Putin and his oligarchic and militaristic circle are extraordinarily vicious and dangerous mass-murderers. In their intentional cruelty they rival Genghis Khan, Attilla the Hun (“There, where I have passed, the grass will never grow again”), and Joseph Stalin. They are international brigands who have taken control of Russia, and against the best interests of most of its citizens have turned it into a rogue state which now openly and purposely flouts all standards of human decency, international law and standards of behaviour in war and peace. Russia now poses a major threat to all humanity.
Putin’s dream is to restore the old Soviet Union, and its international power and status, starting with Ukraine. This would include domination of all the Eastern European countries which used to be part of the old Soviet Union, many of whom are now part of the European Union, or are applicants for membership of the EU. He will incur any cost, to himself, his country, his own citizens, or to anyone else, to achieve this, or will create maximum, random and wanton death and destruction out of revenge if he can’t (see current reports from Kherson).
It is therefore vital that the West does its utmost to prevent either of these outcomes. Having first supported the aggressor Serbia in the Balkans war, then invaded Georgia, destroyed large parts of Syria, and occupied Crimea, Putin is now attempting to occupy Ukraine. The West, Europe and NATO, having responded weakly to all his preceding international crimes, have decided to draw a line in the sand with Ukraine, and is so far being successful in doing so, in conjunction with extraordinarily brave resistance from Ukraine itself.
How is this now unfolding?
The West’s and NATO’s efforts to assist Ukraine and knock Putin back have largely been made possible, coordinated and led by the USA under President Biden. The sums of money contributed by the USA in equipment, assistance and humanitarian aid, have been enormous, and dwarf what European nations collectively have provided.
Strong American resolve from the Biden Administration to prevent Putin winning in Ukraine has had a vital deterrent effect too. Putin will take very seriously the American determination, expressed also through NATO, that Putin will face very serious though unspecified consequences if he actually uses nuclear weaponry. This deterrent presumably also applies if Putin chooses to use biological or chemical weapons, which Russia is known to have kept stockpiles of in defiance of internationally agreed treaties. Only the USA is capable of delivering this kind of effective deterrence, and so far it has worked.
Putin also knows about NATO’s Rule 5, which is that an attack on any NATO member state will be treated as an attack on the whole of NATO, and will call forth a full NATO response. Putin would not want a full scale war with NATO, which has far superior forces to call on than Russia. This will make him think twice about making a direct attack on any NATO member.
But Putin is wily. He is working around these American and NATO threats and deterrents by conducting and escalating the war in other, very dangerous and particularly nasty ways. He hopes thereby not to trigger massive responses from the USA or NATO, but to ultimately undermine their efforts in supporting Ukraine.
There have been many such examples of this behaviour from the Russians recently:
- Restriction of gas and oil exports from Russia to Europe;
- Theft of Ukrainian grain and food supplies;
- Treating prisoners of war as criminals and accusing them of murder, and taking hostages;
- Mistreating and torturing prisoners of war and other civilians in captivity;
- Explosions damaging the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines;
- Escalation of cyber attacks against Western institutions;
- Military incursions into European airspace and waters;
- Use of drones for spying on and intimidating Norwegian oil industry structures;
- Blowing up part of the Kakhovaka hydroelectric power plant and dam, removing electricity supplies from Kherson and threatening widespread flooding and destruction;
- Illegal annexation of the four Eastern Ukraine territories and incorporating them into Russia itself;
- Arrest of the Ukrainian manager of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power station;
- Diverting electrical energy from Ukraine into Russia;
- Deportation of Ukrainian civilians into Russia;
- Drawing Belarus and Iran into the war;
- Destruction of Ukraine’s water supply, sewage, communication and power systems;
- Rocket and drone attacks against residential buildings and critical infrastructure all over Ukraine;
- Committing war crimes in occupied territories.
There seems no limit to the mayhem, ruthless loss of life and destruction that Putin is willing to cause in Ukraine and elsewhere in the world in his attempt to deter the West from continuing their support for Ukraine, and to bring Ukraine to the point of accepting defeat.
In addition, there is the information, propaganda and deception war. Complete denial, despite clear evidence, of accusations from western sources that Russia is doing any of the above. Counter-accusations, without evidence, that it is actually Ukraine and the West that is doing those things. The most recent of these is that Ukraine is preparing to unleash a dirty bomb (a conventional bomb which spreads radioactive contamination over a wide area). This is widely seen as a false flag narrative to prepare the way for a guilt-free so-called defensive use of nuclear weapons by Russia.
There is also the narrative that Putin uses to drum up support for the war inside Russia. The line is that it is actually NATO who is the aggressor and threatening Russia, so all Russians should and must be willing to do their patriotic duty to defend the motherland. Given the near total control the Russian state has over the media, the police, and the population in Russia, it is very easy for these false narratives to take hold there, and it is difficult for accurate narratives from the West to confront them.
The West’s options
In response, the West has two broad options. To increase, or to decrease its support for Ukraine. There are arguments concerning both of these.
