It has been my rule not to join the vast majority of my fellow political commentators at the scrimmage line in sterile debates of the one subject of the day, week, month that has attracted their full attention. Their debates are sterile because they ignore all but a few parameters of reality in Russia, in Ukraine. For them, ignorance is bliss. They do not stir from their armchairs nor do they switch channels to get information from the other side of the barricades, meaning from Russia.
I will violate this overriding rule and just this once join the debate over how Russia’s ‘special military operation’ will end. Nearly all of my peers in Western media and academia give you read-outs based on their shared certainty over Russia’s military and political ambition from the start of the ‘operation,’ how Russia failed by underestimating Ukrainian resilience and professionalism, how Putin must now save face by capturing and holding some part of Ukraine. The subject of disagreement is whether at the end of the campaign the borders will revert to the status quo before 24 February in exchange for Ukrainian neutrality or whether the Russians will have to entirely give up claims on Donbas and possibly even on Crimea.
As for commentators in the European Union, there is exaggerated outrage over alleged Russian aggression, over any possible revision of European borders as enshrined in the Helsinki Act of 1975 and subsequent recommitments by all parties to territorial inviolability of the signatory States. There is the stench of hypocrisy from this crowd as they overlook what they wrought in the deconstruction of Yugoslavia and, in particular, the hiving off of Kosovo from the state of Serbia.
I mention all of the foregoing as background to what I see now going on in Russian political life, namely open and lively discussion of whether the country should annex the territories of Ukraine newly ‘liberated’ by forces of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics with decisive assistance of the Russian military. By admission of President Zelensky yesterday, these territories now amount to 20% of the Ukrainian state as it was configured in 2014.
In the past several weeks, when Russia concentrated its men and materiel on the Donbas and began to score decisive victories, most notably following the taking of Mariupol and capitulation of the nationalist fighters in the Azovstal complex, leading public officials in the DPR, the LPR and the Kherson oblast have called for quick accession of their lands to the Russian Federation with or without referendums. In Moscow, politicians, including Duma members, have called for the same, claiming that a fait accompli could be achieved already in July.
However, as I see and hear on political talk shows and even in simple political reportage on mainstream Russian radio like Business FM, a counter argument has raised its head. Those on this side ask whether the populations of the potential new constituent parts of the RF are likely to be loyal to Russia. They ask if there is truly a pro-Russian majority in the population should a referendum be organized.
This is all very interesting. It surely is a continuation of the internal debate in Moscow back in 2014 when the decision was taken to grant Crimea immediate entry into the RF while denying the requests for similar treatment from the political leaders of the Donbas oblasts.
However, there surely are other considerations weighing in on the Kremlin that I have not seen aired so far. They may be likened to the considerations of France following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when the possible reunification of Germany was the talk of the day. Sharp witted observers said at the time that President Mitterand liked Germany so much that he wanted to continue to see two of them. Today Vladimir Putin may like Ukraine and its brethren Slavs so much that he wants to see three or four of them.
To be specific, from the very beginning the number one issue for Moscow as it entered upon its military adventure in Ukraine was geopolitical: to ensure that Ukraine will never again be used as a platform to threaten Russian state security, that Ukraine will never become a NATO member. We may safely assume that internationally guaranteed and supervised neutrality of Ukraine will be part of any peace settlement. It would be nicely supported by a new reality on the ground: namely by carving out several Russia-friendly and Russia-dependent mini-states on the former territory of East and South Ukraine. At the same time this solution removes from the international political agenda many of the accusations that have been made against Russia which support the vicious sanctions now being applied to the RF at great cost to Europe and to the world at large: there will be no territorial acquisitions.
If Kiev is compelled to acknowledge the independence of these two, three or more former oblasts as demanded by their populations, that is a situation fully compatible with the United Nations Charter. In a word, a decision by the Kremlin not to annex parts of Ukraine beyond the Crimea, which has long been quietly accepted by many in Europe, would prepare the way for a gradual return of civilized relations within Europe and even, eventually, with the United States
©Gilbert Doctorow, 2022
37 thoughts on “How the war will end…”
Thanks for this. So many people here (U.K.) seem to think there is no such thing as debate within Russia – that it is some sort of pure dictatorship like SPECTRE in a Bond movie. In some ways, it seems there might be freer mainstream public debate there on many issues than we have.
Your take on creating buffer type states feels sensible to me. I guess the issue then for Russia is how to ensure that the whole sorry cycle of the US / wider west infiltrating them and effectively co-opting their elites into its service does not re-emerge in time. Annexation of selected territories has the merit of avoiding that, but with all the downsides that you mention. Tricky decision, I suspect.
