The most specific danger in the present situation around Ukraine is if Kiev decides to attack Donbass.
There is a background danger. This is the apparent lack of intellectual and diplomatic skills and statesmanship in Western political (and media) circles. An example is their promotion of this idea about how Russia is planning a ‘false flag’ video shoot involving corpses from a mortuary and actors playing weeping relatives.
This is crazy. Firstly; what would such a video look like? It would obviously look like a film set. Russia would completely discredit themselves. Of course Russia is not planning such a move. Secondly; the assumption appears to be that Russia wants to attack Ukraine and is looking for an excuse. Do they really believe this or is it black propaganda? If the former then they are certifiable. Russia must dread a war with Ukraine. It would be costly. They might succeed in annexing Donbass (and some coal mines which they don’t particularly need) but the cost in lives, war materials, economic relations with the West etc. would be massive. (You don’t need to threaten them with sanctions every other minute for them to realise that). A full-on war with Ukraine would not be massively popular in Russia even if people understood that the aim was to protect Donbass. (My impression is that people are ready to protect Donbass but would not relish a long war with a country where a lot of people have relatives and contacts). The Kremlin must dread such a war.
(This is quite fun. This is the State Department trying to present their claim about the above false flag operation as being something which the media should just print without any supporting evidence. As an exercise count the number of lies which the spokesman tells e.g. how he suggests that the only alternative to believing their unsubstantiated claim is to ‘believe Russian misinformation’. Why are they trying to fool AP? Could it be because their information is ‘misinformation’ and they know it? Probably. Probably it is some tittle-tattle picked up by GCHQ or fed to them by Ukrainian intelligence and – as in the Iraq war – they use this kind of dubious material to further their strategic aims *).
I get the impression that Western policy as so often in terms of its relations with Russia is driven entirely by NATO. And then by worst-case scenario briefings from NATO. At the moment it looks like NATO has told the politicos there is a real possibility of an invasion (there are significant Russian forces on the border and from a military point of view it is reasonable to think about the contingencies) and that the best thing to do is to “deter” Russia. This is done with endless threats about sanctions and by sending weapons and forces to the region. This is a military response, not a political or diplomatic one. (Threats of sanctions touted as ‘destroying’ the Russian economy are an attack on the country – its people and military capacities).
Telling the world that Russia is poised to invade and knowing they won’t (unless provoked by a Ukrainian attack on Donbass) which is one interpretation of the West’s game, seems to be designed to humiliate Russia – it will look like they faced down Russia. Is this the game? Perhaps this is the NATO military establishment getting their revenge on Russia for being caught sleeping on Crimea? The obvious danger is it could actually provoke an attack by Russia.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has released a statement saying that they believe the above version. The US and UK have drummed up this “Russian invasion” scare in order to be able to claim victory. When Russia doesn’t invade (unless Kiev attacks Donbass) they can claim that they faced down Russia. The Russian Foreign Ministry suggests they are trying to recover from their humiliation in Afghanistan. I still think it is the perceived humiliation of the annexation of Crimea which is driving them. I also still think that the ultimate driver is NATO and the network of “think-tanks” and defence contractors around NATO. But I am interested that Russia basically shares this interpretation.
In a healthy world the military men would brief the politicians about the military aspect and the politicians would understand the wider political-historical dynamics and conduct diplomacy, taking account of military factors but not being governed by them. Because the Western political class is so venial – simply self-serving careerists with no actual grasp of or interest in world affairs – they simply base their policy on the worst-case scenarios that NATO and its associated think-tanks feed them. There is a void where informed political analysis and diplomacy could provide a way out. This is quite dangerous.
Political analysis would inform them about historical splits in Ukrainian society and the validity of the claims of people in the East for autonomy. It would tell them that Russia is a rational actor, a regional power, aware of its own limitations and in a defensive not an “expansionist” mode. (There are difficult problems about Russia’s demands to exercise a veto on NATO membership and for a NATO pull-back but if the air could at least be cleared of the delusions about ‘Russian aggression’ there would be scope for some kind of détente at least).
* Scott Ritter War on Iraq. 2002. Ritter described an MI6 operation to use low-grade intelligence to plant stories in the media in various countries where they wanted to influence public opinion in favour of their illegal war.