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“There’s a feeling that it’s still a case of ‘bluff brinkmanship’ to the ‘nth degree,’” Bohdan Nahaylo, the editor-in-chief of the Kyiv Post, told Fox News.
Just this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin said his country was “open to more diplomacy” and “ready to hold dialogue.”
“The message we seem to be getting from Russia is that they’re ready to give diplomacy another chance,” Mykhailo Wynnyckj, the author of “Ukraine’s Maidan, Russia’s War,” noted to Fox.
At the same time, Putin’s defense chief claimed some Russian troops were pulling back from some positions along the border with Ukraine.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance was seeing “no signs of deescalation.”
Nahaylo added, “It could be ‘smoke and mirrors.’”
The facts on the ground are broadly unchanged in the last few weeks of this crisis. Russia has some 130,000 troops close to the borders with Ukraine, including in western Russia, in Crimea to the south — which it claimed as its own — and in ally Belarus to the north. Russia’s typical claim: These troops are simply conducting drills. But the numbers and the nature of the combat hardware they’ve carried with them spoke to something much more serious.
The demands from Russia remained broadly the same as well. While the U.S. and West have been trying to humor Russia with offers of limits on missiles in Europe and greater transparency in military exercises there, Moscow’s core issues have only just begun to be touched upon: that Ukraine and other ex-Soviet states never join NATO and that the U.S.-led alliance pulls back troops and activities on its eastern “flank” near Russia.
For its part, the Biden administration has been trying to stay on the same tough “page” with the Putin regime.
“I think the U.S. was slow to take into account the full severity of what was happening,” Nahaylo remarked, “but recovered its position and took a leading role in rallying the West.”
The sanctions package readied against Russia by the U.S. with its allies has teeth. While direct military help for Ukraine in the event of an invasion (“boots on the ground”) has been ruled out, military aid to Kyiv has been ramped up and confidence-building troop deployments to NATO countries nearby are underway.
Clearly still feeling the fallout from the chaotic evacuation of Kabul following the Taliban take-over in Afghanistan last summer, the U.S. has led the way in emptying out its embassy in Kyiv — a move some analysts warned was too aggressive.
“I think embassies have overreacted, including the American embassy for having closed,” Wynnyckyj said, “at the end of the day, not helpful.”
At the very least, there have been messaging conflicts between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the U.S. and West. For weeks, he’s complained about “premature” diplomatic departures as well as overzealous predictions of a possible Russian invasion.
“The population is caught between mixed signals, as it were,” Nahaylo said. “They’re happy for the help but confused by the messages they’re receiving.”
The Zelenskyy government seemed to let go of its tough upper lip this week, calling for a “Day of Unity” on Wednesday, one of the days chosen by the West for a possible Russian incursion – a date that seems to be slipping.
So, what is next for the Ukraine crisis? Experts said the upcoming days and weeks could be critical.
“The next two or three weeks will show what diplomacy will produce,” according to Nahaylo, “and whether Ukraine will keep its ranks closed.”
Experts are still not ruling out a full-scale invasion by Russia, a major attack on Ukraine’s infrastructure, or a swiping away of more territory in the Russia-leaning east and south.
What others have feared is a hybrid war, like the cyber-attack seen Tuesday on several Ukraine websites. Or, some of the “false-flag” attacks to stir up the population and create trouble from within.
“We are looking at some sort of infiltration,” said Wynnyckyj. “Not in the classic invasion sense, but causing kinetic-style diversions.”
The wild card in all of this, of course, is Putin. No one claims to know what is going on in his mind, or whether his final decision will be rational. According to Nahaylo, “We regard him as a chess player, as a strategist, as a tactician … but he could be crazy.”
With all the disruption he’s already caused and all the attention he’s already garnered, maybe “crazy like a fox.”