Coercive Diplomacy Phase 2: War and Iron Curtain Descended

Putin has kicked over the chess board again in the face of Western and Ukrainian intransigence. Seven years after the Minsk 2 accords were signed, Ukraine has failed and shown no desire to fulfill its obligations in regard to the breakaway Donbass regions of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and the Luhansk Peoples’ Republic (LNR) under Minsk. Three decades after the West promised not to expand NATO and “inch” beyond reunited Germany, NATO was on Russia’s doorstep, preparing to surround the entire house. Putin decided to act and in doing so overreacted. An invasion and defensive occupation of DNR/LNR would have been justifiable. His attack across Ukraine — a declaration of war — on the country is condemnable. As I have predicted for decades, NATO expansion has led to war with the West. Although NATO expansion is not the only cause, it is certainly the main cause. For now, the West chooses to fight the war through its Ukrainian proxy force. As a result, Russia could reach the Dniepr and Kiev within a few weeks at most. What Putin intends to do then is extremely difficult to assess, since he now appears to be acting under the influence of emotion rather than just reason. His coercive diplomacy was met with Kiev’s escalation of attacks on the DNR/LNR. In such circumstances, Putin punches back on an order exceeding several times the hit he takes from his opponent. He has punched back, bringing the descending iron curtain to the floor. That may be the least of the problems Ukraine, Russia, and the West will soon face.

How We Got Here

West’s broken promise at the Cold war’s end not to expand NATO ‘one inch’ beyond reunited Germany; now we refuse to reject Ukraine joining NATO (; and

NATO bombing of Serbia, without a UN mandate.

Massive Western spending — hundreds of billions of dollars — on democracy promotion, EU expansion and NATO expansion projects and programs, sparking color revolutions in states neighboring Russia, such as Georgia and Ukraine., 1992 – present).

NATO bombs Belgrade withut a UN mandate in 1999

In early 2000s, almost all Western countries recognize Kosovo’s independence in violation of UN Resolution 1244 guaranteeing Russian historical ally Serbia’s territorial integrity.

Support for unstable Mikhail Saakashvili as Georgia’s President, who bombs South Ossetiya on the night of 7-8 August 2008.

Russia invades South Ossetiya defeats Georgian forces, recognizes independence of South Ossetiya and Georgia’s other breakaway region of Abkhazia on 27 August 2008.

Massive US government funding to opposition and self-declared revolutionary elements in Ukraine against the rule of Viktor Yanukovych in violation of clauses requiring OSCE member-states to refrain from interfering in the domestic politics of other member-states in the Helsinki Final Act, upon which the 1994 Budapest Memorandum was based.

NATO programs and military training for Ukraine’s armed forces and repeated NATO resolutions declaring Ukraine and Georgia will some day be NATO members.

EU offers Association Agreement with clauses on military cooperation to prepare Kiev for integration with Western institutions.

Russia offers Yanukovych massive loan to convince him not to sign the Agreement, as Ukraine slides towards insolvency, and Yanukovych accepts the Russian offer November 2013.

Russia offers tlaks on Ukraine’s relationship with the EU and Eurasian Economic Union. EU rejects the offer.

November 2013 – Maidan demonstrations begin.

Maidan protestors beaten but also fake various attacks on themselves, December-January –the handwriting is on the wall.

Radical ultranationalist and neofascist groups infiltrate the Maidan demonstrations, and Right Sector is founded on the Maidan by several small neofascist groups. The protests begin to get violent.

February 20, 2014 – Ukraine opposition and President Viktor Yanukovych sign agreement sponsored by Russia, German, and France on a transition of power through December 2014 elections, but neofascist-led violent false flag snipers’ operation leads to the illegal overthrow of the Yanukovych. The West and Maidan opposition blame the Yanukovych regime for the snipers’ massacre; a fact covered up now for over eight years by the West and Kiev (; and

In March, pro-Russian forces seize Crimean government and parliament declares secession from Ukraine. Days later, Russian forces move out from the Sevastopol Black Sea Fleet’s naval base and occupy Crimea without firing a shot.

In late March, Crimea holds referendum on whether or not it should join the Russian Federation; the vote is overwhelmingly in favor of annexation. Russia annexes Crimea. Separatist forces in Donbass and elsewhere begin seizing regional administration buildings on the Maidan model.

Kiev refuses to negotiate with the rebels of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LNR) and seeks to crush the rebellion, which begins to get assistance from Russia and Russian supporters.

