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Putin’s grand plan is failing His toxic strategy has united his enemies

Ukraine is ready for war. Credit: SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine is ready for war. Credit: SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images


February 4, 2022   7 mins

Last month there was a three-hour debate in parliament entitled “Putin’s Grand Strategy.” It began with a passionate speech by Tory backbencher Sir Bernard Jenkin, who spoke about the “admirably precise” focus of the Russian president, while lamenting the lack of similarly clear-sighted goals among many democratic states. He laid out in detail the Kremlin’s strategy: to end the United States’s global hegemony, drive a wedge between Washington and Europe, become the pre-eminent power on our continent and “re-establish Russia’s de facto control over as much of the former Soviet Union and its sphere of influence as possible.”

Jenkin’s analysis was supported by an impressive line-up of Westminster figures, including the chairmen of both the defence and foreign affairs committees. David Lammy, the shadow foreign secretary, thundered that Putin sought to “re-establish Russia’s status and influence, including dominance over the sovereign countries in its near abroad.” He took issue with those echoing the Kremlin’s line that the West is provoking it into action by enlarging the European Union and Nato, leading his comrade Chris Bryant to express delight that Labour had “returned to common sense on these issues.” When the Corbynistas were in charge, the party’s stance on Russia was more ambivalent.

It was good to see such unity on this central issue of European security. Yet behind this debate — and much of the narrative about Russia — lies the pernicious idea that Putin is humiliating the West and its enfeebled democracies. This is, of course, the perspective of Russia’s well-oiled propaganda machine. Politicians, columnists and think tanks in the West also frequently praise his malign genius; I have done so myself in the past. Typical was a recent article by retired US general Keith Kellogg, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, who argued that Putin was on the brink of dealing “the final blow to diminish Nato” before adding: “history is on his side 
 it is a question of when — and not if — he stages his European checkmate.”

Admirers and appeasers of Putin — who can be found across the political spectrum — often repeat a well-worn clichĂ© that he plays chess while his foes play chequers. He captured Crimea, crushed Chechen rebels, weakened Ukraine and grabbed effective control of Belarus, while detaching a chunk of Georgia and breakaway republics in the Donbas. He intervened in Syria to shore up his fellow dictator Bashar Assad. He supposedly interfered in the US election and has since made sinister moves in African states. “Putin has run rings around whoever was in the Oval Office, getting away with invasions, hacking, human rights abuses, assassinations, shooting down passenger airliners,” complained one US columnist last month.

But is Putin really such a grandmaster on the geo-political chessboard? Certainly he seems to have a clear strategy to restore Russian pride after the collapse of the Soviet empire — an event he has called “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” Early in his presidency, he flirted with joining his now mortal enemy, Nato. Now his armed forces build up menacingly on the border of Ukraine. Yet one thing has been made abundantly clear to me after a fortnight back reporting in the country — and that is the failure of this supposed Machiavellian mastermind, whose goal of rebuilding Russia’s empire and shattering Nato lies in tatters, even as he terrorises his neighbour and keeps everyone guessing over the next move in his game plan.

Ukraine is sliding away fast from Moscow’s sphere of influence, into the orbit of the West. The ageing president must know this, as he contemplates detonating another explosive conflict. Polls show a drastic change in attitudes: support for joining Nato, for instance, was backed by just one in five citizens in July 2009, but now 58% wish to sign up to the alliance, and even more want to join the European Union. “I know what life is like in Europe and I know also what life is in Russia,” said Marina Polyakova, a housewife in her fifties whose son was badly beaten in pro-democracy protests in Kharkiv. “I want Ukraine to be a just, democratic country.”

Putin’s brutal response to those nationwide protests in 2014 has heavily tilted the mood against him. The slaughter of 104 demonstrators in Kyiv led to the ousting of his ally Viktor Yanukovych from the presidency. A poll taken just before that massacre found 88% of Ukrainians held a positive view of Russia — these are, after all, two nations with deep cultural, commercial, historic and family ties. Then came the theft of Crimea, separatist revolts in two border provinces and the start of a war that drags on to this day, with 14,000 dead and two million displaced. By 2020, barely half of Ukrainians still held a positive view of their neighbour; this figure has fallen to less than 40% in the most recent survey, carried out as Moscow’s troops encircle their country.

So despite Putin’s efforts to blame the West for meddling in Ukraine, the reality is that his belligerence and toxic intervention hastened its move towards Europe. “Russia’s influence in Ukraine has failed spectacularly since the aggression began in 2014,” said Maria Avdeeva, a security and disinformation expert in Kharkiv.

“The Ukrainian population is much more united and anti-Russian. This anti-Russian sentiment is boosted by the hostile rhetoric of Kremlin officials and media along with their refusal to recognise Ukraine’s geopolitical choice. Ukrainians don’t see their future in union with Russia or any form of Russian control over our country.” 

In eastern Ukraine it was clear that a significant minority still look to Moscow. My first taxi driver in Kharkiv praised Putin for telling the truth unlike the politicians he railed against in Kyiv. Other people talked positively about their “brother” nation — although it is illegal to “glorify” dictatorial regimes, so people can be cautious about displaying open admiration to a journalist. Polls indicate about one in six voters would still back pro-Russian parties, although support has slipped in the past three months.

Still, it is simplistic to assume Russian-speakers — and even Russian natives — are not patriotic Ukrainians. I met one man born in Siberia who had already obtained an automatic weapon, ready to fight for Kyiv. A young Russian woman, forced to flee Donetsk after the separatist insurgency, told me she wanted desperately to see Putin dead.

Pro-European sentiment is especially obvious in younger generations. One journalist in her mid-thirties told me that before 2014, friends wanting the best university education or work internships would go to Moscow — partly due to shared language, but also because “it was the cool place, the prestigious place, we all looked up to it.” Now they see Russia as an aggressor, she said, so are more likely to go to Poland or some other EU nation. Besides, there are no longer any direct flights between Kyiv and Moscow. Once, these best and brightest students would stay in Russia to work; now they are more likely to be found in Berlin, London or Warsaw.

The government is also fostering a cultural shift. In recent years, new laws have been passed to enforce wider use of Ukrainian language in schools and public spaces, so future generations will make increased use of their own language. Hollywood films used to be dubbed into Russian; now they are in Ukrainian. There are laws restricting foreign content on radio and in bookstores. Schools offer pupils patriotic activities after classes finish. Russian television channels have been banned. Bilateral trade has also collapsed; Ukraine is no longer economically dependent on Russia, as it turns towards Europe and China.

Putin’s real problem is not that Ukraine might join the defensive alliance but that the country is rejecting his repressive regime as it crystallises a sense of national identity, looks to Europe for its future and struggles towards democracy. Bear in mind the 2014 conflict was nothing to do with Nato; it was sparked by talk of a deal with the EU. Another democratic state is the last thing Putin wants next-door given his own dire leadership, development failures and grotesque theft of national resources.

