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Is Putin’s gamble on Ukraine rational?



The invasion can bring the downfall of Putin’s regime – but it can also give him exactly what he wants.

Early in the morning of February 24, under the orders of President Vladimir Putin, Russia launched a full-out invasion of Ukraine. The Russian air force started striking military targets all around the country and advanced occupation forces crossed the border to the north and the south.

What seemed unimaginable to many Russia experts, including myself, just a day ago is now a reality the world will need to accept and cope with.

On the face of it, Putin’s move appears irrational. It is a crime against Ukraine – a brazen violation of international law. It will mark a dark chapter in Russia’s history and inflict costs on Russia that could prove to be 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 this is indeed how most Russians see their neighbour – not for ideological reasons, but because almost all of them have either relatives or friends in this country.

Selling this war to Russians will be an uphill task for Putin – nothing like the occupation of Crimea, which was nearly bloodless with a clear majority of the locals welcoming the change of flag. Today, Ukrainians seem poised 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 because of the expected Western sanctions will be similarly difficult. This morning people in Moscow were reportedly already queueing at cash machines dispensing foreign currency in anticipation of the rouble’s collapse. Furthermore, inevitable isolation from the West is going to be a nightmare not only for the liberal intelligentsia, but also for a large part of the political and business elite.

If all these predictions prove correct and this war results in Putin’s fall, 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 continue to think that he is are naive idealists? What if Ukraine completely surrenders after a few days, the Russian economy sustains Western sanctions without breaking a sweat, and Russians continue to go about their daily lives?


If that turns out to be the case, we will find ourselves in a darker, much more sinister world where aggression and cruelty is seen as a prerequisite for success on the international arena.

We will soon find out whether Putin was rational or not.

How will Zelenskyy’s gamble play out?

We will also soon find out whether Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy did the right thing when he chose to put up a fight rather than avoid collusion by accepting his country’s neutral status or agreeing to implement the Minsk agreements, as Russia demanded prior to the invasion.

We do not yet know how all this will end, but we do know that the results of (a very likely) Ukrainian defeat will be infinitely more drastic than what Russian demands envisaged just a few days ago.

Zelenskyy definitely felt the support of Ukrainian society when he made the call, but perhaps he also felt an urge to present himself as a truly tough politician in a situation where both the Kremlin and the domestic opposition pictured him, a former comedian, as a spineless political amateur. That urge perhaps incentivised him to take an untenable risk.

We will also find out, albeit much later when classified documents will be put into the public domain, what role Ukraine’s Western allies played in him making this decision – whether they encouraged him to resist Putin with all the means available to him, or were nudging him towards compromise, but failed to overcome his stubborn resolve.

While only time will tell what this escalation will bring for Putin and Zelenskyy, there are also some immediate lessons that can be learned from today’s events.

Time to question Washington’s approach to Russia

The tragic events under way in Ukraine should reinvigorate the discussion on the wisdom of Western and specifically American policies regarding Russia and the remainder of the former USSR in the last 30 years.

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How wise was it to expand NATO and the EU towards Russia’s borders, isolating Russia from its closest neighbours and breaking the natural flow of post-Soviet societies with hard borders and trade barriers? The policy was aimed at preventing a new aggressive monster state, the USSR 2.0, from rising from the ruins of the Soviet Union. But isn’t this exactly what is happening now? Wouldn’t it have been much wiser to prioritise integrating Russia – a huge nuclear power – into the West when the country was ripe and ready for it, rather than brushing it off as a largely irrelevant declining power?

Various Russian officials warned the West back in the 1990s that the efforts to isolate and sideline Russia would result in the rise of nationalist and autocratic forces in the country. Indeed Putin himself recalled in one of his latest speeches how he once asked President Bill Clinton whether Russia could also join NATO, but did not get an answer.

Back 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 real political principles, just hungry for power, Putin could have become a perfect eurocrat. Hasn’t the West, with its perpetual fear of Russia, grown its own Frankenstein?

Even now, at the point of collision, the West does not have a vision for a post-Putin Russia which could motivate Russians to change the political regime in their country. Indeed, for many in the hawkish circles, an aggressive and isolated Russia is a milking cow that secures their salaries and lucrative contracts.

