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The New War

The events of the past week have little bearing on the Peace of Westphalia, but they are so significant in modern diplomacy that I feel they warrant comment anyway.

I had become fairly convinced that Putin was making threats with the intent of annexing the “Donbas” (Donets Basin) region where he has been fighting a proxy war for the past several years. The shift to a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine has changed that dramatically. I have heard it said that Russia plans to annex Ukraine, which is possible, but doesn’t seem to align with their announced plans to “de-nazify” the country. Of course, this could be cover for annexation plans, but, if Putin wanted to annex the country, I would expect him to lay the groundwork for that in what he says now. Instead, he appears (to me, anyway) to be laying the groundwork for setting up a puppet regime in Kyiv. He will remove anyone who took a strongly anti-Russia or pro-NATO stance — politicians, journalists, and celebrities — and set up a government friendly to Russia. After Russia has withdrawn, the regime will be maintained in part because everyone will be afraid of speaking out against it, for fear of ending up like those caught in the “de-nazification” that will follow this war. And, of course, as a Russian ally, the puppet Ukrainian state would welcome Russian military support and co-operation, which would give Russia the opportunity to hunt and eliminate opposition inside Ukraine before it could develope.

Hardly anyone, probably not even Putin, believes that there are really Nazis in the Ukraine, but the willingness of political movements around the world to label their opponents “Nazis” even today, nearly 100 years after the fall of the last Nazi government, makes the assertion a little more credible than it would be otherwise. People should not abuse language; they do not know what consequences their abuse will have in the future.

When I heard of the invasion last week, I wondered how long it would be until Ukraine succumbed. I figured it would take weeks at most. After Russia’s apparently poor showing during the first week of fighting, I’m inclined to stick with my original estimate. The Ukrainian people have proven more united, more resourceful, and tougher than almost anyone expected. Still, Russia is much larger and has many more resources, and Ukraine’s geography offers it little hope of stopping an invader. The street fighting in Kyiv may continue for some time, but it is hard to imagine that Russia’s armed forces won’t be able to occupy the rest of the country before long. (This assumes that there is not a mutiny in the Russian army or a rebellion among its people that stops military operations before they are complete.) The sheer length of the border between the two countries makes Russia’s job substantially easier.

My heart aches for the Ukrainian people. I hate to see any innocent people crushed under the boot of militarists, and the extreme national pride exhibited by Ukrainians in the last week shows that this was not in any sense a takeover by friendly peoples, Putin’s essay notwithstanding. I celebrate along with the Ukrainians at every Russian setback.

And yet…here we get to the central underlying problem, the fact that Russia has nuclear weapons. Ukraine does not, and the fact that the West has allowed this to happen in spite of the Budapest Agreement (in which Ukraine surrendered its nuclear arsenal in exchange for guarantees of its security) is a reproach to everyone; but, it seems unlikely that Russia would want to nuke the very country that it is in the process of overrunning and converting into a client. What worries me more is what sort of nuclear blackmail Putin might resort to if the invasion continues to founder.

I thought of this more as a long-term prospect, but it took Putin only a few days to pull out his last trump card. “Western countries aren’t only taking unfriendly actions against our country in the economic sphere, but top officials from leading NATO members made aggressive statements regarding our country,” he said. Some people question Putin’s mental stability, and one does have to wonder. He has manoeuvred through Russian politics brilliantly (and ruthlessly) for the past 30 years, but he seems to have totally botched this invasion. By falling back so quickly to his last resort, he seems to have lost control of the situation.

Let’s just be optimistic for the moment and say that Putin is still sane and would prefer not to destroy the world to achieve his ends. How, then, do we get out of the present situation? He has clearly been embarrassed in a way that has never happened to him in his years in power. Russia’s economy is already hamstrung, people are protesting in the cities, and the invasion seems like it will take a few more weeks rather than a few more days. Under these circumstances, what olive branch can the West offer him to get him to withdraw peacefully? I do not think he will accept a ceasefire and pull out his troops without something to save face. International recognition of the independence of the Donbas region, or its annexation to Russia, is an obvious enticement, but would it be enough? He started the war with the intention of making Ukraine into a puppet state, but if he withdraws before completing his conquest, he will have done the exact opposite: Ukraine will be more united and more anti-Russian than ever before, and it will have the world’s sympathy as well. I fear that Putin may not accept a solution that doesn’t involve a more Russian-friendly government in Kyiv.

So, my heart goes out to the Ukrainians who are defending their homeland, but my head wonders what diplomatic manoeuvring will ever extricate us from the potential of nuclear blackmail if they are successful.

(Sidenote: after some investigating, I learned that it was Bing and not DuckDuckGo that has blacklisted my site. I hadn’t realized that DuckDuckGo’s search results were based on Bing’s. The sanction apparently has nothing to do with the editorial content, but to alleged keyword spamming or some such violation. I never intended to do this, as I’ve only been following the suggestions of my SEO plugin; and obviously Google doesn’t find anything wrong with my metadata. What irritates me the most, though, is that Bing won’t tell me exactly what I’ve done wrong, or even what page it is on. I maintain this site as a hobby, and I don’t have time or inclination to comb through every page to guess which one offends Bing’s algorithm. For the time being, I’ll have to live with getting all my search hits from Google.)

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