Nawaf M. Al-Thani
The “Putin” Dilemma
Caught Between A Rock, And World War III
More than seven months after the Russian-Ukrainian war, the world faces a new reality, the official annexation of four regions of eastern Ukraine by the Russian Federation to be part of "Mother Russia." With great pomp and circumstance, President Putin announced the annexation in a ceremony held on the 30th of September at the Kremlin.
It is unclear at this time what Mr. Putin's end-state solution may be to his current woes following the ramifications of his invasion of Ukraine. Still, it's possibly going to be a hybrid solution where the West, namely the United States, convinces Ukraine to accept "the status quo" in exchange for some type of non-NATO defense pact, which the West hasn't yet committed to. Of course, this will require Ukraine to forgo its aspirations of joining NATO and enter into negotiations with Russia. Those negotiations however would not include issues about Ukraine's occupied - now annexed - regions.
Getting to that point, however, is the unknown or 'X' factor. Because, on the one hand, you have the West taking a page right out of the Cold War's history book by supporting the Ukrainians with advanced weaponry - like the NASAMS - that have had proven quite effective results on the battlefield, à la the Mujahideen of Afghanistan in the 1980s against the Soviet Union. However, on the other hand, we have Mr. Putin saber-rattling, threatening to use his nuclear arsenal and calling up 300,000 reservists in what seems to be an unwillingness to back down.
The continued Russian losses on the ground, as we have seen in Kharkiv and other places, won't be avoided by adding untrained and untested conscripts and certainly won't be helped -if and inevitably when- more advanced weapons are sent over from the West to aid in Russia's defeat. Systems like the ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System) would have a range of 300 km, that if deployed in Ukraine could hit targets inside Russia across its borders with great accuracy.
In the end, assuming that Ukrainian gains don't continue, Mr. Putin may contemplate doing one or both of the following. He may start by moving his tactical nuclear capabilities inside the now newly minted annexed regions of Ukraine, a thing that would escalate his threats and bring the world closer to actual - albeit limited - nuclear conflict. Another thing Mr. Putin could do is to advance his activities through intelligence operations, cyber warfare, and electronic warfare, targeting Western countries that have been supportive of the Ukrainian government to undermine and disrupt their economies, and critical infrastructure, or sow social and political discord.
On the diplomatic scene, as a permanent member of the security council, Russia could throw a wrench into the workings of the United Nations and its specialized agencies, affecting the decision-making process of the UN at the highest level. Finally, from an economic aspect, the Russian Federation may further explore, through its strategic partnership with China, ways of further developing the export of its energy to third-party customers but on a much larger scale. That, in turn, may affect the US economy by weakening the dollar, which has been the currency of record in the energy market, which is why most major global Energy (Oil and Natural Gas) producing countries have their currencies pegged to the 'Greenback'. However, a shift of that magnitude may have long-term and unknown implications for the US and other global economies.
It may be a bit early to see or even predict what will happen in Ukraine, and it is always an unwise bet to try and figure out what Mr. Putin is willing to do. What is clear, however, from what we see on the ground and what is occurring in the global economy, is that if things continue on the current trajectory, the West and their allies will find themselves, if not firmly, in a 'hot' war, then assuredly in a Cold one.