The anniversary of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, 24 February, is fast approaching and at the diplomatic level we have heard speeches of defiance from Presidents Zelensky and Biden and a predictable rant from Vladimir Putin, so reminiscent of the nonsense spouted during the Soviet era and what is the common currency of totalitarian regimes around the globe.
Russia’s spring offensive could well have started and the next few months will be a telling time for the Ukrainian people; there will be further loss of civilian lives, destruction of the country’s infrastructure, but, hopefully, with Leopard 2 and Challenger 2 tanks being deployed and surface-to-air missile systems, capable of destroying cruise missions, being supplied by the USA, there will be no significant territorial gains by the aggressor. Whether this war of attrition will ultimately favour Russia, that has far more capacity for a long struggle, must be central to NATO’s strategy regarding support for the Ukraine. However, the indomitable spirit of the Ukrainian fighters has to be factored in when assessing the two sides in the conflict. It is difficult to imagine an outright winner, short of Putin deploying tactical nuclear weapons, although unlikely, but given his unpredictable character, something that cannot be ruled out.
Assuming this year sees a turning point in the war, with both sides looking for a negotiated settlement, what form might this take? President Zelensky has declared that not one inch of Ukrainian territory will be ceded to Russia, and that includes the Crimea. The reality of the situation, as I mentioned in a previous blog, is that the Crimea is de facto now incorporated into Russia. The Donbas region is another question; it must be recognised as solely Ukrainian. In exchange for recognition that the Crimea is now Russian, the Ukraine has to be given reassurance that any further Russian aggression will be checked, and the best guarantee of Ukrainian security is membership of both NATO and the EU. This would cool Russian enthusiasm for any further territorial aggrandisement.
But what of Putin’s future? He is now a pariah, excluded from working with western democracies to help develop international policies for the benefit of the planet. He may find succour from other totalitarian states that care little for personal freedom, but he will never be trusted as a credible partner. It is his actions that have polarised the world, making the probability of international conflict more likely. The West may take some comfort from the fact Putin’s reign will come to an end in the not too distant future, and the vast majority of the Russian people, as much victims as the Ukrainians, may then be given the chance to breathe after the waves of oppression from tsars, Communist dictators and Putin’s version of Russian nationalism.