MARK NICOL: The UK and the US are powerless – and they will not compete with the Kremlin

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MARK NICOL: The UK and the US are powerless – and they will not compete with the Kremlin

So how close are we to war? Probably only Vladimir Putin knows.

The Kremlin provocateur indulges in his signature games with high stakes and disregard for international laws. While his frightening display of power may only be meant to boost his popularity – his approval rating hit an all-time high after his invasion of Ukraine in 2014 – make no mistake, we’re just one step away from serious conflict.

Putin is playing “an exciting game,” said Russia expert Dr. Maryna Vorotnyuk of the Royal United Services Institute, and the longer he anxiously keeps everyone waiting, the more political capital he gains.

A large-scale invasion of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea appears to have been put on hold for the time being, because the build-up of troops and military equipment is achieving the desired effect: startling the West. But just one mistake by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky could cause a dramatic advance of thousands of Russian troops back to the territory they had illegally seized seven years ago.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the Russian Geographical Society via video link in Moscow, Russia on Wednesday, April 14

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a session of the Russian Geographical Society via video link in Moscow, Russia on Wednesday, April 14

The UK and US response would be heavy on rhetoric rather than military action, securing Putin another propaganda victory in time for Russia’s parliamentary elections later this year. As this game unfolds, London and Washington seem powerless, all words and no intervention – because there is simply no desirable course of action for NATO’s leading partners to influence Russia’s affairs.

This lack of options is as obvious to Putin as it is to anyone else. The reality is, he can be in charge.

Comedian and politician Zelensky is equally powerless when it comes to influencing Putin or NATO, the defense alliance he so desperately wants to join.

Boris Johnson during Prime Minister's questions in the House of Commons, London, 14 April

President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden (right) as at Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, April 14; Boris Johnson during the Prime Minister’s questions in the House of Commons, London, April 14 (left)

For while US President Joe Biden and UK Secretary of State Dominic Raab have done their best to express their unwavering support for Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and abundantly condemning the escalation of tensions in Russia, the governments will of the US and the UK no direct confrontation Moscow.

Likewise, despite its valuable contributions to NATO security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ukraine will not gain alliance membership any time soon, especially until the problems in the breakaway regions of Donbass and Crimea are resolved.

The view of security experts is that Putin’s actions are definitely more than just ‘saber-rattling’ – he didn’t have to move military manpower and hardware as far away as the Estonian border and Siberia to achieve that.

Tanks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are seen during exercises at an unknown location near the border of the Russian-annexed Crimea, Ukraine, April 14

Tanks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces are seen during exercises at an unknown location near the border of the Russian-annexed Crimea, Ukraine, April 14

Three Russian missile ships, a frigate and a minesweeper will participate in rapid live fire exercises in the Black Sea on Wednesday amid mounting tensions around the border with Ukraine

Three Russian missile ships, a frigate and a minesweeper will participate in rapid live fire exercises in the Black Sea on Wednesday amid mounting tensions around the border with Ukraine

This is already the bloodiest war in Europe since the Balkan conflict of the 1990s, with at least 14,000 people killed since the Russian invasion in 2014 and more than 1.5 million people forced to leave their homes.

The solution proposed by Russia is for Ukraine to federalize and for the breakaway regions to be given permanent autonomy. But this is unacceptable to the Ukrainian government and to the UK and US.

Moscow, for its part, is equally averse to Zelensky’s plan for further integration with the EU and NATO. So with tragic inevitability, it appears that the seven-year conflict, in which more than 20 officially sanctioned truces have failed, will continue.