How can this nightmare end?
From the dark air raid shelters of Mariupol to the lofty corridors of NATO, the issue is no less urgent and no clearer than it was on February 24, when Russian troops invaded Ukraine.
Moscow’s announcement on Tuesday that it was shifting its focus from Kyiv to the Donbass appeared to be a sign that President Vladimir Putin was preparing for a more modest victory. But that speculation was quickly dismissed as his forces continued their bombardment around the Ukrainian capital.
Given the NATO powers’ adamant refusal to intervene in Ukraine’s favour, Western officials are increasingly seeing three broad categories of how this conflict could end. Whatever the scenario – Putin’s fall, a negotiated settlement, or an ongoing stalemate – there is no going back to the old post-war order.
do svidaniya, Vlad
“For God’s sake, this man cannot stay in power.” In the ad lib, heard around the world, US President Joe Biden voiced what many Western leaders have thought. They don’t understand Putin’s thinking, they’re sick of his nuclear saber-rattling, and they don’t trust a damn word.
Ideologically motivated, Putin is ‘not a cost-benefit analysis thinker’ joked Ex-US Ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul. That means there might not have been much the West could have done to deter Putin from even starting this fight, nor much to persuade him to end it.
Instead, Washington and London dream of what a post-Putin world might look like. And they like it.
In this vision, Ukrainian resistance (with just enough western help to avoid escalation) holds Putin in a protracted conflict.
To stay in the game, Putin needs to recruit more and more soldiers. They, in turn, come home in body bags that even his propaganda machine can’t sugarcoat – prompting mothers to take to the streets, as they did during Russia’s failed occupation of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, increasingly stringent sanctions are causing Russia’s middle class – now accustomed to capitalist goodies like Ikea and McDonalds – to radicalize and resent the war.
Russian elites are likely to form a circular firing squad for Russia’s “disastrous progress” in its war with Ukraine, a Western official has said. “People are going to be pretty defensive about their own mistakes and, I think, try to point the finger at others.”
There was “considerable evidence of uneasiness about how the invasion of Russia unfolded among the broadly defined Russian elite,” the same official added.
Eventually, Russia’s generals and spymasters – many of whom are under house arrest – decide to dose Putin with his own poison and get rid of him by force. As the coup coincides with mass protests, a pro-Western generation of leaders emerges from the chaos in Moscow.
The revolutionary fervor of the Russians and the triumph of the Ukrainians are creating a new enthusiasm for liberal democracy not seen since the early 1990s.
Ukraine is becoming a lesson not only for Moscow but also for Beijing. Chinese President Xi Jinping, perhaps more of a “cost-benefit analysis thinker,” looks at Russia’s humiliation in the face of a united Western front and recognizes that playing for Taiwan would not be worth it.
Reality check: The last time the Russians abruptly overthrew their leader was in 1917 — and given the total lack of organized opposition, there’s no guarantee a successor to Putin would have a different mindset. Meanwhile, it might be a mistake to think that Russia’s experience would throw Beijing any doubts about Taiwan, since that is the case argued historian Niall Ferguson. China, which has a much larger economy than Russia, could take comfort in the West’s inability to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels and NATO’s refusal to directly risk its members’ own security to help Ukraine.
let’s make a deal
French President Emmanuel Macron has insisted a negotiated peace deal is still possible. The contours of a possible solution vary widely, and there is no clarity as to how many Ukrainian concessions the West – and the Ukrainian people themselves – might accept.
Western European countries are highly motivated to return to economic normality. As the sanctions wear off, the penalties just need to get tougher, and that doesn’t just hurt Russia. Rising costs of living, for example, appear to be the biggest threat to Macron’s re-election, and in Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz warned that going without Russian oil and gas would cause a recession.
“If we had a negotiated solution to this conflict that expels Russian forces from Ukraine, that protects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the future, that ensures Ukraine’s reconstruction, then the sanctions could be reversed,” US officials said. Undersecretary of State Victoria Nuland to US-backed Russian-language broadcaster Current Time TV On Wednesday.
“You could imagine a scenario where steps to withdraw Russian forces from Ukraine have sequenced the lifting of sanctions,” she said, although “there’s a long, long way to go from there.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has already expressed some openness to renouncing Ukraine’s NATO membership. Putin may also be able to extract some territories – leaving Crimea and Donbass, for example, without further Ukrainian disputes – in exchange for a Russian withdrawal from the rest of the country.
The Poles in Berlin and Paris brim with courage just thinking about this result, with its potential for long-term soft-power victories. If Ukraine splits in two, the EU can conspicuously take responsibility for rebuilding the free side. This creates an attractive west-east contrast to illustrate just how poor Moscow’s lifestyle offering is. (Remember: we still want Putin out.) And having a clean de facto EU-Russia border on the Dnieper is also attractive – especially if the alternative had been the borders of Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania , if Putin managed to conquer all Ukraine.
Reality check: Putin has broken almost every promise in the past month, whether it’s withdrawing from Kyiv or allowing humanitarian escape routes from Mariupol. “In my own view, Putin is clearly not to be trusted,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Wednesday, questioning whether Macron’s negotiations with the Kremlin had much merit.
Even if Putin honors a deal, any gains made through unprovoked violence profoundly undermine the rules-based national order. Eastern European EU countries, which have been restrictive on Russia, would see such a deal as appeasement for a bully who threatens their own security. Putin may see it as an invitation to try again to invade a neighbor – and this time he may be better prepared.
No end (game)
The US Department of Defense estimates that the conflict could last another decade. In fact, there are no signs that either side will be ready for serious peace talks any time soon.
Zelenskyy refuses to even discuss surrendering territory until the Russians move troops back to pre-February 24 positions, and his other possible concession – declared Ukrainian neutrality – requires a constitutional referendum that is next to impossible to organize. Meanwhile, Western intelligence estimates argue that Putin doesn’t even know how badly off he is; Advisors keep him in blissful ignorance. The fading effect of sanctions in Russia is bolstering Moscow’s resolve, while Western leaders are increasingly reluctant to increase the pain for their own constituents.
The ongoing military conflict is beginning to look like a Syria in Eastern Europe. NATO stands firm and united in its refusal to ground troops or shoot down Russian planes. Despite their passion and discipline, the Ukrainians are too thinly spread defending Kiev and other key points against Russian harassment to mount a real counteroffensive.
“There will come a moment when Russian forces will decide they’ve done enough in Mariupol, and then they’ll look north and try to conduct this broader encirclement operation by Ukrainian forces in Donbass, a west official said.
As the Russians succeed in taking cities, the Ukrainian armed forces’ best hope is to use guerrilla-style techniques to prevent a military operation from becoming a political reality. That means pulling Russian resources away from hardened front lines, a “very costly change of attitude,” said Jennifer Cafarella, chief of staff at the US-based Institute for the Study of War.
With little hope of actually holding Ukraine, Putin opts for systematic destruction, making the cost of rebuilding the country prohibitive. Russia never really wins, but Ukraine loses its population and its economy.
Reality check: NATO stays out to avoid a third world war. But a protracted war has global consequences. Ukrainian refugees pouring into the West will not be able to return home. And they won’t be the only new arrivals: people from the Middle East, Africa and Central Asia, vulnerable to the collapse of Russia’s economy and halted food exports, would renew migration as a key issue in Western democracies.
https://www.politico.eu/article/peace-putsch-europe-syria-refugees-ukraine-russia/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication 3 finals for Ukraine – POLITICO