ANALYSIS – Ever since Russia began massing forces near Ukraine several months ago, like many others, I have been engaged in discussions with various senior military leaders and strategists pondering what Vladimir Putin’s end game might be.
Some believed he was blustering to gain some minor concessions from Ukraine, such as a ‘no-NATO’ neutrality pledge, or pledge to not base offensive weapons. Others thought he was positioning for a minor incursion to teach Ukraine a lesson and gain more control over the eastern breakaway regions nominally under Moscow’s thumb.
A variation of this last option was my preferred choice, but I also believed Putin was intent on protecting his 2014 conquest of Crimea to the south and permanently blocking Ukraine’s access to the sea.
Few believed his ‘Plan A’ would be to launch a massive attack that would bombard cities and try to take Kyiv in a potential decapitation of Ukraine’s political leadership
And then he invaded, and many believed they knew what his ‘Plan A’ was – to forcibly occupy Ukraine.
Sadly, President Biden’s overt weakness in dealing with Putin, including his promise to not send U.S. troops to Ukraine, as well as his implying that a ‘minor incursion’ by Russia might be acceptable, may have emboldened Putin to go in bigger and heavier than he initially planned.
Many now see Putin in a Ukrainian quagmire, claiming he miscalculated catastrophically, and may be mentally ill. Former GW Bush National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice warns: “He’s not in control of his emotions. Something is wrong.”
One former U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Russia expert and author of “Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America”, Rebekah Koffler, compared him to a cornered rat.
Daily we see reports of Russian tactical, operational, intelligence and strategic failures and incompetence, including an unexpectedly fierce Ukrainian resistance to their ‘brother’ Russian ‘liberators,’ and the killing of a large percentage of top Russian commanders.
And there is a lot of validity to these views. In many ways the Russian forces ARE flailing. At home Putin is also sacking top advisors and facing unexpected internal opposition to his brutal invasion.
To many analysts these are the reasons Putin is shifting strategy and now limiting his objectives to the east of Ukraine, falling back to a ‘Plan B.’
But what if his ‘Plan B’ was his ‘Plan A’ all along? To steal Ukraine’s energy riches.
As Bret Stephens explains in The New York Times:
Suppose for a moment that Putin never intended to conquer all of Ukraine: that, from the beginning, his real targets were the energy riches of Ukraine’s east, which contain Europe’s second-largest known reserves of natural gas (after Norway’s).
Combine that with Russia’s previous territorial seizures in Crimea (which has huge offshore energy fields) and the eastern provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk (which contain part of an enormous shale-gas field), as well as Putin’s bid to control most or all of Ukraine’s coastline, and the shape of Putin’s ambitions become clear. He’s less interested in reuniting the Russian-speaking world than he is in securing Russia’s energy dominance.
“Under the guise of an invasion, Putin is executing an enormous heist,” said Canadian energy expert David Knight Legg. As for what’s left of a mostly landlocked Ukraine, it will likely become a welfare case for the West, which will help pick up the tab for resettling Ukraine’s refugees to new homes outside of Russian control. In time, a Viktor Orban-like figure could take Ukraine’s presidency, imitating the strongman-style of politics that Putin prefers in his neighbors.
If this analysis is right, then Putin doesn’t seem like the miscalculating loser his critics make him out to be.
It also makes sense of his strategy of targeting civilians. More than simply a way of compensating for the incompetence of Russian troops, the mass killing of civilians puts immense pressure on Zelensky to agree to the very things Putin has demanded all along: territorial concessions and Ukrainian neutrality. The West will also look for any opportunity to de-escalate, especially as we convince ourselves that a mentally unstable Putin is prepared to use nuclear weapons.
Of course, by trying to take out Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and installing a puppet regime in Kyiv, Putin may have tried for a home run and failed, but his real goal was always to get a solid double.
To essentially neuter Ukraine and seize its energy resources.
Maybe ‘Plan B’ was ‘Plan A.’ And Putin is crazy after all. Crazy like a fox.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of American Liberty News.