Vladimir Putin’s chesslike movements in the Ukraine confirm something we’ve all suspected. Putin is both brawn and brains. I would hate to face him across the board, because he’d play me like a violin (then have me killed).

Simple fact: If Putin wanted Ukraine, he would have taken it. Past tense. His special purpose units (SPETSNAZ) would have put Volodymyr Oleksandrovych Zelenskyy’s head on a stake, installed a puppet regime, and been home in time for Christmas.

But Putin doesn’t want all of Ukraine. Most of it is an economic basket case. He just wants enough so there’s a human shield between him and the West once the Ukraine declares for NATO. Which it will. Don’t forget that it was Joe Biden who urged former Soviet-bloc countries Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia to join NATO back in the 90’s.

Ukraine will follow, and maybe trigger the kind of civil insurrection that plays into Poot’s hands.

Then, instead of an invasion Putin will mount a “rescue”. The 100,000+ troops poised on the border aren’t an army, they’re a “peacekeeping force”, silly!

Putin will then annexe a big, fat slice of southern Ukraine where much of the population identify as Russian “to save ethnic Russians from a purge”. Sublime Soviet propaganda has made this possible, so expect to see Poot ride in on his T-14 and, in the process, grab the Black Sea.

I’m sure mistress Alina will be tying herself in sweaty knots at her manly Muscovite’s prowess. I can only speculate at the amount of nooky Valdimir earned back in 2014 when he invaded Crimea. Gods only know what exquisite rewards Ukraine would yield.

With the rest of the world distracted by the endemic, the global map is being redrawn. Crimea was the opening gambit of Putin’s Ukraine campaign. NATO and the West blundered their first move, now Putin has tempo. And he’s not one to relinquish an advantage.

We’re in “the middle game” now.

So what’s the Grey Cardinal’s next move? That’s easy, because he’s already told us. Putin has repeatedly described the fall of the USSR as this century’s greatest tragedy — 40% of Russia’s landmass and a thousand years of hard-fought gains, all gone.

When Putin pisses in the snow, he draws Mikhail Gorbachev’s face. So do many Russians.

But Putin doesn’t just want the USSR back, he wants empire. Just as President Xi Jinping covets the title of Emperor, Putin wants to be Czar. What pieces he has left for his endgame depends on what he does right now, and whether he can promote a pawn on November 5, 2024.

With tempo, a little luck, and assuming no mistakes, Putin could check the West in Ukraine, then mate us at his leisure.

Hardly a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.

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