Putin Chooses War

Photo source: Politico

By Naveed Qazi | Editor, Globe Upfront

For months, Putin denied that he would invade his Ukrainian neighbour. Even Ukrainian intelligence and its think tanks had made calculations that a large-scale war was not imminent, at the land border. But, Putin shocked everyone, and eventually went ahead and chose war by land, air, and sea, in February 2022, after a pre-dawn media address, as he thought Russians 'could not be safe, could not develop, and could not exist' for a while. He even claimed that his goal was to protect his people subjected to bullying, and genocide, and aimed for the demilitarisation and de-Nazification of modern Ukraine. For this, he even vowed to bring ‘Ukrainian fascists’ to court, who run the country since 2014. Although, Ukrainian leaders, including its prime minister, rejected Russia’s slur, outrightly. But, in reality, there are some Ukrainian territorial defence groups who are overtly and unabashedly hard-right in their ideological orientation. Militarily, forces like the infamous Azov Regiment have been active in southeastern Ukraine, though not exclusively. In the past, the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B) led by Stepan Bandera was also regarded by people in eastern Ukraine through Soviet historiography as neo-Nazi but facts of history largely negate this.

It was in 2020 when Putin wrote a long piece describing Russians and Ukrainians as one nation. He also described the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 as the disintegration of historical Russia. It was something which was reflective of the Tsarist rule in the 19th century.

Just as the US and its European allies used the UN-mandated 'Responsibility to Protect' (R2P) principle to justify their ‘humanitarian’ interventions in Libya, for example, Russia is referring to it to justify its intervention in Ukraine.

Putin has also all along felt bitter about Ukraine’s move towards the European Union, as he thinks that NATO members are no innocent bystanders because they have not only deployed strike weapons near Russia’s borders but also installed its forces and military infrastructure near eastern Europe, central Europe and Baltic states. NATO, however, thinks if they would not have done this, Russia would conquer Europe one day, but Putin’s assertions are unflagging for a while. 

After the invasion, some analysts, seeing the naked territorial aggression, started making comparisons of Putin with Saddam Hussein, as both men resorted to expansionist ambitions. While Saddam Hussein’s actions spoke of hostility towards Iran in the wake of its 1979 revolution, and Kuwait in 1990, Putin’s actions spoke of invasions in Georgia in 2008, and Crimea in 2014.

The war on Ukraine had started when tanks rolled from Russia, Russia annexed Crimea, and its ally Belarus. Then, war became frightening, when missiles hit not only military infrastructure, but also civilian homes, and when warplanes started bombing major modern Ukrainian cities. It made thousands of common Ukrainians seek refuge in cold war era bomb shelters, as enormous plumes of black smoke billowed into the peachy daybreak skies. Over two thousand Ukrainian civilians have died since Russia’s invasion in February 2022. After five days after the invasion, nearly 660,000 people, mostly women and children fled Ukraine. It resulted in the most intense wave of migration since the 1990s. Up to four million people could flee, if the situation deteriorates further, according to UN estimates. Adding more woes, there were press reports by Time, where refugees of colour were dismayed by the continued preferential treatment for Ukrainians in the official Polish response and from ordinary Poles. As of now, there are also a lack of efficient humanitarian corridors. 

Ever since the war began, a string of leading western companies have exited Russia, Nord Stream 2 has gone insolvent, the oil prices have soared, and the world’s largest shipping lines have halted Russian deliveries.

On the eve of the invasion, Zelensky had tried to telephone Putin to appeal for negotiations, but the Russian leader would not take the call. In the coming days, Zelensky would accuse Russia of 'nuclear terror', after a reckless attack on Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest such facility in Europe.

After launching attacks on Ukraine’s north, east and south, it seems Putin’s long-term goals are unknown, although he denies installing a puppet regime from Kremlin. According to BBC, there is one unconfirmed report where it is believed that Putin aims to split Ukraine into two regions. A Macron aide, however, believes that he wants the 'whole of Ukraine'. 

Since late 2021, Russia scrapped the 2015 peace deal for the east and recognised areas under rebel control as independent. In recognising the breakaway regions, the Kremlin claimed that it was supporting their right to self-determination, just as the West did for Croats, Slovenes, Macedonians and Bosnians during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. His recognition of the two breakaway republics in eastern Ukraine is also reminiscent of US President Donald Trump’s illegal recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, and occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, which Biden continues to uphold.

There are also reports, according to Daily Mail, where it is believed that Russian mercenaries, the Wagner Group, will be flown from Africa to kill twenty-three key Ukrainian figures, including the Klitschko brothers, although Moscow denies this.

The scale and scope of the Ukrainian invasion seem more like Moscow’s menacing power projections during the Cold War when the Soviet Union intervened in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in 1979.

In the first four days since Putin invaded Ukraine, the United States and European nations promised hundreds of millions of dollars in new arms. Germany, for the first time, vowed to supply five hundred Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and a thousand anti-tank weapons. But, with the capital under bombardment from four sides, delivering them to Kyiv will be a challenge. And, the new arms are unlikely to significantly or quickly change the balance of military power. The Ukrainian army remains outmanned and outgunned by Russia. Despite the inspiring Ukrainian resistance that has slowed the initial incursion, Moscow retains an edge. Russia’s tactics have toughened as hospitals and other civilian infrastructure has repeatedly been hit by air raids and artillery shells.

Although, it is not just weapons that have been flown into Ukraine. About sixty thousand diasporas have returned to the country. Foreign fighters have also made their way inside Ukraine, who are driven by a variety of ideologies, and reasons. Russia has announced that it, too, will receive foreign fighters, mainly Syrians with experience in urban combat, in an effort to shore up its armed forces.

After the war, Russia also sacrificed economic goals for military aggression. It shows Russia is unfazed, seems prepared, and is not dissuaded by sanctions, no matter how severe, when it comes to pursuing its core national interests. 

Critics such as Greg Yudin, a Moscow professor, argue that Putin felt his power ebbing, and chose war to save himself, not his country. He may be wrong on this because according to polls done by Levada Centre, Putin’s popularity has spiked from 61% to 69%, hinting that most Russians support the war in Ukraine, and that anti-war protestors on the streets do not tell the real story.


Popular Posts