In mid-April, Kiev declares an anti-terrorist operation against the rebels, who receive covert support in the form of equipment and on leave military personnel and private elements. The breakaway rebel DNR and LNR hold a referendum on independence, which is approved, but Russia refuses to recognize the breakaway republics.

Ultranationalists and neofascists, led by Right Sector elements and Ukrainian Security Council Chairman Andrei Parubii, carry out a terrorist pogrom against anti-Maidan picketers in Odessa, killing at least 50 by immolation and shooting on 2 May 2014.

Russian forces intervene to save rebel forces from destruction, forcing the Minsk 1 ceasefire agreement and peace process.

Minsk 1 breaks down; Russia saves rebel forces again in January-February 2015 and a new Minsk agreement — Minsk 2 — is signed by Kiev, Moscow, Berlin, and Paris.

The Minsk Failure

The civilians living in the DNR/LNR, the overwhelming majority of whom oppose the February 2014 putsch and Maidan regime have been subjected to seven years of occasional bombing, economic isolation, and state ostracization. For seven years Kiev has failed to fulfill its obligations under the Minsk 2 Agreement to pass a law on the autonomy of the breakaway regions and negotiate directly with their leaderships. All of the Maidan regime’s presidents have refused to negotiate with the DNR/LNR: Turchinov who started the war to Poroshenko and now Zelenskiy. Massing troops near Ukraine’s borders did not convince Kiev to do so; Zelenskiy still refused to negotiate with the separatists. For this reason Putin had some cause to recognize the independence of the breakaway republics.

However, Putin has not learned his lesson from Crimea, where in the wake of the Maidan putsch and neo-fasciss’ false flag snipers massacre the threat of annexation could have worked just as well as deploying the ‘little green men’ and then annexing. He would have been better off then to do what he has done around Ukraine in recent months: amass a large military force as coercive diplomacy. He then could have demanded a UN Security Council session to denounce the Maidan regime in Kiev and recognize Russia’s continuing legitimate right to use the Sevastopol Black Sea Fleet under the then existing agreement with Kiev. If the UN failed to back Russian, then he could have moved to occupation and annexation. This would have given his measures the legitimacy of some grounding in international law and process. Instead, he immediately acted without posing the threat first as leverage to get what he wanted, doing so in violation of international law. Kosovo is not a legitimate retort; two wrongs do not make a right.

Similarly, today he should have first openly threatened to recognize the DNR/LNR if Zelenskiy did not begin talks with the separatist governments (perhaps by a date certain). If he had done this in November when he began to put troops in position for training exercises and/or use in the Donbass crisis and then proposed his European security architecture treaties and initiated talks with Ukraine and the architecture with the West, there very well could have been sufficient trust and leverage to nudge Kiev into talking with DNR/LNR. Instead, Putin has chosen an unnecessary war.

Provoking Putin

Putin apparently decided to press the interrelated NATO and Ukrainian issues beginning in December for several reasons: the weakness of the Biden administration/regime and the great division within the American polity, divisions in Europe over how to respond to American decline and Russian vigor allied with risen China, and the approaching 2024 Russian presidential elections. Instead of compromise, Kiev met Putin’s pressure with more obstinate refusal to fulfill its agreements, massing Western weapons supplies, and finally what appears to have been outright military provocations against both breakaway ‘republics’. So Putin upped the ante and recognized the independence of both the DNR and LNR, as I suggested he might do in a previous post ( This will likely mean introducing troops and building a military base in Donbass or at least near the Russian-Ukrainian border along Donbass.

Putin would not have taken these steps if the West and Ukraine had produced some movement on the Donbass issue or NATO expansion and NATO forces moving into new (post-1999) NATO member states. The larger, security architectural issues of intermediate range nuclear forces, missile defense, and conventional forces in pre-1999 NATO member countries were actually of less importance to Moscow than the concrete security issue of a hostile neighbor intent on entering NATO. In lieu of movement where the Kremlin most sought it, Putin’s coercive diplomacy ( was answered by massive Western military supplies to Ukraine, including to undisciplined extremist nationalist and neofascist non-state armed formations, and a major escalation of force by the Ukrainian armed forces and/or the armed formations of the Volunteer Ukrainian Corps or DUK (commanded by a known terrorist, neofascist Right Sector founder Dmitro Yarosh, who is also an advisor to the Chief of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces –;;;;;; and

