Audio version available at https://www.podserve.fm/episodes/53431/37-putins-nightmare.mp3.
Three Silver Linings
In the midst of a crisis with great loss of life and property, it might be unseemly to suggest that there are silver linings. But the Ukraine crisis does have a few, and they amount to a nightmare for Vladimir Putin. One is the exceptional heroism of the Ukrainian people, civilian and military, who have risen to defense of their country. They have defied the experts, especially those in Moscow, who believed Ukraine would be an easy target, vulnerable to quick defeat and occupation. Ukraine’s ordinary folks have refused to surrender and instead become citizen soldiers—and very effective ones at that.
A second is the reality of Vladimir Putin. Until he ordered this war, he had been riding high in international circles. Various opinion writers in the West had portrayed Putin as a man who could do no wrong—how he had masterfully managed the war in Syria, the seizure of Crimea, relations with China, and Donald Trump. Now, needless to say, he is revealed as a bungling, overzealous tyrant who has isolated Russia and badly overreached in Ukraine. And in doing so, he has given a much-needed boost to pro-democracy forces in Europe who have been engaged for several years in a difficult battle with white nationalists like Putin. Those political leaders in Italy, Hungary, France, and elsewhere who thought the world of Putin and looked to him for support must surely be keeping their heads down now. The emperor has turned out to have no clothes.
The third silver lining may be the most important in the long run: the coming together of democratic nations in solidarity with Ukraine. Prior to the Russian invasion, questions were raised about NATO’s unity and commitment to Europe’s defense. Germany in particular was cited for its hesitancy to support Ukraine. The debate about sanctions on Russia gave the impression that they would only be partially supported in the alliance. But not only has the speculation proved groundless; some countries, as noted below, have broken with past practice to make important contributions to the Ukraine cause. In all, 17 of NATO’s 30 member countries have sent military aid to Ukraine. Putin’s war has turned out to be just what NATO and other friendly states needed to come together in common cause.
Coming Together, Isolating Russia
Consider some specifics:
The European Union will for the first time ever purchase and deliver weapons to a country under attack: Ukraine. Its members will close their airspace to Russian civil and private aircraft. They will ban Russian broadcasts. The huge outpouring of Ukrainians to Poland and beyond so far seems to be accommodated, though it stands in sharp contrast with the removal of welcome mats for non-white refugees from the Middle East and Africa. EU countries have also lined up behind terminating Russian access to the SWIFT international payments network. The one thing the EU might not be ready to do is rush to grant Ukraine membership.
The British government said it would not stand in the way of citizens who want to go to Ukraine to fight the Russians. Its foreign minister said those resisting the Russians were “fighting for freedom and democracy not just for Ukraine but for the whole of Europe.”
In Germany, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a one-time increase of 100 billion euros ($113 billion) for defense spending and a pledge to spend more than 2 percent of Germany’s economic output annually on defense. The announcement came as Germany made new commitments of military aid to Ukraine, including 1,000 shoulder-launched anti-tank rockets and 500 surface-to-air Stinger missiles. The commitments represent a break with German policy of not sending military aid to war zones.
Sweden likewise broke tradition, announcing it would give military aid to a country in armed conflict for the first time since the Soviet invasion of Finland in 1939. The aid includes anti-tank weapons, field rations, and helmets. Both Sweden and Finland are weighing applying to NATO for membership, another groundbreaking development. Meantime, Finland has sent Ukraine non-lethal military equipment, another first for aid to a combatant.
Even normally neutral Switzerland has frozen Russian assets.
Japan announced that it would join countries barring Russia from the SWIFT system, meaning that all G7 countries support that step.
Turkey, which not so long ago had mended fences with Russia in an arms deal and over the war in Syria, is banning Russian warships from the straits that connect the Black Sea to the south. Hungary’s government, usually friendly toward Moscow, has come out in favor of EU sanctions.
Among the numerous entities that have dropped ties with Russia: corporations, including oil companies (such as BP and Shell) and the three largest shipping companies; sports groups; some social media; and the entertainment industry.
Fifty countries have signed a resolution in the UN General Assembly to remove Russia as a permanent member of the Security Council, arguing that Russia never properly applied for membership to replace the former Soviet Union, and that Russia has violated the UN Charter by its aggression against Ukraine.
The international isolation of Russia must surely be a jarring experience for Putin and his inner circle. But it’s a situation of his own making, one likely to persist for many years. There are already stirrings of discontent among the Russian elite as financial and commercial transactions dry up, travel is restricted, and personal bank accounts are frozen. Where previously we wondered if Ukraine could survive, we now have reason to wonder if Putin will survive. Let’s support two rules going forward: Don’t box Putin into a corner that might lead him to irrational decision making; and don’t let outrage at Putin get in the way of sympathy with ordinary Russians who are victims of his warmongering.
Thanks to Koichi Sanefuji for the image sent from Prague.