Russian-Ukraine tensions in February 2022

EDIT: This post was written before the war. Since February 24, 2022, Russia has invaded Ukraine. You can find the 2-month war summary here.

Since my previous month’s report, I dug deeper into the history of Russia-West relations.

In the previous version of this report, I was presenting each side’s arguments. But the more I cross-checked every statement, the more misleading and false statements accumulated in public declarations. The Kremlin’s declarations often contradict themselves over time, as much as in their acts.

Since I’m looking for the objective truth, I have to deconstruct all statements from both sides, and I can’t simply pile up what each side is saying, because it would be greatly misleading otherwise. Indeed, most people have a tendency to assume that the truth is probably a middle ground between the two opposing sides. But half a lie is not the truth. And that’s why the Kremlin has a long history of deceptions because it really has some degree of influence on the western populations, not to mention its own population. Even myself, I fell into some of their fallacies before doing these deep researches, even if I’m used to double-checking what I hear. After reading this report, you might discover that some of these lies are more stealthy and pervasive than they look.

Also, if it’s the first time you read one of my foreign affairs reports, I recommend you to read first how and why I prepare these reports, to know their sources, how you can interpret them, and their limits.

Lastly, I make a distinction between Mr.Putin, the Kremlin (which includes Putin and his advisors), Russia as a country with its thousands of years of history, and the Russian current population. Of course, these groups share some aspects, but they also have strong differences in others. The nuance is important to fully understand the situation.

It’s also important to remind that Russia is currently governed by an authoritarian regime, which is of course not a democracy by western standards, but not totalitarian either. Putin enjoys much more authority in his country than Western presidents in their own, but not as much as Stalin or Hitler did, for example. Putin has some constraints. It’s important to understand why he can’t go directly for what he really wants and needs a complex strategy to achieve his goal without generating excessive social unrest in his country. This report doesn’t assume what he currently wants but underlines the differences between what he said and what he actually did in the past when lies become clear and unquestionable.


  1. Decoding the truth from the lies
  2. Russia’s strengths and weaknesses
  3. The different scenarios, their probabilities, and consequences

Decoding the truth from the lies

FACT: Russia’s territory is very exposed and difficult to defend

  • Russia is a flat territory, military undefendable in case of invasion.
  • The vast majority of the Russian population and economic heart is close to Europe.
    • Russia’s capital, Moscow, is only 600km from NATO borders, which is about 8 hours at tank speed, 30 min at fighter jet speed, and a mere 15 min at nuclear ballistic missile speed, not enough to warn the population.
    • Russia’s second most important city, St-Petersbourg is even more exposed, at only 130km from NATO’s forces (Estonia). NATO could send a nuclear strike on St-Petersbourg in less than 3 minutes, impossible to detect, prevent or even give a warning to the population to take shelter.
  • Russia is therefore obsessed with its “strategic depth”, a geographic buffer zone to help them cushion any potential European attack.
  • But since the collapse of the USSR, Russia lost this buffer zone.
  • Therefore, Russia is now forced to spend a lot more on its military to achieve the same level of protection than it had in the past with its strategic depth.

FACT: Russia was invaded twice, but it was 80 years ago

  • Russia was invaded twice by the Europeans (Napoleon and Hitler) and they had a cold war with the USA. Russia feels the risk of invasion very concrete, not theoretical, because of history and collective memory.
  • Even if NATO is clearly not interested in invading Russia, so does Germany until Hitler suddenly changed his mind on June 22, 1941.
  • Therefore, historically, Russia doesn’t trust the West.
  • That being said, France was invaded by Nazis at the same time as Russia, but it was 80 years ago, and obviously, the French and Germans don’t suspect each other nowadays.

MYTH: The West is threatening Russia

  • Since the Nazis, 80 years ago, absolutely no country tried or even insinuated they would attack Russia, not even indirectly.
  • Contrary to Russian propaganda, the West has absolutely no will nor interest in invading Russia.

FACT: Russia invaded and killed several of their neighbors

  • Russia, on the other hand, showed they are willing and capable to invade and kill their neighbors by invading Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, killing 14,000 people in the process.
  • In 2022, Russia also sent military forces to help Kazakstan’s authoritarian regime to help them kill protesting civilians.

