What is Mr Putin up to? Such is the feline Russian leader’s reputation for wily subterfuge that he invites endless speculation and conspiracy theories, yet sometimes the most obvious answer, based on long, weary experience of his revanchist tendencies, is the right one: he is trying it on.
In amassing the largest build-up of military forces on the borders of Ukraine since the invasion of Crimea in 2014. Vladimir Putin is doing what he always does – pushing his luck just as far as he can, to see what he can get away with. Everything the Russian president does, indeed, is calibrated with an almost preternatural ability to sense what the west will and will not put up with, and what, if any, retaliation will be directed his way. It is a game he is good at.
Today, it seems unlikely that the massing of armaments is a prelude to a full invasion of the parts of western Ukraine still under the control of the legitimate government in Kiev. More probably, the Kremlin wants to remind Joe Biden, ahead of the rumoured US-Russia summit, that Russia has resources and options of its own that it can use if the Americans are foolish enough, in Moscow’s perception, to try to humiliate Mr Putin or boss him around.
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