‘Putin is in the driver’s seat’: A look at Russia’s escalation strategy

Russia At War

(NewsNation Now) — As the conflict between Ukraine and Russia stretches on, Russian leader Vladimir Putin is still in the driver’s seat despite potentially crippling sanctions from the West, NewsNation’s Leland Vittert said on “Morning in America.”

Russia began evacuating its embassy in Kyiv, and Ukraine urged its citizens to leave Russia Wednesday as the region braced for further confrontation after Putin received authorization to use military force outside his country. The West responded with strict sanctions against oligarchs and top Russian banks.

“If you give a mouse a cookie, it’s gonna want a glass of milk and Vladimir Putin was trained by the KGB,” Vittert said. “He’s an expert in this sort of very small, incremental movements.”

The small incremental movements that lead to a buildup of at least 150,000 Russian troops around Ukraine have increased in succession over the past month.

After weeks of rising tensions, Putin took a series of steps this week that dramatically raised the stakes. First, he recognized the independence of those separatist regions, a move Vittert said could lead to severe escalation.

“At the time of his choosing, once he’s built up enough forces inside of that area currently controlled by separatists, that’s where we’re going to see them push into the red area for this real conflict with Ukraine,” Vittert said. “Make no mistake, Vladimir Putin is still 100% in the driver’s seat for this conflict.”

This week alone: Kyiv recalled its ambassador to Russia and considered breaking all diplomatic ties with Moscow; Russia said it would evacuate personnel from its embassy in Ukraine; dozens of nations further squeezed Russian oligarchs and banks out of international markets; Germany halted a lucrative pipeline deal; the U.S. repositioned additional troops to NATO’s eastern flank bordering Russia; and the top U.S. diplomat canceled a meeting with his Russian counterpart.

Hopes for a diplomatic way out appeared all but sunk as the U.S. and key European allies accused Moscow on Tuesday of crossing a red line in rolling over Ukraine’s border into separatist regions — with some calling it an invasion. Vittert said Putin is using propaganda and falsehoods to paint a very different picture in Russia.

“If you listen to Vladimir Putin, he says that all of Ukraine has been part of motherland Russia, since back during the Tsar time. The grievances that Vladimir Putin has goes back hundreds of years. Now,just because Vladimir Putin says it doesn’t make it true,” Vittert said on “Morning in America.” “Ukraine is an independent country, the Soviet Union, when it dissolved, now Russia and the United States both recognized the territory that we see now commonly referred to as Ukraine, as Ukraine with Kyiv as its capital. So this concept that Vladimir Putin puts out that oh, this really was always part of Russia, is simply his talking points.”

If Putin pushes farther into Ukraine, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg insisted, “There will be even stronger sanctions, even a higher price to pay.”

As the conflict in Ukraine continues, NewsNation will bring Americans the latest developments from abroad and insights into its impact at home throughout our newscasts. We’re dropping the paywall on our live stream so it’s available to everyone. You can watch NewsNation’s programming, including the latest on Ukraine, at the top of the hour from 7-10 a.m. and 5-11 p.m. ET.

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Watch “On Balance with Leland Vittert” weeknights at 7/6C.

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