What could prevent (or could have prevented) Putin from conquering Ukraine? Unfortunately, there are only a few options – and they’re all too late or impractical.
On 21 February 2022, one day after the Beijing Winter Olympics had finished, Vladimir Putin openly declared war against Ukraine.
As Putin’s aggressive and murderous regime has demonstrated during the last 21 years, he doesn’t care about negative economic consequences. Having amassed billions of oil and gas revenues for himself and his cronies, Western financial and economic sanctions will not have much impact. Nevertheless, let’s hope that UK PM Johnson, when applying sanctions against Russian banks and rich oligarchs, will not forget the potent London-based Russian sponsors of his Conservative Party!
Apart from sanctions, what other options could there be? Here are four possibilities:
- Heavily arming Ukraine, which would make a Russian attack very bloody and costly.
Pro: Too many body bags of killed Russian soldiers could create public unrest at home and possibly lead to destabilization of Putin’s grip on power.
Con: Although this seems to be the best option, it’s now much too late. This step should have been taken after Putin had annexed the Crimea in 2014.
- Nuclear weapons for Ukraine, which would possibly deter a Russian attack, based on the logic of nuclear deterrence of: “who shoots first, will die second”.
Pro: This would be the most effective deterrent; however:
Con: Stationing nuclear weapons on Ukrainian soil would invite preemptive Russian attacks. The only alternative would be to follow the French and British nuclear policy and station weapons on nuclear submarines, which are difficult to detect. However, Ukraine has neither the weapons nor submarines. Nobody would give them either.
Never forget: between 1991 and 1993 about one third of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal was stationed on Ukrainian soil. In December 1994, under international pressure, Ukraine agreed to have these weapons withdrawn to Russia. In return it received “solemn promises” (also from Russia) that its territorial integrity would be preserved.
- Assassination: taking out the dictator.
Pro: Imagine how many lives could have been saved, if Adolf Hitler had been killed before 1939.
Con: However this would go against all civilised norms and no responsible Western politician would want to give such an order.
Moreover, as a former secret agent, Putin knows how to hide. An attack on the Kremlin, say with space-based laser weapons, might not succeed in hitting Putin himself and would most probably start WW III, which few would survive.
- Make Ukraine a member of NATO. The time to do this was immediately after the “Orange Revolution” in 2004. However, while the USA seemed to seriously consider this option, most European NATO members were against it. Germany in particular, led by Putin’s friend Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, was much more interested in being on good terms with the Russian leader. Now it’s much too late.
So the conclusion is that we are in exactly the same situation as in late 1938, after the Munich “appeasement” agreement. There are no more effective means to stop the dictator from further aggression.
Ed: This shows how the West has failed to act in good time to protect Ukraine from an expansionist Putin.
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