Russian society is responsible for Ukraine’s current tragedy and for allowing Putin to usurp power. But this war, with its many dire consequences that will emerge in the coming days and weeks, is in itself a punishment for Russians. Now all efforts should focus on finding a way to build a united Europe, with a democratic, post-Putinist Russia as an integral part.

Via Aljazeera

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Ukraine will either be Permanently Neutral or Permanently Divided



Yes, yes, and yes. Yes to Hall Gardner’s analysis of the necessity for a neutral solution to Ukraine. Yes to that of Klaus Larres, and yes to that of the many others, including Henry KissingerSteve WaltAnatol LievenKatrina vanden Heuvel, and the many European colleagues like Heinz Gärtner and others in the neutrality studies network who have been calling for a neutral status for Ukraine for years.

And no, it is not cynicism to call again for a neutral solution to what has morphed from a crisis into a war. This war could have been avoided had leaders in the West and in Kyiv not misinterpreted Russia’s demands for security guarantees, a common security architecture, and the stop of NATO expansion as hubris. It doesn’t matter whether NATO is “really” a threat to Russia or not, the only thing that matters is what Russian leaders believe it is. And we are seeing now that they are willing to even go to war to make it absolutely impossible for Ukraine to ever dream of NATO membership again.   

Don’t get me wrong. Vladimir Putin is committing a crime. The invasion of Ukraine is a blatant infringement of international law, the norms of the Post-WWII international order, it is (probably) unprovoked, and simply unjustifiable. I would never justify a war of aggression, which this is. The annexation of Crimea was also a crime, as it broke the Budapest Memorandum. What I’m writing here is not an excuse of Mr. Putin’s actions. It is simply an explanation why Russia goes to war with a sister nation. Russia attacking Ukraine makes as much sense as Sweden attacking Norway, or the US attacking Canada. It is a tragedy and would only happen if something was seriously out of whack.

Offering Ukraine and Georgia NATO membership back in 2008 was a tremendous mistake. It hardened the political fronts inside the countries, leading Georgia to believe that NATO would help bringing back its breakaway regions, creating the ground for the 2008 Russo-Georgian war. We are seeing the replay of that on a much grander scale now in Ukraine. The West’s rhetorical support for the Maidan uprising was another mistake. It immediately led to the annexation of Crimea, the most strategic place in the Black Sea, with a Russian naval base which it simply could not risk ever becoming a NATO outpost.

The West failing for 7 years to pressure Ukraine to implement the Minsk II agreements and start a federalization process was the third mistake. Putin did not recognize the two Ukrainian breakaway regions until a few weeks ago because Minsk II would have been a way forward for Russia to receive what it wanted without a war and international backlash. But this chance again was squandered. Western leaders only started remembering Minsk II in February this year, when Russia threw it in the garbage bin after demanding so many years it be implemented.

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Russia behaves utterly rationally, like a criminal, but like a rational criminal. And let me be clear, Russia is not even doing something new here. The West has been behaving criminally for years. It has given Moscow all it needs to do what it is doing now. Fabricated pretext to illegally invade a country with false claims—like “Weapons of Mass Destruction”—check. Change of territorial status without consent from the internationally recognized sovereign nation it is part of—like Kosovo—check. Military action without UN mandate—like the Iraq War—check. Unilateral recognition of border changes that came about through war—like US recognition of the Golan Heights—check. Russia is ruthless in using the West’s playbook for its own purposes. It’s just less skilled at controlling the narrative and gathering international support.

Even the pretext of intervening for “humanitarian purposes” is there. The very argument with which NATO implemented a UN-mandated No-fly zone over Libya but then went on to bombard strategic military positions leading to the downfall of the Gadhafi regime. It will take years to sort out in this instance who fired the first shots, how many Donbas citizens were killed by Ukrainian forces, how many by Russian forces, who did the shelling, and if there is anything true about Russian claims of mass atrocities in the Donbas. The tragedy is that this is another nail in the coffin of the OSCE standards and the norms that we hoped would secure peace on the Eurasian continent.

