What If?

Historians should stick to post-diction, not engage in prediction. Still, an American citizen is free to wonder about things that are going on or might come to pass.

President Donald Trump openly disparaged the European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In his view, they didn’t fulfill their agreed levels of defense spending and tried to involve the United States in petty conflicts of interest only to Europeans. Susan Rice, the Ambassador to the United Nations during the Obama administration, has been quoted as telling the British and French ambassadors to the UN that “You’re not going to drag us into your shitty little war [in Libya].”

American President Joe Biden came into office pledging to repair the damage done by his predecessor to American leadership in NATO.

Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps massing Russian military forces around the frontiers of Ukraine. They are engaged in training exercises, now in co-operation with Belarus.

President Biden keeps warning Putin that a Russian invasion of Ukraine will trigger massive economic sanctions.

Putin keeps announcing that he has no intention of invading Ukraine, but that he insists that Ukraine never become a member of NATO.

President Biden’s spokespeople keep announcing that intelligence sources reveal that a Russian invasion is imminent.

Ukraine President Volodomyr Zelensky seems to believe that the Russians are doing something other than preparing to invade.

What does Putin get out of holding these military exercises without invading?

Well, President Biden has made it clear that the United States is not going to fight Russia over the independence of Ukraine. Instead, the United States will plaster Russia with economic sanctions.

President Biden has made it clear that the United States will do all it can to prevent completion of the Nord Stream energy pipeline from Russia to Germany.

The European Union (EU) has been suffering strains in recent years. Brexit is one sign of those strains. British prime minister Boris Johnson seems closely aligned with the American position.

The tensions between the more economically-developed and solidly democratic EU members in Western Europe and the less developed and allegedly less solidly democratic EU members in Eastern Europe have bubbled along for several years. Germany and France seem less enthusiastic than is the Biden administration about confronting Russia over Ukraine, or more skeptical about Russia’s readiness to invade Ukraine.

Arguably, what Putin gets out of the present crisis is two things. First, he is making it clear to Ukraine that no one is coming to save them. They will have to make a deal with Moscow at some point. One knock-on effect of that might be the eventual disintegration of Ukraine between its eastern and western areas.

Second, he could be promoting the dissolution of NATO and even of the EU. The crisis may be forcing an eventual choice for Europe between Russia and the United States over energy supplies. It could be forcing a discussion over whether NATO and the EU have expanded too far, too fast to the East.

Certainly this is just idle speculation by an ill-informed school teacher. Still, one question leads to more questions.

Are the projected sanctions strong enough to harm Russia to the point where they would actually deter an invasion through the fear of unrest inside Russia?

Can the United States guarantee the European Union affordable long-term access to alternative energy supplies if the Nord Stream is not completed?

Can the European Union sort out it identity issues in a timely fashion?

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