Expert Warns Misjudging Russia’s Intentions Could Lead To Catastrophe

In the high-stakes geopolitical poker game over Ukraine, a miscalculation in assuming Russia is bluffing could have dire consequences, warns a foreign policy expert. As the conflict between Russia and Ukraine drags into its third year, Benjamin Giltner, writing for The National Interest, cautions that dismissing Russian threats as mere bluster risks triggering a catastrophic escalation.

Giltner references Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stark warning in his annual State of the Nation address, where Putin stated that continued Western support for Ukraine could lead to a nuclear conflict, threatening global civilization. Despite this, voices like retired U.S. Army General Ben Hodges and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg have assured the public that Putin is unlikely to follow through on his threats.

However, Giltner argues that history is rife with examples where leaders did not bluff about their red lines. He cites the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which was intended to demoralize the United States but instead led to full-scale war. Similarly, during the Korean War, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s underestimation of Chinese intervention led to a significant escalation in the conflict.

Another historical parallel is the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, where Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s misjudgment of U.S. resolve brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Giltner suggests that a similar underestimation of Russia’s resolve in Ukraine could lead to a disastrous outcome.

The expert underscores that Ukraine holds a deep strategic and historical significance for Russia, akin to Taiwan for China. The idea of Ukraine joining NATO, viewed by Russia as a direct threat, has been a significant factor in the current tensions. Giltner highlights that former Secretary of State James Baker’s 1990 promise to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev—that NATO would not expand eastward—was not honored, leading to NATO’s significant eastward expansion, including the recent addition of Finland.

Giltner concludes that assuming Putin is bluffing about his red lines could be a fatal misjudgment. He echoes the sentiments of Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić, who warned of a potential “real disaster” if the conflict continues unchecked. The stakes are extraordinarily high, with both the geopolitical standing of the West and Putin’s personal and political future hanging in the balance.

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