Yet his hostile response backfired badly, by serving to reinforce Nato, deflecting the nagging post-Soviet questions over its relevance and funding tensions inflamed by Trump. 8,000 troops have been deployed to shore up fearful frontline states, with the US adding another 3,000 soldiers this week and keeping 8,500 more on standby. Non-members Finland and Sweden are so alarmed by Russia they have started whispering again about joining up while deepening their military ties, and driving up defence spending.

Putin is pushing for roll-back of Nato’s enlargement in his negotiations over Ukraine — but he is achieving precisely the opposite. He is strengthening bonds — especially among newer members on its eastern flank who rushed to join Nato to protect them from the claws of the Russian bear after the Soviet empire crumbled. Anti-Russian views surged in places such as Poland after the 2014 invasion of Ukraine and have stayed high. And such is the concern on frontline states that Lithuania led Baltic moves to end reliance on the Kremlin’s gas by opening up major offshore storage facilities. “The Russian Federation was abusing its dominant position by charging higher prices and threatening to cut our supplies,” said former energy minister Romas Svedas. If only the rest of Europe had followed their lead.

Now consider Russia’s touted successes, which are supposedly leading to such decisive blows against Nato, dominance of Europe and restoration of the Muscovite empire. He blew apart Chechnya; glued the Crimea, with its two and a half million people back onto Russia; gained control of Donetsk and Luhansk; and detached the South Ossetia and Abkhazia enclaves from Georgia, which are together home to fewer residents than Coventry. Belarus is sliding into his arms. But even his most devoted disciple might struggle to argue that this motley cluster of places puts him on par with his hero Peter the Great’s opening up the nation’s window on the west in the Baltic.

Yet the cost to his own country has been immense. At the peak of the Second Chechen War it is believed more than 200 Russian soldiers were dying a month. It cost more than $1bn to rebuild the blitzed capital Grozny. Sanctions imposed after the capture of Crimea cost Russian firms almost $100bn, according to one study — 4.2% of the country’s gross domestic product — while Putin’s efforts to shield them almost doubled this impact on the economy. There is the drip-drip of depopulation from Donetsk to Minsk, with many of the brightest young people and middle classes leaving Putin’s depressed satellite statelets. The exodus highlights the lure of a less debased society, while persistent eruption of protests under Putin and his pals shows how seeds of democracy can sprout even in the most challenging terrain.

Meanwhile these places need expensive military support and subsidies. Moscow is spending an estimated $5bn a year on Donbas, for instance, including $771m a year on electricity and gas for six million residents in the two self-declared republics. Once these areas, rich in coal and highly cosmopolitan, boasted the nation’s highest economic output. Since the war, they have seen exports crash, airports close, firms and seven universities move, factories shut, mines abandoned and unemployment soar. Five months ago, Ukrainian intelligence obtained documents revealing that Putin plans to spend another $12bn on development over the next three years. This is “not small money,” commented Oleksiy Reznik, former deputy prime minister, even “for the country that is basically the world’s gas station.”

These are Pyrrhic victories for Russia — but of course, Putin cares only about his own survival behind all his nationalist rhetoric. We should not dismiss the threat he poses. He invested huge sums building up and modernising his armed forces from the moment he took power — six of the first 11 decrees he passed after becoming president in 2000 concerned the military — and many of these troops are tested in battle. He has shown that he is a smart tactician and skilled spinner of lies, adroit at exploiting situations to his own advantage for short-term gain while dividing enemies.

But far from demolishing Nato and checkmating Europe, his grand strategy, pursued over more than two decades has been a dismal failure — and this is what makes him so dangerous now, capable of lashing out at Ukraine in callous disregard for the terrible damage his actions might cause.


Ian Birrell is an award-winning foreign reporter and columnist. He is also the founder, with Damon Albarn, of Africa Express.

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Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago

Russia has the 11th largest economy in the world, but this masks essentially 3rd world status. Per capita, Russia’s GDP is 72nd globally, right below Greece, Croatia, and Turkey… and right above Malaysia, Panama, and the industrial powerhouse of Khazakstan. For comparison, the only country below 40th in all of Western Europe is Spain.

Russia spends about $60B annually on their military — 3.5% of GDP. That’s certainly high by European standards (thanks for the security umbrella, America) but hardly a powerhouse. France spends $50B. Germany and the UK both spend $60B. Again, for perspective, Russia’s total military budget is twice that of Italy. This ain’t the Red Army.

Vladimir Putin is no fool. While he certainly wants to “re-establish Russia’s status and influence”, he knows full well that extending “dominance over the sovereign countries in its near abroad” is a goal not within Russia’s reach. Russia has declined to the point that exterting foreign influence is secondary to defending absolute red lines. Putin has been very clear that Ukrainian NATO membership is a red line for Russia (look at a map if you wonder why).

Considering that there is 1) no benefit to any NATO member to bringing Ukraine in, 2) no serious attempt to do so, and 3) NATO itself is imperiled by an America that’s tired of footing the bill… Joe Biden needs to admit the obvious: NATO isn’t taking in Ukraine.  A combined announcement to that effect with Johnson, Macron, and Scholz would both “Finlandize” Ukraine and call Putin’s bluff.

Last edited 2 years ago by Brian Villanueva
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

Spot on, thank you.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

Seconded

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
2 years ago

How would agreeing to his primary demand be “calling his bluff”?

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

I think they meant “force his hand”. If that is his primary demand then let him have his way: no entry into NATO for Ukraine, ever. It can have ‘special status’ and the West can arm it to the teeth which will achieve the same end.
Was Krusvhov’s ‘incursion’ into Cuba with its nuclear weapons so different in 1962. The Russians backed down then. It’s America’s turn now!

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

“The Russians backed down then”
Where did you learn that nonsense?

First the US placed Nuclear tipped, ‘Jupiter’ missiles in Turkey, close to the Soviet border.
The Soviet’s found out and thus placed their own Nuclear tipped missiles in Cuba.

Then a testosterone hiatus* which sees the Soviets very publicly withdraw their missiles from Cuba, and simultaneously, but oh so covertly, the US disarms its ‘Jupiter’ nuclear missiles in Turkey.

Thus Khrushchev has very generously allowed Kennedy to grab all the glory, whilst skilfully achieving his own aim.

Result: Nuclear Confrontation is avoided.
Khrushchev is toppled by a disgruntled Politburo, whilst Kennedy ultimately gets a bullet in the brain.
Wonderfull n’est pas?

(*The Cuban Missile Crisis.)