MYTH: The US and NATO started and inflated the Ukraine Crisis

  • Putin suddenly moved a massive 130,000 soldiers and tanks all around the Ukrainian border, with no reason, without telling anyone, and with a history of invading the country after these massive troops’ concentration. This is a violation of the Vienna Convention in which Russia, like all other members in NATO and Europe, agreed to disclose any troop movement over 9,000 troops and accept observers over 13,000 troops.
  • Russia has a long history of doing large exercises without never disclosing anything, and using them just before the 2008 Georgian invasion and the 2014 Ukrainian invasion. Russia essentially destroyed all trust the international community had in Russia.
  • Then, Putin complained about Russia’s imaginary threats they face. Not only these threats are completely non-existent, but his will of negotiation is completely fake. More on these two points later.
  • Lastly, Putin denied moving his soldier to the border, until the US published all the satellite images, and then pretended the US are orchestrating a “hysterical campaign” against Russia.
  • Russian media propaganda continuously portrays the US as a country willing to attack Russia.

MYTH: The US use the Russia-Ukraine crisis to divert attention

  • The US doesn’t need Russia to “divert the attention” of the US public from other US problems, since China was already capturing all the attention. Only Putin has a clear interest in weakening NATO and the EU, and he chose the middle of the winter, in one of the worst energy crises, when he knows he has power over Europe with his gas.
  • Some journalists even insinuate that NATO would want to exploit the crisis to show strength after the failure to protect Ukraine and Georgia, to reassure countries like the Baltics. But the US has no interest in jumping into another quagmire after the Afghanistan fiasco, especially at a time when they would like to be able to focus all their attention on China.

FACT: Russians have illegitimate resentment against the West

  • The fall of the Soviet Union is considered to be a catastrophe by many Russians.
  • The declaration of independence of the former soviet states is seen as treason.
  • For example, many Russians feel that they have “built” Ukraine and made it “rich”. The idea that Ukraine abandoned Russia at the worst time made many Russians antipathic to the Ukrainian government who “backstabbed” them and get away with the “jewels” of the Soviet Union. All of this is propaganda. Ukraine was not made rich by Russia, Ukraine was exploited by Russia as a food-producing and industrial area because of its unique geographic advantages.
  • With the past invasions, the fall of the USSR, and the lack of significant economic success compared to the West or China since then, many Russians have a sense of inferiority vis-à-vis the West.
  • National pride is at stake.
  • It fuels both irrational fears as much as a willingness to take revenge one way or another.
  • Of course, all these misrepresentations of reality (ie: lies) came from the Kremlin’s propaganda in all media, including paying western writers, but most of the Russian population believes that the West is threatening them.

MYTH: Ukraine is part of Russia

FACT: Russia tries to erase the Ukrainian culture for 90 years

MYTH: Crimea and Dombas held democratic referendums to decide which country they should belong to

  • Russia did organize a referendum, but only after invading these areas, which means they asked only the pro-Russians, after killing (Dombas) or deporting (Crimea) all the people not supporting Russia. Very easy to score high when you poll people after removing your opponents.
  • Also, these referendums were organized with pro-Russians armed guards in front of the voting places. In case anyone against Russia was still in town, they made sure they would never try to come vote. It’s like if the Nazis organized a referendum on Holocaust with Gestapo officers waiting for the jews at the voting place. Again, the opponent obviously won’t come.
  • All Ukrainian radio and TV channels were replaced by Russian ones, and all street campaigns were only pro-russia
  • These fake referendums were not even legal by Russian elections laws, which already are some of the lowest democratic standards in the world.
  • In a nutshell, these referendums are just part of the propaganda to try to legitimate mass murders and invasions.

