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By Tom Squitieri

Red Snow News

WASHINGTON — Vladimir Putin is a man who feels like he is running out of time. That is a prime calculation being used by Pentagon officials as they plot ways to check and then checkmate the Russian leader’s eagerness to unload on Ukraine.

While each day brings new developments to the “will-he, won’t-he” question off Putin’s intentions, the Pentagon is using the threat to do what it has not been able to do before: ratchet up Ukraine’s defenses against a possible Russian attack to slow it and — if Russian prevails — make Moscow pay.

Thus, while diplomats lay down markers such as sledgehammer economic sanctions, Pentagon planners pursue pointed punches, punctures and perforations that will be 21st century versions of Word War One barbed wire.

The manta being whispered: “Make Them Pay.”

There are some obvious steps. Then there are the counter-intuitive ones.

Putin and his top aides have set deadlines for the U.S. and NATO to capitulate to his security demands. That actually gives the Pentagon the raison d’être to tell nervous members of Congress and others that they must act now to boost Ukraine and that any dithering will be destructive.

That is not a blank check it but certainly gives the Pentagon and NATO a credit line to operate with.

Pentagon officials say a prime invasion window would be between January 6 and March 6. That is after Orthodox Christmas and when the ground is at its frozen best for tanks and other heavy equipment.

First key is providing Ukraine with battlefield intelligence that could help its forces more quickly respond to a possible Russian invasion. In Pentagon parlance, this is known as  “actionable” intelligence, such as images of Russian troops were moving to areas for cross-border thrusts.  That gives a boost to Ukraine’s battle plans — and the Pentagon is fine with Putin knowing  that he faces sharper resistance.

That is one way to make them pay.

Also heading toward Kyiv are cyber warfare experts to shore up Ukraine buttress against the expected preemptive cyber attack as well as to possible retaliate.  Make them pay.

There is also a flow of defensive weapons; some are already in Ukraine and others quietly on the way. Ukrainian forces have very visibly started testing and training with Javelin anti-tank weapons. That training prompted another round of outrage by Russian defense officials.  As Stingers were to the Russians in Afghanistan Javelins could be in an Ukraine battlescape.

Already transferred to Ukraine billions of dollars worth of radars, patrol boats and anti-tank missiles. A U.S. military team recently traveled to Ukraine to assess the country’s air-defense network. The Pentagon is already gathering intelligence over Ukraine—and sharing it with the Ukrainians — and made a point to send E-8s and RC-135s aircraft to collect data.

Those plans generally are visible to the public only when they fly with their transponders on, meaning they appear on any of several flight-tracking websites. The Air Force could have ordered the crews to turn off their transponders for the mission. It didn’t. The mission was more than an effort to surveil Russian forces. It was a statement from the Biden administration to the Putin regime.

Make them pay, continued.

The U.S. is also set to help Ukraine build two naval bases, at Ochakiv on the Black Sea and at Berdyansk on the Sea of Azov. They will be two early flash points in a conflict.  Two U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats have been given to the navy.

There is another key element driving Pentagon make-them-pay calculations: Putin’s historic motives.

His last Ukraine invasion was extremely popular, giving him approval ratings above 80 percent following a longterm decline. He is playing a familiar card, saying Russians “compatriots” in Ukraine — and in Moldova and the Baltic states, and in Russian=controlled Kaliningrad — are being threatened and persecuted and need help from Moscow.

As a Swedish military commander noted, “You should never underestimate a country that has now built up their capabilities over time. Listen to their rhetoric, listen to their communication. It’s obvious that they do have ambitions. They also protect their long-term interests.”

Pentagon planners are certain that Putin is not going to be satisfied with just Belarus but seeks to reestablish as much of the old Russian empire as he can.

Unless they can be made to pay early and often.

(DoD photo)