From the OSCE SMM monitoring mission’s data, it appears that Ukrainian side — regular Ukrainian army forces or the informal volunteer armed formations of the DUK type — provoked Putin’s moves, first, to recognize the DNR/LNR’s independence, then to attack Ukraine. The first major escalation occurred on the evening of February 18-19 from the Ukraine government-controlled side of the contact line. In the Donetsk region/DNR “The majority of ceasefire violations were recorded on the morning of 19 February in areas east, east-south-east, and south-east of Svitlodarsk (government-controlled, 57km north-east of Donetsk), on the evening and night of 18-19 and 19-20 February in areas north, north-north-east, and north-north-west of Shyrokyne (government-controlled, 100km south of Donetsk) and on the morning of 19 February close to Staromykhailivka (nongovernment-controlled, 15km west of Donetsk).” In the Luhansk region, “(t)he majority of ceasefire violations were recorded in areas close to the disengagement area near Stanytsia Luhanska (government-controlled, 16km north-east of Luhansk) during the day on 19 February (see below), and in areas inside and close to the disengagement area near Zolote (government-controlled, 60km west of Luhansk) during the day and evening of 18, 19 and 20 February. In the previous reporting period, the SMM recorded 975 ceasefire violations in the region, the majority of which also occurred near the disengagement areas near Stanytsia Luhanska and Zolote” (OSCE SMM Report, 20 February 2022, p. 4, On According to the Ukrainian website, during this period and for some period before, Ukraine’s authorities were refusing journalists access to conflict zone to around 400 journalists, permitting access only to a selected 25 ‘international journalists.’ Some journalists had been denied access for over a month ( On February 21, Ukrainian fire on Donetsk put a coal mine ventilator off line, forcing more than 250 Donbass miners to evacuate from the mines ( In addition, Russian security has made claims, still unsubstantiated, that on February 21 Ukrainian forces attempted to penetrate Russian territory in Rostov Oblast in two small teams, which were liquidated, with one Ukrainian being captured ( and On February 23rd, te FSB reports preventing a terrorist attack on an Orthodox church in Crimea planned by six Russian citizens, who were members of Right Sector ( However, no convincing evidence — such as the captured soldier — has yet to be presented regarding these alleged Ukrainian attacks and attempted attacks on Russian territory.

Another likely provocation came a week ago when President Zelenskiy implied Ukraine might pursue nuclear weapons by way of noting Kiev was considering renouncing the Budapest Memorandum, which in part was made broken and made null and void when Russian annexed Crimea. What is left over is Kiev’s no longer binding commitment not to develop nuclear weapons. In this context, raising the possibility of renouncing Budapest implies opening a path to nuclear weapons development (

Ukraine’s leadership played down, ignored or denied these incidents. But this is the same regime that openly has officials who are neo-fascists, was born in the blood of a false flag snipers massacre of police and demonstrators carried out by its neo-fascist allies (, and has covered up its neo-fascists’ terrorist pogrom in Odessa on 2 May 2014. All state leaderships lie, just look at 6 January 2021 in the US. Moreover, sometimes authoritarian leaders are right, and democratic leaders are wrong. What we do know is that Ukraine escalated rather than giving in to Putin’s demands that it negotiate with the Donbass rebels and return to neutral status in relation to military alliances. Kiev now finds itself at war with a major power. The United States’ repeated warnings of an invasion in December, January, February 16th for sure, finally came true.

The question of who is responsible for this outcome — perhaps only an interim outcome with additional, even more violent and dangerous episodes to unfold — is complex. Putin is certainly most responsible for the recent crisis within the overall crisis provoked by NATO expansion and the Maidan putsch. He stationed an unnecessary number of troops close to Ukraine’s border in order to produce a political breakthrough on Minsk and NATO expansion. This sparked a panic, part real, part manufactured by the Biden administration, which set off Ukrainian hotheads along the line of contact. All sides baited the others, driving escalation. Did Putin hope the Ukrainians would give him cause to invade? Who knows? If so, then the war is his largely, and we’ll see how well he comes out of it. But the escalation along the contact line needed a contact line to exist for escalation to be possible. The line of contact is as much a result of Western actions as it is of Russian actions. It is the result of the history of post-Soviet Ukraine, Russia, the West, and NATO expansion; it is not the result of the desire of one man, no less one seeking to restore the USSR. This myth is a good foundation for further escalation, compounding Putin’s own misguided one of February 23, 2022. The West refused to consider Russian security concerns, Putin massed troops near Ukraine. The Western and Kievan response put an end to Putin’s low-intensity coercive diplomacy. He is now involved in high-intensity coercive diplomacy–that is, politics by other means: war. The West will now step up its efforts to pressure Putin to reverse course and pressure elites and society to remove Putin.