MYTH: NATO is threatening Russia with its continuous expansion

  • Putin pretends that Russia is under the threat that Ukraine could potentially join NATO. But Ukraine ask for at least 20 years to join NATO and will not be admitted anytime soon. It has always been public and Putin knows it.
  • The Kremlin sees the NATO expansion to its neighboring countries as a threat to its own existence because whatever the agreements that can be signed, the Kremlin argues that NATO can always put tanks and missiles next to the Russian border on relatively short notice, in a matter of weeks.
  • For the Kremlin, even the promise of no weapons deployment will never be seen as good as pushing these weapons far away, with the so-called strategic buffer Russia is obsessed with.
  • The Russia-US agreement to ban intermediate-range missiles in Europe in 1987 didn’t last.
    • In 2007 Putin complained in his Munich speech that the pact only concern the US and not its European allies, or China. Since 2005, China is mass-producing all ranges of nuclear ballistic missiles and aims to bridge the gap in the only domain where Russia has an advantage over China.
    • Therefore, Russia feared being outgunned by China, Russia continued the development of several short and intermediate missiles with ranges way beyond what they agreed not to in 1987. They even fired some of these new missiles in 2014 during the Syrian war, with missiles cruising for more than 1500km, clearly violating the 1987 agreement.
    • In consequence of this violation, the US officially withdrew from the pact in 2019, immediately followed by Russia.
  • In the end, when a country becomes irrationally paranoiac about its neighbors, seeing non-existent treats, it can only fall into aggression like Russia did in 2008 and 2014, to “protect” itself against an imaginary threat. This is often a byproduct of authoritarian regimes, where their leaders can only survive against their population by being paranoiac and seeing the West’s intervention behind every civil protest.

FACT: NATO is here to defend, not attack

  • NATO is a defense alliance, not an offensive alliance.
  • In the same logic, attacking any country is a reason for exclusion, and Russia was excluded from NATO following its 2014 annexation of Crimea in Ukraine.
  • NATO missiles are kinetic interceptors that can only be physically used in defense, not attack. They can only shoot down in the air the incoming attacking missiles, they can’t attack themselves, they have no explosives.
  • Also, these installations can’t be retrofitted to launch offensive missiles, contrary to what Putin pretended.
  • All concerned neighboring countries are invited to inspect the installations, especially Russia. They declined the invitation.

MYTH: NATO promised Russia “not to expand” anymore

  • Gorbachev himself declared that this promise was never made, neither to USSR nor Russia.
  • The famous US promise of “not one inch eastward” was made during the fall of the Berlin Wall, and was explicitly concerning the Soviet part of Germany, and it was, again, explicitly written in the official deal that the rest of Europe was not concerned by this promise since all countries are free to choose who they want to ally with.
  • Putin conveniently omitted this part in his 2007 Munich speech complaining the US was “breaking their promise” about NATO expansion.

FACT: Joining NATO is based on free will, not pressure

  • Any peaceful country is free to join if its people decide it.
  • NATO doesn’t need to push anyone to join them.
  • Every country has the right to choose the defense alliance they want, whether Russia likes it or not. They are humans with their own will, not objects that others can dispose of. The Russian Federation even agreed on that after the fall of the USSR.
  • Countries like Ukraine and Georgia are already asking to join NATO for decades, precisely because of the Kremlin predatory methods.

MYTH: NATO undermine Russia’s international influence

  • Russia was invited to join NATO after USSR. They instead signed the founding act and agreed on the rules, and relations degraded when they invaded Ukraine.
  • The global interest of the US and the West is not to invade Russia, nor reduce their international bargaining power, but to stop them from military threatening their neighbors, and especially the EU.

FACT: Russian culture accepts authoritarianism

  • Russian culture does not value freedom the same way as in the West culture. In Russian culture, the idea of freedom is closer to “free will” than “free speech”, “freedom of action” or “freedom of choice”. The idea of freedom for Russians is that they are free to think whatever they want as long as they obey and act in the interest of their nation.
  • Of course, some Russians, especially the younger generations, are outraged by Putin, but they are not the majority.
  • Authoritarian regimes are not perceived to be as bad as they are in the Western culture.
  • Similar to China, a significant part of the Russian population truly believes that democracy is not the best political system, and an authoritarian leader is what Russia needs to bring order and create long-term prosperity.
  • Also similar to China, many Russians have a vision of the world based exclusively on military power. If you are stronger, you deserve to control more. They don’t recognize the freedom of people to chose the alliances of their choice.
  • If something is perceived to be in the interest of Russia, the Russian population mostly doesn’t care that it might not be in the interest of some of their own citizens, let alone foreign nations.
  • By extension, in Russia, lying is generally considered to be an acceptable tactic, if it’s in the interest of the country.
  • The younger Russian generation, exposed to the internet and western values slowly change its mind, but Russia won’t be a true democracy until several decades.
  • In the end, Russia has interests, cultural values, and conceptions of global order fundamentally conflicting with the West’s ones.
  • These significant cultural differences don’t help to soothe foreign relations with the West.

