Next week will determine if the flashpoint in Ukraine will be averted as Moscow draws a red line

The draft demands a halt to NATO expansion towards Russia, and a legally binding guarantee that any system that can hit Moscow will not be placed in countries Russia shares its borders with; creating a buffer zone where NATO can neither conduct exercises nor keep its ships, planes or nuclear missiles in Europe. On the face of it, it does appear to be a maximalist position. But the Russians clearly believe that since concessions would have to be made in subsequent discussions, this is a fair gambit.

What are the possible scenarios? In the first scenario, the Biden Administration would take the threat seriously and offer a deal allowing both sides to climb down, save face and pull the world from the brink of a nuclear exchange. This scenario will require the US to keep the carrot of NATO membership dangling in front of Georgia and Ukraine but ensure they never get it. One way of doing it, it is suggested, is to pressurise Kyiv to implement the Minsk Accord and give constitutional autonomy to its renegade eastern provinces. Kyiv is dependent on Western largesse for its survival. If DC, Berlin and Paris send concerted messages that the rug shall be pulled from under his feet, Zelensky would come running faster than most sprinters. There would be enough sane US officials in DC who will see merit in accepting a mutually-agreeable deal.

In the second scenario, the US rejects the deal and provokes Moscow further. What are the options with President Putin then? Quite a few. Russia will militarily dominate the entire NATO including the US as far as the European Theatre is concerned.

Do remember that while the West spins the Cuban Missile Crisis as some sort of a victory for the West, it actually delivered what the Soviets wanted; i.e removal of American nuclear missiles from Turkey.

Russians know how to engage in brinkmanship and for starters, it can decide to deploy Hypersonic Missiles in not only Russian enclaves sandwiched inside Europe but also inside Belarus, the Arctic and the mid-Atlantic. This would mean that any city in mainland US would be within range of the Russian missiles and roughly between 4 to 9 minutes from getting hit in a nuclear exchange. Russians currently face similar threats because of NATO’s threat to deploy offensive weapons in Ukraine and the Baltics. Security officials in DC would certainly like to avoid this, all the hubris and public posturing notwithstanding.

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