Putin Bites Off More Than He Can Chew

Putin may be intending to stop operations after he has decimated the Ukrainian army’s command and control and supply infrastructure by bombing, government communications by cyber attack, and the neofascist leadership elements that have prevented Zelenskii from negotiating with the DNR and LNR. He will then wait for someone in the West to negotiate with him regarding NATO and someone in Kiev (or Lvov/Lviv) to negotiate with the Donbass rebels. I write ‘or Lvov’, because Putin, acting in part now out of emotion and overreacting. He offered perhaps a hint of how he intended to exact revenge for the Maidan coup, failure to negotiate with DNR/LNR, and Kiev’s escalation this past week. In his speech on February 22, Putin noted that the dismantling of monuments to Lenin (and likely having in mind as well the criminalization in Ukrainian law of pro-communist, pro-Soviet views) constitute what the Maidan regime calls “de-communization.” This is true. Then Putin, letting his emotions open the door to his thinking, provided a hint perhaps of his plans for Ukraine. He said: “You wanted de-communization? Well that fully suits us. But it is not necessary to stop halfway what is called (de-commuization). We are ready to show you what real decommunization means for Ukraine” ( This was a barely veiled threat to Ukraine’s further territorial integrity, because this was stated in the middle of a discussion as to how Lenin and Stalin made the Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic (UkrSSR), which includes present day Ukraine’s territory, minus Crimea, which was given to the UkrSSR under Khrushchev and taken from Ukraine by Putin. In theory, if one is to take the idea of the territorial de-communization of Ukraine as a guideline for Putin’s future plans, then we are talking about not just the occupation of left-bank eastern Ukraine to the east of the Dniepr but also Galicia and all of right-bank western Ukraine west of the Dniepr–that is, almost all of Ukraine. However, it is unlikely that Putin will attempt to seize all Ukraine. Oddly, the only exception in Putin’s ‘decommunized’ Ukraine would be Kiev and some surrounding oblasts in central Ukraine, which were part of the Ukrainian Governate before the Bolshevik takeover and the formation of the UkrSSR and the additional territories it received from the east. The statement seems to be another piece of evidence that Putin is letting emotions get the better of him, and this will serve no one well.

Should Putin attempt to occupy Kiev and Ukraine to the Dniepr and/or occupy southeast Ukraine or ‘Novorossiya’, then he will generate a whirlwind of problems at home that could destabilize his rule. The Russian army would need to take and hold large swathes of territory with a hostile population forcing them to deal with rabid, perhaps majority extremist neofascist partisan army for a decade or more–recall World War II’s forest brothers and neofascist Ukrainian OUN and UPA upon which Ukrainian ultranationalist and neofascist Ukrainian groups today model themselves. This would be cost much blood. Instead of several hundred body bags coming home from Donbass, as occurred in 2014-2015, there would be many thousands and many times more wounded. Furthermore, the more Ukrainian blood that is shed, the less likely Putin will find Ukrainian negotiators. A blood bath will not be supported in Russia. The population is opposed to war with Ukraine, so if Putin were to attempt to seize more than the DNR/LNR, the body bags coming home will crystallize new opposition to his rule. Already opposition to the war is evident, with numerous public denunciatory petitions and small public protests across the country (;;;;;;;; This will weaken his hold on power, requiring him to crack down on a large scale. Although opinion polls show overwhelming support for the war, the polling results may be padded and are likely to change as scenes of the carnage of war flood the Internet. Internationally, Putin has already lost the political and PR battle.

Financing the war and occupation will be inordinately expensive, regardless of the gain in coal resources to serve a new contract with China. The economic and financial costs of seizing and holding Ukrainian territory would be compounded by massive sanctions. In turn, those sanctions would hit the pocketbooks of Putin’s closest oligarchs, potentially weakening their support of for him and his policies inside the elite and even regime ruling circles.

Russia will become fully isolated from the West and thus much more dependent on China. Also, there would the cost of far less trust among many in the non-West as well, including in places like Kazakhstan and Belarus, in which Russia also has important interests, security concerns, and hopes for creating a Russia-centric community of states like the EU.

All this will make Putin’s task of buttressing his regime more difficult.

