Some Americans think Russia might actually invade Ukraine, but most Europeans disagree. Ivan Krastev in the NY Times:
For the United States and President Biden, who on Wednesday formally approved a deployment of American troops to Eastern Europe, a Russian invasion led by President Vladimir Putin is a “distinct possibility.” For Europe, not so much. A senior German diplomat summed up the divergence. “The U.S. thinks Putin will do a full-blown war,” he said. “Europeans think he’s bluffing.”
Perhaps that’s to be expected. After all, full-scale war is generally as unimaginable for a Western European public as an alien invasion. The many decades of peace in Western Europe, combined with the continent’s deep dependence on Russia’s oil and gas, incline officials to assume aggressive Russian moves must be a ruse.
But the European tendency to accommodate Russia doesn’t explain why Ukrainian officials, after initial alarm, now seem to share the same view. Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, last week played down the immediate threat of war, suggesting the situation was “dangerous, but ambiguous.” For a country menaced by 130,000 Russian troops at its border, it’s a striking assessment. What lies behind it?
The answer is surprising, even paradoxical. Europeans and Ukrainians are skeptical of a major Russian invasion in Ukraine not because they have a more benign view of Mr. Putin than their American counterparts. On the contrary, it’s because they see him as more malicious. War, they reason, is not the Kremlin’s game. Instead, it’s an extensive suite of tactics designed to destabilize the West. For Europe, the threat of war could turn out to be more destructive than war itself.
I agree with the Europeans here. I think war is too risky for Putin. There has never been a real trial of Russian planes and missiles against western planes and missiles, and there is a chance such a trial might be humiliating for Russia. It has taken 30 years of hard work to rebuild the sad post-Soviet military into a dangerous-seeming fighting force, and seeing that force damaged or thwarted would be a real blow to Russian power. Better to let the threat of war keep everyone on edge and watch the west continue to unravel.