MYTH: Putin wants to negotiate

  • Putin affirms he wants to negotiate with the West but he makes a long list of unreasonable demands impossible to meet, like “no more countries joining NATO” and “remove all NATO troops from the Bulgaria, Romania and Baltic states”
    • First, countries are free to join NATO based on their own decisions.
    • Second, asking to remove all NATO troops from Bulgaria, Romania, and the Baltics countries is a joke, we talk about 5,000 NATO soldiers against a Russian army of 1,000,000, which is 200 times larger.
    • Third, contrary to the Kremlins lies, all missiles of the NATO easter-European border are only kinetic interceptors and they can’t attack as I explained above. Whereas the Russian Kaliningrad enclave alone has enough medium-range conventional and nuclear missiles to wipe out most of Europe. The Kremlin ask the West to remove its bulletproof vest while they bring even-bigger guns.
    • Fourth, even if there is no NATO missile threatening Russia, Russia is allowed to do regular inspections of all the missiles present in Europe. They know very well nothing can threaten their safety, which makes their threats askings for “safety guarantees” pure political lies.
    • Lastly, Putin leaves no room for negotiation and refuses any alternative that would equally provide safety and importance to Russia.
    • In the end, Putin is not negotiating, he’s simply threatening. He pretends to want to negotiate just to maintain the illusion of being reasonable and avoid deteriorating how he’s perceived in Russia.

FACT: Putin is ready to aggress

  • The Kremlin doesn’t like NATO, and they have a logic of power.
  • Even if the West has no intention to military attack Russia, the Kremlin is ready to take a lot of risks to regain its strategic depth, both as military protection as well as a way to regain power in the international scene.
  • Putin, who is officially threatening to invade Ukraine, has the nerve to pretend to be the victim and insists on getting guarantees for his “safety” while he’s the one starting the threats.
  • The Kremlin will go to great lengths to grab pieces of land of their neighbors, as they did swiftly and violently with their invasions in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine in 2014, killing 14,000 people in the process.

Russia’s strengths and weaknesses

Now that we clarified the respective positions, we need to assess the capabilities of Russia compared to the West, to evaluate the potential decisions and consequences both sides may take.


