Putin’s war is in its 4th week and no end in sight, although the protagonists have agreed to talk again. Meanwhile, the people flee the country to safety, the count being over 3.0 million to date, with Poland generously opening their country to more than half the number. Sanctions are getting heavier, the oligarchs are being pursued more rigorously for their ill-gotten gains, but it is said that Vladimir Putin himself is worth $200 billion, with a significant amount of this probably in a more stable currency than the rouble. Whatever, he personally is cushioned from the pain he inflicts on his own people as well as the Ukrainians, whose country he is devastating because they won’t behave as he tells them. The Russian people hear largely what he wants them to hear through State-controlled outlets, because he has shut down all the free media outlets, except what the more tech-savvy, generally younger people can obtain through their mobiles. Shades of ‘1984’. It is not so long since the nearby East European countries can easily forget the stultifying hand of the Soviet era from which even some Russian people are trying to flee.
Diplomatic channels remain open – just – but there is no change at the moment in the Russian stance. There is concern that the Kremlin will continue parroting their fake Putin view of things, to tell their own people, while starting to step up the war in unpleasant ways as they have done before - chemical weapons. Putin is not worried about the Court of Human Rights; it’s the West’s construction! Meanwhile, the unabated bombing continues with this spreading to other cities, almost to the Ukrainian border with Poland. Putin won’t let up until least of his objectives are met no matter the suffering he causes and despite the Ukrainians resisting valiantly. For the sake of argument let’s say he continues before the sanctions cause him to stop or he is deposed, which will take some time, however. There is the possibility before that of foreign troops, mercenaries, brought in on the Russian side, for example from Belarus, from Syria, where chemical weapons were used previously, and from Africa. The more ruthless the better! Perhaps the war is not going according to plan. One can already predict the Putin line of fake news for the justification of these troops. In this case, it is time the west organize a foreign legion, not beholden to any country flag, to be attached to the Ukrainian armed forces; not attached to NATO. Is this happening?
One can conjecture would Putin have considered Russia being part of the EU as in long days past it considered itself as part of Europe, prior to the days of Lenin? Probably a fanciful idea but there would be no need for NATO should Russia have shown any positive attitude and the current war would not have taken place. Possibly Russia with a forward-thinking leader rather than one looking back.
The west thinks that Putin cannot win, but let us think the unthinkable and that he does partly if not fully. Ukraine would be a devastated country, in the grip of an authoritarian government, costing trillions of dollars to put right. Where is that money going to come from? Sanctioned assets? Will Putin control the rehabilitation and reconstruction? Will NATO continue its passive stance to emphasise again that it is not an organisation to be feared? And so on. The longer that we do nothing and let the invasion continue, the greater the cost, not just in terms of money but in terms of reputation and human suffering. The west is quite rightly concerned when Putin dangles the threats of his using bio-chemical weapons or, God forbid, nuclear. But it’s like a game of chess, for which he is credited with having some ability; we have to find a way to box the ‘king’ in and he goes, either by being deposed or by using more drastic measures, before he releases his thunderbolt! We should not leave the Ukrainian people to carry the fight on their own. They may be ‘cousins’ of the Russian people but they have tasted the democratic freedoms that the west espouses, they see that as the way to prosper, and they are all too aware of the heavy hand of communism, which the Russian people have to endure.
NATO is an end of WWII construct to counter the threat of Stalin and the large swathes of Europe he took under his control. Rightly, the US led the way out of the mess created by the war, and they did an excellent job. Over the subsequent decades, the numbers finding ways to get out of the Soviet bloc to western Europe were significant, particularly through Berlin and the brain- drain that was taking place.
The people saw the dead hand of communism in everyday life. The Berlin wall put a brake on the East Germans; there was unrest also in other countries, such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia. However, NATO remained a deterrent to any thoughts of communist Soviet expansion and when the USSR gave up in 1989 and acknowledged that they found the empire of the satellite countries of Eastern Europe was no longer economically viable to control, these countries breathed a sigh of relief, albeit they did in different ways. These countries gradually became part of the EU, after they met the economic, political and administrative guidelines that were required, so that the EU became a sizeable bloc. Not surprisingly, Russia still being a perceived threat NATO expanded its brief, taking in the new countries of the EU bloc.
In the 1990s, when glasnost was in the air, one wonders if the leaders of Russia would have been willing to consider a partial relaxation of their view of government and would have been willing to consider a trade agreement with the EU, along the lines of EFTA. Was the EU ready to consider such? Probably not, and then we saw the rise of Putin, his gradually increasing obsessive paranoia with the west, giving rise to the situation which we have today.
NATO is largely controlled by the US military, naturally as they have the size under one government. The military that the US brings to the body outweighs what other EU nations + UK can muster. But there is the difficulty that the US President has a say in the use of US troops and therefore NATO’s issues are always partially dependent on the colour of the domestic political scene and how the president views his strength. With Joseph Biden, his domestic political position is sometimes fragile, depending on the issue and Congress, compounded by his naturally averse nature towards controversial problems. Had we had Donald Trump still as US president, he would be trying to withdraw the US from NATO! In the longer run the EU should look to increasingly stand on its own feet and be less reliant on the US, whose main occupation will be the rise of China and its expansionist aims, not just with its real threat to Taiwan, which could possibly come earlier than the target date of 2025.
And there is the possible effect this war is having on climate change and the distribution of fossil fuels. A growing worry.
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.