This week, the U.S. and Russia are engaged in diplomatic talks regarding the escalating tensions on Russia’s border with Ukraine. It is a mistake to think that U.S. and NATO concessions regarding Ukraine will satisfy Moscow. President Putin is pursuing a grander, perhaps grandiose, strategy, aimed at establishing Russia as the preeminent power in both Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Russia tabled drafts of two proposed treaties, one between Russia and the United States and the other between Russia and NATO, which make clear that destroying the Atlantic Alliance and dominating Europe, not conquering Ukraine, are Putin’s true objectives. Putin will try to use his current advantages to cow the U.S. and NATO into submission. He must act now because he faces the long-term decline of Russia’s power as its military advantages are countered, its demographic problems intensify, and its economic performance remains subpar. If Putin does not seize the moment of maximum power to consolidate his hold over the former Soviet empire, he may lose the chance permanently. Because Moscow has a narrow window in which it can leverage its current military strength in the service of its irredentist geostrategic objectives, a failure of the two sides to come to an agreement in the next few weeks is likely to light the fuse to a Russian military offensive against Ukraine. I have written more on this subject here.
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