  • Military
    • Russia is a world leader in nuclear weapons, both in quantity and quality, with hypersonic nuclear missiles over which even the US has lagging defenses. Russia could inflict heavy damages to NATO in case of a war. Russia is more advanced on nuclear weapons than China, and at a peer level with the US and EU.
    • That being said, as we’ll see later, Russia bet everything on their nuclear deterrence, because all their conventional weapons are lagging far being the West, which means their nuclear arsenal could only be used as a last-resort defense since they would not win the following war.
    • Military and politically speaking, the Kremlin is very agile and opportunistic. The Russian forces are dangerous for their “fast and low-cost operations” like cyberattacks and their special forces. They are experts in exploiting their opponent’s flaws, mistakes, lack of coherence, and inefficiencies.
    • They are very skilled in cyberattacks and disinformation campaigns targeting western populations.
    • They have very efficient special forces, the so-called “Little green men” (Spetnaz forces) that seized Crimea.
    • Winter is good for tanks and truck logistics. A Ukrainian invasion would have significantly better chances of success in the coldest months of the year. Putin probably won’t try to invade Ukraine after March.
  • Economy
    • Russia is mostly autarchic, has little trade besides selling energy to Europe and buying supplies from China, and is economically very resilient, even after the international sanctions as a result of its Crimean annexation. They are not afraid of being on bad terms with the whole planet. Not that being removed from the SWIFT network wouldn’t hurt their economy, but because they know they have one of the cheapest energy sources, that both Europe and China depend on. They know Europe is not willing to stop using this gas, and that’s all Russia needs for the bulk of its revenue.
    • Europe is still begging for their gas and oil because there are no cheaper sources.
    • Russia doesn’t have to spend a lot of money to guard their long Chinese border because of their alliance, so they can redirect all their military force to the European border.
  • Politic
    • The Kremlin argues to protect their fellow Russian citizens in foreign countries like Ukraine to justify military attacks so they manufacture some “moral ascent”, at least for their own troops and citizens.
    • The Kremlin uses the Russian passport as a weapon, actively incentivizing through media target populations to get one, to be able to send the Russian army as “humanitarian missions to help their harrassed local minorities”. That’s exactly what they did in both Georgia and Ukraine (Dombas).
    • Crimea and east Ukraine have a higher proportion of ethnic Russians than western Ukraine.
    • The Russian population is mostly passive and silent politically. Putin does everything he can to maintain his population in this state, arresting or murdering the leaders of the protest. Therefore Putin can endure much harder conditions before upsetting his population.
      • Since they are in a bad relationship with everyone else on earth except China, they don’t even care about assassinating political opponents in foreign countries. They even make fun of it, trying to pretend Germany did it. Germany is actually the least anti-Kremlin in the EU. That sends the message to Putin’s political opponents that they have nowhere to be safe in the world.
    • Putin himself wrote a long pamphlet blatantly lying about Ukrainian history and explaining that Ukrainian are Russians, denying them all independence and that Russia should take them back by force if they don’t obey. Being fine with blatant lies can be a strength to influence the masses. This usually doesn’t end very well in the long run, but it might in the short term.


  • Military
    • If the Russian army has the power to kill hundreds of millions of people from the West with its nuclear arsenal, Russia doesn’t have any chance to win an all-out war against the NATO alliance. Either military, economically, in terms of natural resources, or industrially Russia is about ten times less capable than the NATO block, and Russia can’t even project a war far away from their home. An all-out war escalation means a death sentence for Russia in the long run, and Putin knows it very well. That’s why he only wander into “grey areas” like non-conventional warfare, misinformation campaigns, and surprise attack when no one watch.
    • It’s hard to hold an invaded country with a hostile population. Russians still remember the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989, and the ultimate fiasco it became.
    • It’s hard to capture big cities, like the Ukrainian capital Kyiv. Soviets had a hard time capturing Grozny in 1995, and it cost them the life of 2000 Russian soldiers. City streets are a maze for tanks, and building ruins provide an infinite quantity of hideouts for snipers and anti-tank infantry. Grozny was only 200,000 inhabitants. Kyiv is 3 million, 15 times larger. Back in 1942, the city of Stalingrad roughly cost 1M soldiers’ lives on each side. Stalingrad was only 450,000 inhabitants. Kyiv could potentially consume an unbearable number of lives for the Russian opinion.
    • Russia is weak on drones, electronic warfare, conventional precision strike, and most conventional weapons, with the notable exception of nuclear weapons. Even a much weaker military power like Turkey is capable of threatening Russia in the drone field over Ukraine.
    • They have modest military power projection capabilities, mostly limited to their neighbors.
  • Economy
    • Russia has an outdated and shrinking economy, based on oil and gas, over which they lost the power to fix prices on the international market. Some US officials describe Russia as a “giant gas station run by a mafia and pretending to be a country”.
    • Russia has few technological advances compared to the West and China, except for some specific military defenses like hypersonic nuclear missiles.
    • Russia is more and more dependent on China for technological innovation in most fields. Russia is only leading in nuclear weapons.
    • If Russia loses a war in Ukraine, they’ll most probably be economically ostracized by the West and that would make them the slave of China economically.
  • Politic
    • With an authoritarian regime, Putin can’t afford a military failure. That would be a death sentence for the Kremlin’s elite. It means that he will avoid direct confrontation as much as possible, and always favor “sneaky land grabbing” when no one is watching.
    • They are very isolated politically. Besides China, and even with them it’s a fragile relationship, they have no real allies, and many shades of enemies. No one wants to emulate them. No one wants to befriend them, because they give nothing to others (no investment, no technology) and behave like emperors. The USA is also imperialist, but they usually give more to their vassals than Russia.
    • For the previous reasons, Russia has very little influence in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Even China is a weak alliance.
    • Alliance with China is weakening over time because China is moving faster technologically.
    • Russia is mostly opportunistic, and lacks long-term strategy, as opposed to China, for example.
    • The young Russian generation is less influenced by the national propaganda channels, and more exposed to the West culture through the internet, so Russia might become less authoritarian after Putin.
    • Eventually, Putin is not immortal and will have to give up power one day, whether in an organized or a brutal way.

