Chartbook #69: War in Sight? Russia-Ukraine scenarios

Tracking the escalating tension. 

We are counting military trains! 

For a blow by blow tracking of events, @RALee85 is a great follow. This #545 in a LONG thread. 

“Our patience has run out”

From Lavrov’s presser earlier today

Kofman talk

If you are struggling to make sense of the Ukraine-Russia standoff and have the time, DO watch this fantastic presentation and Q&A session with the formidable Michael Kofman hosted at the Freeman Spogli Institute Stanford. Everyone should follow Michael Kofman (h/t Grey Anderson)

This was a fantastically rich talk. My take aways in brief. 

The most likely military scenario (of several) is some kind of repeat of the 2008 punitive action v. Georgia. Can Russia do this? Yes. Immediately? No. Within the next month? Yes. The tells? Track the logistics units and forward deployment of aviation. 

Q: What do the Russians want? A: It was us that broached the question. We asked what kind of strategic deal would stabilize the situation with Russia such that the US can focus on China. Russia is giving us their answer. We don’t like it, but the answer is loud and clear. 

Q: What do they get out of it? A: Well, give them credit, for several months now they have pivoted the entire global conversation and set the terms. 

As McFaul says here:

Do Ukrainians actually want to join NATO?

Military options

“Putin is preparing for war”

Timothy Ash the noted EM markets expert has this alarming take in the Kyiv Independent. 

Sanctions from hell list

What would happen if Russia went in? Dr Maria Shagina has this quick take on the maximalist sanctions package that Congressional hawks are preparing. 

Potential consequences for Russian economy and thus also for Europe are pretty staggering.

The markets in Russia …

.. are not liking it. 

What about the EU?

Well, what about the EU? Asks the FT. They should get their act together or butt out. A notably tough FT editorial

Russia → Lithuania → US → China → EU

On why it might be difficult for the EU to concert its approach, check out the latest newsletter from Noah Barkin. A real must read.

Barkin ties together the Baltic, Russia, the US, China and EU.

Lithuania’s clash with China has been making the headlines and is threatening to draw the rest of the EU in. Apparently, folks in Berlin are convinced that the Lithuanian government (not its President) courted controversy with China as a way of demonstrating loyalty to the US and thus holding the US behind the Baltic in the confrontation with Russia. 

There is a widespread suspicion in Berlin—though no proof to back it up—that the United States helped trigger this crisis by pushing Lithuania to green-light the opening of a representative office in Vilnius that carries the name Taiwan. Some European diplomats have noted that Lithuania asked the United States to watch over its diplomatic complex in Beijing after withdrawing its embassy staff in late December. “This is not about China. It’s about the US and Russia,” one German diplomat told me. “The Eastern Europeans are seriously concerned about America’s commitment to the region and China is the chip to play.”

Barkin is also great on the reversion in Berlin towards the Merkel line on China. Are there tensions with the US ahead? 

Russia, Gas and China 

Meanwhile, on the Sino-Russian front there is a great opportunity for deal-making.

And how will Central Asia swing?

From a friendly correspondent: 

Watching Kazakhstan. I know, it is not easy without Russian sources, and then just a select few who could overcome the rhetoric of ‘popular democratic revolution’ or ‘foreign terrorist infiltration’ and ‘Sosite conspiracy’. Kazakhstan suddenly  could prove a game changer in geopolitics and in economic policy as well. The ODCB troops are already leaving, Putin congratulating them on the mission accomplished (with obvious connotations in the West, of course.) The newly empowered president Tokaev, already 68, must hurry to create his legacy which he promisingly expressed in one word: de-oligarchication. In his parliament speech on Jan. 11 he mentioned Nazarbaev just once — as the creator of market system that allowed the emergence of commodity monopolies and private fortunes considered very big even by world standards.

The question is now, is Nazarbaev alive? Or, as rumored, in China at the Hainan island villa? 

Eurasian Economic Union 

In the latest Ones and Tooze podcast, Cameron and I discuss Russia’s economic sphere of influence. Subscribe


One of the things I learned doing research for Ones and Tooze, is the pivotal importance of Uzbekistan in Central Asia. At 34 million, Uzbekistan has twice the population of Kazakhstan. It accounts for half the entire population of Central Asia. And to Russia’s frustration it is havering over joining the Eurasian Economic Union. 

See this interesting report by Umida Hashimova in The Diplomat.

The toxic legacy of the Soviet military industrial complex

lies heavily all across Central Asia. 

Source: European Parliament 

Who to follow?

Amongst Moscow-based observers of the Russian scene, three names always come up. 

Dmitri Trenin, Carnegie Russia @DmitriTrenin 

Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, See website Russia Counci

Fyodor Lukyanov Russia in Global Affairs Editor-in-Chief;

A Different World


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