The crisis in Ukraine has not reached the dreaded point where it turns into a shooting war. And likely it will not. So we hear no urgent analysis of things like objectives, interior lines, unity of command, logistical staying power, the durability of alliances, and the other matters that have been the concern of European strategists since the days of Napoleon. Germany is not going to invade Russia and visa versa.
But there are analogous strategic considerations and on most of them, Russia has the advantage. It faces a weak alliance – NATO – that counts on the member with the least at stake in this crisis for its existence and effectiveness. The United States picks up 75 percent of NATO’s tab and depends on Russia for … nothing.
The alliance is not only structurally weak, it also suffers from its lack of single, centralized command. Germany’s Merkel may be NATO's strongest leader but she will be as busy keeping her allies in line as she is in dealing with the opposition. Vladimir Putin is not similarly handicapped.
Then, there is the question of will and stamina. If it is to be a war of economic attrition, then, as Gerald F. Seib points out in the Wall Street Journal, economic sanctions cut both ways and:
Europeans are much less enthusiastic about economic sanctions than are Americans, because they have more to lose in the process. Their economy is more tied to Russia’s, so their companies have more to lose if economic ties are cut.
Some 30 percent of Europe’s natural gas comes from Russia. If NATO clamps down on the flow of money through banks, Russian can retaliate by cutting the flow of gas, by pipeline, to nations where it gets cold. Ukrainian independence and sovereignty are nice in the abstract but don’t keep citizens warm in the winter.
One suspects that Mr. Putin, meanwhile, is prepared to have his people suffer the pain of stock market losses and higher interest rates if that is what it takes.