The different scenarios, their probabilities, and consequences

Basically, we face 2 main scenarios, Russia invading or not invading Ukraine, each with different ramifications in their consequences.

But before exploring these 2 scenarios, let’s start by what will most probably happen in all cases.

In all cases, Putin will probably favor the general tactics that worked for him so far

  • As a matter of fact, Putin has an adversarial relationship with the West.
  • He shows no signs of interest in reconciliation or in lowering tensions caused by Russia’s posture in Europe.
  • As he always did in the past, he will probably remain opportunist.
  • He will most probably maintain and reinforce an aggressive posture against the West with a zero-sum approach (what I gain must be your loss, and the reverse, there is no win-win deals)
  • He will most probably bet on Russia’s biggest strengths, intelligence operations, and non-conventional warfare.
  • Typically, he will continue disinformation campaigns in western countries to both influence the West population to more pro-Kremlin favorable opinions, as well as interfere in the democratic elections in the United States and Europe to destabilize their defense capabilities.
  • He’ll also continue to do cyber operations to damage Western information systems and steal secrets, as a way to keep power in international negotiations.
  • He’ll continue his military intimidations, amassing as much firepower as he can next to Russia’s borders to intimidate his neighbors and forces them to political concessions if they want to avoid a direct war. Exactly like the mafia forces shop owners to pay for “protection”.
  • Russia will continue to invest in research on nuclear, advanced conventional weapons, space attacks against West satellites, and cyber weapons.
  • Putin will use any legitimate deployment of defensive weapons in neighboring countries to justify an even increasing intimidating posture in the hope of either gaining a domestic political edge in Russia claiming that “the enemy is at the gate, and only me can protect you” or to gain concessions from neighboring countries.

Scenario 1: Putin decides to invade Ukraine

  • I estimate that this scenario has a 65% chance of happening.
  • I raised that number from 60% in January because he now deployed 30,000 additional troops, and critical elements that were previously missing: field hospital to take care of his wounded, and Spetnaz forces to make incursion being enemy lines. His army is nearly complete to start a large-scale invasion. On top of that, he’s now moving troops from far away in Russia, farther than what he did for the Georgian and Ukrainian invasion. He’s currently doing something much more costly for him than a military exercise.
  • If Putin decides to invade Ukraine, it will most probably happen through a false flag operation as the CIA warned, consisting of Russian agents attacking local pro-Russian partisans near the border, to trigger a response from the Russian troops to “protect their fellow Russian citizen”, and to “liberate Ukrainians from western domination”. That’s the same rhetoric used in 2008 and 2014.
  • If he does invade Ukraine, he has 3 main options:
    • Plan 1A: Full invasion of Ukraine. Theoretically possible but quite unlikely (20% chance), because he will encounter a large opposing army, hostile, motivated, capable, and recently equipped with brand new anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, fighting in urban warfare, while at the same time surviving the crushing international economic sanctions. The invasion of Afghanistan claimed 15,000 Russian soldiers’ lives. A full invasion of Ukraine will probably cost more due to the much bigger cities and urban warfare.
    • Plan 1B: Invasion of the eastern half of Ukraine (30% chance), following the Dnieper river, with or without capturing the capital, Kyiv. This option is more technically feasible.
    • Plan 1C: A small-scale invasion (50% chance). Connect the Dombas with Crimea for example, and double the surface under Russian control. Or simple capture cities like Mariupol, which probably won’t offer too much resistance because of their relatively small size and the high proportion of ethnic Russians living there, supposedly friendly to the Russian army. It should be the easiest mission for the Russian army.