Ukrainian neutrality with a federal structure would have been a solution that could have defused the whole situation many years ago. Even just months ago. Putin’s draft treaties of December 17 last year were basically a demand for Ukrainian neutrality. The treaties just did not name the policy, probably to avoid giving the west a pre-text to refuse the neutralization of Ukraine. Well, now Russia attacked, and it is putting its cards on the table. Putin suggested Ukraine return to the neutrality article it had in its constitution before 2014. He said so again in a televised speech and there were also reports about his offer to discuss with the Ukrainian leadership a neutralization and demilitarization. At some point, we even heard from Ukraine that it might be prepared to accept a neutralized status.

Unfortunately, the talks have not yielded a ceasefire yet, but it is clear that the neutrality of Ukraine remains a key-element in Russia’s negotiation strategy. Sergei Naryshkin, Moscow’s spy-chief, just said so again on Thursday, March 3, and Mr. Putin did so on March 5. He also reiterated that he perceives the potential of a Ukraine in NATO as a deadly threat to Crimea, and in extension, to Russia. It is nonsense that Russia is trying to rebuild the Soviet Union. That is just western scaremongering. Nothing in the Russian negotiation tactic or its speech acts would give any evidence of that. Just think for a moment: no soviet leader ever accepted the neutralist tendencies in their sphere of influence. Just ask the Hungarians what happened to them when they tried to become neutral in 1956. Russia is playing a completely different game. It simply wants a non-hostile buffer zone around its heartland.

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Neutrality works. We know Russia wants it, and we know it accepts it. Just look east. Mongolia declared its neutrality in 2015. Russia and China both accepted that. Why? Because it makes sense. Neutrals are buffer states that put physical space between real adversaries and thereby deescalate the security dilemma. We are all students of international relations and know the security dilemma. Propping up one party with weapons for “defense” will of course lead to insecurities in the other party and to their propping up their fire power in turn. Neutral states that are armed but no serious threat are perfect buffers and that’s exactly what Putin seems to want. Buffers between Russia’s heartland and NATO.

Russia also accepts the neutrality of Moldova and accepts that of Turkmenistan. Putin wants a neutral Ukraine, and that would make sense for all parties involved. And by now, there is also no more alternative. It’s either going to be permanent neutrality or permanent division or, in the worst case, even permanent occupation for Ukraine. A federal, demilitarized, and neutral Ukraine is the only way forward into peace with some chances for Ukraine to receive the Donbas back if a Belgium-style federalization with the individual regions receiving strong powers also over foreign policy matters was on the table.

And I will close with this: permanent neutrality is not even a bad solution. It’s a very European solution for a very European problem; constant geopolitical mutual threats. Switzerland was neutralized in 1815 to keep Austria and France apart, Belgium and Luxemburg put space between France and Germany, and Austria, in 1955, was neutralized to regain its independence without becoming a threat in NATO to the USSR. And it worked. It can work again for Ukraine because it is so obviously exactly the compromise that Russia wants if just the West and Ukraine can accept it, too. If Ukraine declares its permanent neutrality and its security partners sign off on that, peace will return.

Via MD

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Nato vs. Russia: who would win a war?



As Nato condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden dismiss Moscow’s warning against joining military alliance

When Russian troops crossed into Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, Nato was caught flat-footed by Moscow’s sudden and unorthodox military campaign.

Now, with Russian troops once again massing at the Ukrainian border, the international military alliance is keen to avoid a repeat performance.

The two sides are negotiating, with the stated aim of avoiding an armed escalation that would pull in many of the world’s most powerful military forces. But if a conflict cannot be avoided, who stands to lose if Nato and Russian go head-to-head on the battlefield?   

The latest

Finland and Sweden have brushed off warnings from Russia that an effort to join Nato would trigger “serious military-political consequences” for the two countries.

The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on Friday in which it accused the US and its allies of attempting to “drag” the two Nordic nations into the military alliance. With conflict already raging in Ukraine, Moscow threatened “retaliatory measures” if Sweden and Finland began efforts to join Nato, The Independent said.

Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto responded to Moscow’s threat on Friday, telling the nation’s public broadcaster YLE: “We’ve heard this before. We don’t think that it calls for a military threat.” 

“Should Finland be Nato’s external border, it rather means that Russia would certainly take that into account in its own defence planning,” she added. “I don’t see anything new as such” in the statement issued by Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

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Finland has an 830-mile land border with Russia, the longest border shared by any EU member state and Russia.

