The End of Putin? What is Happening and What Comes Next
This reaction article comes a bit late. However, the shock of events in Ukraine was and still is very big. When we were looking towards the end of the pandemic Vladimir Putin decided to crush those hopes. In a move reminding us of 1939 Russia launched an all-out invasion a sovereign nation. International condemnation of the action was quick to follow, sometimes from unlikely places. Ukraine is putting up an impressive resistance in the face of a vastly superior enemy.
What is the Situation
Opinions on the initial efficiency of the Russian offensive are split. Some experts argue they expecting better resistance from the Ukrainian army. This is in light of the advance in the South from Crimea and the ongoing siege of Kyiv. Given the disproportion of forces it was difficult for defenders to stop the initial onslaught. Crimea houses the Russian naval base in the Black Sea. Kyiv is very close to the border with Belarus. Many countries ask for severe sanctions on the latter for their part in the invasion. However, the capital is still holding on as currently there are reports of intense fighting on the streets.
Other opinions argue that in fact Ukraine is doing much better than expected. American intelligence reports inform that Putin’s expectations were more towards a blitzkrieg offensive. However, gains in the first three days are indeed small. The Russians have failed to capture Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, in the East, near the border. Thus, there are indications that the offensive is losing speed and that the invasion is turning into a prolonged war.
It comes at little surprise that the West quickly and without hesitation condemned the invasion. During the evening of the first day they moved towards the first sets of sanctions. Critique came as Germany, Italy, Cyprus, and Hungary did not agree with disconnecting Russia from the SWIFT system. It is an intermediary and executor of financial transactions. This sanction would make it near impossible for Russia to make international transactions. The first two countries are changing their position in the face of protests at home.
Poland, Moldova, and Romania have all been receiving refugees since the conflict began. We can see impressive displays of solidarity as people open up their homes to Ukrainians. Poland was the first country to send military aid and France, UK and the US are also getting ready to do the same. In fact, the UK is one of the harshest in sanctions and discourse.
Everyone was and is looking at China’s reaction to events. The initial reaction was to avoid admitting there was an invasion. They were observing events and most likely evaluating Ukrainian resistance and Western reaction. However, their discourse internationally has been in favour of national sovereignty. Eventually, they called for a diplomatic solution to the conflict. Yet, on February 26, two of China’s largest banks are no longer giving out loans for industrial acquisitions from Russia.
There are fears that Putin might escalate the conflict and turn it more brutal. However, with the eyes of the world on the invasion this could be a very dangerous game. The International Criminal Court is closely monitoring that war crimes not be committed against non-combatants. It would also force more neutral states, such as China and India, to distance themselves from Russia.
Hope is that if Ukraine receives the necessary military supplies in time it could stop the Russian offensive. A prolonged war coupled with more severe economic sanctions would put pressure on the Kremlin. However, it is very difficult to predict what might happen. It does not seem that Putin cares much about the opinion of ordinary Russians. Indications are that the war is not popular. This is reflected in the protests erupting in large cities. Sanctions imposed directly on the elite should serve as a more direct hit to Putin’s grasp on power.
One theory circulating the media is that Putin will try to create a separate Ukrainian puppet state. Of course, such a strategy is dependent on how much territory the Russian army can occupy. Currently, the likeliness of this approach is decreasing. Also, it seems occupation will be a very difficult and expensive challenge as resistance is and will be fierce.
The war is still in its incipient phases. For now the Ukrainian Army is resisting, although with great difficulty. Given the significant disproportion of forces, it is beyond impressive. If Putin fails to reach his objectives, something which could happen, he will try to save face. A leader confident of victory would not call on the enemy army to change sides. Could this be a sign of weakness? What comes next for Putin if his plan fails.
The international community did not split as the Kremlin hoped. There is no dissent among NATO members. On the contrary, the Rapid Response Force was activated for the first time. This shows they are united and aim to reassure Eastern European states that they matter and that their Western allies are already coming to their aid. If anything, Putin might have re-consolidated his greatest enemy.
“You can veto this resolution, but you cannot veto our voices; You cannot veto the truth; You cannot veto our principles; You cannot veto the Ukrainian people; cannot veto the UN Charter … and you will not veto accountability.” US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
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Originally published at https://www.theworldbriefly.com on February 26, 2022.