J.P. Marín-Arrese | Ever since the Soviet Union collapsed, the US has shown utter disdain for Russia. It flouted the pledge made to Gorbatchev to keep former Warsaw Pact countries out of NATO so that Russia could have a security buffer zone along its frontiers. It openly invited the Ukrainian government to disregard the Minsk agreement, which was brokered to ensure that Ukraine would remain neutral. John Kerry, the former State Department Secretary, used to depict Russia as a gas station placed in the middle of nowhere. Moscow felt insulted by such actions. While nothing justifies Putin’s aggression, some historical background can shed some light into the plausible reasons behind his reckless move.
Russia is a country in decay with a GDP slightly higher than that of Spain but with awesome military strength. It is also a leading nuclear power. Devoting such a high percentage of its resources to the buildup of the armed forces weighs heavily on its economic performance. The weaponry contest with the US eventually led to the Soviet Union’s implosion, Russia is following a similar path. Yet, cornering such a dangerous opponent is likely to prompt desperate reactions. Biden scornfully rejected Putin’s security concerns, emboldening the Ukrainian government by promising full support. Now that an invasion is taking place, he can only offer sincere prayers for the helpless inhabitants of that country. Sanctions will hurt Russia but fail to cripple it in the absence of an oil and gas embargo. The rally experienced by Stock Exchanges following Biden’s speech stands as a telling proof that the West will let down Ukraine.
Despite all the ongoing tragic events, the most worrying issue is Putin’s warning that he could use his nuclear muscle should anyone interfere with his invasion plans. No Kremlin leader has ever delivered such an undisguised threat. His stern threat to Finland and Sweden if they dare to join the Western military alliance signals a red line whose crossing will bear dire consequences. Playing Russian roulette with someone ready to pull the trigger could end up wiping out humanity from the Earth.
Putin’s ruthless attack on Ukraine delivers the dreadful message that he is ready to use all the power he can muster to fend off NATO encirclement. He’s conscious of having now a narrow window to prevent that from happening. In future, Russia will prove unable to keep up its current might. On the other hand, given his age, he is not likely to be in power for long. Beware of providing him with an excuse to carry out his ultimate threat.