Rupert Steel
Rupert Steel
2 years ago

The real facts are slightly different. The short-range Jupiter missiles that had been in Turkey for some time were liquid-fuelled and obsolete. The US didn’t need them, and were therefore prepared to remove them as a quid pro quo. The Soviet problem was that they had no long-range nuclear-capable bomber fleet like the B52s, and their viable ICBMs, able to hit the US from Russia, were just 15 in number in 1962. The US had 200 missiles of this type at the time. Khrushchev surprised the US by putting Soviet short-range missiles in Cuba, which he needed to do to offset the US advantage. Once the Soviet missiles had been withdrawn from Cuba, and the Jupiters had been withdrawn from Turkey, the US retained its huge advantage. It was years before the USSR caught up. Generosity doesn’t really come in to it.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Liam, that was exactly my meaning. “Force his hand” would have been a better metaphor. I’m interested in removing any pretense for a “defensive invasion” on behalf of Russia. Agreeing to the obvious (NATO isn’t joining Ukraine) would achieve that.

Putin may invade the Donbass anyway, but I see no reason for the West to aggravate the situation by pretending that we might decide to station NATO bases on Russia’s front door.

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
2 years ago

A combined announcement to that effect
If Putin is reasonable, perhaps. Or it might just embolden him to keep rolling the dice. (Hey, it will have worked this time.)
I think it all depends on why he’s really doing this. If his goal is to shore up his control of Russia by looking strong, then given Russia’s internal problems, which will in time, un-attended to, threaten that control, in time he’ll have to do it again.
A shark doesn’t stop eating because you give it a meal; some shark species also have to keep moving forward all the time, to move water over their gills.
Noel

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Noel Chiappa

Agreed. My analysis is rooted in two things: Putin is rational, and Putin is more focused on existential threats than on foreign influence. He may be more bully than I realize, in which case this would not work.

Sarah H
Sarah H
2 years ago

I was with you til the ‘calling Putin’s bluff’ bit. It’s NATO that needs challenging as to what the hell it thinks it’s playing at.

Just checked a map. The Ukraine border is about 300 miles from Moscow. Why wouldn’t Putin be concerned by this.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Sarah H

Because the only reason Ukraine has any sort of army is because of Russian occupation of Crimea and Donbas. Solve those, and teh need to entry to NATO disappears.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

Russia is not occupying the Donbas and they have “occupied” Crimea since the Nazi’s Crimean campaign in WW2. Before that they “occupied” Crimea back to their loss in the Crimean war in the 1850s (charge of the light brigade). Before that they “occupied” Crimea back to Sevastopol’s founding under Catherine the Great in the late 1700s. But somehow the coup governmemt in Kiev is entitled to claim ownership of it

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

“Somehow,” as in a democratically-elected govt, after the head of state fled.
Personally since Crimea was the Poorest province in Ukraine, I think it would be better to give it up.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

Its economic utility lies in its Black Sea access. It may be poor, but it has ports.

Last edited 2 years ago by Brian Villanueva
David NebeskĂœ
David NebeskĂœ
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Russia IS occupying Donbas. And Crimea. And two parts of Georgia. And part of Moldova. Contra factum non valet argumentum.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Wasn’t it (Crimea) transferred from the Russian SSR account to the Ukraine SSR account back in the 1950’s as an economy measure by Khrushchev ?

James B
James B
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

The Budapest Memorandum of 1991 signed, incidentally, by Russia, guaranteed Ukraine’s sovereign borders. Including Crimea.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  James B

Just shows that such documents signed in 1991 when Russia was weak and which ignores history, create future politcal instability. A document or contract only works in the long term when both parties are happy and it can be enforced.
Finland worked from 1945 to 1991 because all parties benefited. Also Finland held back and did not help the Germans to take Leningrad which earn gratitude from the Soviets .
The West humiliated Russia from 1990 onwards until the rise in oil prices, then reduced contributions to NATO; The Germans Green closed down nuclear power; Germany has built gas pipelines and run down it’s tank and aircraft capability. EU/NATO has promoted anti Russian forces in the Ukraine and Georgia and then been unable to support these countries.
Field Marshal Smutts, who was of massive service to Churchill and Britain in WW2 said the British did not humiliate the Boers after their defeat ad did their best to heal wounds. Consequently, Smutts helped Churchill and Britain in WW2.
It is almost as if Putin has been running Western policy. He has achieved vast amounts with a very weak hand by the West make the wrong decisions. These include:-
Ukraine not becoming a Finland type country; closing down German Nuclear Power; no devlopment of shale oil and gas; no construction of Liquid Flouride Thorium Nuclear reactors, constructing gas pipelines, not paying 2% of GDP to NATO, Germany running down tank and aircraft capability, not allowing Russia to pay for Sevastopol, not returning Crimea to Russia; Ukraine not paying Russia the money it owed.
If we had a strong energy capability, independent of Russia and strong military capability with Ukraine as a Finland: there would no cause nor capability for Russia to cause trouble. Ukraine could develop as a massive food producer for North Africa and Middle East.It was the increase in the cost of food which led to the Arab Spring in North Africa.
The people of Donbas could decide to stay in Ukraine or join Russia. The population of Donbas before 1850s was minimal and those working in heavy industry was largely Russian.
At Independence, India split into three countries and then Pakistan split into two countries. Politcal leaders making decisions not supported by the people, only create long term problems.In Europe the break up of Yugoslavia is a good example. The major problem is the lack of understanding of World History, languages, customs and religions by the USA, UK and EU politicians.

Rupert Steel
Rupert Steel
2 years ago
Reply to  James B

Budapest Memorandum was executed in 1994, not 1991. Other signatories were UK and USA. In exchange for the guarantee of sovereignty, Ukraine surrendered the Soviet era nukes stationed within its borders.

James B
James B
2 years ago
Reply to  Sarah H

Why does NATO need challenging? You think they represent some kind of a threat? I think you need to put yourself in Polish, Latvian, Lithuanian or Estonian shoes.

Rupert Steel
Rupert Steel
2 years ago
Reply to  Sarah H

NATO is responding to the demands of former Soviet states and Soviet satellites. That’s what it’s playing at. See also reporting on the possible accession to NATO of long-term neutral Sweden and Finlandised Finland. Certainly within Ukraine, recent polling shows 58% of the population wishes to join NATO, and an even higher percentage aspires to join the EU. Why should either of these institutions deny the wishes of the Ukrainian people? We should be delighted that a former Soviet state, a core member of the USSR, now seeks to embrace Western values and Western institutions. It’s an extraordinary success of Western soft-power and clearly terrifying for an autocracy like Putin’s Russia. What if Russia is next? That’s what petrifies Putin, and Helmsman Xi in China too.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

That is a good argument, and quite persuasive, except that (a) if the Ukraine wishes to join and all NATO members are in favour, it would be giving Russia unwarranted power (this might be squared by choosing a term, say 10 or 20 years), (b) it is surely wrong in principle to agree to something under threat of invasion, and (c) how do you know Putin wouldn’t then find some other reason to threaten or carry out invasion, such as alleged maltreatment of ethnic Russians, always a good excuse for expansion?

