Ukraine Update: What Does Vladimir Putin Truly Want?
On Friday, in the early afternoon, there were a flurry of headlines about the purported Russian invasion of Ukraine.
These went something like:
PBS reported that the White House fears Russia would invade Ukraine as soon as next week.
This was later clarified, with the White House now saying that it doesn't know whether Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a final decision about invading Ukraine -- but said that all the elements are in place now for Putin to go ahead, if he so chooses.
This added context didn't matter to traders. The European oil benchmark, Brent crude, hit $95 a barrel for the first time since September 2014.
Financial markets and especially eastern European assets sold off sharply.
Anyway, it has been two days and there has been no invasion. So, I guess we will see.
When it comes to markets, the main action remains on world energy markets.
They are poised pretty incredibly between an OPEC meeting in Vienna that could release more supply and conflict in Eastern Europe that could unleash unprecedented sanctions and volatility and a removal of supply from the global market.
It could easily go either way in the weeks ahead.
As we said before when we discussed Ukraine, we have zero edge on whether Russia will invade next week or any week. As we mentioned last month, it seems unlikely that it would occur before the Olympics end on the 20th but wild things do happen and Putin is both isolated and very ego driven.
Is he rational? Does anyone know? How confident are you in your answers to those questions?
But we do wonder whether Putin and Russia may have quietly already accomplished what they set out to achieve.
We couldn't help but notice the headline that over 30,000 Russian troops have taken up position INSIDE Belarus for "military exercises."
Now, obviously, they could have moved there in advance of a potential Ukrainian invasion.
But it also seems perfectly possible that they will never leave - thereby effectively militarily occupying Belarus. Why would they?
Perhaps this whole operation has been about quietly taking over another ex-Soviet satellite, rather than Ukraine. And distracting the world from that occupation.
Using a feint over the latter to instead surreptitiously occupy a weaker, smaller, poorer country that is led by a deeply unpopular autocrat and could, if he was overthrown, follow Ukraine or the Baltics' path into the West's orbit (NATO seems unlikely).
Like Ukraine, Belarus has lots of natural ties with Russia. It also has important natural resources - especially fertilizer, another topic we have written on before - and a critical strategic position further West than other former Soviet satellites and one that would open a new eastern flank for NATO.
Have we been watching the Russian right hand in Ukraine when we should really have been watching the Russian left in Belarus?
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