While the alacrity with which the west, including Australia, has announced significant sanctions on Russia following its recognition of two breakaway Ukrainian "people's republics" is welcome, the reality is they won't end this nascent conflict on their own.
President Putin has repeatedly demonstrated he is a consummate strategist; the classic chess champion capable of thinking many moves ahead.
Those skills were on show during the invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Despite their best efforts, and severe sanctions, the combined might of the western powers has not been able to make him give up these gains.
How can this be given the disparity in wealth between post-Soviet Russia and the leading western European nations who all have an intimate interest in this fight? The EU's economic strength is orders of magnitude greater than Russia's. It has 447 million citizens compared to Russia's 150 million. Surely the Europeans alone should be able to curb the imperial enthusiasm of a nation that was only recently a basket case and which has an economy little bigger than Australia's.
President Putin, despite his recent show of irrationality and incoherence, would have war gamed every conceivable response to this incursion. Germany's decision to suspend the certification of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the sanctions against leading banks and the rest will not have come as a surprise to him. That's why he has squirreled away almost $1 billion to cushion the impact.
The same is true of the travel bans and financial sanctions imposed on members of the Russian security council by Prime Minister Morrison on Wednesday. Perhaps the only thing that may have surprised President Putin was being described as a "thug" by a Coalition leader in full-on election mode.
While ever the west responds to Russia's moves in a predictable fashion it is doomed to lose. Concerns are already being expressed about the domestic consequences of the sanctions in Europe, America and even Australia. Democratic governments, which are highly sensitive to shifts in public opinion, have little appetite for pain, let alone full-scale war.
While much has been said about appeasement, it is easy to forget that when Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich waving his note from Hitler and crying "peace in our time" he was hailed as a hero.
If Putin's ambitions are to be curtailed the western powers need to focus on his core demand; that Ukraine never be admitted to NATO. At this point in the game there appear to be two options. The Churchillian response would be to queen a pawn by admitting Ukraine into NATO as a matter of urgency, bringing it under the US nuclear umbrella among other things.
That, given Biden, Johnson, Macron et al demonstrably don't have that type of resolve, is highly improbable. The possibility of Ukraine joining NATO was first mooted by George W. Bush in 2008. If it was going to happen it would have occurred after Russia moved on Crimea.
The second alternative then would be for the western powers to sacrifice a rook by giving an undertaking Ukraine would never be admitted to NATO. That would not be appeasement; just an acknowledgement of reality.
A third possible outcome, given Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is not fully mobilising his nation's military, would be for Ukraine itself to relinquish its NATO ambitions. That would remove Putin's principal justification for his aggression and expose him as a liar and a hypocrite on a par with Adolf Hitler in the event he did not withdraw.
President Putin now has all his pieces in position on the board. The time has come for the west to change the game.
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