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Elliott

Colin, fair objections, but I would counter this way:

A) There is absolutely no benefit to NATO to bring in Ukraine. Any member can object, and I believe the US should make a public (preferably legislatively through Congress) commitment that NATO’s roster is permanently closed or at least eastward expansion is disallowed.

B) This is international relations, not 5 year olds in a sandbox. All foreign policy by any nation is conducted under at least an implied threat of military force. “Politics is war pursued by other means.” At this point, Russia has merely moved military forces within its own country. The West insists that this is a “threat of invasion”, but Russia has not said that. Even Ukraine’s President has asked the western media to tone down this rhetoric.

C) Since Ukraine is never joining NATO, why give Putin a pretense for a “defensive invasion”. He may invade anyway, in which case there was never anything we could do about it. You’ve “given” him nothing in disallowing Ukrainian NATO membership though.

Last edited 2 years ago by Brian Villanueva
Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago

(I’m no expert in the field, but…) Over the last month or so, statements by UK and US leaders and the mainstream-media over Ukraine feel remarkably like the run-up to the 2nd Iraq war.

  • Then we were told Saddam had WMDs, 45 mins etc. No evidence. Not true.
  • This time we are told about a buildup of troops for an invasion – despite troops having been there since 2014.

I smell a rat.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Bell

Excellent point, Mike. I also lived through (and to my own disappointment, was suckered into) the Iraq war cheerleading. Ned Price’s incredulity (from the State Dept podium yesterday) that reporters wouldn’t just take his word on Russia making false-flag videos was telling. Ned is 39 years old; he was a teenager in the Iraq War runup. As a result, he doesn’t realize how much he sounds like Colin Powell at the UN in 2002.

I smell a rat too. And the rat’s name is the “military industrial complex”. All those flag officers need post retirement jobs — time to start a new war.

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

I first encountered Ian Birrell’s work here on Unherd when I read his pieces about the origin of the coronavirus. Excellent journalism and I greatly respect Mr. Birrell.
I’m not sure I’m entirely convinced by his article about Putin, though. I have no specialist knowledge about Putin and his grand strategy but my gut sense of Mr. Birrell’s article is it’s a little overdone, a little too eager to push a certain viewpoint–but, again, that’s just my sense of the piece.
The crux of the article appears to be the author’s recent visit to Ukraine where he spoke to ordinary Ukrainians and concluded the country is now anti-Putin. He might be right, but I’ve read other articles that acknowledge some Ukrainians are strongly against Putin but there’s still a solid body of support for him in that country and perhaps those people expect to prosper if Putin invades and exerts greater influence over Ukrainian life.
So far as NATO and some non-NATO members uniting against Putin, they’re certainly projecting a certain narrative in the media (very similar to Mr. Birrell’s) but it’s not clear they will take concerted action if Putin invades Ukraine.
I was also a little disturbed by the author’s euphemistic description of the Ukrainian government’s attempts to bolster its own culture. We’re told, for example, that the Ukrainian government is “fostering a cultural shift.” That sounds harmless enough until we learn: “There are laws restricting foreign content on radio and in bookstores. Schools offer pupils patriotic activities after classes finish. Russian television channels have been banned.” One could argue these are justified measures in the face of an aggressor, but those of us who live in the west know what happens when the government starts censoring speech and the media, and it’s not a shift toward greater democracy.
Maybe I’m overreacting to this article. Perhaps Mr. Birrell has delivered the truth about Putin. Search “Putin and Ukraine” on Google, however, and you’ll find twenty different articles with twenty different theories.
One thing’s for sure: within the next few weeks we’ll all learn exactly what are Putin’s intentions toward Ukraine.

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Birrell’s article is OK, although too optimistic. Putin’s self-belief, toughness, focus and ruthlessness make him a far better national leader than any of his Western competitors, and no wonder most Russians respect and follow him. He has run rings around all of his Western counterparts, including the major contender Angela Merkel, because Germany’s dependence on Russian energy makes Germany vulnerable to Putin’s threats. Led by the US, since 2000 the West has developed a hedonistic lifestyle, based on cheap money and lots of it. That’s ending now, and 2022 will be the first properly hard year for Western consumers in the lifetime of many people. In this new world, autocracies like China and Russia will benefit at the expense of Western countries whose leaders are going to look weak, ineffective and clueless. Stand by for major change and some real shocks.

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

The West will adapt and survive, just as we always have before. Putin is leading Russia backwards and into global irrelevance. It is a declining power which produces nothing useful beyond raw materials and weapons. Its demographics are terrible.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Quite right to point out the chilling aspects of Ukraine’s nationalist/anti-Russian tilt (not that it’s not understandable!). I also noted the fact that it’s illegal to “glorify dictatorial regimes”


Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

Sort of like the way it was in WW2 Britain.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

This little line jumped out for me: ”Schools offer pupils patriotic activities after classes finish.” Here in the U.S., students are being taught to despise their country and themselves. If anything remotely considered patriotic was being offered by our educational institutions, they would be called facist and howls by the usual hate-the-States crowd would be heard on the Moon.

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

So far as NATO and some non-NATO members uniting against Putin
Whether Putin’s strategy is genius or ruin will be determined by outsiders: those ‘NATO and some non-NATO’ countries of whom you speak. If they can utilize Russia’s threatening moves to bind together and stop it, they will thereby demonstrate the ill-advisiveness of his approach – to his immediate cost. If they don’t, they will show that he was right to roll the dice on his assessment of the moral weakness of those who opposed him. History records other dictators whose similar gambles have paid off – until they didn’t – or did. It was ever thus.
Noel

Dawn McD
Dawn McD
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I have read, watched, and listened to at least half a dozen different presentations of the Putin/Ukraine situation, and I still have no idea what to think. What I do know is that some big ol’ blustery saber rattling by the Biden Administration, in their own opinion, is a great way to distract everyone from their disastrous performance so far and make Biden look big and strong, when in reality he’s a doddering old man who can barely get a mumbled sentence out of his mouth.
I’m leaning heavily toward not taking the bait, mostly based on two Unsafe Space episodes this week: Dangerous Thoughts on Wednesday with Scott Horton, and Lee Stranahan’s presentation on Covfefe Break on Friday. Both still available at YouTube.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