The Swedish prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, responded to Moscow’s statement in a joint conference with her most senior military commander, Micael Byden. 

“I want to be extremely clear. It is Sweden that itself and independently decides on our security policy line,” Andersson said.

The Russian statement had warned Sweden and Finland that their “policy of military non-alignment” was “an important factor contributing to stability and security in northern Europe and on the European continent as a whole”.

What is Nato’s capability?

The core principle of Nato’s international military alliance is its system of collective defence, meaning if any member state is attacked by a third party, then every member state must step in to defend it.

Fortunately for countries such as Montenegro, which spends just £67m a year on defence, there are some military big hitters in the alliance. 

The US spends more on defence than double the rest of Nato combined, with 2021 spending estimated at $705bn (£516bn), according to the Department of Defense.

As well as being the biggest defence spender in the world, the US has a powerful arsenal and a huge amount of manpower – 1.3 million active troops, with another 865,000 in reserve, said The New York Times in 2017. The UK is the second biggest overall spender in Nato, putting nearly £50bn into defence annually compared to Germany’s £45bn, France’s £42bn and Italy’s £20bn.

What is Russia’s capability?

Russia’s military capability is not to be sniffed at, easily ranking among the world’s most powerful.

ccording to the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, its inventory includes “336 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 2,840 battle tanks, 5,220 armored infantry fighting vehicles, over 6,100 armored personnel carriers and more than 4,684 pieces of artillery”.

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But it is lacking in some areas of modern military technology, including drone capability, electronic components, and radar and satellite reconnaissance, Russian journalist and military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told Deutsche Welle.

“That’s what the Russian military is talking about: yes, we have weapons, including long-range weapons, but our reconnaissance capabilities are weaker than our attack capabilities,” Felgenhauer said. “So we have-long range, sometimes precision guided weapons, but we don’t always know where the target is.”

Who would win?

Research published in 2019 by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) found that British forces would be “comprehensively outgunned” in any conflict with Russia in eastern Europe. 

The RUSI found that the British Army and its Nato allies have a “critical shortage” of artillery and ammunition, meaning they would struggle to maintain a credible defence position if Russia were to opt for all-out aggression.

“At present, there is a risk that the UK – unable to credibly fight – can be dominated lower down the escalation ladder by powers threatening escalation,” said RUSI’s report.

But the UK wouldn’t need to stand alone against Russia. And Nato’s biggest player, the US, has an overwhelming advantage over Russia in conventional forces, Russian military analyst Aleksandr Golts told Deutsche Welle.

While Felgenhauer agreed with Golt’s assessment of the US’s military advantage, he warned that open warfare often comes down to far more than the inventories that each side of the conflict can call upon. 

He told DW that “it’s like predicting the result of a soccer match”, adding: “Yes, basically, Brazil should beat America in soccer, but I have seen Americans beat Brazil in South Africa, at the Confederations Cup. You never know the result until the game is played.”

Via The Week

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Ukraine’s envoy to Pakistan appeals PM Khan to raise Ukraine conflict with Putin



Volodymyr Lakomov asks premier to play role to mitigate tensions as nuclear power

The Ukrainian ambassador to Pakistan appealed to Prime Minister Imran Khan to raise the issue of the Ukraine conflict during his meeting with Russian leadership in Moscow.

Addressing a press conference, Volodymyr Lakomov called on the premier to use this opportunity and play a role to mitigate rising tensions as a nuclear power. His comments come a day ahead of PM Khan’s scheduled visit to Russia on the invitation of President Vladimir Putin. The foreign office said in a statement that the premier will be accompanied by a high-level delegation, including members of the cabinet. It said that both countries enjoy friendly relations “marked by mutual respect, trust and convergence of views on a range of international and regional issues”.

Meanwhile, Putin has ordered that soldiers be deployed to the two pro-Russian separatist territories in Ukraine after he recognized them as independent late Monday. The comes after Russian president signed a decree that recognizes the he Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) in the Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk respectively as independent.

International news agency Reuters said that tanks and other military equipment were seen in the separatist controlled city of Donetsk following Putin’s order. The move was condemned by international quarters and sanctions from the United States.

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