The US risks embarrassing itself and its intelligence if Russia chooses an option other than invasion; Ukraine’s territorial integrity ‘not negotiable’, says Olaf Scholz after Zelenskiy meeting

But the emphasis on near-inevitable war – and the naming of narrow timeframes when it is expected to happen – is also closing down options for the US and its allies, while opening them up for Russia. Moscow still has the initiative, and the risk is growing that its president, Vladimir Putin, is being set up to achieve a diplomatic victory through pulling the rug from under the western war scare.

There’s been no shortage of speculation over how long Russia can keep its troops on the border without either launching an attack or withdrawing them. But back in November, when Putin first explained the purpose of Russia’s threatening force buildup, he also said it was important for those forces to keep the pressure on “for as long as possible”. Three months on, the question instead is how long the US and its closest allies can keep ratcheting up the warnings of imminent conflict.

While previously it would have been hard to cast any retreat by Putin as anything but humiliating failure, it is now the US that stands to be embarrassed, and the credibility of its intelligence disclosures once again shattered, if Russia chooses an option other than invasion – or even simply continues to sit on the border as the dates named by the US come and go.

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