“Admirers and appeasers of Putin — who can be found across the political spectrum — often repeat a well-worn clichĂ© that he plays chess while his foes play chequers.”
No, the point of what they are saying is that we have idiots in the West who can barely play checkers and have been making one major foreign policy blunder after another for the last twenty years. Despite what raging pundits and politicians on CNN would have you believe, the American public is absolutely against a war and why would they not be after the embarrassing disasters of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria? There was no accountability then and most of the same people are still there. What about the rest of NATO? Seriously, who cares? Have you seen anyone volunteering lately? There has been no real military commitment from its European members. Said members also seem to get really upset when American leaders remind them of their legal commitments to the organization. Many members such as Germany cannot even meet the bare minimum. Finally, no one can seem to explain why Ukraine is essential to United States interests. It is the same level of explanation we received over Syria. “Well… uh.. Assad has to go even though he is holding ISIS in check and we are currently busy trying to keep Iraq from disintegrating because… uh.. reasons.” The simple fact of the matter is the American, British, and Western European foreign policy establishments cannot be trusted to competently handle this crisis with their recent track record. If they were actually capable of playing chess, we would not be in this situation in the first place.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt Hindman
Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Great point. While America has been running around with F-22’s bombing Allah’s hillbillies into mock submission, Vladimir Putin remembered that the best military is the one you don’t need to use.

I am reminded of an Issac Asimov character from the Foundation books: “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago

More like violence when necessary is essential while violence when unnecessary is outright counterproductive and there are usually other means of accomplishing your goals. Then we get into problem number two. What are our goals, are they achievable, are they worth it, and how do we go about achieving them? Most of the last remaining cold-blooded Realists were pushed out during the Bush Administration. They were replaced by Neocons and Neoliberals who believed there was nothing you could not accomplish with massive military force and an endless supply of money. Unfortunately they are also ideological narcissists who refuse to learn from their mistakes.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt Hindman
Tom Scott
Tom Scott
2 years ago

Interesting banter, though not clear what point is. Russia has, and is using military power, including the build up on the Ukraine border.
The quote also of course applies to all incompetents.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

You imply that Putin doesn’t resort to violence, which is plainly untrue. Indeed, violence is increasingly used to keep Russians in order, let alone the citizens of his allies, and in distant states.

jules Ritchie
jules Ritchie
2 years ago

Putin has been bombing away in Afghanistan,Syria et al over decades.Now there are Russian mercenaries in African states. You are right that he hasn’t had to involve his whole army in a conflict- yet.

Tom Jennings
Tom Jennings
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Well done Matt. This needed to be said. The western democracies have chosen poorly when selecting leaders. The only thing I take issue with is the notion that Germany, in particular, cannot meet the bare minimum. Germany chooses not to. Germany reminds me of a party participant who is trying to slip away. They are edging towards the exit.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Jennings

There does indeed to be a trend whereby Western electorates make worse and worse choices, but I guess preferable to the way in which despots achieve power in other states, although it increases the danger to which they are exposed is increasing.

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Jennings

That is exactly my point. Western Europe howls at the United States to keep supporting NATO because it is oh so important. When it comes to their support of NATO they care little. Germany could easily meet the generous requirement, but they choose not to. Why it is almost as if they want the appearance of strength, but will crumble if any actual conflict arises. Interestingly, it is the Eastern European, former Soviet Bloc countries who reliably meet their obligations to NATO.

Last edited 2 years ago by Matt Hindman
Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

You aren’t supposed to look behind the curtain

Dustin Needle
Dustin Needle
2 years ago
Reply to  Matt Hindman

Clinton’s threat to confront Putin over Syria, and the voters reaction to that, was remarkably under-reported in media ‘analysis’ of the 2016 election.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago

Have we forgotten that Putin is the spawn of the KGB?*From the age of 23 he was suckled from the teats of one of the vilest organisations ever to besmirch the Planet.

Together with its predecessors the NKVD, GPU & Cheka** its propensity for barbarism equaled that of both the Gestapo & the SS, although falling short of Chinese standards.

You may take a man from the KGB, but never the KGB from the man. We are deluding ourselves if we think differently.

(*As was his father, in the NKVD.)

(** And numerous others.)

Giles Chance
Giles Chance
2 years ago

I don’t think that the CIA is any better than the KGB.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

I would say that whilst the KGB/NKVD has slaughtered its millions, the CIA has slaughtered its hundred of thousands.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
2 years ago
Reply to  Giles Chance

The Cheka has murdered 66 M between 1918 and 1956, the CIA has not. Read V Shalamov and Solzhenitsyn for the horrors of the USSR Gulag.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Thank you for that.I was too idle to reply!

Tom Jennings
Tom Jennings
2 years ago

It might be worth reflecting on Putin’s early years. There is an expression that was once in vogue “You are what you were when”.
In Putin’s case, he was born Oct 1952 in Leningrad. Leningrad had been under German siege from Sep 1941 until Jan 1944 for some 872 days. As many as 1.3 million Russian civilians died in the siege. Another 700,000(more or less) Russian soldiers died. The German plan was to seal off the city and starve it.
I am no historian but suspect that Leningrad was still reeling from this during Putin’s formative years. I leave it to your imagination to quantify anti-German sentiment during this period.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom Jennings

Well it looks as if he is to get his revenge thanks to Germany’s idiotic decision to warm itself on Russian gas.
Odd how when it comes to really titanic decisions, you can be almost certain that the Germans will get it wrong!
1914, 1939, ‘Dieselgate’ for example.

Last edited 2 years ago by SULPICIA LEPIDINA
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 years ago

This article tallies with my own layman’s view that Putin ain’t a strategic genius. He’s got a poor hand and everyone knows it, his only ace being energy as he’ll never use the nukes.
Russia reminds me of the last desperate death throes of the Ottoman Empire, struggling to keep its territories as it fell further and further behind the west and Russia. It could still inflict pain on its boundaries but the writing of its decline was on the wall. We’re nearing the end game for Russia as a relevant global force, and in twenty years or so, in the absence of a replacement dictator like Putin, it might even break up into smaller states based on ethnic concentrations, like Yugoslavia after Tito.
With his limited hand, he should have taken the whole of Ukraine in 2014, but missed that open goal. Having failed to spot that opportunity, this year he should have got Nordstream 2 up and running, and then exploited Europe’s energy stupidity before he threatened Ukraine next year.
He’s no strategic genius, just a desperate dictator who knows he’s fighting the dying of Russia’s light.

Ruth Ross
Ruth Ross
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

I agree with your take on this situation. Plus, I do not believe he has support domestically because of his horrific, murderous response to any up and coming Russian Opposition Leader and for keeping his country poor through massive spending on foreign wars.

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Indeed. And he has now marched his troops to the top of the hill. All the West needs to do now is nothing – ignore all the ridiculous requests, threats and bluster. If he invades Ukraine. he loses – it will be a ruinously expensive victory and reunite NATO. If he backs down, he loses. He’s backed himself into a corner.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

“But far from demolishing Nato and checkmating Europe, his grand strategy, pursued over more than two decades has been a dismal failure”

It seemed he showed how dis-unified and cowardly Pacifist European Nations are. Watching Biden bluster was not making USA look really frightening.

