Putin’s Next Move Is a Mystery. Just the Way He Likes It.

Even the Russian Foreign Ministry doesn't know what the plan is

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has spent months massing close to 100,000 troops near the Ukraine border. But Moscow says it has no intention of invading.

What is Russia’s next move? No one knows, except perhaps Mr. Putin. And that is by design.

The mystery surrounding the Russian leader’s intentions was thick as fog again this week, after a top Russian diplomat delivered a series of seemingly contradictory messages upon emerging from two days of high-stakes security talks with the United States.

Moments after declaring the talks “deep’’ and “concrete,’’ Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov warned that failure to meet Russia’s demands could put the “security of the whole European continent” at risk.

The gyrating, often ominous positions helped stump even some of those who make a living from decoding Mr. Putin’s intentions.

“The expert opinion that I can authoritatively declare is: Who the heck knows?” Fyodor Lukyanov, a prominent Russian foreign-policy analyst who heads a council that advises the Kremlin, said in a telephone interview.

Analysts said that not even members of Mr. Putin’s inner circle — let alone Mr. Ryabkov, who led Russia’s delegation at this week’s Geneva talks were likely to know how seriously Mr. Putin is contemplating full-scale war with Ukraine. Nor would they know what American concessions he is prepared to accept in order to defuse the crisis.

Instead, Mr. Putin is likely not even to have made a decision, according to Russian analysts as well as American officials. And he is relishing keeping the West on edge.

“What matters is results,” Mr. Putin’s spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, told reporters on Tuesday, maintaining the suspense. “For now, there is nothing to say about any results.”

The talks continue on Wednesday, when Russian officials will meet representatives of the United States and its NATO allies in Brussels, and on Thursday at a gathering of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 57-nation group that includes Ukraine as well as Russia and the United States.

After that, Mr. Peskov said, Russia would decide “whether it makes sense” to move forward with diplomacy.

For years, Mr. Putin has fumed over NATO’s expansion eastward and American support for pro-Western sentiment in Ukraine; now, by creating a new security crisis that threatens to complicate President Biden’s agenda, he has succeeded in getting the issue to the forefront in Washington.

“For the first time in 30 years, the United States has agreed to discuss issues that it was impossible to discuss even a year ago,” said Tatiana Stanovaya, the founder of a political analysis firm, R.Politik.

Now that the Russian president has Americans at the negotiating table, he is pursuing another classic Putin strategy: putting so many potential moves on the playing field — pointing in so many different directions — that he leaves people guessing, allowing him to choose the tactics that best suit him as events evolve. [That’s not a “Putin strategy.” That’s just maskirovka, and is far older than Putin.]

Mr. Ryabkov, for instance, told reporters that he was making no ultimatums and foresaw no “deal breaker.’’ But he added that it was “absolutely mandatory” that the United States guarantee that Ukraine would never join NATO.

He said Russia was imposing no specific timeline, but that it needed a “fast response” to its demands. And while he said there was “no reason to fear an escalation scenario” in Ukraine, he warned that the West still failed to grasp how dangerous it would be to rebuff Russia’s demands.

The contradictory messaging continued on Tuesday when the Kremlin’s spokesman, Mr. Peskov, countered any positive assessments Mr. Ryabkov might have offered the day before. “For now, we do not see any substantive reason for optimism,” he said in his daily conference call with reporters.

Analysts noted that Mr. Ryabkov, from the diplomatic side, most likely did not even know what military options the Kremlin was considering. The virus-free cocoon Mr. Putin has tried to establish around himself has meant that even confidants are forced to spend days in quarantine before being allowed into the same room with him, further reducing his connections with the outside world.

“No one knows with 100 percent certainty whether Putin is ready for war, or whether this is a bluff or not,” Ms. Stanovaya said.

While Mr. Ryabkov and other Russian officials have denied that Russia plans to invade Ukraine, Mr. Putin himself, at two news conferences in December, did not offer such a denial. Instead, he has warned of an unspecified “military-technical response” if Russia does not get what it wants.

“We need long-term, legally binding guarantees” that would roll back the NATO presence in Eastern Europe, Mr. Putin said in December. He added that while the United States has exited treaties in the past, “we need at least something, at least a legally binding agreement rather than just verbal assurances.”

While Mr. Putin may have succeeded in getting the U.S. to agree to talk — even though Moscow’s demands appeared to be nonstarters — Ms. Stanovaya and others warned that at this point, talks alone are not enough for him.

Emboldened, he sees Mr. Biden as a man who may be willing to make a deal — and that Mr. Biden, as a veteran of the Cold War, may possess a respect for power diplomacy with Moscow that younger American politicians do not.

“He assumes that the Americans will pay attention only to that which concretely, immediately threatens them,” Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank, said of the Russian president. “He uses unpredictability, he uses tension, he uses threats.”

As for what Russia does next, Mr. Lukyanov said that this would be solely up to Mr. Putin, who exerts a monopoly on foreign-policy decision-making without recent precedent in Russia. Unlike Soviet-era leaders, Mr. Putin has no “Politburo” of senior officials making collective decisions.

