.
Now I'm not sympathetic to Putin's position at all. I want to be clear about this, not one iota. The Russians are 100% responsible for this invasion that is continuing to go on two plus months in, but I am saying that the Russians' capabilities in terms of destabilizing, not just Ukraine, but also a lot of countries across the transatlantic relationship is real and hasn't yet been experienced or really even tested. And I fear that we are going to be testing that going forward.
Final point on this, I'm someone who didn't really like the idea that the Secretary of Defense of the United States, Lloyd Austin was saying that the goal of the United States is to really hit, to diminish, to degrade Russian military capabilities. I understand that the Americans are happy to have that happen. I understand the moral outrage, but the goal is really to get Ukraine back to the status quo ante, certainly before the invasion on February 24th, ideally before the Russian invasion in 2014.
That is different from saying, "We want to hurt the Russian military so much that they'll never be able to attack Ukraine again." Number one, I think that's unrealistic. Number two, I think that's incredibly dangerous for a country that spends 10x, what Ukrainians spend on defense and have all sorts of military capabilities, not just to hit Ukraine, which they are deploying, but also to hit NATO, which they largely are not deploying, whether it's space weapons or cyber weapons and the rest. And the idea that the Americans are going to try to hit the Russians so hard that they can't do this again, implies that Putin's response will be escalation against NATO.
And if I were advising the Biden administration, and I do talk to them, of course, informally, my view is that public statement is farther than the Americans should actually be going right now. And this is after a couple of months of leading a NATO coalition quite strongly, with the recognition that NATO supports Ukraine, but their interests are not identical to Ukraine. For Ukraine, you want to absolutely get rid of every Russian that you can find. You want to destroy their military capabilities. Of course, Ukraine wants to do that, the United States and NATO, not Ukraine. If they were, if those interests were aligned 100%, Ukraine would've been in NATO in any case. And they're not. They're not going to be.
So that's it for me. Hope everyone's well, better than the Ukrainians, at this point. Talk to you all soon.
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