I think he may have taken a couple of the Wests checkers by a gambit with his Bishop and Knight.

But then who knows, it never seemed real from the start, but maybe it is…..

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago

I’m surprised at the lack of mention in this article of what is surely Russia’s biggest geopolitical move of late: Putin’s strategic alliance with President Xi and his genocidal CCP regime. You only need to go onto rt.com and try to find a negative article about China. The propoganda machine already got the memo – the Chinese can do no wrong for the moment.
It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that Russia, on its own, cannot hope to exert much geopolitical influence. But Russia and China together, against an increasingly fractured alliance of Wester countries, start to look like a Risk play who just got the bonus troops for controlling the Asian continent.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

This is a shrewd move on Mr Putin’s part. Russia has a long border with China, and really needs to keep her sweet so Putin can concentrate on the West, and China can use Russia to push the US, in particular. However, I don’t think China wants to be involved in a shooting war as she also needs to continue trading with the West. Ma be Russia can get China’s support in the UN, but other than that I think it’s only a matter of Putin keeping peace on his eastern border.

Noel Chiappa
Noel Chiappa
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Putin’s strategic alliance with President Xi and his genocidal CCP regime.
I actually wonder if the Chine are playing a double-bank shot here. If Putin succeeds, great, but if he stumbles, they may be able to profit.
I have also wondered if they will move in Putin’s slipstream, if he moves. The West will find it difficult to respond to a Chinese move on Taiwan if they are already busy dealing with a Russian move on Ukraine.
And, needless to say, losing Taiwan would have a much larger impact on the West than losing Taiwan would, given how much of the West’s semi-conductors come from Taiwan.
Noel

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Noel Chiappa

Could you rephrase your final sentence please? It is incomprehensible as it stands.

Peter B
Peter B
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

This is no more a real “alliance” than the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was. Short term convenience only. Russia and China are not natural allies.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter B

Can you explain why they are not natural allies?

Sarah H
Sarah H
2 years ago

I’m with Peter Hitchens. Putin has no ideology and no plan to reconstruct the USSR or Russian Empire. He is not mounting an invasion. He is mounting a defence against NATO aggression as the UK would if Ireland proposed to host Russian troops. This is all NATO. NATO was organised to fight the USSR which no longer exists Large swathes of it are independent and Russia has had to let them go, sometimes reluctantly but it has done so. Russia is not the USSR but all we hear are endless ‘it must be the Russians’ stories. Russia is not Czechoslovakia. The job creation scheme that is NATO keeps pushing Eastward. Why? asks Putin. No answer. The West has no business in being in Kiev. It’s far away and Russia’s backyard. Does it want to destroy Russia? Why? It would have great cost and unclear gain. Theatre. Distraction. Domestic consumption.

Crimea was Russian under Empire and soviets not Ukrainian. Its move to Ukraine was administrative convenience in USSR context. Putin took it back when the NATO threat in Ukraine became apparent.

On a practical point, the British Army is falling below 100k Dunno what we are huffing and puffing about in what dream world.

I’m tired of this baseless pumped up rhetoric channelled out by Western security services to willing purveyors.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Sarah H

Just give Crimea and Donbas back, and there is no need for Ukraine to join NATO.
Simples.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

Russia isn’t occupying the Donbas. The Russians have “occupied” Crimea since the last 1700s. Minus two brief war loses. Crimean War and WW2. Because the US organized a coup and the coup government claimed Russia had to leave regardless of their lease and agreements… Russia said no. We are staying and took Crimea inti Russia where it belongs

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Indeed. A “coup” that brought a quarter of a million Ukrainians on the street. And only succeeded because the head of state fled after his minions killed 100.
Yes, that “coup.”

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Logan
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Sarah H

Talking of the tiny British Army, were you aware that Ben Wallace* has decreed that next week the Army is to spend one whole day discussing & reflecting on ‘diversity & inclusion’?
That time would have been better spent on discussing ‘fire control’ which was frankly abysmal in both Iraq & Afghanistan.

(* Minister of Defence, late Scots Guards.)

James B
James B
2 years ago
Reply to  Sarah H

I really must take issue with your line on ‘NATO aggression’. The people of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia might disagree. Do you think they joined NATO for offensive reasons?

Aidan Trimble
Aidan Trimble
2 years ago
Reply to  James B

Thank you James. I’m glad its not just me.

Aidan Trimble
Aidan Trimble
2 years ago
Reply to  Sarah H

I find this repeated mealy mouthed defence of a murderous dictator’s actions nauseating.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

Now it seems to me that if one wants to prevent Putin from going into Ukraine, all one has to do is agree that Ukraine won’t become part of NATO. As far as I can see that’s all he’s asking for, and so far the US has refused to provide that assurance. Putin/Russia’s request is not exactly unreasonable given the history of the 20th century, and further we know exactly what type of response the US would have if Russia installed nukes in Cuba, as we have already experienced that crisis back in the early 60s. Personally I think the US response is shortsighted because the truth of the matter is that nobody is going to sacrifice blood and treasure for Ukraine and be drawn into some massive continental war. Not just that, Russia may have a low GDP per capita, but it has enough nukes to blow Europe and the US to kingdom come many times over, so that any military confrontation with Russia is really unthinkable and more importantly unwinnable. Not only that, the Russian military don’t have their hands tied behind their backs with extensive rules of engagement as the US does. No wonder the US keeps loosing wars despite having the strongest military on the planet.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Do you really believe that Russia could actually hit the continental United States with a Nuclear weapon before it had itself been destroyed by the 14 USN Ohio class submarines?

I think it highly unlikely, however Europe would not be so fortunate and would probably be vaporised.

As to “no wonder the US keeps loosing wars”, these were minor affairs, little more than ‘live firing’ exercises. When it comes to the ‘big one’ the US will undoubtedly triumph, as it has done twice before.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

Actually Russia is now capable of hitting the US, before the US could even lift a finger. That’s because they have just developed, tested, and placed in their arsenal hypersonic missiles. probably a good idea to be up to date before making comments regarding the invulnerability of the US to nuclear attack.

Aidan Trimble
Aidan Trimble
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Why should anyone dictate to a sovereign country what organisations it can or can’t join ? Does kowtowing to a malevolent dictator trump a democracy’s wishes ?

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Aidan Trimble

For the simple reason that countries have to live in the real world and not in some make belief world. While people in the West may think they are so enlightened that they can operate beyond history, the truth is that countries will look after their itnerests, and if Russia considers the presence of NATO in Ukraine to be an existential threat, as they have stated many times, they will act upon it, as indeed they have.

