Russia-Ukraine crisis already paying dividends for Putin

Dan Hoffman: Russia-Ukraine conflict ‘cause for very grave concern’

Fox News contributor Dan Hoffman weighs in on rising tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

If there is one thing I learned at CIA it’s that the secret to unraveling what British Prime Minister Winston Churchill aptly described as the Russian “riddle wrapped inside an enigma” is deciphering what makes Vladimir Putin tick, or as his Russian comrades would say, “”чем человек дышит”, literally “how does a person breathe.” 

Let’s consider the key questions first: Why did Putin choose this time deliberately to incite a crisis by menacingly deploying over 100,000 troops to Ukraine’s border? What does he expect to gain and what might he be risking? 

Trained in the art of cloak and dagger espionage, Putin served many years in the KGB before the collapse of the Soviet Union and was later Director of Russia’s internal security police the FSB.  His goal is to remain in power and his tactics reflect those of a coldly calculating spy, who is exceptionally effective at ruthlessly exploiting his adversaries’ vulnerabilities. 

Vladimir President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022. 
(Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

The Kremlin’s chief adversary, to whom Putin and his coterie refer as the “Main Enemy”, is the United States.   Putin believes the U.S. –led NATO alliance is an existential threat to his regime security not because of NATO’s ostensible military threat, which Putin purposely exaggerates, but because Western ideals of liberty, freedom, and democracy might spread to Russia and break Putin’s iron grip on the Russian state. 

Ukraine is in Putin’s crosshairs because nothing threatens Putin’s regime more than a democratic, prosperous neighbor with a sizeable Russian speaking population and commitment to membership in the European Union and NATO.

When the Biden administration stated its goal was to build a “stable and predictable” relationship with Russia, Putin saw a propitious opportunity to dial up the pressure on Ukraine and incite a crisis for which he alone is responsible.   He might have concluded the Biden administration, which would not leave behind a few thousand troops to prevent Afghanistan from morphing into a terrorist state, was so preoccupied with its domestic agenda, that it would be willing to make concessions on Ukraine.

DEMOCRATS FIND PUTIN ON UKRAINE’S DOORSTEP AFTER YEARS OF DOWNPLAYING THE RUSSIAN THREAT 

So Putin deliberately delivered the most unstable and unpredictable aggressive threats against Ukraine and is charging a hefty price to remove them.  In the spirit of Soviet dictators under whom he served, Putin has made the most unrealistic demands with artificially imposed deadlines designed only to increase tension. 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks to the press ahead of a meeting of NATO Foreign Affairs Ministers to be held on Nov. 30-Dec.1, at the NATO headquarters, in Brussels, Belgium, Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. 
(AP Photo/Olivier Matthys)

The Biden administration should have expected nothing less from the Kremlin, which invaded and occupies Georgia; enjoys a strategic partnership with Iran; poisoned former Russian military intelligence officer Sergey Skripal and oppositionist Alexei Navalny with a banned chemical nerve agent; interfered in U.S. and European elections; and launched malicious cyber attacks on U.S. government, private sector and key infrastructure. 

The Ukraine crisis is already paying dividends for Putin. 

First, Putin has directed his state controlled media to portray Ukraine as such a significant threat, that Russia had no other choice but to deploy troops to the border. 

The reality is that NATO is a defensive alliance and Russia is by far the strongest nation on the continent, with superior conventional and nuclear forces.  Characterizing NATO and Ukraine as Russia’s enemies, Putin can by extension attack within his own borders what threatens him most — liberty, freedom, and democracy.

Second, Putin has demonstrated NATO is powerless to induce him to withdraw his troops, except on his own terms.  Putin can continue to threaten Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty as long as he wishes.  By demonstrating NATO does not have the leverage to defend, deter, or counter the Kremlin’s malicious behavior, Putin is driving a wedge between the U.S. and Ukraine.

Third, Putin has increased his domestic prestige by going toe to toe with Russia’s superpower rival and demonstrating he is still capable after two decades in power, of dealing ruthlessly with his domestic and foreign enemies. 

Having learned firsthand from the KGB failed coup against Gorbachev that the most dangerous threats to an autocratic regime most often emerge from within, Putin knows he must evince not a hint of weakness, or risk an uprising from among even his most loyal followers. 

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