Putin’s war, cont’d


We in Britain are just getting over a lengthy mourning period for Queen Elizabeth II, and saying goodbye to the longest reigning monarch in British history. Perhaps Vladimir Putin waited, as a mark of respect, before he addressed the Russian people to give them the next phase of his plans for his ‘special military operation’. It was hard to witness his drive in the streets of London in an open-topped limousine smiling, beside the Queen, some twenty years ago! Relationships with Russia have certainly soured since then.

About that time also, 2003, there was a high-level meeting held of those of Putin’s inner circle in which there was a chance to adopt a more open democratic line, albeit Russian style, the perestroika of Mikhail Gorbachev, or alternatively follow the well-trodden path which secured the position of the favoured few within a strict authoritarian government, perhaps better termed a kleptocracy. The latter was opted for, which made the few extremely wealthy, e.g. the oligarchs who had a hold on the key state industries from the 1990s and Putin and members with upper KGB affiliations. Today Putin who is recently 70, is reputed to be worth some $40bn, and has an unreasonable embedded hatred of the west which isn’t going to change. It will get worse as his position is increasingly threatened.

There was a fairly recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which includes China, Russia, India, Turkey and others. Putin used the occasion to put his case, as he saw it, and subsequently visited Saudi Arabia, and the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, and Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He was advised to bring the war to an end in each case. Overall, he received a cool reception.

Instead, he has dismissed that advice and chosen to illegally grab the eastern and southern flanks of Ukraine – Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson. This he has done now on paper at least, much as he stole Crimea in 2014 and parts of Georgia before that. He has no compunction about lying; it is his way of life. He now broadcasts worldwide and holds a televised ceremony, that these four parts of Ukraine are now a part of mother Russia, and Ukraine continuing attacks on those 4 provinces would be seen as attacks on Russian soil. But he only has a self-proclaimed mandate for this and most of the world, from the UN down, pronounce the move as illegal.

From the annexed territories to the military progress

However, Ukraine won’t stop its endeavours as it has slowly been taking its land back, gaining territory, particularly in Donetsk and latterly towards Kherson. They rightly believe that the land is Ukrainian and not Russian. In the past few days, the Ukrainians have been making steady progress, which has led to the pronouncement again that Russia will take all the land within the four provincial boundaries, which it has illegally claimed, as the “successful’” outcome of the special military operation. The Russians claim it now belongs to Russia.

The Ukrainians will continue, however, and the war looks as if it will intensify, if the Russians are to try to make good on their pronouncement. The Russians have to regroup and significantly increase their numbers in order to not only halt the Ukrainian advance but to reverse the progress of the war. Their attempts to recruit prisoners, some criminal and others political, and the untrained populace to provide new troops is decidedly questionable. The population has been fleeing the country in droves.

This is where the future with a long war beckoning becomes worrying, because Putin has more than once stated that he would use tactical nuclear weapons, against all-nation protocols that negate such a move. In trying to decide his actions-- will he or won’t he? - one has to study the man. In his boyhood, he was known to watch rats on the stairwell of his apartment and what happened to them if they became cornered.

He may feel sometimes that the situation is becoming so serious, that he must lash out and fight, no holds barred. That may happen in the next month or two and he will feel that he must use the nuclear option and proceed accordingly. The rules of engagement will have totally changed and such an escalation will have to bring a response. What will it be? Heaven helps us! There is no sign yet that there is sufficient of an opposition in the Duma to bring in a leadership with some sanity.

Dr 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.