Mike Bell
Mike Bell
2 years ago

Not a comment specific to this article, but I just want to say a big ‘Thank you’ to those who have setup and run UnHerd. It really is a delight to not only read some great articles, but to then read the range and quality of the written comments.

Tom Scott
Tom Scott
2 years ago

It seems to me that the public defeat of a Ukranian defence is one thing, however the defeat of an international coalition, however small, is another.
The more allies who step up to the plate, the more difficult it becomes for Putin, not only militarily but polically.

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago

Russia only “intervened” in Syria when the Tory government reversed the 2013 Coalition decision to stay out of Syria. That decision had this knock-0n effect of bringing Russia into the conflict.
We avoided the Vietnam war because there were enough political voices against imposing Western values on countries with different cultures, religions and histories and we should be wary of getting involved in the Ukraine conflict. Unfortunately the public voice is always drowned out by the powerful demands of those who feel superior and want to impose their will.
As can be seen at the Olympic Games, citizens of every country compete ferociously, without rancour The same happens in the World Cup.. I was in St. Petersburg when the World Cup was played there and it was a revelation to see the harmony and happiness in the streets among the fans and teams. War against Russia would not be supported in the country, most people preferring diplomacy to conflict
In a democracy those voices should be heard and respected…

Rob Britton
Rob Britton
2 years ago

Rather than showing how united Europe is Putin has actually shown how divided it is and how eviscerated the continent is in the face of Russian aggression.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago

Yeah, well in your dreams. I take more notice of Putin’s tanks than I do of the EU’s “soft power”. 5000 helmets indeed. What next? a consignment of fluffy bunnies? By the way, Putin has his foot on the EUs gas supplies. I wonder who didn’t see that coming down the line. Give me Putin’s cards and even I could win this game.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Terry Needham

Might want to check the temperature in Berlin for the next 14 days.
Well above freezing every day.
Putin forgot to calculate for global warming.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

You have a dry wit

Alex Tickell
Alex Tickell
2 years ago

I think it is all very simple, having read quite a bit about Mr Putin lately. As in every other developed area of the world, the lines are now drawn on social issues and the Western Wokies have shown how much damage can be achieved by the undermining of social norms.
Putin reminds me of the little Dutch boy with his finger in a metaphorical d**e(if you’ll pardon the expression), who will not allow the contamination to flood into Russia and effect a nation, which still in the 21st century, retains many spiritual and social values which compliment nationhood family and most of what is good in humanity. These values have become to us in the West, like a dream of summer in an eternal winter.

Last edited 2 years ago by Alex Tickell
Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Alex Tickell

The only “spiritual and social values” in today’s Russia come from Putin’s spy services. It’s all built around a clownish version of the Soviet Union’s horrendous experience in WW2.
If you think “spiritual and social values” involves crushing all dissent, well, Putin’s Russia is the place for you.

Alex Tickell
Alex Tickell
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

As I live is Scotland, I know very well that the crushing of dissent is not just the prerogative of leaders like Mr Putin.
Mss Sturgeon practises the art to perfection and seems, in partnership with the Scottish Greens, intent on the destruction of democracy and the erasure of biological fact.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
2 years ago

At last an article to counter the, frankly, proto fascist, comments on here in the past few weeks admiring this weasel. The West is free- to vote in chumps and charlatans like Trump and Johnson and rue our own failings but that’s the point. Post Empire, the UK is self flagellating far far too much via wokery but we’re certainly not trying to recreate the Empire! Sadly some of this Russian frame of mind won’t go away. Choosing Orthodoxy, with its idea that suffering is good for you and choosing Cyrillic, set up cultural barriers and the Mongol yoke and other invasions created a mindset of suspicion, resentment and constant see sawing about European identity or being ‘savage Asiatics’. It’s hard to imagine living in a country that’s never had a functioning democracy. Ever. Now it’s a corrupt gangster run state at all levels with average wages of $15k or so. To keep this all tottering along persuading Russians that better times are ahead needs constant lying and distraction. Just one cultural example. The ‘Russian bride’ phenomenon. You live in a crumbling ex soviet block; you’re probably divorced; many men are drunks or heavy smokers and often violent and die in their 50s in high numbers. You live in the back of beyond like Krasnoyarsk or commute 3 hrs in hopeless traffic in Moscow. You want out! Of course we have plenty of the above in the West but there isn’t any urge to emigrate to Russia! Finally Putin looks over his left shoulder and sees China relegating Russia to irrelevance.

Alex Tickell
Alex Tickell
2 years ago
Reply to  Terence Fitch

The social disintegration of the West has in real terms just begun. Putin is struggling against ALL odds to improve living standards in a way which is sustainable, from an extremely low threshold.
We have come to expect instant remedies to economic problems as part of the mad equality agenda which came into vogue twenty years ago and now as social norms begin to come under attack, we stand transfixed and afraid to voice any opposition…..and that in a supposedly free, democratic nation.
Does that not give pause for even a moments thought?
There IS love in Putin’s heart but it is Hard Love

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago

“The Kremlin’s strategy: to end the United States’s global hegemony, drive a wedge between Washington and Europe, become the pre-eminent power on our continent and “re-establish Russia’s de facto control over as much of the former Soviet Union and its sphere of influence as possible”
What a depressing choice for Europe

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago

Finally, a clear-eyed assessment of reality.
The simple fact is: Putin lost Ukraine in 2014, and since then, his every comical effort to exert pressure on the West and Ukraine has ended in failure.
His efforts in Syria have done nothing for Russia, and certainly haven’t brought Ukraine closer. A devastated Syria provides Russia with zero benefits. The Libya gambit failed thru Erdogan’s drones. Putin’s client, Armenia, just lost a war to Erdogan’s ally, Azerbaijan. The various Africa adventures are so insignificant that most western observers could care less.
Most important, one doesn’t create a great nation with a stagnant economy and a falling birthrate.
If you like “strong” people, fine. Worship Putin all you want. But this is just another KGB/FSB “special operation.” It’s only designed to keep Putin in power until he dies.
Then, after he goes, we will find that Russia has only been set up for one more of its spectacular collapses.
Sit back, eat the popcorn, and enjoy.

Last edited 2 years ago by Martin Logan
Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

A volitile Middle East increases the price of oil, which benefits Russia. Putin’s goal in the Middle East is chaos. The more chaos which threatens oil production in the Middle East, the mor revenue Putin can expect from Russian oil and natural gas sales.

Simon Diggins
Simon Diggins
2 years ago

Over 50% of chess games end in a draw so, even if he is playing chess, rather than chequers/draughts, he is unlikely to win; he knows this. We do need to ensure we provide no stupid opening that he can pour thorough, so rhetoric and actions need to be aligned and we need to ‘castle’. Therefore: militarily reinforcing Eastern Europe, extending credit lines to Ukraine, stockpiling food and energy supplies to neutralise his advantages; all help to make it clear that a draw is the most likely outcome, so how do we get there?

