The question is: if the West does not submit to this manipulation, is Russia still prepared to go to war, at least against Ukraine? It depends on the credibility of the West’s response. As of today, such a credible response is nowhere to be seen. Peace and de-escalation plans and telephone calls are today a sure-sign for Moscow that there will be no opposition. Putin holds negotiations with a pistol on the table, and if the other negotiating party puts a box of chocolates on the table instead of a bigger pistol, things are clear for Putin. The West may be “concerned” — and Russia may take by war whatever it considers necessary.
Moscow’s rhetoric shows that they are most afraid of NATO or American direct military assistance to Ukraine — granting real military capabilities to Ukraine. This is more or less the only thing that could stop Russia, and granting it should be decided rapidly so the Kremlin can be convinced of this reality.
If you read the few Russian theories of “new wars” that are available in the public domain, what is happening now coincides quite precisely with the preparatory phase of war. The most well-known theoreticians of asymmetric war Chekinov and Bogdanov, who in 2010–2017 wrote several articles on the topic, have disappeared from the public eye. It is possible that their expertise is now being used for practical planning. In 2010, they wrote of asymmetric military actions (promised by Putin): “Asymmetric actions may involve making the adversary fearful of Russia’s intentions, demonstrating the readiness and potential of troops in a strategic region, and actions that are meant for deterrence, creating an impression of the surety of destruction of military or other targets significant for the adversary.” In the same article, they found that, in modern warfare, indirect actions are more important for achieving domination of the battlefield than “power strategies.” It is essential to “mislead, surprise, intimidate, or buy off the adversary, or to use other means to achieve success.”