Since it’s hard to trust the news coming either from the West or Russia, I try to examine who benefits from these actions (cui bono?) and try to put myself in the shoes of those in the halls of power. Now I acknowledge that Russia is NOT our ally by any stretch, and that Putin has his own game which probably isn’t to our benefit. But even adversaries, potential or actual, should be afforded a wary level of respect. And back when they were an actual adversary, the US and the West always used some level of diplomacy in dealing with the USSR. So why are our leaders going so aggressively over the top with this? This smacks more of middle-school name-calling and bullying than anything resembling statecraft. In the last post I attempted to answer the why of the US posture against Russia, but it doesn’t help explain why the talk and actions are so provocative and incendiary. Thus far I’m seeing two plausible potential motivations:
1) The first possibility is that one of the primary goals actually IS to provoke a reaction from Russia. Presumably not a direct military one, as both sides know that if either power is substantially weakened then a nuclear escalation becomes much more likely. But rather an economic response bad enough that it spurs a global recession or economic crisis, around which a narrative can be created that ‘Russia Killed the Recovery’. Likely Russian responses IMO include shutting down some or all the gas pipelines to Europe, some coordinated dumping of US and/or European bonds, or a series of cyber espionage attacks on the US financial systems. Now under normal conditions no one would want that. But if one already expects, as do I, that the extreme and exponentially-rising levels of debt are going to eventually collapse and thus cripple the economy anyway, then one might as well try to turn the blame away from oneself. And if the people in charge are particularly calculating and corrupt, politically connected individuals and institutions can be tipped off ahead of time to position themselves to profit from the crisis. Now this scenario does assume that much of Europe's leadership is in the dark regarding the US' intention to provoke a reaction, seeing as they would likely suffer more from a Russian response (especially if it comes to shutting off the gas, which I see as most likely).
2) The second possibility is that the US leadership’s goal is more basic, and the aggressive posture is just part of the “if you have a hammer everything looks like a nail” mindset. I think it’s no coincidence that the laughably awful implementation of US diplomacy has been coinciding with the increased role of force and threats in what passes for US foreign policy. So what we have is the US leadership resorting to their favorite tool, unaware or uncaring that this potential adversary is a much different animal than Iraq, Syria, or Iran. In this scenario they're not really expecting a shooting war or even any serious economic repercussions to come about as a consequence. To think Russia would dare to respond in any serious way is unthinkable to them.
Now I can see how someone who was intelligent, well-informed, and utterly selfish & amoral would find the logic behind the first motive appealing and possibly worth risking using such heavy-handed and aggressive tactics. But then I think of what the average career politician is like, and how over time power changes most people. Think of it for a moment…. unlike most of us, they have been spending many years or decades wielding power and surrounded by people who kiss their asses, with very few people around with the guts to directly challenge their decisions or put forward contrary opinions. Now that is a perfect environment for molding egotists and control freaks whose interaction with and grasp of the real world is limited, and who tend to think of themselves as ‘above’ most people. And since they often skate through life without suffering the negative side effects of their own decisions, they tend to not consider the risks and consequences of their actions. At least that seems to fit the pattern of American politics that I’ve seen during my adult life thus far.
So ultimately, it seems the best explanation is that our leaders and some of those advising them and/or pulling their strings are reality-divorced egotists who are not nearly as smart and powerful as they believe they are. It is also a simpler explanation, and makes fewer assumptions regarding the intelligence, knowledge, and ability to cooperate of those individuals. I have no doubt that there are some clever individuals in the halls of power that may turn any blowback to their advantage as in the first scenario, and I’m sure even the more clueless politicians will pounce on the opportunity to blame Russia for any economic fallout and work to make them an enemy upon which the population can focus their discontent and frustrations.
Either way, I think it’s reasonable to expect some calculated response from Russia within the next few months. Military action in Ukraine I see as less likely, but still a small possibility (warning: the article's propaganda is thick and the context is lacking, so hold your nose when you read it). Most likely I see a partial or full gas shutoff being implemented during the fall or winter to inflict maximum pain on Europe so that they’ll buckle under and abandon the US call to isolate Russia. Russia has done it before for less. It’s not like Europe has any real near-term alternatives to Russian gas. So for the time being, Putin has them by the short and curlies….
UPDATE: Seems Russia is thinking even more outside-the-box regarding their response than I expected….
No Fly Zone: Russia Plans Airspace Blockade For European Flyovers In Sanction Retaliation