Putin bombs Ukraine
Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody. Ian Bremmer here. A happy Monday to you. A Quick Take, again, turning to the war in Russia. Lots going on, almost all of it escalatory at this point. Most recent state of play, a spectacular attack by the Ukrainians on the Kerch Bridge, the Crimea bridge that was said by Putin to be impregnable, can't possibly be able to attack it. It was providing a lot of supply chain, military supply chain from Russia sourcing capabilities material into Crimea and the rest of Ukraine, and suddenly significantly disrupted by a Ukrainian truck bomb.
That led Putin to respond in the early hours today, rush hour in Ukraine. Indiscriminate attacks against all of Ukraine's major cities. Nearly 100 bombs, civilian targets, killing lots of Ukrainians. An act of state terrorism on the part of Russia. On the one hand, absolutely horrifying that the Ukrainians are living through the kind of attacks in recent years that we've only seen in Aleppo in Syria, in Grozny, by the Russians in early post-Soviet days, and now seeing it across Ukraine.
War crimes, yet again. Acting with impunity in terms of Russia's complete indifference to how the rest of the world sees him and reacts to him. Having said all of that, part of the reason why we're seeing state terrorism from Putin is because he does not have conventional capabilities to respond to the Ukrainian counter offensive, which continues to eat up territory, Ukrainian territory, that they are retaking from the Russian occupation, significantly in Kherson which is north of Crimea, but if the Ukrainians are able to take it, that would disrupt yet another key supply chain of Russia to Crimea.
Then finally, Zaporizhzhia, which is the land bridge between Russian and Crimea, you get all three and the Russians can mobilize all they want. They can't get troops to Crimea. They can't get troops to the South. This war continues to go badly for the Russians. The Russians continue to try to make the Ukrainians pay. The Ukrainians, of course, have extraordinary support from all of NATO. That continues. Russia's willingness to take these acts against the Ukrainians is only going to harden the resolve of NATO countries to continue to provide direct military support to Ukraine, and even to increase the levels of, say, air defense, missiles, and the like to defend themselves and also to be able to counterattack.
The next few months we are looking primarily at Ukrainian counteroffensives to take as much territory from the February 24th lines as they can. The Russians trying to get their troops in as quickly as they can to hold some of that territory. That's basically what's playing out. Beyond that, the big question is whether or not the Russians are going to take asymmetric attacks against NATO. If you watch this conflict played out from Russian state media and how Putin is portraying it to his people, it's that they are losing territory and they admit to losing territory. They're losing the bridge. They admit to losing the bridge, at least for a brief period of time, because of attacks from NATO. This isn't just Ukraine, it's all the intelligence. It's all the ordinance. It's all the money. It's all the training. They're fighting against NATO.
Well, are they going to do anything against NATO? So far what they've been doing is only against Ukraine. And the ability of the Russians to engage in asymmetric attacks against fiber attacks, cyberattacks, pipeline attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, things that the Europeans need to be able to function as normal economies, and yet well short of weapons of mass destruction on the ground in Ukraine. If the Russians were to take steps like that, how might NATO respond? That is, I think, a big question that the European leaders are asking themselves and we don't have a clear answer for. I do expect that over time, especially as it is clear that Russia's economic stranglehold on energy for the Europeans is increasingly not going to make a difference in terms of NATO response, that Putin has to think about what else he can do.
Suing for peace does not appear to be in his playbook at this point. The other thing I would say is watch carefully the Chinese, the Indians, other countries that have been more supportive or at least more willing to be on the sidelines for Putin, increasingly are being outspoken and saying they want an immediate ceasefire. They want the Russians to stop this war. Putin has been ignoring them thus far. Will he continue to, and will those countries be willing to make Russia pay any cost themself? So far they have not. That may change.
One disturbing side, we have coming up very soon in the General Assembly, a global vote that will be taken about condemning the Russian annexations of the four Ukrainian territories. That will easily pass, but it looks like the number of positive votes are going to be around 100, 110. In other words, very large numbers of abstentions from the majority of the developing world. That continues to be the story here. That because Ukraine is being treated so differently as a conflict by the West than other invasions, illegal invasions in other parts of the world, where the West would normally say, "We want a ceasefire and then we'll see what we do."
Here, the West isn't calling for a ceasefire. The West is saying it's an illegal invasion, and so the Ukrainians need to be supported to take their land back. That hypocrisy, certainly that level of lack of alignment in the way the West treats Ukraine compared to other parts of the world, is leading the developing world to say we want very little part of this crisis. To the extent that Putin is increasingly seen as a war criminal globally, is involved in terrorist activities that other states would not be allowed to get away with, that of course is going to increase pressure on the developing world to get on-side publicly on this issue. Puts more pressure on Putin, too.
That's state of play right now. I still am someone who thinks that nuclear weapons, of course, are something to be worried about because Russia has lots of them and because they're in a tough position, but the likelihood of being used or being used soon in my view is still very, very low indeed. Higher than at any point since 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis. I wasn't around for that. I don't want to be around for this, but let's hope we can avoid it.For more of Ian Bremmer's weekly analyses, subscribe to his GZERO World newsletter at ianbremmer.bulletin.com