Somebody asked that question, today, and I just had to answer. Not being a government official, not having an employer that might be embarrassed, I waded into it. Here is what I wrote.
Is Putin Starting World War 3?
Not no, but hell no, Putin is not starting WW 3.
Putin understands Reflexive Control and Maskirovka, two essential elements of everything he’s done since March 2014, in my opinion. Reflexive control is where an adversary will react in a certain predictable fashion to a friendly action, for instance. At the same token, he knows the West will not act and cross certain thresholds without a modicum of knowledge of what is happening. In the case of Crimea, Russia took advantage of a chaotic situation, a coup, followed by an unelected government, with no clear handover of authority. The Polite Green Men, we all knew were Russian soldiers, but nobody could “prove it”. We knew the Black Sea Fleet that was stationed in Crimea was probably their birthing point, but we couldn’t prove it. Russia’s rhetoric kept us off-balance, “prevent a NATO takeover”, “protect the Russian language”, these were subtle provocations which were enough for that situation. Then Russian Special Forces and FSB probably whipped up support, paid some people to demonstrate and a so-called ‘popular uprising’ began. If course the big things were 1, cyber connectivity was almost zero, taken out the first day. 2, Russian ‘media’ had almost total control, 3, Western media was kept out, except for Simon Ostrovsky and 4, Russian media was hyper-saturating all information feeds with their version of events.
It is a somewhat similar situation in Donbas, but the B team is in charge, too many assumptions were made and too many clowns were recruited as leaders.
Long term, Putin does not want World War 3, no leader could or should. Putin wants to assert long-term dominance at extremely minimal costs. A full-scale invasion would be too costly in both the short and long-term, in numerous different ways. The damage to Russia’s image is currently fairly bad, a full-scale invasion would irrevocably damage it for decades.
Russia’s propaganda machine is excellent, second to none. There is little difference between what Russia does and what the Soviets did, except Russia now is much more sophisticated, much more synchronized and they have much better and newer tools. Trolls for instance, that is a fairly new development. What does it accomplish? Nothing, except it sometimes undermines public perception. What does the propaganda do? Nothing but public perception, again, which the policy makers should see through and are only occasionally hoodwinked.
Long term? The Russians are going to vacillate between saber-rattling of nukes through statements by the government leaders, and pleading that Russia is the victim. Just shy of that forbidden threshold, just short of war. They’ll drive NATO country budgets through the roof and delight in calling it ‘an excessive buildup designed to provoke Russia’.
Until… until someone loses their temper and slaps the every living crap out of.. Oops. Not diplomats. Nosiree and not our government leaders, either. Even though I’m sure every one of them harbors a silent fantasy of slapping Vladimir Vladimirovitch upside the head and stomping on his little teensy weensy…