Putin’s war is one month old and entered the second. Talks are taking place but there are no substantive agreements. Putin does not mind as long as he can keep weakening the Ukrainian resolve, which is more and more unlikely as the days pass. He has to prove to the Russian people that the invasion was worthwhile and he has extended and secured the borders against any western aggression, a figment of his imagination. This is despite the fact that he started the current war and destruction and there was no sign of threat from the west.
In the few sightings of Vladimir Putin, he is usually sitting in glorious isolation or, if he is walking, his left arm is hanging down, limp. This can be the sign of a stroke, albeit a mild one. Whenever he meets with any staff they are placed at distance; he is reputedly frightened of catching covid on top of his other ailments, which may include the early signs of dementia. Normally, I would be sorry for someone with his declining health, but I cannot be for someone who causes others so much stress and heartache, not to mention death. It is taking too long for him to earn the change of name from Putin to Putout or even Takeaway!!
Like Hitler and Stalin before him, his close associates and underlings are afraid to tell him the truth and tell him only what he wants to know. The tremendous damage that he has caused to Kherson and Mariupol, for example, have earned him the branding of a ‘war criminal’. To be properly charged is a complicated and very lengthy process. It takes years to get someone to the courts in the Hague and it is likely that he will die before that. But is one reason that he does not want to meet the Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is that he is ill, apart from the fact that he thinks he may have more bargaining chips the longer the struggle goes on.
There are signs that some of Ukraine ‘s near neighbours to the west, notably Poland, Slovakia, and the Czechs, some of the countries that felt the worst of the Soviet era, are uncomfortable with the fact that the EU is not apparently doing enough. The German government have been put in a difficult position having had to back off from taking gas directly through the Nord Stream pipeline. Furthermore, when Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the German Bundestag, as he did the US Senate, UK House of Commons and the French and Italian parliaments, his speech was greeted very with only polite applause. When it comes to NATO their support over the years has been much less than their due; it is time to change that and to acknowledge that the world has moved on since WWII, and their input is important. In fact, looking ahead, the US is going to be increasingly involved in the East. China has now armed the three islands which they built up from the sea-bed, contrary to what they said earlier. The islands are strategically placed to ‘guard’ the South China Sea and China’s actions must worry the ASEAN countries which are dependent on using it. One reason, perhaps for the Australian, UK and US governments signing an agreement, AUKUS, is to show intent for the trans-Pacific region.
To return to the current invasion, it has now entered its second month, as said. The Russians have lost more soldiers than they planned, 7,000 – 10,000 + dead. They cannot obviously admit to that and their estimate is even lower. They were going to bring in other troops; from Belorussia was mentioned. How will the troops from there enter the struggle? In the last election, Alexander Lukashenko declared the election a fraud and stayed in office, despite his losing by a significant margin. There remains a sizeable opposition, passive at the moment, and one can perceive a fair amount of sympathy for their neighbour, Ukraine. In addition, despite Stalin having come from Georgia, many Georgians have a strong dislike for the Russians. In 2008, the Russian army invaded Georgia, ostensibly to come to the ‘aid’ of the pro-Russian population in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. There was a suggestion that the South Ossetians were provoked to start a fight with the Georgian government which led to the Russian involvement. The Russian troops had been assembling on the South Ossetian border and found ways to justify the narrative to enter as peace-keepers and the initial internal fight became a full-scale war with the Russians using their air force to telling effect. Finally, peace was settled with a ceasefire agreement signed in front of Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France, with the breakaway provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia no longer being part of Georgia, which is the situation as of today. It would appear that Putin, having tried this approach before, was using almost the same format as before with the pro-Russian region of Ukraine, the Donbas, albeit his ambitions were greater at the start. Putin has been dismayed at the Ukrainian resistance and will have to claw back his demands significantly from what territory he expected to get. We must not forget that he had stolen Crimea in 2014, and the West did nothing about it at that time.
Some Georgian mercenaries, showing their feelings, have entered the war to assist the Ukrainians. However, they are not the only country to have supplied mercenaries; there is a significant number from around the world lending their expertise to the Ukrainians, possibly at least over 15,000. They were much needed.
The Russians, despite NATO saying ‘no’ to the imposition of a no-fly zone over Ukraine, as requested, leaving the Russians the freedom of the skies, which they have used to telling effect, the Ukrainian forces have put up a stout resistance and even more on the ground. They are holding their ground and pushing back in some places. Putin has to decide when he has ‘won’ enough and can sell this ‘victory’ to the Russian people before he has destroyed the Russian economy and awakened NATO to realise that they are a force to be reckoned with when they pull together. They will probably, as they did in Georgia, agree to settle on the pro-Russian Donbas region, the Crimea and some of the connecting coastline. Will the Ukrainians agree in the name of peace? They must be allowed to join the EU, however, if not NATO.
The next short period is going to be difficult for the Ukraine people. And then we shall have to rebuild the nation, not just the infrastructure but the people who have had to endure purgatory.
J Scott Younger, International Chancellor of the President University, Honorary Senior Research Fellow of the Glasgow University and 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.