President Vladimir Putin's Russia has enough advanced military might to conquer and annex Ukraine, but the cost in lives, money and Russia's global standing make it easier to just keep arming pro-Russian separatists, a security expert and former U.S. diplomat in the region told Newsmax TV
"He could do it. There is no two ways about it," writer and international issues commentator Paul Janiczek told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner. "Does he want to do it? He would be spending an inordinate amount of resources in order to do so."
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A proxy war in rebel-held parts of Ukraine such as Donetsk suits Putin better, said Janiczek.
"He'll co-opt popular sentiment in the Donetsk region, which feels much more fealty toward the Russian republic … than it does toward [Ukraine's capital of] Kiev, which [separatists] believe is an absentee landlord," said Janizcek. "So therefore he [Putin] will make them his henchmen and his proxy."
"This is the Russian playbook," said Janizcek, pointing to Russia's handling of restive neighbors ranging from Ukraine to Chechnya and Moldovia.
"What they do is they foment that tension with a certain set of an ethnic minority that they brand as Russophone, if you will, and present themselves as a solution after the conflict has already broken in their own favor," said Janiczek.
Asked to what end, Janiczek said: "Putin's game is very simple. He is a Russian nationalist."
"He is not a Soviet. He is not a Soviet nostalgic," Janiczek continued, calling Putin instead a "retro-imperialist" in favor of "anything that gets him to realize a Russian empire once more."
"His realistic end game … is to secure what Russia's geopolitical planners call 'the near abroad,' " said Janiczek, "which [means] they seek to consolidate their power and influence among countries that are close to Russia … [where] there are just enough tentacles from the Russian Federation that influence how they view NATO and the West."
He said the United States' preoccupation with an unraveling Iraq is, for empire-minded Putin, a bonus.
"I would say he is absolutely reveling in it," Janiczek said, because American woes in the Middle East give Putin "more of a free run on the international stage."
Janiczek said Russia's aim in the Middle East is to prop up its biggest regional military ally, Syria, against rebels trying to oust President Bashar al Assad and against Islamic insurgents grabbing swaths of both Syria and Iraq.
"And a lot of that comes down to energy," said Janiczek, pointing the primacy of oil and gas exports to Russia's economy. "Like in Ukraine, like in Syria, like in Iraq, the Russians are concerned with east-west energy flows."
And if Russia were to opt for direct, sustained military action in one of its global disputes, Janiczek said they're prepared.
"The fact of the matter is that the Russian military has gone through an impressive period of modernization," he said. "They were taking notes when the United States was in Iraq, in a grinding counter-insurgency, and they have improved their infantry equipment for the rank-and-file troopers."
Janiczek said the upgrades include "bullets … specifically designed to engage NATO-quality armor."
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