Here are a few possibilities to consider as Russian troops roll into eastern Ukraine.
Russia has shown in various ways in recent weeks that it fears the repercussions of a full scale invasion of Ukraine. Over the last couple weeks, Russia has been hung up on a binary choice: invade or begin a humiliating climbdown. This may be a way to create a third option: occupy and de facto annex the regions that have been under de facto Russian control for eight years, celebrate a great nationalist victory and wrap this crisis up. Declare victory and go home without the huge gamble of full scale invasion.
These two puppet states claim more Ukrainian territory than they currently control. A key question will immediately be whether Russia keeps its troops within those areas of de facto control or moves them ahead into the Ukrainian central government-held territories. If it’s the latter option, this recognition decision becomes a predicate for full-scale invasion rather than an offramp Putin has created to get himself out of this bind.
Information warfare has been especially evident in this crisis on both the Russian and American sides. The NATO member states have been united on a punishing round of sanctions that will go into effect the moment Russian forces invade Ukraine. This is that … but also kinda not that? It’s also not clear if this will be the end of it or whether we’ll have another build up of tensions which will lead to a full scale Russian invasion of the rest of Ukraine in a week or two. Do NATO member states define this as the invasion and do all the sanctions now? Do they do a few and hold out the rest for the full-scale invasion in a week or never? Will they all agree?
At some level this seems clearly an effort to throw the U.S. and NATO off stride, presenting them with an in-between scenario and seeing whether the member states remain united or have a clear plan on how to react.