Ukraine-Russia possible invasion 2022

An animated version adds some nuances, displaying the south Ukraine (Odessa) being invaded first with an amphibian assault:

  • In all of these plans, the West should most probably not intervene with their military forces, and most probably try to inflict economic sanctions on Ukraine, to various degrees of impact.
  • In parallel, disinformation campaigns will help Putin to erode the attention given to this part of the world and he will continue to pay western non-interventionist political writers to continue to spread lies like “why bother, Ukraine is not even a real nation, and the Baltics don’t even want to defend themselves” at home in NATO countries.
  • The long term consequences of a Russian invasion of Ukraine are hard to predict and can go in many directions, but, there are mostly 2 categories:
    1. Russia is able to get quite fast a clear military victory. Chances depend on the plan (1A:20%, 1B:50%, 1C:80%). In this case, if Russia’s economy is not too crippled, it can weaken the whole Europe defense, and give Putin confidence to invade more later on. The Baltic countries might be next on the menu 5 years later. But of course, Europe probably won’t wait for that, and a Ukraine invasion will probably be a catalyst for creating a common EU army.
      1. If this EU army is strong enough, it could be a deterrent to keep Putin at bay, and the follow-up would look like another Cold War. 80% chances.
      2. If the EU economic and military response is perceived as too weak by the Kremlin, Europe could slip into a conventional war with Russia in the following decade, which would quickly end up in a nuclear war. 20% chances.
    2. But if Russia enters a quagmire (a remake of their Afghanistan fiasco), over which they are drained for 10 years before having to retreat. Chances: 1A:80%, 1B:50%, 1C:20%. It’s a political catastrophe for Putin, and Russia social unrest will force him to leave power, by softly resigning like Gorbachev in Christmas 1991 (70% chances), or by brutal revolution, like the last Russian Tsar in 1017 (30% chances)
  • To sum up:
    • The risk that Putin invades the whole of Ukraine successfully is about 13%, and the risk he starts later World War 3 by miscalculations, is about 3%. Of course, these probabilities are just to give a general order, not to be taken at face value. These two scenarios, even if they would have huge consequences, are quite unlikely.
    • On the other hand, if Putin tries to invade any part of Ukraine, he has a 60% chance of success, and mechanically a 40% chance of failure, which would lead to Russia’s collapse and will force him to resign one way or another. Since he’s facing post-covid economic pressure in his own country and the associated social unrest, that might be a gamble he might be tempted to take. And, at the same time, it’s still quite risky. He would play his life on a coin toss only if the alternative solution is really ugly. He might therefore decide to cancel or postpone his plans at the last minute and just play the “simple military exercise” card to save what he can of his face after making so bold and loud claims.

Scenario 2: he doesn’t try to invade Ukraine

  • We might quickly assume it’s an easy option for him and also the best for the West. It’s not necessarily the case. The West faces other dangers because Putin is still facing post-covid economic struggle and the associated social unrest, which might very well lead to his fall in the next 3-5 years.
  • On top of that, he spent the last 20 years picturing himself in the Russian media as a victorious warlord. And he made proud and bold statements that Ukraine is his top priority and that he will take Ukraine by force to reunite them with Russia. If he backs off from that challenge, it might be seen as a weakness by all his domestic opponents who dream of such a scenario to seize the opportunity to replace him.
  • If it gives a chance to pro-West and pro-democracy opponents like Alexei Navalny, that could be the best thing that could happen for the world’s peace. We might in this case even dream of a collective future with a NATO Russia, and, why not, a Russia becoming a member of the EU. And possibly even give an example to China that could eventually lead to the creation of the United States of Eurasia in 100 years, combining the EU with Russia, China, India, and the whole middle-east in one single 6 billion people country. That’s of course a very long shot because there are still huge cultural barriers, but just to give an example of a positive future outlook.
  • If he’s unable to keep his enemies at bay in the next 5 years, one of his much more aggressive protégé like Ramzan Kadyrov can seize power. What would such a man do with the Russian nuclear arsenal? Start world war 3? Or sell nuclear warheads to terrorists for profit?
  • Also, Russia without a strong Putin could potentially collapse into a cluster of various warlords on the ruins of the previous Russian oblasts (regions). One dangerous man exchanged against 46 power-hungry ambitious local dictators and oligarchs, each of them with a small nuclear stockpile. Interesting thought.
  • The other long-term danger for Russia is China: even if China has its own problems currently, China is comparatively less handicapped economically and technologically than Russia. What a world where Russia is the slave of China would look like? Would Russia becomes aggressive towards China? Or would China force Russia to be his nuclear puppet against the US?
  • A Russia without a strong Putin to keep domestic order might in many cases be more dangerous, and in some cases more peaceful.