The Donbass Protectorates and the Ukrainian War

On this background, by ripping up and throwing in the dustbin the Minsk accords, Moscow has now deprived Kiev of a negotiating partner. Kiev must either negotiate with the DNR/LNR or continue fighting with the risk that if it gains any significant upper hand, Russian forces will seize more territory. Presumably, Putin would prefer to avoid the Iraq and Afghanistans models of occupying the entire country or even the entire ‘left bank Ukraine’ — no matter how much he might like to throw the West’s playbook back at it.

Putin poorly chose to strike. But this unlikely to solve and more likely to deepen the conflict. Radical ultranationalists and neofascists armed formations will continue to snipe at the civilian population and Donbass rebel and Russian forces in the DNR/LNR. War with West maybe just over the horizon, if Moscow dares cross the Dniepr, which is highly unlikely. In all likelihood, the Russian army will drive no farther than Kiev, establishing the Dnepr River as a new, more defensible Western border with rump Ukraine (Galicia) and ultimately NATO. Only a decisive West could have forced Kiev to rein in its extremists and perhaps finally force Kiev to offer direct talks with the DNR/LNR, but this would have put Ukraine’s future NATO membership at risk. Reincorporation of Donbass under Ukrainian control and an overall peace with Ukraine would have reduced the percentage of Ukrainians supporting NATO membership. Now Ukrainian membership in NATO will be a near impossibility for decades, and Ukraine may have lost half of its territory.

It cannot be ruled out that Poland and the Baltic states will not only continue to send equipment and military advisors, as Russian forces near the Dnepr. They may send covert special forces, or volunteers could depart to Ukraine, deepening the involvement of NATO countries in the war. The new British-Polish-Lithuanian alliance of NATO members is likely to activate in ways unpleasant for Moscow and could open a path the a NATO-Russian war. At levels of escalation lower than that, NATO and the entire West will now commit to massive financial, military, and intelligence assistance to a country that is little more democratic than Russia and will, like Russia, become more authoritarianism in the new, highly militarized atmosphere.

Concluding Considerations

Putin does not seek to restore the Soviet Union. We have a lesson from the past that proves Putin has no intention of ‘recreating the Soviet Union’: The Russian army was within 70 miles of Georgia’s capitol in August 2008, and Putin showed no interest in taking it and thus all Georgia, much lower hanging fruit than Ukraine. His plan maximum would be to drive to the Dniepr, but this is less likely than ceasing fire after a wave of destruction of military and government infrastructure and resistance and then wait for negotiations, with what he expects to be his stronger hand. The unfolding of events seems to demonstrate that Putin has less interest in the larger issue of European security architecture. He is intent on resolving the issue of Ukraine and NATO membership as he was when he began his coercive diplomacy late last year.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of all this, beyond Putin’s risky gambit, is the disconnect between Western assumptions about Putin and the specifics of Western policy regarding Ukrainian membership. On the one hand, Western analysts and government officials regard Putin as a ‘murderer’, today’s ‘Hitler’, a Stalinist, and the like. Yet at the same time, knowing this dangerous tyrant is deadly opposed to NATO expansion and especially that expansion to Ukraine, NATO repeatedly insists that Ukraine will join NATO, but not now. And furthermore, if Stalin/Hitler dares invade Ukraine, the West will take no military action to protect its future member and present antagonist of the murderer. In what universe is this a rational policy?

Also, Putin’s action completely undermines those of us, who sought to offer a more realistic vision of Russia and Putin. There will be no tolerance for talk of NATO expansion’s creating the Putin effect or having any causal relationship to this war. This only compounds the previous mistakes. It might be countered that people such as myself and others were wrong about Putin, so why should anyone listen to us? The answer is obvious: Because it is just we who doubted Putin would act so aggressively; the Ukrainian leadership, including President Zelenskiy, was saying the same thing, as I have noted in other articles. Several hawkish US analysts doubted Putin would invade. Those who got this one right, did so because they always say the same thing. Putin, in their view, was going to take all Georgia in 2008; he didn’t. Russian peacekeeping troops would never leave Kazakhstan; they did. Once a day the clock strikes midnight; once among many provocations an authoritarian great power will start a war. Now these analysts will have an absolute monopoly on expert advice that informs decision-makers, if they did not had it already.

Meanwhile, the ‘Great Reset’ is driving more authoritarianism in the West, as exhibited by the Biden and Trudeau regimes. There are few if any real republicans left to manage what is left of peace. Oh, the folly NATO expansion, Putin, and in general humankind has wrought.



About the Author – Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group,

Dr. Hahn is the author of the forthcoming book: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021) He has authored four well-received books: Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media. Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, and the Hoover Institution.

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