You may remember that when the Ukrainian conflict began that both sides entertained ideas about negotiations—and there were even some preliminary stabs at peace talks. At the time, this was mainly to the Ukraine’s benefit—they seemed to be in deep trouble. Over the months, all talk as regards negotiations has fallen off; instead, we are faced with two deeply entrenched positions—the Russians, by annexing four provinces, have signalled absolute intransigence as regards the territories they have taken (even if conceded, these territories will be “occupied Russia”). On the other side, the Ukrainians and their American allies now talk about “toppling Putin” as the only option—with John Bolton, the regime change bot, whose only mode is “regime change” (I first heard him say it at 17), dragged up to “make the case”.
Nothing succeeds like success; and as the Ukrainians have held out longer and longer their success has begat cheerleaders—and bountiful military and economic assistance. Sometimes, hardly a day seems to go by without “$645M” (or more) signed over to the Ukrainians. In short, nobody has the incentive to negotiate now: the Russians have made an absolute commitment to their acquisitions—Putin’s political life is now at stake—and, for the Ukrainians, morale is high and logistical support plentiful.
In accordance with these principles, the Ukrainians have become evermore bold in their attacks on Russian territory—on Dugin’s daughter, on air bases, on the Crimea bridge. Although the Americans deny any involvement, all these attacks will have been facilitated, to some degree, by America and her allies—otherwise, they wouldn’t even bother to deny the allegations. This is not to say they actually killed Dugin’s daughter, but intelligence was shared to make it happen—and the same goes for the Crimea bridge.
So, what’s the end game? What do the “adults in the room” have in mind? This is the problem. There is no plan. Putin has no plan—he had a plan, but it went tits up very early and since then the Russians have dilly-dallied and not really known what to do. Do the American have a plan? Do they seek to humiliate Russia in the long term, to drive her to extinction? Unlikely. The “adults in the room” are neurotic short-termists; they were tepid about the Ukrainian cause at first, but, being group-minded, now it looks like a winner they are happy to pile resource after resource into it. The long-term thinkers on Russia would never have arrived at this position in the first place. Hence, again, “there is no plan”—there is “a winner”, cute president Zelensky, and we will back him to the hilt. This makes it difficult to conduct negotiations, since neither side knows what it wants—and neither side looks like it will lose.
At the same time, one side, the hyped-up American side, knows no limits—they have emotionalised bloodlust and so will continue to escalate, continue to push Putin into the corner; and this is a problem, for if you watch Putin’s pre-war interviews—and his body language—he really really sincerely hates the West. When he says “this is existential for Russia” he absolutely means it—it is not some drama school flouncy statement for him. This is quite dangerous, since the other side arrogantly dismisses Putin’s complaints as regards LGBT ideology—partly calculated to split the West’s political factions, but also partly sincere—and his view that the West consciously and deliberately wrecked Russia and sent her into a death spiral in the 1990s.
This is a bad combination, for the two sides radically misunderstand each other—and for the West it is almost all a “lol cute doge” meme; and this is because they are arrogant and think nothing can possibly hurt them—since they live in a narcissistic bubble that has grown up around American power. This is a recipe to back the Russians into a corner from which they will respond in a way that will seem to the narcissists in charge as “outrageous” and yet will be entirely consistent with what they have warned about for months now—and so entirely predictable.
Russia, in response to the attack on the Crimea bridge, immediately had its covert assets in Europe sabotage a German rail line. This is the second attack on German infrastructure, since Nord Stream is partially German-owned, by Russia—so, technically, Russia has committed two acts of war against Germany; and that is why the Germans, per the above picture, have mobilised their internal infrastructure protection force. If you look at the books by Cold War planners, the opening moves by the Soviets in an East-West confrontation involved sabotage by Russian elements in the West; and these networks, asymmetrically placed because the West is more open than Russia (even now), still exist. In other words, for these networks to be activated represents the opening gambit in a USSR-NATO war, aka WWIII.
Now, admittedly, these acts have to be constellated with other acts to make sense—in the Cold War scenarios, it would be sudden mass sabotage (not tit for tat); and yet the precedent is escalatory. I mean, how much German infrastructure can the Russians sabotage in a deniable manner before we enter another level of escalation? And, indeed, even to have gone this far is escalatory—Germany is mobilising, albeit in a small way, and that is another boundary crossed.
If I were the Russians, I would respond to the latest strike on the Crimea bridge—highly symbolic and with great personal significance for Putin, being his pet project—with a strike on the North Sea oil and gas networks. The Russians have already had drones hanging about these platforms for a while—marked as “mysterious” in official NATO communications. They could black out the oil and gas supplies—particularly to the bellicose UK—during wintertime; it would also be semi-deniable—hard to prove who did it. The West would then be forced to retaliate more overtly and that could be used as a pretext to drop a tactical nuclear weapon on the Ukrainians in order to stall their advances and force a negotiation. You can tell the North Sea fields are a weak spot because the British government suddenly ordered a new underwater defensive inspection ship—that will take years to arrive, yet someone in Whitehall has just realised there is a massive hole in Britain’s defences.
I doubt that the Russians will do the above, but they could do—it is within the deniable logic they have used so far. After all, at the moment the West can hurt Russia with impunity with economic sanctions—why not disrupt the West’s energy infrastructure in a deniable way for the duration? The Russians need to hit back somehow, if you cannot coerce your enemy you lose by default. Either way, notice that we are locked into an escalatory path—the Russians are now blowing things up in Europe and every day people talk about nuclear weapons. Remember, a few months ago nobody talked about nuclear weapons—that was once just some vague threat on the horizon, just a slither of red; and yet people talk about it every day now. Sure, they say “don’t buy into the Russian threats, it’s just bluff”—and yet they are saying it; and that indicates a huge change in what is possible.
Basically, as stands, we are locked into an escalatory cycle—neither side has a realistic end game in mind, nobody has a long-term plan, and at least one key decision-maker in the conflict, Joe Biden, is barely sentient (almost as if those anti-nuclear doom-mongers who said Reagan was soft in the head and war-hungry have been finally vindicated, years later, by their boy Biden). You know all those histories of WWI where they talk about “the drift to war” and “the inevitable logic of railway timetables”—well, perhaps those are not true; but at the moment we certainly seem to be the sleepwalkers…