Early in the morning of February 24, under the orders of President Vladimir Putin, Russia launched a full invasion of Ukraine. The Russian air force began attacking military targets throughout the country, and the advanced occupation forces crossed the border to the north and south.
What seemed unimaginable to many experts on Russia, including myself, just a day ago is now a reality that the world must accept and face.
At first glance, Putin’s move seems irrational. It is a crime against Ukraine, a flagrant violation of international law. It will mark a dark chapter in Russian history and inflict costs on Russia that could prove heavy enough to turn the Russian people against their president.
The Kremlin’s rhetoric about Ukraine being a “brotherly nation” is widely mocked in the West, but that is how most Russians see their neighbor, not for ideological reasons, but because almost all of them have relatives or friends in Russia. this country.
Selling this war to the Russians will be a tall order for Putin, nothing like the occupation of Crimea, which was almost bloodless with a clear majority of locals welcoming the change of flag. Today, the Ukrainians seem ready to put up a real fight, which means a protracted conflict with multiple casualties on the Russian side.
Justifying the loss of income and savings Russians will experience due to expected Western sanctions will be equally difficult. According to reports, this morning people in Moscow were already lining up at ATMs that dispense foreign currency in anticipation of the collapse of the ruble. Furthermore, the inevitable isolation of the West is going to be a nightmare not only for the liberal intelligentsia, but also for much of the political and business elite.
If all of these predictions prove correct and this war results in Putin’s downfall, many in Ukraine and in the West will say it was worth the sacrifice. But what if Putin is not being irrational? What if those who still think he is are naive idealists? What if Ukraine completely surrenders after a few days, the Russian economy withstands Western sanctions without breaking a sweat, and the Russians go about their daily lives?
If that turns out to be the case, we will find ourselves in a much darker and more sinister world where aggression and cruelty are considered a prerequisite for success in the international arena.
We will soon know if Putin was rational or not.
How will Zelenskyy’s bet play out?
We will also soon learn whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy did the right thing when he chose to fight rather than avoid collusion by accepting his country’s neutral status or agreeing to implement the Minsk agreements, as Russia demanded before the invasion.
We still don’t know how all this will end, but we do know that the results of the (highly probable) Ukrainian defeat will be infinitely more drastic than the Russian demands foresaw just a few days ago.
Zelenskyy definitely felt the support of Ukrainian society when he made the call, but perhaps he also felt the need to present himself as a really tough politician in a situation where he was represented by both the Kremlin and the domestic opposition, a former comedian, as a sin character. political buff. That drive may have incentivized him to take an unsustainable risk.
We will also find out, albeit much later, when the classified documents become public domain, what role Ukraine’s Western allies played in bringing it to this decision: whether they encouraged it to resist Putin with any means at its disposal, or whether it they pushed. towards a compromise, but she couldn’t overcome his stubborn determination.
While only time will tell what this escalation will bring for Putin and Zelenskyy, there are also some immediate lessons to be learned from today’s events.
Time to question Washington’s approach to Russia
The tragic events taking place in the Ukraine should reinvigorate the discussion about the wisdom of Western and specifically American policies towards Russia and the rest of the former USSR over the last 30 years.
How smart was it to expand NATO and the EU to Russia’s borders, isolating Russia from its closest neighbors and breaking the natural flow of post-Soviet societies with hard borders and trade barriers? The policy was aimed at preventing a monstrous and aggressive new state, USSR 2.0, from emerging from the ruins of the Soviet Union. But isn’t this exactly what is happening now? Wouldn’t it have been much wiser to prioritize integrating Russia, a great nuclear power, into the West when the country was ripe and ready for it, rather than dismiss it as a largely irrelevant declining power?
Various Russian officials warned the West in the 1990s that efforts to isolate and sideline Russia would result in the rise of nationalist and autocratic forces in the country. In fact, Putin himself recalled in one of his last speeches how he once asked President Bill Clinton if Russia could also join NATO, but got no answer.
In 2000, when he was first elected in the still democratic elections, Putin was seen as a liberal and tacitly supported by the West against his more conservative rivals. A man without true political principles, simply hungry for power, Putin could have become a perfect Eurocrat. Hasn’t the West, with its perpetual fear of Russia, developed its own Frankenstein?
Even now, at the point of collision, the West has no vision of a post-Putin Russia that could motivate the Russians to change their country’s political regime. Indeed, for many in hard-line circles, an aggressive and isolated Russia is a cash cow that secures their salaries and lucrative contracts.
Russian society is responsible for the current tragedy in Ukraine and for allowing Putin to usurp power. But this war, with its many terrible consequences that will emerge in the coming days and weeks, is itself a punishment for the Russians. Now all efforts must be focused on finding a way to build a united Europe, with a democratic post-Putinist Russia as an integral part.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Exquisite Post.