There are signs Putin may be prepared to limit his ambitions and settle for a portion of East Ukraine. President Zelenskyy may accept a compromise of this nature in order to alleviate the suffering of his people. A deal will ease the immediate humanitarian problem, but the issue will not be resolved. Putin’s long-term ambitions will not be assuaged. Ukrainian resentment will not abate.
More critically, Putin has undoubtedly committed war crimes. Arguably, Putin has committed them before the war in Ukraine, but this time the West cannot credibly turn a blind eye. Could the West allow a Putin-dominated Russia to remain on the UN Security Council, or any other UN organisation, with these suspicions? Could it refrain from prosecuting Putin in the International Court of Justice? Could it allow Russia to compete in international sporting events? Could Putin himself be welcomed at any international forum? Could the West allow Putin to thumb his nose at the world?
Putin cannot be allowed even the semblance of a victory; we cannot assume that allowing him a face-saving compromise will bring an end to the matter.
Of course – yes – we tolerate murderous dictators all the time, as long as they confine their atrocities to their own people, but pragmatism can only be stretched so far. Putin has gone beyond Russia’s borders. Surely this is a red line the West cannot compromise on?
Putin must go, and (obviously) invading Russia and forcibly removing him is not a viable option. We must rely on Russia dispensing itself of the services of this abominable man. If he prevails at all in Ukraine, if he is allowed to retain even the tiniest morsel of territory, the chances of him being removed are possibly an each-way bet at best. If, however, he is massively defeated in Ukraine – which includes recapture of all disputed areas including Crimea – the chances of him surviving are much lower. Putin will have presided over a huge humiliation of Russia. His moral (for want of a better word) authority will be greatly diminished.
To achieve this outcome suggests a serious boots-on-the-ground intervention on the part of Nato, sooner rather than later. The future of the separatist Donbas region must be decided by negotiation after hostilities have well and truly ceased. Ukraine may have to make compromises, but not with a Putin-led government. Nato could insist, as part of its intervention, that the status of the Donbas region be resolved to the satisfaction of both parties and that the resolution would be enforced by Nato if necessary. Crimea should be returned to Ukraine in total. There is also the question of reparations for Ukraine. While Putin is at the helm, don’t hold your breath.
Roger Boyes, writing for The Times, opines that Putin is going nowhere and will only get nastier as a result of this misadventure, including massive purges in Russia. So, I may be unduly optimistic in my assessment… On the other hand, if Nato acts there will be other benefits, not least of which will be to minimise the suffering in Ukraine.
There is no doubt that, militarily, Nato could eject Russia from Ukraine pretty swiftly – particularly considering that the Ukrainians have already done the hard yards – but there are two complicating factors. The first is the potential to draw China into the conflict. I think that is highly unlikely. Putin will have lost face in front of Xi Jinping. China might be prepared to withhold condemnation and even to militarily reinforce success on the part of Russia, but why would it buy into what is now clearly a geopolitical and military disaster? It certainly won’t reinforce failure. There would be no upside for China other than the remote possibility of turning Russia into its vassal state. In China’s foreign policy imperative rankings, self-interest takes gold, silver, and bronze. If, as has been suggested, China was using Ukraine as a test case for Taiwan, then surely the West should send them an unequivocal message? They will not be unduly intimidated by a response based largely on economic sanctions
Of course, there is the possibility of nuclear war. Joe Hildebrand published a very insightful column recently explaining why Putin has no fear of the West. He says, in relation to the Cuban missile crisis:
It was an extraordinary victory for world peace, yet it was only possible because of the threat of world war.
The problem for the current US president is that he has already taken that threat off the table, publicly declaring that he will not risk any direct confrontation with Russia.
‘Direct confrontation between Nato and Russia is World War III, something we must strive to prevent,’ Joe Biden said last week.
Of course that is absolutely true and that is exactly what he should be doing. But just because he is doing that doesn’t mean he should be saying it…
As a friend of mine with close links to foreign affairs types said: ‘Why the f**k is Biden saying he’s not prepared to start World War III? He should be saying he IS prepared to start it!’
If Nato intervened and confined itself to Ukraine, what are the odds that Russia will initiate a nuclear response?
They might possibly use tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield but that would be met with an equal response and would be manageable. The real threat is if, cornered, Russia resorted to a strategic nuclear response targeting Munich or some other significant European target. If such a course were proposed, that might be the time when Russian pragmatists decide that Putin’s time has come. They would know that such a course would invite a swift retaliatory response, probably on Moscow. It is likely that the Russian High Command, such as it is, would baulk at this. Still, it’s undoubtedly a risk. Ideally, Nato would use back door channels (possibly through some of these oligarchs who must have connections within the Kremlin) to satisfy itself that this threat could be contained.
How could this intervention legally be achieved? Zelenskyy could make an application for immediate entry to Nato. Assuming the normal bureaucratic obstacles could be overcome – the primary of which is that hitherto Ukraine has not been judged squeaky clean enough – on the basis of the exceptional circumstances applying, membership could be granted in a matter of days. Yes, I am oversimplifying this. Whether all Nato members, particularly Turkey, could be induced to sign up for this adventure is problematic and no doubt there are other obstacles. While Ukraine is not currently a member of Nato, it is an independent nation and a member of the United Nations. Surely that counts for something?
Having said that, the following extract from Breitbart is telling:
The White House on Saturday moved quickly to clarify President Joe Biden’s comment about removing Russian President Vladimir Putin from power in a dramatic speech in Warsaw, Poland.
‘For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,’ Biden cried out as he finished his speech. ‘God bless you all and may God defend our freedom.’
It was unclear whether or not Biden’s comment was part of his prepared text.
But the White House soon released a statement to reporters questioning Biden’s apparent call for regime change.
‘The President’s point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbours or the region,’ a statement attributed to a senior White House official read. ‘He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia, or regime change.’
Why the hell not aim for regime change? Does anyone seriously believe things won’t get worse if Putin prevails? For once, Sleepy Joe is ahead of his minders. But, sure, don’t talk about it – just do it.
I am merely an armchair strategist, and I recognise I have presented a simplistic argument. I imagine there will be considerable legal and political impediments that would need to be overcome which I have not fully appreciated. But in principle, I think this is our Munich moment. Whether the powers that be have the courage and foresight to seize it, remains to be seen.
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