Consequently, anti-Russian sanctions have become a U.S. law. Donald Trump criticized it and warned a little, but he has finally put his signature. Which threats are posed to Russia by the new Washington policy (and this is basically a change in the previous course of the West for broad economic and political cooperation with the Kremlin), which Europe will also have to follow? Russia is being squeezed out to the "second place" of the world policy and equated with such "toxic" countries as Iran and North Korea. And since the Russian economy, and therefore the Russian political regime, is not able to survive and develop without the technological and financial "sponsorship" of the West, the prospect of a general collapse has loomed before the Kremlin quite concretely, although it will certainly not happen tomorrow.
The Kremlin is certainly aware of the scale of the threat. The assessment of the situation, which was presented to the public by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, turned out to be surprisingly sober and logical: "The sanctions regime has been codified and will remain in effect for decades unless a miracle happens. This legislation is going to be harsher than the Jackson-Vanik amendment as it is overarching and cannot be lifted by a special presidential order without Congress' approval. Thus, relations between Russia and the United States are going to be extremely tense regardless of Congress’ makeup and regardless of who is president."
In a word, the Kremlin is being driven into a deadlock almost in all directions, and they understand it. This raises the most acute question for Ukraine and Ukrainians: will the Kremlin resort, because of hopelessness, to such an option as a strong and swift military strike on Ukraine, so as to close the "Ukrainian question" once and for all (as it seems to them)?
Absolutely it is not necessary to rule out such a step, and, unfortunately, anything can happen, but now it seems unreal. Let's note that it's not about increasing the shelling at the front, not about a local operation to grab another piece of Ukrainian territory (such actions will only add unnecessary problems to the Russians in relations with the United States and Europe, and will not resolve the "Ukrainian question"). It's about a great war with a real threat to the existence of the Ukrainian state.
Firstly, an open war with Ukraine is staking everything, and Russia is still not in a situation so to put everything at stake. A military offensive against Ukraine is too dangerous for Russia itself because of the practical impossibility of calculating the consequences of such an act. Nobody and nothing will give the Russians a guarantee of victory, especially because the Russian army is not as strong as the Soviet one, and the Ukrainian army is not as strong today as it was three years ago. The likelihood is too high that the reaction of the world, primarily the United States and the European Union, will also be powerful and swift, first and foremost, in the form of immediate and serious support for Ukraine with weapons and other material resources, not to mention the immediate strengthening of anti-Russian sanctions to the maximum, and that means a certain death of the Kremlin regime. Still, we should not underestimate the instinct of self-preservation of the Kremlin leaders. It's only in public they play out a "crazy Zhirinovsky," who is capable of any reckless and suicidal act from which normal countries will inevitably suffer. In practice, they are sufficiently sober and careful, and do not like risky steps.
Secondly, the Kremlin still has a certain reserve of tools to counter the new U.S. policy. It is still unclear how these sanctions will be applied. Let's recall the words of Donald Trump after the signing of the law: "My Administration particularly expects the Congress to refrain from using this flawed bill to hinder our important work with European allies to resolve the conflict in Ukraine." In addition, Russians will certainly try to take advantage of the obvious disagreements about anti-Russian sanctions between the United States and the European Union in order to significantly weaken their effect. For Russia, the most important thing for the near future is to withstand sanctions for as long as possible without concessions on its part, hoping that over time, circumstances will arise in the international situation ("a miracle," as Medvedev put it), which will lead to the cancellation of sanctions, or at least to their substantial weakening. The safety margin of the Russian political system, and therefore of the current political regime in Russia, is still quite solid, it will not dry up tomorrow or even the day after tomorrow. This can take years, and over this period, of course, anything can happen. And that's why, the Kremlin believes, one should not hinder the possible appearance of the said "miracle" by sharp actions like a large-scale military offensive against Ukraine, which will force the enemy (the West and Ukraine) to act sharply as well, that is by exerting maximum pressure on Russia. Then the sanctions, even newer than the current ones, may look like imprisonment against verbal reprimand. At least, this logic of behavior is most obvious for the current Kremlin.
Thirdly, there is still some hope, even delusive, for Trump. The U.S. president does not hide his discontent with the law, which he had to sign. During his six months in office, Trump showed himself to be a like-minded person of Putin as to what the real powers and capabilities of the first person in the state should be. So far, the American political system has successfully overcome these "dictatorial" inclinations of its president, and we hope this will continue. However, the Kremlin, of course, hopes it won't. The military offensive against Ukraine will certainly bury these hopes for Trump.
Finally, we should remember that the final exit of Ukraine from the political influence of Russia will happen only when we have a new, European type of democracy, absolutely opposite to the post-Soviet principles of the Russian political system. Until Russian and Ukrainian political systems are like twin brothers (systemic corruption, dependent courts, the undivided executive and legislative powers, the frank weakness of civil society, the meager middle class, the oligarchic economy, etc.), it is not necessary to say that Ukraine has put an end to the colonial past and has become a state independent of Russia. And we should not be misled by the war and other Russian-Ukrainian disputes at the level of lawsuits, trade and propaganda wars, sanctions, bans, and so on. The principles of the construction and functioning of the political system are the categories much more stable than even an open war, which can end in the twinkling of an eye. The Kremlin's plan to preserve in Ukraine the political system that is the continuation and creation of the Russian one is a much more reliable means for them for controlling Ukraine than the plan of a military strike. We are saved to some extent by the Kremlin's understanding of the obvious truth that a military strike against Ukraine in the event that it proves unsuccessful will quickly and finally destroy the existing political system in Ukraine in favor of a democratic one, in line with Western standards.
All these reasons combined give us optimism about the question whether the Kremlin will resort to a great war against Ukraine. However, of course, this does not mean that we no longer need to strengthen our own army as soon as possible.
Yuriy Sandul, Kyiv
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