- The argument for decreasing the West’s support for Ukraine
This is what Putin has been aiming for. His restriction of Russian oil and gas supplies to Europe, has been his biggest single weapon in attempting to restrict or eliminate Western support for Ukraine by harming European economies. He now also has the support of OPEC in limiting international oil supplies, thereby raising the price. The international price of both commodities has soared as a result, and European nations have been scouring the world for alternative suppliers, as well as implementing other measures to increase other energy sources and to scale back consumption. European governments have also had to raid their treasuries to provide financial support packages for their populations and businesses.
The outcome of all that, as Putin intended, has been huge political dissatisfaction, and calls from some quarters to scale back the sanctions on Russia or limit financial and military support to Ukraine in return for an increase in oil and gas supplies. These calls have been mostly heard from Hungary, where Prime Minister Victor Orban has maintained his amicable political dialogue with Putin (though he has not yet voted against sanctions), and from a few minor sources within Europe and from some sections of the Republican Party in the USA.
2. The argument for increasing the West’s support for Ukraine
Putin has been widening and escalating his campaign, in the ways described above, as his military campaign in Ukraine has faltered. Ukraine has always been hamstrung in its efforts by the West’s concerns about escalating the conflict, and by its insistence that only weapons for defensive purposes can be supplied, so airplanes and long range artillery and rocket systems have not so far been supplied. Officially, Ukraine has therefore been prevented from hitting targets in Russia, while Russia has free rein to attack whatever targets it wants in Ukraine. This is like a boxer entering the ring with one arm tied behind his back.
Part of the West’s strategy has relied on sanctions working, hitting the Russian economy, and preventing the Russian war machine from working properly. Russia has partly circumvented these sanctions by finding other outlets for its gas and oil and to help it with supplies, such as Iran, China, and India. Sanctions have hindered Russia’s war effort, but not crippled them. They will help, but are unlikely to be decisive.
There are two main risks. Firstly, that Putin will escalate the war further by using a tactical nuclear bomb or biological or chemical warfare, on the pretext that Ukraine exploded one or is preparing to explode one, or arguing that the USA’s use of an atomic bomb against Japan in 1945 set a precedent. Secondly, that the war will drag on for so long that Ukraine will eventually be reduced to near rubble by Russian artillery and rockets, and be unable to sustain its society or complete its military advances.
This makes the case for the West to intervene more strongly now. NATO has the capability to do so, but is hampered by its democratic structure of decision-making, by the extra effort and sacrifices which would be needed from its participating countries, and by its wish to avoid giving Putin the excuse to escalate the war with nuclear weapons or in other ways.
But the argument for increasing Western support for Ukraine has now been at least partially accepted, and more sophisticated weaponry is now being supplied to Ukraine. This is in the form of improved missile and artillery systems, and defences against Russian drones and missiles (by USA), improved tanks from Poland (financed by the USA), planes from Eastern Europe, and improved cyber security from the UK.
The role of the US Republican Party
Without strong USA commitment to continue supporting NATO and Ukraine, the West’s efforts would probably falter, Ukraine would be lost, and Putin would emerge victorious. The USA commitment currently relies on President Biden, a Democrat, and Democrat control of both Houses of Congress.
The mid-term elections in November have produced some change in the control of Congress. While the Democrats retain their control of the Senate, it is almost certain that that the Republicans will control the House of Representatives, albeit with only a small majority. This might mean that the President would find limits or restrictions placed on the finance he needs to continue with the USA’s support for Ukraine at its current level. ‘Across the aisle’ agreements between Democrats and Republicans may be required to allow finances to be approved, and this could prove problematic when the Republican Party in the House is itself divided between Trumpists and others.
As the Daily Beast said on 12 September:
Ukrainian Aid Could Be on the Chopping Block in a GOP-controlled House.
Dozens of Republican members of the House have already sought to throw up roadblocks to Ukraine aid packages. Fifty-seven Republicans tried blocking $40 billion in aid to Ukraine earlier this year, in addition to 11 Republican Senators.
“I’m absolutely not supporting any further funding for Ukraine,” Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Daily Beast last week.
And Steube, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and House Foreign Affairs Committee, is far from alone.
And from CNN’s Meanwhile in America, ‘Is Ukraine’s American firewall crumbling?’, 27 October:
Any new Republican House will be under the sway of ex-President Donald Trump, who has been slamming the price of America’s effective proxy-war with his pal Putin and who dragged President Volodymyr Zelensky into his first impeachment.
So while McCarthy (current Republican leader in the House) says he’s not backsliding on Ukraine aid, there’s no guarantee he could convince all of his party to go along — and passing a big bill for Ukraine by using Democratic votes could put him in a perilous political position.
Putin has been waiting months for such an opening. There’s no sign yet of weakening US resolve — but the debate and confusion on Capitol Hill could give him reason to hope.
The hardest line was taken by Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene, who said to ABC News recently:
“… under Republicans, not another penny will go to Ukraine. Our country comes first.”
As there is widespread support for USA support for Ukraine across US society, probably some reasonable compromise will be reached, though this is now less certain than it was.
There are now very strong reasons for NATO to widen, increase and sharpen its support for Ukraine, and become much more pro-active in securing a quicker Ukrainian victory. This would reduce the risk that Putin emerges victorious.
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