By Gaither Stewart
President Putin's matter-of-fact statement over last weekend that, "If I wanted to I could take Kiev in two weeks", following his mid-week reminder of Russia's sometimes forgotten nuclear capacity, was most certainly startling to European Union leaders gathered in Bruxelles to shuffle around EU functions in such way that the bureaucrats-who have made non-elected careers in Bruxelles running as much as possible the lives of Europeans-can keep their jobs.
Putin's softly spoken words plastered across newspaper headlines shook them out of their reveries. They had hoped the Ukrainian problem would just go away. Now they don't know what to do. Several countries-members-Slovakia, Hungary and Cyprus oppose sending arms to the Chocolate King Poroshenko's forces getting whipped by the "separatists-terrorists" in the Southeast Donbas and losing huge quantities of military hardware and yesterday losing also the Luhansk airport. No one in fact is really sincere about the whole US idea of sanctions. Europe, afflicted by uncertainty about its own identity and the centrifugal forces at work to tear it apart (anti-Europeanists, the secession referendum in Scotland this month, similar movements in Cataluna and the Basque country) has the nerve to give Russia seven days to withdraw its troops from inside Ukraine (which Russia denies) to which Putin responds laconically that "it's impossible to foresee when the crisis will end." Putin has repeated a paraphrased version of US East European policymaker Nuland's words to the EU: "Fuck off!" Merkel is meanwhile really pissed with the Kremlin but can't do much about it, and probably would not even if she could: half of Russia's foreign trade is with her Germany.
Restraint? I firmly believe Russia could take back Kiev in much less than two weeks. Maybe overnight. The Ukrainian army might even join in with Russian forces. And the Nazi-Fascist militias? What would they do? Oh, they would fight a bit, but would be overwhelmed by events and quickly melt away. The US/NATO would face exactly the same situation as when Russia quietly took over the Crimea.
But, as Putin intimates in the conditional tense, " ... if he wanted to," why should he? That is what he is saying. Why should he? He knows. Russians will drink Russian beer instead of Heinekens and wait. Let Poroshenko's ragged army and any Westerners who join in walk straight into Russia's arms. The US/NATO has already suffered defeat after defeat in Ukraine: Crimea, the Donbas, Novorossiya, the ignominy of a banana republic political clique trying to manage to stay afloat in Kiev and ridiculously requesting admission into the European Union and NATO. In whose name, anyway, one wonders? The Bandera-Nazi militia whom every Russian and most Ukrainians detest?
While Putin waits patiently, right on Ukraine's eastern borders, if one even exists, which I doubt. Let NATO or their proxies walk into another Stalingrad.
In this chiefly verbal conflict for everyone except those doing the fighting in southeastern Ukraine, Europe plays the roll of patsy for both the US and Russia. Obama in Washington can incite Europe to violent words and sanctions and expressions of solidarity for which it then must pay the bill. Russia can direct its political maneuvering, its solidarity with the Ukrainian people, its opposition to the US-backed puppet government in Kiev, and direct its counter-sanctions against a vulnerable Europe still in the throes of economic crisis.
Putin's restraint. Russia's patience. America's unknowing.