Putin’s thirst for war, conquest and revenge is unquenchable
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Hello again. In a speech in Warsaw on the eve of the first anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, US President Joe Biden said that Vladimir Putin “can end the war with one word”. But the Russian leader will not make such a move unless he can win on terms that are completely unacceptable to Ukraine and its Western backers, as was clear from Putin’s defiant public speeches in Moscow this week. So what happens next? I’m at [email protected]
Predictions about the outcome of long, apparently evenly fought wars are risky. Who foresaw in November 1917 that 12 months later France, the United Kingdom, the United States and their allies would win the First World War comprehensively over Germany and the other Central Powers?
After spending this week sifting through a wide range of commentary on the war in Ukraine, my impression is that the consensus forecast is that neither side is on the way to a decisive victory, no distant peace settlement, or even a cease-fire—temporary or otherwise. – not likely anytime soon.
The war of attrition
An outstanding analysis supporting the argument comes from Thomas Graham, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former American diplomat in Moscow. Writing on the Harvard Kennedy School’s Russia Matters website, Graham explains that Russia, Ukraine, and US domestic politics all refer to the continuation of the “war of attrition”..
Here are Graham’s thoughts on Putin:
He showed no interest in negotiations other than the capitulation of Ukraine. . . His hyperbolic rhetoric, comparing the conflict to the great patriotic wars of survival against Hitler and Napoleon, limits his scope.
About Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky: “[He] committed to total victory. . .[He]cannot trade land for peace and the hope of political survival.”
On Biden, the war and the 2024 US presidential election: “After I formulated it as a historic contest between democracy and autocracy. . . Biden cannot afford to lose Ukraine and hope to be re-elected.”
The United States the president himself said so In Warsaw:
President Putin chose this war. War is his choice every day. He can end the war with one word. It’s simple. If Russia stops invading Ukraine, it will end the war. If Ukraine stopped defending itself against Russia, it would mean the end of Ukraine.
This last point is reinforced in an article by former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt for Project Syndicate. appeared in the Korea Times. What would have happened, asks Bildt, if Russia had won the war quickly a year ago?
[Zelenskyy] he would probably have been killed by Russian special forces or imprisoned after a quick trial. At best, he would lead a government in exile in Warsaw or somewhere else. . . Ukraine as a political entity would have ceased to exist and would have returned to its status under 19th century Russian imperialism.
Thus, despite high casualties, Ukraine continues to struggle with the mass displacement of civilians and the devastating effects of war on the economy, as shown by this IMF report in December.
Western military and financial support continues to sustain Ukraine’s war effort, despite the FT reporting that Kiev’s finance ministry has received just €31 billion by December of the €64 billion pledged by Western countries since the invasion.
Like the Kiel Institute table above shows, the USA provides the lion’s share of Western aid, but for how long?
Felicia Schwartz, our Washington-based US foreign affairs and defense correspondent, writes that once rock-solid political and public support for providing arms and money to Ukraine is waning and may come under even greater pressure as the 2024 elections approach.
Any significant reduction in US support would certainly dash Ukraine’s hopes of achieving all of its war aims. As the conflict escalated, these became a full restoration of government control over all territory occupied by Russia since 2014, including Crimea and the southeastern Donbass region.
Few Western leaders dare to suggest in public that these war aims are too ambitious, but some think so in private. Russia’s atrocities in occupied zones and deportations of Ukrainian civilians, including many thousands of children, make it particularly difficult for Western leaders to entertain the idea of leaving such areas under Moscow’s control — even as part of a ceasefire, let alone a long-term one. . settlement.
It is no less true, however, that Putin studiously avoided detailing Russia’s war aims. Would it settle for Crimea and four other regions of Ukraine, which it declared annexed to Russia in September, even though they are not under Moscow’s full military control?
The historical fate of Putin and Russia
In my opinion, it would be unwise to assume that. The destruction of the independent Ukrainian state after 1991 and the absorption of Ukrainian identity into a Russian-led East Slavic union seem fundamental to Putin’s increasingly mystical perception of Russia’s fate.
Few have described Putin’s obsessions more succinctly than historian Thomas Otte. write to the H-Diplo website almost a year ago:
Putin’s views. . . they reflect his fundamentally anti-Western and anti-European views Russian Mir [the Russian world]a partly historical, partly ideological construction based on the idea of the 10th century Saint Rus – itself an “invention” of 19th century historians.
It includes the late Tsarist ideas of the ethno-cultural pan-Slavic bond between the Eastern Slavs and is fueled by the memories of the victory over fascism in the Great Patriotic War.
There he also emphasizes the importance for Putin of his grievance-filled argument that the West betrayed Russia after the Cold War by accepting the newly liberated, ex-communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe into NATO. Mary Elise Sarotte, a leading authority on the diplomacy of the era, demolished this argument in the FT last weekend.
Yet, as Otte points out, Putin’s claims of Western bad faith have morphed into the Russian equivalent of the post-1918 German right-wing nationalist “backstabbing” myth that Jews, socialists, and other domestic “traitors” caused the country to lose the First World War.
In short: Putin’s thirst for conquest, revenge and a revered place in the annals of Russian history remains unquenched. Former Russian diplomat Boris Bondarev, who resigned last year in protest over the attack on Ukraine, offers the following insight into Putin and the officials who serve him:
It will always be a source of war, aggression and destabilization. . .This war is his personal war because no one around him wanted this war. And now they don’t want it. They just follow because it is not their responsibility to think and decide.
What do you think? Will the fighting in Ukraine stop by the end of this year? Vote here.
How the Russian War Tore Up Global Energy Routes – an analysis by Benjamin Storrow and Sara Schonhardt for E&E News
Tony’s pick of the week
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has taken a more active public role as he seeks to strengthen the authority of the Iranian regime after the most violent protests since the Islamic Revolution, Najmeh Bozorgmehr of the FT reported from Tehran.
Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party has been on the back foot for most of the past three and a half years, but still chance to retain power after the parliamentary elections Aleksz Szczerbiak, professor of politics at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, is scheduled for the end of the year.
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