Putin has been emptying out Russia's embassy in Ukraine

(Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Even before the latest rounds of talks between Russia, the United States, and NATO representatives began in various European locations earlier this month, something disturbing was happening in Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital. Russia began loading some of the staff at their Ukrainian embassy onto busses for the ride back to Moscow. At first, it was the spouses and children of some of the diplomats working there. In the days that followed, lower-level staffers were departing. By the time the talks got underway, several dozen people had left for Russia, with diplomats at a few other locations reportedly being told to start packing and preparing to leave.

In the worst-case scenario, this could be nothing more than what it clearly appears to be. After all, you don’t invade and start blowing up buildings in a capital city without getting as many of your own people out of there as possible first, right? Of course, it could also be an unsubtle threat to the Ukrainian government to not try teaming up with NATO. Similarly, it could have been a message to the United States and NATO that Putin isn’t messing around. At this point, nobody seems to know for sure. (NY Times)

How to interpret the evacuation has become part of the mystery of divining the next play by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia. Thinning out the Russian Embassy may be part propaganda, part preparation for a looming conflict or part feint, Ukrainian and U.S. officials say. It could be all three.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that its embassy in Kyiv was functioning normally despite what it said were threats against Russian diplomats and their families.

“Yet again, despite the provocations and the aggressive behavior of local radicals, I repeat that our missions are operating as usual,” said the ministry’s spokeswoman, Maria V. Zakharova.

Putin continues to insist that he’s not preparing to invade anyone. He’s even scheduled some military exercises in several regions, perhaps trying to portray a sense of normalcy. And to be honest, as long as he doesn’t cross the border, what he does with his troops is his business.

The moves now being considered by the Biden administration, on the other hand, suggest that our intelligence agencies may have reached the conclusion that an invasion is nearly unavoidable. Rather than appeasing Putin with offers of a NATO pullback, we are now looking at shipping more military hardware to Ukraine along with the intelligence personnel and special forces units needed to train them in the event that Putin invades. (CNN)

The Biden administration is weighing new options, including providing more arms to Ukraine to resist a Russian occupation, to try to raise the costs for Russian President Vladimir Putin should he decide to invade the country…

In addition to considering how to help the Ukrainian military and government fend off an invasion, the US is evaluating options for bolstering Ukrainian forces’ ability to resist a potential Russian occupation. That includes potentially providing the Ukrainian Army with additional ammunition, mortars, Javelin anti-tank missiles, and anti-aircraft missile systems, which would likely come from NATO allies, a senior US official told CNN.

If we’re to assume that someone in the Biden administration is on the ball and has an actual plan (a sizeable assumption, I realize), the same might be said about this revelation as I suggested in terms of the Russian embassy. Perhaps the use of the phrase “considering” is important here. It could be seen as a subtle nudge to Putin that we’re ready to make the war painful for him if he invades without actually sending in our own troops.

And make no mistake… the type of military aid being discussed goes well beyond surveillance technology and purely defensive strategy. Mortars and anti-tank missiles, along with anti-aircraft missiles speak to a serious counter-invasion force. If Putin goes into the region around Kyiv and the Ukrainian forces are firing back with that level of gear, his forces will wind up paying a potentially significant price.

So, assuming we carry through with this, are we looking at an attempt to get Putin to back down? Or has the White House basically thrown in the towel and concluded that war in Ukraine is now unavoidable? Putin is aggressive, but he’s not stupid. If he goes in, he’ll do it with a belief that he has the upper hand. Perhaps some shiny new NATO weaponry will change his calculations a bit.