The unsmiling autocrat grasps that losing to Ukraine is worse than losing to Nato, and is now redefining the war as a defensive strike against Russia’s ancient foes.
“The West lied about peace, but was preparing for aggression, and today it admits it openly,” he told his countrymen last week. “They cynically use Ukraine and its people to weaken and partition Russia.”
It is a preposterous claim. In December 1994, Ukraine gave up the nuclear weapons it had inherited from the USSR in return for a binding commitment that its sovereignty within its existing frontiers would be defended. Who guaranteed that commitment? The US, the UK and Russia.
For Russia then to invade Ukraine is one of the most hideous acts of betrayal in history. The rest of the world could hardly remain indifferent when the international order was being trashed. The other two guarantor powers, in particular, had a duty to act.
Does this make us the aggressors? Only if you also believe that we were the aggressors when Hitler invaded Poland. Putin started this war, and Putin is keeping it going. …
Putin can spin it as a win to his people so long as Ukraine doesn’t reconquer Crimea:
There have been few full-length books about the Ukraine conflict. The first major one, Overreach by Owen Matthews, looks at the motives of the key players in the Kremlin — a tiny band, mainly connected to Putin through the Leningrad KGB. These elderly securocrats genuinely think that English-speaking democracies are hell-bent on destroying them, either by backing separatist movements or by encouraging Russians to become as soulless and materialistic as Westerners themselves are.
Typical is General Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s security council and a contender to take over if Putin falls.
Patrushev has the trademark Russian fondness for conspiracy theories, asserting that the US has designs on Siberia and that Ukrainians are trading in harvested children’s body-parts. But his fiercest loathing is reserved for Russian liberals, whom he sees as being in the pay of the West: “Their main tasks are to divide Russian society, impose values that suit the West and manipulate public consciousness”, he declared in June 2020.
Seen from such a perspective, the war makes sense. The few Russians who vote for Navalny-type candidates have fled abroad, and the masses who remain seethe with anti-Western resentment. …
Might a cornered Putin push the nuclear button? … Why should Putin’s nuclear weapons work any better than his conventional ones? The West presumably has interdiction mechanisms: double-agents, cyber-weapons, space-based interceptors. A failed attempt, or even the detonation of the missiles in their silos, would condemn Putin to death or life imprisonment as surely as an actual first strike. The world would stop at nothing to hunt down the man who tried to break the 77-year taboo. …
Isn’t Karma a bitch?
Putin’s fears have a way of becoming self-fulfilling. His actions have brought Nato to his borders and filled Ukraine with Western weapons. Now, he may conjure the very phantom he had falsely invoked, namely an attempt to dislodge his regime. A defeated Russia might then be readmitted to the comity of nations as a democratic Russia. Funny how things work out.