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Then there was the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances which basically guarantees security against threats or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine as well as those of Belarus and Kazakhstan by the US, China, UK, Russia, and France in exchange for giving up the old Soviet nukes.
Second, this has been a mild winter and (based on my friend’s reading of the Polish newspapers) as we come into spring, there are large reserves of natural gas in Europe because of the relatively warm weather. Moreover, the expected use of gas is to decline based on the season and in response to the cutting off of gas about 8 years ago, the countries have diversified their sources. The US likely also has capacity to help fill this gap on a temporary basis, particularly if there is lead in time because of the summer.
I am beginning to agree with the ambassadors piece in WaPo and David Ignatius—this was a move of weakness and we have much more space than usual to operate with economic punishment, but, in fact, China, the US, UK, and France are seemingly obligated to come to the Ukraine’s defense. Whether this is real or not, I am not sure.
What is always important to remember is that when people are weak or humiliated they tend to be desperate and sometimes reckless. Which is to say that Putin having erred and/or holding a weak hand may make the situation more rather than less dangerous.