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“… would prepare the way for a gradual return of civilised relations within Europe and even, eventually, with the United State” Does Russia need or want such “civilised” relations with the west?
Does Russia need their corporate/fascist economic/financial partnership? Indeed not.
Does Russia need their technology? Most certainly not. Now it has the golden opportunity to develop and master all cutting edge gadgetry, so that it won’t be held to ransom again.
Does Russia need any partnership with the west in education and so called social sciences? Lately some important people have grasped the chance of ditching the Bologna educational system. Not a day too soon. Do they want the deliberate dumbing down of their population, as it has been done in the west? Most assuredly not. Do they want the political perversions and moral depravities of the west becoming part of Russian society? They don’t; that’s why their Constitution was recently amended.
While the west is possessed by the frenzy of criminality, perversion and depravity, let an iron wall be securely established between it and Russia.
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When it comes to the internal workings of Russian Governance, I rely often on the insights of Mr. Helmer, who had experience with the influence of the oligarchs, and I think their interests have to be balanced against those of other interests of Russia. Just check out the link to assess the chances of success of a renationalization scheme and the politics to make the CBR really an instrument of politics beneficial to the populace, as promoted by Glazyev and the group around him, versus the power the oligarchs can wield to further their agenda.
“The Russian regime-change theory motivating US sanctions against the Russian oligarchs is that they will trigger a palace coup in which the oligarchs will arrange a bullet for President Vladimir Putin’s head, and in return the US will give them back the keys to their yachts, mansions, and offshore bank accounts.
The terms of pain relief and life insurance which the oligarchs are discussing with Putin are different. The oligarchs want to be compensated for what they have lost offshore with an even larger stock of assets onshore, including takeover of exiting foreign companies and privatization of state assets; low-interest Central Bank finance; import substitution and labour subsidies; tax holidays; postponement of ecological compliance; deregulation; amnesty for past crimes, immunity from prosecution for future ones.”
No, I do not believe those who further want to strengthen the Russian economy to the benefit of the most will win with quasi-socialist measures threatening an oligarchy that has established itself since the Yeltsin years after the sell-off of Russian publicly owned assets.
President Putin, from what I have observed, seems to have to maintain a fine balance between the interest of the population vs. those of the oligarchs, does he in want to keep his position.
As far as I understand the situation, Russia, unlike the USA, follows the Charter of the United Nations.
Presumably, the constitutions of newly created states, such as arose from the dissolution of Yugoslavia into multiple ‘states’, or from Czechoslovakia into two states, or the separation of ‘independent’ areas such as South Sudan, or Kosovo, as independent states, is well documented and open to scrutiny.. The subsequent viability and problems of each of these newly-independent states are open for study and judgement. This is highly relevant to the country where I live (Scotland) that seeks independence.
Ukraine is in a state of civil war, arising from a coup d’état in 2014, engineered from outside, that was unacceptable to many. If the Yugoslavian scenario ensues, which external power will provide the greatest influence on the newly-created states? This will be crucial, since their joining the European Union could lead to a repeat of the present problem: threat of nuclear and bio-weapons on Russia’s doorstep. Somehow, “security for all” still has to be acknowledged and achieved. Is this possible when some powers still harbour hegemonic ambitions?
From what I have read your suggestion this might be possible “would prepare the way for a gradual return of civilized relations within Europe and even, eventually, with the United States” is not echoed elsewhere. Quite the reverse ..
And from Mark Sleboda @MarkSleboda1
16/- For Russia the only path forward, the goal to survive is, must be – separation, autarky (self-sufficiency), and independence from US-led Western Hegemony.
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US has sacrificed an awful lot of Ukrainians already to make sure Russia appears the bad guy and ensure that Russia is seen as a land grabber.
And the game is about convincing Europe that Russia AND China are devils and so Europe can only trade with US block over the next few hundred years.
So while I am sure you are right that wise thinkers in Russia are quite happy to reach sensible agreements with Ukraine nominally independent but more importantly not part of the Nato command. I can’t see US/Nato ever letting that happen. They want Russia to be saddled with Ukraine.
A satisfactory deal was offered – Minsk. US had practical control of Ukraine with limited restrictions. They chose to destroy a Ukraine they controlled. Chaos is almost certainly the end goal Biden envisaged back in 2012.
Very thoughtful, thank you. I always enjoy your informed perspective.