This particular contest is definitely ad hominem and so playing the man not the game is the way ahead. Putin is smart and ruthless but not a fool: the effort should be about giving him a personal off-ramp, not necessarily about solving a major geo-political riddle. When was the last time there was a President to President summit? How can we better remember Russian sacrifices in WW2? Is he regularly consulted about matters non-Ukraine or ‘left out in the cold?’

It will be in no-one’s interest for this conflict to get worse; we need to find ways to help President Putin personally to ‘declare victory’ and pack-up the tents.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
2 years ago

I think the reminder that the initial trigger for Russian worries wasn’t NATO expanding but EU statements about giving Ukraine special *fast track* status as a lead in to joining the EU. The Russian fear was if that, then Nato membership would soon follow.
These days this blundering by the EU is hardly ever mentioned and the ‘blame’ put onto NATO, when it’s NATO having to clean up a mess that began with miscalculation in Brussels.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
2 years ago

Compared to the CCP’s strategy of playing on the greed of Western elites, Putin’s strategy of threatening military aggression is a failure.
However give him some credit. He has persuaded plenty of idiots that at heart he is still a socialist despite him having stolen billions from his own people.

Samir Iker
Samir Iker
2 years ago

This didn’t age well at all.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago

The evil Russians are coming! The evil Russians are coming! Any second! Oh look how powerful we are! Our resolve scared them off!

Earl King
Earl King
2 years ago

Putin doesn’t care one wit about his citizens not deaths of his soldiers…..only power, prestige and international standing. Putin is too stupid to understand that China is as much a threat to him as the US is. If Putin relies too much on China, gets in to bed with them he’ll be the puppet on the end of their strings. China has global domination in their heads. Control of the worlds markets. Military, High Tech, natural resources. Putin is a convenient partner to weaken the West and specifically the US.
He has already succeeded. The alliance is in trouble. Germany is a weak and unreliable partner. Why did they get in to bed with Putin who know threatens them with withholding natural gas. Whatever their global green initiatives are they have proven feckless. They are now beholden to carbon producer.

Peter Mott
Peter Mott
2 years ago

According to this (via Google translate) Putin lost the 2nd Chechen war and had to install a Chechen terrorist (Ramzan Kadryov) as boss: https://twitter.com/YLatynina/status/1489299443493003265?s=20&t=G7zmPLjD6bUX9Ij1WH5W5w

john zac
john zac
2 years ago

NATO wants a corrupt state help up by fascist thugs?

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  john zac

NATO are the fascist thugs

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

Oh yes, I see their Nazi armbands every time they hold a parade.
The Belgians are teh worst of all.

James B
James B
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

How exactly?

M. Gatt
M. Gatt
2 years ago

Putin should strike now. Consolidate his territory while he has the opportunity. Not that I favour that. But if he lets this chance slip by….its gone forever. See what happens.

James B
James B
2 years ago

An excellent article, thank you. I am regularly in Ukraine and the piece is accurate in its findings. I would, however, add a proviso. Corruption is so endemic in Ukraine that, soon, she will lose the sympathy and support of the West and any moral arguments thereof. The people of Ukraine do indeed love their country but despise, with good reason, their government. They have over and again voted for change, greater Western ties and accountable government – they have been utterly deceived. This latest wake-up call will be ignored by Zelensky and his cronies and Russia will be again rattling its sabres in the nearest future.

Last edited 2 years ago by James B
LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
2 years ago

Thanks, Ian, for your report.

David Woolley
David Woolley
2 years ago

Putin’s grand plan has already succeeded. His theft of Crimea, Donbas and Transnistria has been ratified by the West’s present protests that he’s threatening to take more. Don’t forget Transnistria, the sliver of Moldavia that faces east, and allows the successor to the 14th Tank Guards Army to stroll upwards and onwards into Ki’iv or Dnipro, or along the Black Sea coast to Kerch any time it wants. But he’s already got ratification in effect of his prior land thefts without any need for military action.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  David Woolley

Wasn’t that 14th Guards Army?
No mention of ‘Tank’ probably because all its Divisions were Motor Rifle ones?

Snake Oil Cat
Snake Oil Cat
2 years ago

Russia doesn’t have to be the richest or most powerful nation on earth to dismantle Western democracy. It can be accomplished with far more modest resources.
Our problems in this regard date back to Bill Gates, when he designed the operating system that powers the world’s computers, failing to build in simple checks that, whenever a piece of data is about to be written to a computer’s memory, it’s actually going to fit into the space set aside for it. Hence the “buffer overflow vulnerabilities” that are behind most bugs and viruses, and why computer technology developed almost entirely in the West and Japan is able to be manipulated by such relatively backward countries as Russia and North Korea. And as we have become totally dependent on it, so are our societies being manipulated.
It has taken minimal expenditure to strip the EU of one of its largest most influential members and destroy the American people’s faith in the democratic process. Authoritarian politics has been re-established throughout eastern Europe, and so Putin gets his way.

R Wright
R Wright
2 years ago
Reply to  Snake Oil Cat

Are you suggesting that Brexit was a Russian plot?

Dave Patterson
Dave Patterson
2 years ago

this is fruit loops, the US has been the aggressor against Russia since 1918, really, and still are – Putin has no ‘grand strategy’ other than defending his country from further US damage. Why don’t you get someone intelligent with their feet on the ground to write about this, someone like Alex Mercouris from the Duran, for instance – or a debate between this US fantasy propagandist and him might be interesting, although it’s unlikely your writer would dare.

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Dave Patterson

“Defending his country”–by invading another?
Rather strange logic.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

How do you “invade” a territory you have controlled for decades? And had a lease on until 2042 and a promise to renew indefinitely since this was the agreement when the USSR broke up

Martin Logan
Martin Logan
2 years ago
Reply to  Dennis Boylon

I fear the lease was for the BASE, not the peninsula.
As I said, taking Crimea was his worst mistake. It lost him Ukraine, and he will never get it back.

David NebeskĂœ
David NebeskĂœ
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

Russian login. Or rather Russian war propaganda.

SULPICIA LEPIDINA
SULPICIA LEPIDINA
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Logan

Surely Israel is the master of that?

jules Ritchie
jules Ritchie
2 years ago
Reply to  Dave Patterson

Is this the infamous Mercouris, disbarred in 2012 after he made serious misrepresentations to his client and who went on to re-invent himself as a Russia expert? I think the ‘fantasist’ roles might need reversing. You might be holding to a belief in the debating skills of Mercouris that he just might not have if faced with a well-informed and experienced journalist. You will agree or disagree with Ian Birrell’s views but they are still well founded.