Concerning the Baltic countries:

  • As we have seen, Putin might or might not invade Ukraine, mostly depending on how much the rest of the world seems to care or don’t care.
  • On the north side of Europe, Putin will probably not try to seize the Baltic countries as long as they are protected, but he might try his luck if NATO removes their troops from the area. That being said, Ukraine is more important to Russia than the Baltic states.
  • Putin is generally speaking a chess player, but he sometimes makes miscalculations with moves that backfire and end up costing much more than his gains. Crimea was won at a very high cost in foreign relations.
  • In all cases, if he tries to seize the Baltic countries, he will start with the Suvalki corridor, officially to “protect” the Russian Kaliningrad enclave from a problem he would have created in the first place, according to the CIA, like weaponizing refugees with the Polish and Lithuanian border in this area. But as long as there are enough US/UK/EU soldiers in the Baltics, the West can potentially inflict a military defeat that would be a synonym of a political death sentence in Russia. Even in the case of a Russian victory, invading the Baltic countries would expose Russia to a significant risk of escalating war with the West, possibly nuclear, if too many Western soldiers are killed there. In the current context, this is the kind of dangerous move Putin usually avoids. But he also has a history of being unpredictable with surprise attacks where no one expects him in classic Sun Tzu Art of War style. The majority of the West experts thought that he wouldn’t dare to annex Crimea in 2014, and history proved them very wrong. So he can still do it, but it’s way less appealing for him than invading Ukraine.
  • Even if Russia actually invaded the Baltic countries, this would trigger the immediate call by all ambassies for evacuations of all foreigners living there, exactly as the US did in Ukraine on January 23, 2022. They have phone numbers and emails of all their registered local expatriate citizen and automatic messages are sent immediately. With my wife, we are both registered to the local Swiss and French ambassies. There are also 300 French soldiers with 24 Leclerc tanks in Estonia, among 800 other NATO troops and several jet fighters. Of course, it’s not enough to prevent a Russian invasion, but it should slow them down and make an evacuation possible, while reinforcement from the rest of the EU could come.
  • None of the two world wars were fully anticipated by the countries initiating them. The first world war happens after many European countries miscalculated the consequences of their strategy, and the second world war was a shock to Hitler when he discovered France and Britain’s declaration of war after the Nazi invasion of Poland. Playing with fire occasionally burns everyone in the room.

In a nutshell, the future of the Russian neighbors, and by extension European safety, will depend on how much determination the West will display facing Russia.

As the old Latin proverb says, Si vis Pacem, Para Bellum, which means “If you want peace, you must be prepared for war”. Or, as US President Theodore Roosevelt stated it, speak softly but carry a big stick. Negotiation is only as good as how much it can be backed by strength and determination.

US President Joe Biden seems to have understood the stakes and how to deal with the problem, while at the same time the EU is still divided and reluctant to confront Putin, because the EU would be hit hard economically if they had to stop doing business with Russia. The EU’s hesitations, with Germany having too much to lose if they had to cut the Russian gas in the middle of the energy crisis, and France still betting they can build a security partnership with Russia, could be interpreted as weaknesses by Putin, and eventually signal him a green light to invade Ukraine, which eventually would give him more confidence to try riskier land grabbing in the future.

As Foreign Affairs magazine stated id, Europeans must establish priorities, including confronting a difficult question most of them avoid: What are they willing to fight and die for?

It’s time for Europe to wake up, assume their own defense, and start to think as the United States of Europe, instead of a group of countries.

This is an example of the “highly contested” post-covid world described by many intelligence agencies. Failing economies push authoritarian regimes to become more aggressive, and only resolute defenders will be able to survive foreign aggressions.

Either Europe will evolve and strengthen, or succumb to more aggressive actors.