It used to be said in the 19th century that Russia is never as strong as she looks and never as weak she looks. Napoleon, and later Hitler, found this out to their extreme discomfort.
Word from defense sources who are long time associates tells of a Putin regime that is quietly arranging chess pieces in Europe and around the world. To what end? To a partial restoration of the Russian Empire. Not the Soviet Empire, but the dreams of the czars. This czar? The first Vladimir since 1015.
Their specific target is said to be Ukraine. They want it firmly in their orbit and out of the clutches of the EU and the West. The Ukrainians are not currently cooperative in that endeavor. So the Russians are using their puppet government in Belarus to destabilize Kiev through insertions of refugees and the financial support of pro-Russian parties and political figures. Putin, like China, knows what the Taliban already have gleefully found out. That there is a window of opportunity between now and January 2025, the likely end of the Biden administration. If they want Ukraine by force or internal destabilization they will have to act by then.
When they do, using a border incident as a cassus belli, they want their potential adversaries occupied. That means us and the Europeans. Putin has that covered by his energy deal with the Euros and by the weakness of the Biden administration. There are also reports of Russian “advisors” being deployed in greater numbers to Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Cuba. Military cooperation with the Chinese proceeds apace.
That way, a Ukrainian action can be launched in the midst of a Chinese bluff on Taiwan, a Caribbean move on any number of American interests there, and a possible energy shutoff aimed at the EU. Will Euros give a whit about Ukraine if Germans or the French are freezing in their homes? Not bloody likely.
Thus the military scenario could look like a bigger version of the 2008 Russian-Georgian conflict. The EU at that point would be faced with what NATO called, during the Cold War, the Hamburg Grab option. The thinking went, what if the Soviets just raced armor across the Northern plain of West Germany and grabbed the city of Hamburg and stopped? Either NATO responds and kicks them out, risking nuclear war, or NATO decides not to risk Chicago for Hamburg and the alliance falls apart due to lack of military credibility.
Would the EU forcibly respond to Russia if she invaded EU ally, though not member, Ukraine, especially if we were occupied elsewhere? Again, likely not. Putin knows this and may act accordingly. Putin is no Hitler, but he has a similar canny feel for Western weakness and how to exploit it. That is not good news for Ukraine or, eventually, for the European Union.