Putin’s brutal war has left almost no nation or corner of humanity untouched
To negotiate or to defeat? To concede territory or to win by driving every Russian off Ukrainian soil, Crimea included? The argument runs uneasily between the two poles and is, of course, unanswerable. No one knows how the Ukrainian war will unfold.
But there is perhaps one obvious negotiating rule worth observing in all predictions – namely, that you don’t talk about negotiations and possible outcomes until you sit at the table, even initially. Until that point, the only wise stance is to stick to the hardest line, backed by the iron intent to win.
And that is rightly the position of President Volodymyr Zelensky – as it should be of all his allies. Unfortunately, it is a truth not quite grasped by leaders in either Paris or Berlin, where all sorts of noises about a deal, about not humiliating Vladimir Putin, about concessions of territory and so on, have been filtering out. A journalist or analyst can make these noises; a player in the action cannot.
There can be no talk of concessions until both sides are in the mood. And so far they are definitely not, nor will they be until both realise that absolute stalemate is the alternative.
Putin is not mad, he is calculating, and he wants to command the chess board
Putin is far from that point. Not only did he begin by setting totally unobtainable objectives in any circumstances – the elimination of Ukraine itself – but he is still determined to press on, pouring the lifeblood of Russian youth into the maelstrom in the belief that conquest of some kind – be it complete national subjugation or just occupation of the whole of Donbas – can be accomplished.
That is where the weapons-supplying allies come in – to make this “solution” impossible. A carefully calibrated push against Russia must continue all the time and be bolstered with a continuous flow of new weaponry and training, not just speeches and promises.
Risk assessment has to go with every step. Could it tip Putin into seeing it as an all-out attack by Nato? His spokesmen suggested that to supply missiles with a range further than the murderous Russian artillery would be a Nato attack. Or if a Nato ship on the Black Sea is shelled and returns fire, that would be an attack. The accusations come daily.
Could Putin conceivably open the chemical weapons arsenal or even the nuclear war chest? Firing the smallest nuke would be a move of sheer madness, guaranteeing the climb up the ladder of death to mass incineration. But Putin is not mad, he is calculating, and he wants to command the chess board, so Zelensky and his wiser allies have to be the better players.
Experts said a war of this primitive nature would never happen again. They were wrong – and they were right. A killing war of the most brutal and lawless kind has indeed happened. But in his brilliant book, The Weaponisation of Everything, Mark Galeotti describes how – in a world transformed by technology – multiple and parallel wars and hybrid and proxy conflicts interconnect and swirl around the visible and hideous killing fields.
Now we have the accompanying wars of food and starvation, the wars of oil and gas supply disruption and threats, the wars of sanctions and sanction evasion, the wars of fake news and fake intelligence, the wars of cyber interference and hacking and lies, the wars of financial manipulation and evasion.
Half the world tries to stay out of it and call itself neutral. That might have worked with old wars between the powers. But not anymore. We have woven ourselves together, East and West, democracies and despotisms and in-between governance systems.
Even Putin must be gradually realising that. His little “special military operation” is evolving into a world shock. Leaving almost no nation and no corner of humanity untouched – a lot more than he or his military advisers ever bargained for, or than Russia will be able to atone for or make good for years to come.
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