William Katz:  Urgent Agenda

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A BIG UKRAINE DAY – AS YOU KNOW – OVERNIGHT:  It's getting hotter over there, but remember from last night's edition – nobody knows anything.  The Russkies have apparently ordered "peacekeeping" troops into two pro-Russian areas of Ukraine, and are accusing Ukraine of cooking up a crisis.  Question:  How long will the Western powers wait until imposing massive sanctions on Moscow?  From CNN:

Kyiv and Lviv, Ukraine (CNN) Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops into separatist-held parts of eastern Ukraine in what the Kremlin called a "peacekeeping" mission, just hours after he signed decrees recognizing the independence of the Moscow-backed regions.

It is unclear if Russian troop movements marked the beginning of an invasion of Ukraine that Western leaders have warned about for weeks. But multiple US and Western officials cautioned Monday's move could serve as the opening salvo of a larger military operation targeting the country.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield told an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council Monday evening that Putin's recognition of the pro-Moscow regions was an "attempt to create a pretext for a further invasion."

She said his claim that Russian forces are entering those regions as "peacekeepers" is "nonsense."

"We know what they really are," Thomas-Greenfield said.

In a fiery speech earlier Monday, Putin blasted Kyiv's growing security ties with the West, and in lengthy remarks about the history of the USSR and the formation of the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, appeared to cast doubt on Ukraine's right to self-determination.

“Ukraine has never had traditions of its own statehood," he said, calling the eastern part of the country "ancient Russian lands."

The decrees signed by Putin conveyed Moscow's official recognition over two breakaway territories in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine -- the Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic (DPR and LPR). The decrees recognized them as independent states and guaranteed their security with Russian troops. The decrees said that Russian so-called peacekeeping forces would be deployed in the regions.

COMMENT:  There are stories circulating that the United States will impose severe sanctions on Russia on Tuesday.  No confirmation yet.  Thus far our response to Russia has been pretty soft. 

Biden is getting some flack from Republicans in Congress, who wonder why the sanctions haven't already been imposed.  The idea is to smoke out Putin, give him and the Russian people a good scare, in an attempt to prevent further Russian incursions.  We may know more about Biden's strategy, if he actually has one, within 24 hours.

Putin is a true strategist, and I wouldn't be shocked if he did nothing for a time.  Divert the world's attention, get that world interested in other things, then strike anew, asking only for a bit more of Ukraine.  The Israelis call that "salami tactics," advancing one slice at a time.

We note again that that the Iran nuclear negotiations in Vienna are reaching their conclusion.  We don't know yet whether any pact will be signed, but, if there is an agreement, Biden and his foreign-policy staff will have their hands full dealing with the expected dissent from Congress.  Putin might well use the distraction to advance further. 

February 21, 2022