Does the U.S. Know What Putin is Thinking?

WITH THE BEIJING OLYMPICS ending this weekend, one important reason to dissuade Vladimir from invading Ukraine will vanish; we think he promised Chinese President Xi that he would not move until the games have ended.

BUT THERE’S ANOTHER FACTOR that could affect the timing of an invasion: the likelihood of unusually mild weather in Ukraine for the next two weeks, which could make it difficult for Russian tanks and heavy equipment to move westward.

RUSSIAN MILITARY OFFICIALS have been hoping for cold, dry weather, keeping the ground frozen solid, which usually is the case in late February/early March in that part of the world.

BUT THE WEATHER.COM WEB SITE calls for relatively mild temperatures — highs mostly in the 40s, with lows in the 30s — for the next ten days. Showers, not snow, are possible. If the late-winter “mud season” arrives earlier than usual, that would put pressure on Putin to move sooner rather than later.

ANOTHER WILD CARD involves U.S. intelligence agencies. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and others have been unusually specific about Russian options — their use of “false flag” incidents as a pretext for an invasion, possible use of chemical weapons, and Russian cyber operations. It’s almost like the U.S. knows what the Russians are thinking.

THE U.S. INTELLIGENCE INFORMATION has been so detailed that there’s a growing suspicion that America has planted listening devices in Moscow, or that there’s a well-placed “mole” in Putin’s inner circle. Maybe the mole is a double agent, but it’s possible that the U.S. has access to what Putin is thinking, which may explain the specificity of U.S. comments.

WE THINK THE SHORT-TERM AMERICAN GOAL is simply to stretch out the negotiations, pushing the threat of war well into March. By then, Putin may grasp the obvious: an invasion of Ukraine would be a disastrous miscalculation, potentially producing thousands of casualties on both sides, with an enormous blow to Russia’s economy — and no clear end game. The West is firmly against him, a stronger show of unity than Putin expected.

BACK HOME, THE INEPT U.S. CONGRESS has passed still another budget extension ahead of tonight’s deadline, keeping the government open through March 11 as lawmakers debate amendments that may be attached to the bill. Spending thus will be stuck for a fifth month at fiscal 2021 levels, as the trend on fiscal policy veers away from massive new outlays.

IF THERE’S A THEME IN CONGRESS in this new year, it’s the vulnerability that both parties face if anyone gets sick or worse. Instead of a 50-50 Senate tie, it’s now 50-49 in favor of the Republicans as long as Sen. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.) recovers from a stroke, unlikely to return until spring.

THIS GIVES THE REPUBLICANS AN OPPORTUNITY to use quorum rules to block Biden Administration nominations. This already has delayed approval of five Federal Reserve nominees, probably for the next few weeks — or until the most controversial nominee, Sarah Bloom Raskin, pulls out and allows the other four to win confirmation.

COULD THE REPUBLICANS employ a similar tactic to block President Biden’s upcoming Supreme Court nomination? There should be fairly clear sailing for Michelle Childs of South Carolina, because she will win a handful of Republican votes.

BUT IF THE NOMINEE is one of the more activist candidates, the Republicans might use quorum rules to block her, which would infuriate Democrats and make Congress even more divided and dysfunctional, if that’s possible.

Related: Who Do the Oddsmakers Pick to Win the 2024 Election?

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