VLADIMIR Putin has never stated his specific war aims in Ukraine other than to ensure that the country never joins Nato. Since Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has already conceded that point, the two countries are ostensibly fighting over nothing. Yet the war goes on.
War generates its own imperatives, not the least of these being the will to secure a clear victory on the battlefield. Zelensky wants to expel Russian forces from Ukrainian territory. Putin wants a Ukrainian surrender so that he can dictate the terms of peace. National honour demands no less on both sides.
And then there is the West, a partisan non-combatant but a key player nonetheless, providing Ukraine with moral support and weapons to keep fighting as part of its own objective of maintaining Nato on Russia’s western border and humbling Putin, if not driving him from power.
The likelihood is that were the West to stop supporting Zelensky to avoid the risk of an uncontrollable escalation, Ukrainian resistance would collapse because of the military imbalance in Russia’s favour.
The odds are that the Ukrainians will eventually lose anyway for that reason, so what are the ethics of the West’s strategy? Is Ukraine being cynically sacrificed?
Putin doesn’t just want to neutralise his neighbour, important though that is to Russia’s historic view of its national security. He also wants to force Nato forward forces out of eastern Europe. This would leave Nato members such as Poland and the highly vulnerable Baltic states dependent on their national militaries and Russia’s goodwill, which is always a dubious proposition.
Distrust is the keyword on both sides and Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has been enough on its own to convince the Nato front-line states never to take his promises at face value.
This, together with the Kremlin’s suspicion that the US wants regime change in Russia, is the kernel of the impasse prolonging a war being fought in a fog of disinformation which obscures the situation on the ground.
Western officials have toyed with the idea of providing Putin with some sort of exit – or off-ramp in Washington speak – but the fact is that the West needs one as well if it continues its policy of avoiding direct conflict with the Russians because no one knows how that would play out.
That can happen only if the West’s armchair generals – Boris Johnson not being the least of them – intervene diplomatically in favour of a ceasefire to find a way out of what is a diplomatic dead end at Ukraine’s expense.
Russia’s nuclear arsenal means it is not going to be defeated militarily and even if Putin were to be replaced, his successors would be no less paranoid about the existence of Nato on their border.
Let’s recall the analysis of the prescient American international relations specialist Professor John Mearsheimer, who described Nato’s invitation, at US insistence, to join as a huge blunder. The admission to Nato of every central and eastern Europe country which had formerly been in the orbit of the Soviet Union was regarded as a provocation by the Kremlin, which at the time was too weak to prevent.
In 2022, Putin calculated that he was strong enough to impose his own solution if the West continued to refuse to negotiate, as it has, and the result is where we are today.
President Biden remains set on confrontation despite warnings from his intelligence services that Putin is prepared to use battlefield nuclear artillery and even chemical weapons which are outlawed by international agreement although they are part of many countries’ armaments, including possibly Ukraine’s.
Naturally, there is no way of knowing if this is more disinformation to keep western publics onside and the media’s Russophobia on the boil.
Biden says that if Putin uses such weapons, the US will respond ‘in kind’, although this contradicts the official policy of non-military intervention. What are we supposed to make of such confused messaging? How sure is the White House that Putin will not call Biden’s bluff as President Assad did successfully in Syria?
Were it to happen, the victims would again be Ukrainians, haplessly caught in a struggle between the US and Russia which is taking place over their heads. No amount of cheap Western sympathy can mitigate that.
If Mearsheimer is right, Western arrogance is the primary cause of this war and it is the West’s duty to find the solution to the problem it wilfully created which means that the Russians will, in the end, have to be provided with security guarantees against Nato’s expansionism if Ukraine is to be made peaceful again.