The Biden administration and NATO responded to Russia’s list of demands last week and refused to offer any concessions to Moscow, which expressed its security concerns with the Alliance’s expansion east.
“There is no change, there will be no change,” Antony Blinken, the U.S. secretary of state, said. The Associated Press reported that Moscow’s response could determine whether Europe will “again be plunged into war.”
The Kremlin has already hinted at another possible missile crisis with the U.S. and warned Washington that it could deploy troops or other military assets to Havana or Caracas in response to the stalemate.
Kevin Whitaker, a former U.S. ambassador to Colombia who served as a diplomat in Venezuela, told The AP that Russia’s threat is “pure misdirection” and “it’s not fooling anyone.”
“It’s not real power projection,” he said. It’s a showpiece and nothing more.”
TRENDPOST: The U.S. and NATO allies have been working on the best response for Russia’s troop buildup on Ukraine’s eastern flank. Russia has insisted that it has no plans of invading, but President Biden has suggested that a confrontation is all but certain. (See “PUTIN PUTS PRESSURE ON UKRAINE,” “KREMLIN BLAMES UKRAINE FOR STOKING TENSIONS AT BORDER” and “U.S. CONTINUES TO RAMP UP COLD WAR 2 RHETORIC.”)
As we have reported in recent issues, one of the main points of contention for Russian President Vladamir Putin is what he sees as NATO’s reach into his backyard. 
Putin started moving tens of thousands of troops to the Ukrainian border late last year and said they will not leave until there are “concrete agreements prohibiting any further eastward expansion of NATO.”
Despite its bluster, NATO is not interested in taking on Ukraine as a member, and everyone knows this, so it is unclear why the Alliance is grandstanding on the matter. 
France, Germany, and the U.K. do not want to get into a war with Russia over Kyiv, which is tarnished by corruption and a dysfunctional government. (See “POROSHENKO’S RETURN TO UKRAINE: FIRST CLASS FREAK SHOW.”)
Reality Check
Ret. Col. Douglas Macgregor, a former senior adviser at the Pentagon, told Fox News that NATO “appears to be crumbling” under the pressure of a potential conflict. He joked that the Alliance’s major response to Russia’s military flex was—in part—the Dutch offering to fly two F-15s to Bulgaria in April. 
NATO and Washington do not want a conflict with Russia and they also do not want the appearance of being backed into a corner by Putin. The first response to a Russian invasion would likely be in the form of sanctions.
Ned Price, the spokesman for the State Department, told NPR last week that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline linking Germany to Russia would not go forward if Russia invades—even though the project has already been completed and is just waiting on permits to start pumping gas.
“I’m not going to get into specifics,” he said. “ We will work with Germany to ensure it does not move forward.” 
Price’s statement was significant because Berlin has been vague about Nord Stream 2’s fate if there was an invasion. Even though Germany seems to be showing more teeth, the country seems to be noncommittal when it comes to the pipeline.
Annalena Baerbock, the German foreign minister, told Bundestag that there is a “broad bandwidth of responses at our disposal, including Nord Stream 2.”
Emily Haber, Germany’s ambassador to Washington, tweeted that “the U.S. and Germany jointly declared last summer: if Russia uses energy as a weapon or if there is another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, Russia will have to pay a high price.”
It should be noted that the European Union gets some 40 percent of its gas imports from Russia and Germany 50 percent. 
Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary-general of NATO who has his resume out to become Norway’s next central bank governor, appeared to miss the memo from the U.S. to keep the contents of the Alliance’s response private.
Stoltenberg said the Alliance seeks to re-establish diplomatic ties with Russia and to “listen” to Russia’s concerns. Stoltenberg has pointed out in the past that Ukraine is a NATO partner, not an ally. Under Article 5, only allies would benefit from a military response from NATO, so that means Russia will not be met with resistance after it conquers Kyiv and looks to Warsaw. 
Putin has been successful in exposing fissures within the Alliance, which itself is a victory for the Kremlin. Germany has been mocked for offering Ukraine 5,000 helmets amid the crisis and reportedly told the U.K. to avoid using its airspace to deliver weapons to Kyiv. 
Marina Weisband, a Ukrainian author, tweeted, “The plan is obviously for 5,000 Ukrainian soldiers to run across the border and head-butt the Russian troops deployed there.”
Croatia’s president also said he would withdraw his force from NATO if there war with Russia.
Putin told French President Emmanuel Macron that Moscow’s demands were all but ignored by the U.S. and NATO, but said he will still seek a diplomatic solution for the stalemate. 
He told Macron that his concerns about NATO missile systems along its borders have not been addressed. The Financial Times reported that Macron did his best Biden impression and told Russia that it needs to respect the sovereignty of states.
How close the world is to war seems to vary by the politician you ask. Biden has said a Russian invasion is all but certain and annoyed the government in Kyiv by requesting that staffers at the embassy exit the country. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “suggested the White House was panicking about an imminent Russian attack,” the FT said.
“There is a feeling abroad that there is war here. That’s not the case. I am not saying an escalation is not possible…[but] we don’t need this panic,” he said. 
The paper pointed to Bruno Kahl, the head of Germany’s foreign intelligence service, who said Friday that he did not believe the Kremlin has decided on what its next moves will do. Any invasion would be met with strong resistance from Ukrainian forces. 
TREND FORECAST: As we have noted, petroleum exports account for about half of Russia’s annual budget, and Russia currently provides Europe with more than 40 percent of its natural gas supply. 
Therefore, it is a lose, lose situation for the EU to keep putting sanctions on Russia, which will in turn shut off its gas flow to Europe. And it is a lose, lose situation for Russia to invade Ukraine and lose its biggest gas customers. 
Therefore we maintain our forecast that absent a wild card or false flag event, there will be no Russian invasion of Ukraine, since they do not want their economy to further crash.

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