Mr. Lukyanov said no individuals could be seen as directly influencing Mr. Putin.

“He receives this or that information,” Mr. Lukyanov said. “Those who provide it don’t exert their own influence and don’t know how it’s going to work out.”

Source: The New York Times

  1. Jerry Hood says

    Stupid western, judaised goyim: Putin amassed Russian military near to U-kraine to protect the Russian citizens, if the zionazi fascist regime of Kurvaine decides to attack Donbass with Russian population! The western soulles,obese goyim non comprende!!!

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  2. Steve Ginn says

    Mr Putin is no fool and is at least three jumps ahead of the ziopuppets of the US of Israel all the time.

  3. Weniger Gottquatsch says

    Somewhat odd, a site called Anti-Empire promoting NYT, the propaganda rag of the Empire.

    1. ken says

      I don’t think Anti-Empire is exactly promoting the New York Slimes. And I wouldn’t call the fascist West an empire. More like a bunch of crooks getting together because they think they’ll get something from it.

      The Slimes has always been the mouth piece of the traitorous Deep State which has taken control of the legitimate constitutional government and the People just put on whatever hat they’re told to.

    2. XSFRGR says

      Not promoting, but exposing; KNOW YOUR ENEMY.

  4. Tony says

    Dombass area is essentially Russian now, people have Russian passports and can go to work in Russia and trade and receive pensions.
    If kiev attacks then the response will be immediate and deadly, US has no intention of removing its advisors or to stop arming Kiev, Russia knows this already, Russia is going through the diplomatic process knowing full well Nato will not agree to go back away from baltic states or to give up on expanding nato.
    Russia will then have no option but to retake Russian speaking areas back into their control and kick out all foreign advisors etc. Ukraine will collapse as a state and be divided according to Nationality and roots.
    Putin sees this as a red line now and can’t retreat, theirs no were to retreat to and country’s security is paramount.

    1. ken says

      That’s a pretty good analysis…

  5. Raptar Driver says

    I’m gonna make a prediction and I sincerely hope I am incorrect.
    Putin We’ll get some minor concession from NATO/US, declared it a victory & continue the appeasement of western encroachment.

    1. XSFRGR says

      I hope not, but time will tell. It may be different this time because there’s no room left for retreat.

  6. Bartok says

    NYT is an untrustworthy propaganda rag.

  7. ken says

    Mr. Putin has usually used diplomacy,,, never worked well as shown by the situation Russia is in today. They are surrounded.

    The US is like a rabid attack dog,,, attacks anything and everything in any direction without thought or reason.

    Remember Georgia! Russia went in and took care of business and for awhile Russia had a “Don’t Tread On Me” reputation. And the West only complained. Of course that is all forgotten today.

    Allowing hostile armed forces to build up on your borders is not a good idea. The more they build the more antagonizing they get. Soon they’re slapping you around. That is Ukraine today. If Ukraine wanted peace they would have a very small military and Russia wouldn’t bother with them.

    But they have the worlds bully,,, the US and Nato,,,supposedly to assist in their ‘defense’. What we really have is the bully staring down a possible equal and so far this equal has compromised with the bully to a point where there is no compromise left.

    At the same time we have an attempted globalist take over (the fake virus) where Russia and the fascist West are supposedly on the same side (the WEF) but the West wants a bigger plate at the table when divvying up the worlds booty and what’s left of the population.

    Putin the fox has allowed himself to be put in a corner. The reason he is quiet is because he has only two choices, capitulate or fight and he doesn’t want either.

    1. edwardi says

      He is far more ready to fight than to capitulate. Push has come to shove, the provocations are too numerous. As blunt as the Russians, and Chinese, have become with their language they need to start using current platforms to step it up, really start describing the magnitude of the crimes being routinely committed by the US, magnify world opinions Condemning US actions, ridicule the US for not just wasting 20 years in Afghanistan, but for leaving it in poverty and ruin. Attribute the fault there, and the mass migrations due to US all criminal activities, no legal basis to be in ? anywhere really, it is all just pretext. The US is a Gangster Rogue State, violates constantly laws of the UN to which they are legally bound, by law, and just generally ridicule and highlight all of the Insanities, the absurd Gangsterism in Venezuela, the Coup in Bolivia, etc., bring it up one at a time or give a long outstanding speech on subject but push Public Condemnation and Ridicule to the Front…

    2. XSFRGR says

      Even a cornered rat will fight, but a cornered fox will fight hard, and smart.

  8. nnn says

    More BS promises by NATO, tomorrow they will turn around and say we did not promise you anything. Just terminate all this Judo-Bandera scum in Kiev one by one.

  9. Mr Reynard says

    The difference between V Putin & western leaders, is that V Putin play chess & western leaders play poker & they hold in their hand , only a pair of deuces .

  10. Empire_Spokesperson says

    The seriousness is out in the open, Russia is done playing around. Putin as always knows those buttons that ticks the US and EU and he is pressing them all at the same time and individually.

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