To Kill a Dragon
The wishy-washy West. What else is the Kremlin counting on?
A quick xlation of practicing philosopher Volodymyr Pastukhov’s take on the Russia-Ukraine war drama appearing on February 14, 2022, courtesy of Echo Moscow.
Ritual visits to the Dragon have become an obligatory attribute of Western political etiquette. Every self-respecting knight of the European common table should pay a visit to the Dragon to discuss with him the fate of the Beautiful Maiden (Ukraine). Orban and Macron have already visited Moscow, Scholz is on the way. The Dragon is happy with everyone, except for the Anglo-Saxons, who turned out to be unpalatable.
Gradually, the configuration of the Kremlin's game and, accordingly, the West’s counterplay becomes more understandable, yet no more predictable. The starting point for modeling the situation may be an adjusted understanding of the Kremlin's goals in this game. Contrary to popular belief, they are not offensive, but defensive - in the sense that the Kremlin's aggression today is not at all from a good life. The Kremlin is not chasing someone, but running away from something.
Having annexed Crimea de facto and de jure in 2014, and then also part of the Donbas only de facto, the Kremlin actually got stuck with one foot in the rotten and viscous swamp of a creeping war with the West. This not only costs a pretty penny, but it also hangs like a sword of Damocles over the St. Petersburg clan’s dream of creating an eternal kingdom in Russia. The situation can be stabilized only by legalizing the trophies, at least the Crimea trophy, and bribing their way out of the war in Donbas. Simply put, the Kremlin does not need a global redistribution of the world, as it tries to imagine and as many people think, but a more or less working exit strategy, some new San Stefano "agreement" [a treaty between the Russian and Ottoman empires at the conclusion of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878] (We must not forget that Putin's elites are not even from the twentieth, and nineteenth centuries - captured, recorded, forgotten). That would at least allow us to draw a line underneath their gangster past, at least a dotted line.
The method by which Moscow achieves what it wants is more than original. Putin turns out to be not only the Prince of Taurida, but also The Very Same Baron Munchausen. For some reason, he thinks that the best way to get one foot out of a rotten swamp is to stick his other foot into it. An attempt to openly and defiantly continue aggression against Ukraine, moving from a hybrid war to a conventional imperialist war copied from the old history books, is, in the long run, a suicidal act, no matter how successful the military campaign itself is in the first stage. The West perfectly understands the true goals of Putin's foreign policy, but does not have a unified position on how to react to them.
There was an obvious split in the West's approach to resolving the current crisis, which the Kremlin seized on as a ray of hope. There is a gap between the Franco-German "conciliatory" approach and the Anglo-American ("Anglo-Saxon" in the Kremlin's terminology) "provocative" positions, into which Moscow has inserted its political boot.
The Normandy Format grandees go to the Kremlin without much fuss. For them, the biggest problem today is not Moscow, but Kyiv. With Moscow, all disagreements are only in public. In fact, most of the European establishment would breathe a sigh of relief if Ukraine agreed to the “normalization” of relations with Russia, legally recognizing the loss of Crimea and, in fact, part of the Donbas. The notorious Finlandization of Ukraine is a working model for all participants in the Normandy format, except for Ukraine itself.
But the Anglo-Saxons decided to double the Kremlin stake and offered to play Russian roulette with a counterfeit revolver. Washington responded to the imitation of war by provoking war, putting Moscow in an extremely difficult position. You create the appearance of readiness to attack, then we declare your attack inevitable and unavoidable. If you attack, then you will be responsible the disaster and we’ll wash our hands of it. In fact, you won’t go further than Kyiv, but you won’t attack, which means we scared you and prevented the war. This a the type of war of nerves that severs veins.
In fact, so far the Americans are actively bombing Zhytomyr, making it a twin of Voronezh. Nothing in the past few years (excluding Russian aggression) has done more economic damage to Ukraine than the American "war on the doorstep" propaganda campaign. The closure of airspace over Ukraine, the refusal of Western insurance companies to work in Ukraine, the evacuation of embassies and the practical isolation of the country in a matter of weeks - I don’t understand who is under sanctions here? In the framework of the American game, Ukraine looks like even more of a bargaining chip in bargaining with the Russians than in the framework of the Franco-German shuttle diplomacy. This puts Ukraine in a very difficult position. In fact, objectively today everyone is playing against Ukraine.
For Ukraine itself, in the current situation, the choice is extremely simplified to a crystal-clear dilemma - Finlandization or war? The possibility of balancing in the mystical "third dimension" between these two options is almost exhausted. The problem is that neither the elites of Ukraine nor the Ukrainian society were ready to make the final choice. The formula "War and peace" (in the Trotskyist interpretation of "Neither peace nor war") is no longer workable for Zelensky, and the formula "War or peace" is a political trap for him. Whatever he chooses, society will not approve.
Ukrainian society is at least skeptical about Finlandization. The frank recognition of defeat in the war with Russia and the pragmatic normalization of relations with the aggressor, which implies at least a temporary renunciation of attempts to regain control over the annexed territories, are equated in the public mind with a betrayal of national interests. In conditions when the national feeling is naked and under high tension, the "Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight” argument does not work well.
At the same time, the Finlandization in Ukraine is understood extremely primitively only as a manifestation of cowardice and opportunism, while in reality it was a manifestation of the resilience of the national spirit and the wisdom of the political elites, which allowed Finland, after a severe defeat in World War II, to become one of the most developed countries in Europe, leaving the "winner" far behind. Few people still remember that the "Brest Peace" for Finland cost her 11 percent of the territory, including the second most important city in the country - now Russia's Vyborg. More than 14 percent of the population turned out to be refugees. This is significantly more than Ukraine's losses in the war with Russia today, if we count Crimea and the occupied part of Donbas together. The whole question is whether the nation is ready to step over defeat and move on, or defeat will become that black hole that will absorb all the goals and ideals of the Revolution of Dignity.
Of course, there is another alternative to defeat - war. I consider it immoral and pointless to discuss the question of whether the Ukrainian society today is ready for a total war. But, even if we assume that it is ready, and even assume that this war will end in a peace that suits Ukraine, then with a huge degree of probability a total war will lead to a total exhaustion of the nation's forces and, most likely, will become a point of historical fracture, which will be very difficult to overcome. I note that we learned the real price of the victory of the USSR in World War II in 1991. One thing is clear today - Ukraine will have to fight against Russia alone, albeit with the military, financial and political support of the West.
The West’s counterplay is objectively exerting additional pressure on Ukraine today more than on Russia. Zelensky has less and less time to make a decision, and any clear decision will drastically complicate his plans for re-election for the next term. But it is not easy for Russia either, with minimal provocation it will be very difficult for it not to start a war, after which the carriage of Russian foreign policy will very quickly turn into a pumpkin. Western hesitation is the Kremlin's last hope. They are waiting for Macron and Scholz, on their part, by persuasion, and Biden and Johnson, with their provocations, to force Zelensky to recognize the annexation of Crimea, which will allow Putin to pull his boots out of the rotten Crimean swamp. But if Zelensky does not make any decision, no one will benefit.
PS online: While this article was waiting for a meeting with the reader, it became clear that massive "pressure on Russia" seems to be working against Ukraine. Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK spoke about the possibility of Ukraine's voluntary refusal to join NATO, if this helps to avoid a war with Russia...