Many minds are now aiming to understand Putin’s goals and to design a tactic for responding to Putin’s pressure. Ukrainian MPs and authorities are often asked how they see Ukraine can be supported.
Here a perspective is shown which probably has insufficient attention in the discussions.
Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s FM, commented he could understand some in the West may have sentiments towards Russia as a country with rich culture, with famous Russian ballet and literature, but those at the Ukrainian borders are not poets nor members of a ballet collective. This nice analogy can be worth building upon.
We do not know now whether Putin is going to attack or not but we know he performs a show at our borders, and he enjoys this. These are already the second performances during the year, last time they arrived to dance at spring. Apparently they have enjoyed, thus repeating now.
What is important however, that Putin should not feel that he can do these performances for free. Even if he does not attack now, these border performances weaken Ukraine. This happens via many routes: they intensify political tensions inside Ukraine, cause economic harm since the will to invest decreases under the conditions of a possible attack “soon”, cause financial harm due to the increased country risks and thus increased costs of debt for everything Ukrainian, and the need to increase financing of defense at the cost of everything else. As a result, with each performance Ukraine appears more vulnerable for an attack in future. This certainly encourages Putin to perform these dances again and again. And this is what we see. He danced in spring already, and he is dancing now.
The West can have this or that talk strategy for Putin attempting to persuade him attacking Ukraine is a bad idea, but it is important to do more than merely talking. This is a bad patient that cannot be cured by psychoanalysis. The idea that he can be constrained by cheap talks and merely inducing fear of consequences is poor. This is of course a first choice tactic since it is very good in terms of the price incurred (cheap talks are cheap to talk which is good of course), but it is not effective since it encourages Putin to dance again and again. And Ukraine will be weaker and weaker each time, decreasing the attack price tag, and eventually he will attack (even if not now).
Therefore a key to the Western policies towards Russia could be thinking in terms of showing Putin that the more he dances the stronger, not weaker, Ukraine appears. This will stabilize the patient discouraging him from behaving inappropriately, not because he will fear (we do not know about his fear thresholds) but because dancing will cease to be beneficial to him, rather to the contrary.
This is now shown in military terms, Ukraine has got substantial weapons already and it seems will get more. Putin will see a bad consequence of his winter dance (at least to some extent these weapons cannot be something pleasant to Putin; they definitely increase the price tag for him when he considers attacking), and this will make him think if he wants to dance again and see this price increase again. Without his dancing this winter, he would not see Ukraine supplied with substantial weapons, this is a price.
But it is even more important to act in economical and financial domains. Here is the main weakness of Ukraine, not in the lack of anti-tank weapons. And this is where Putin achieves great successes by his dances, the successes provoking him to repeat again and again.
When Greece represented a risk to the stability of the West (through risks of destabilizing the Western financial system and disintegration of the eurozone), hundreds of billions were supplied by EU and USA (through IMF) in order to mitigate the risk. If it is acknowledged that potential developments in Ukraine represent a risk to the stability of Europe and the West (and it seems there is a consensus they do), the West should not rely on cheap talks but should demonstrate that each dance makes Ukraine stronger, not weaker, economically and financially. This is much less expensive than saving Greece, though still more expensive than just talking.
What exactly can be done, should be discussed with experts in finance and economy, there is no lack of them in the West nor in Ukraine (e.g. the Ukrainian ambassador in Washington is an ex-minister of finances). Putin has to see clearly that the more he attempts to press and destabilize Ukraine, the stronger Ukraine appears financially and economically. Certainly many ways can be found to deliver economical and financial support so strong that Putin will be very discouraged to have this repeated. One obvious example to consider could be to provide cheap financing to the Ukrainian government for their buying back their own bonds when they turned cheap as a result of the war risks, thereby decreasing the debt burden for Ukraine – thanking to Putin for his help. Various mechanisms could be developed if there is a will to act.