But if I may, the quote about loving Germany so much as to wish for having two should be attributed to Giulio Andreotti, not to Francois Mitterrand. In response, the Spiegel ran the cover “Warum Andreotti verrät uns?”
” We may safely assume that internationally guaranteed and supervised neutrality of Ukraine will be part of any peace settlement.’
On paper this all sounds fine but in reality, Ukraine has a long history of spawning extremist nationalist groups. I can see the formation of a Ukrainian ISIS.
As far as I am aware, the area of Novorossiya, by which I mean the area (incl. Odessa) added to Ukraine in the early 1920s by the Communists is still overwhelmingly ethic Russian and Russian speaking – when the war is over they may opt to form a separate state rather than joining the Russian Federation (I rather doubt it though), but I think it extremely unlikely many would ever want to rejoin a Ukraine which includes the western nationalists – federation or no federation. The former state of Ukraine may well have worked within the Soviet Union, but as an independent state it has proved just as much a failure as Yugoslavia did following the death of Tito. The fact also that so many people in the two SE republics have died in this war, to say nothing about the Russian soldiers. also makes it very unlikely they would allow their lands back to Kiev control – land won by blood is not easily yielded. Putin would surely be committing political suicide if he suggested giving up these lands.
If I were Russia, I would tie Russia’s plans for those liberated territories to reopening the cases of Kosovo etc.
If Kosovo for instance is not given back to Serbia, Russia recognizes the independence of liberated regions of former Ukraine. And once a region is independent, it can choose to join any country it wants.
Russia might also tie Ukrainian territories to areas of Syria and Palestine occupied by Israel and the US.
And to the half of Cyprus occupied by Turkey.
Just a few examples…
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Nice read, but I think the only solution for Russia is for Ukraine to turn out like Cuba, post-missile-crisis. The impression is given that after 1962 the Soviets lost interest in Communist Cuba, and from then on in the living standards in Cuba went into decline or stagnation.
Here, just like Cuba remained Marxist, the Ukraine could keep with its so-called “pro-Western” direction, just not on account of Russian money. Unlike Cuba whose military remained proud and strong, cutting it’s teeth in wars around the world, Ukraine would be near all demilitarised. Nothing of the Navy in the Black Sea, next to nothing airforce, no defense contracts, nothing in the
cyber field, no foreign military infrastructure, no joint training exercises and not much more than a minimalist standing army.
It’s citizens could be allowed to travel around EU countries freely and send remittances just like now.
Russia’s calculation has to be that the west’s sole interest in the Ukraine, is to create an anti-Russia. Without any Ukrainian military and secret services working against Russia there can be no antirussia – and western financial investment in Ukraine will consequently dissolve because of this ( it was pathetic to begin with) – hence a post-1962 Cuba.
After all, this war probably would have been avoided if the west hadn’t idiotically cancelled North Stream 2,so as to force Russia to pay the Ukraine $3 billion each year for transiting gas. If the west wasn’t interested in compensating the Ukraine for that so as to allow the project to go ahead – how are they going to be interested now?
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Those were real people, coincidentally mostly ethnic Russian, who had continued to be decimated by Kiev’s fratricidal army, even increasingly so, on the eve of the SMO. The Russian leadership had to try to sleep for eight long years knowing their brethren were being randomly slaughtered and maimed. The Minsk Accords did nothing, I have to question what would have made Kiev and its NATO handlers cease and desist short of Russia’s offense. The West got exactly what it was aiming for—for the first few months of the conflict. How many of the ongoing repercussions were they striving for as well? Time will tell. The world seems to have achieved a level of chaos and impening doom unlike any hour previously in my long lifetime.
Much as I am not in favour of this war/military operation, I have had enough of Zelensky going everywhere and telling everyone what to do (if you buy a TV, they say, it comes with Zelensky inside). He’s now shaming Macron for suggesting that Russia should not be humiliated in the outcome of negotiations, which is basic common sense (and echoes what Kissinger said). An acceptable settlement should be in everyone’s mind. On a different note, but related to the end of this war, I have read Julia Davis’ summary of Russian talk shows in her Daily Beast. It seems that when this operation ends, it will be the beginning of the denazification of NATO, with Poland coming first, although many are eager to start with the US (bigger fish) or the UK. But there’s a line, and everyone’s turn will come…
…”would prepare the way for a gradual return of civilized relations within Europe and even, eventually, with the United States…
My, what an optimist you are!!!
(Good piece, thank you)
” Nearly all of my peers in Western media and academia give you read-outs based on their shared certainty over Russia’s military and political ambition from the start of the ‘operation,’….”
‘The dogs bark; the caravan moves on…”
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