It is five months since the Russians invaded Ukraine ostensibly expecting to gain a quick victory. This was not to be, however, since the Ukrainians dug in and showed admirable gritty resistance. Vladimir Putin had to fall back on a revised plan, not all of Ukraine, which he thinks does not merit the title of nation state and in the past has been dominated by Russia. Maybe, it has to be like Georgia, just taking bites of the territory. He has to show the invasion has been worthwhile, as he loses tens of thousands of his population, probably mostly younger generations, who don’t want to be part of the war and disagree with the action. It is known that the population of Russia, like several other countries, is declining and this is a last chance to reassert the significance of Russia. History will show that he is on the wrong path.
Putin has recently risked leaving Russia to visit Iran and to meet the Turkish President there as well, this to check on countries on his southern border which is important to his stability. Iran because they also have a difficult arrangement with the US, tensions coming to the fore from time to time. Turkey is highly important to Russia, however, since it straddles the Bosphorus and is the key to Russia’s gateway to the Mediterranean. It is vital that Russia maintains good relationships with Turkey, which could otherwise block this important outlet. In addition, Turkey was for several centuries, till a hundred years ago, the centre of the Ottoman empire, and, in the coming decades it will be a significant player as the Arab countries’ influence declines as the demand for oil gradually reduces. Turkey is also a member of NATO and is unique in that it is in both Europe and Asia.
With some initiative from the UN, hosted by Turkey, we have seen Ukraine sit down with Russia in the past few days to sign an agreement in order that the Ukrainian grain being blockaded in the port of Odessa by the Russians and can be released to a starving world. Within 24 hours of the agreement to release the grain, the port of Odessa was bombed by missiles. It took a further day for the Russians to come up with an excuse that it was aiming for a military target, after all there is no agreement to stop the military action!
There has been an indication that the Ukrainian forces are getting ready to take back the important southern town of Kherson, which should be an indication that the help that the Western allies have promised is finally coming through, not just in terms of materiel but of training of Ukrainian troops. Meanwhile in the eastern area of the Donbas the Russian advance is grinding along very slowly. The Ukrainians are trying to hold the position until such time as they have sufficient up-to-date arms and help with training such as the UK is providing. They have to put up with long range missiles which the Russians send onto cities well back from the front line, ostensibly aimed for military targets. This is what they say, but invariably hitting civilian ones, damaging apartment blocks, for instance, and killing innocent people.
The war grinds on and will, from the Russian point of view, for some time to come until they, the Russians, see that they are losing. This depends to a large extent on the West and whether their undertaking to support is fulfilled and as quickly as possible. Will there be a halt to the war, called by Putin? Will the Ukrainians agree? Not likely unless they recover all or most of their territory. What will the European Union position be, particularly from those countries that with winter approaching are hurting economically, particularly from lack of fuel for heating. The next phase of the war is crucial.
Dr J Scott Younger, OBE, is a professional civil engineer; he spent 42 years in the Far East undertaking assignments in 10 countries for WB, ADB, UNDP. He is a member of IFIMES Advisory Board.
IFIMES – International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies, based in Ljubljana, Slovenia, has Special Consultative status at ECOSOC/UN, New York, since 2018.