A year ago, nobody in Russia demanded a forcible ‘reunification’ of Crimea with Russia. No one, except for some marginal political groups, wanted tanks in the Donbas and a war against Ukraine. And in Ukraine itself, whatever the tense relations of political forces, the violence was limited to fights in the Verkhovna Rada. And now this bad dream became a reality.
“Never before has a Russian soldier been an occupier, and now this happened again” – this is how a friend of mine paraphrased a famous phrase by [former Russia’s Prime Minister] Viktor Chernomyrdin.
If one tries hard, one can imagine that it was impossible or at least difficult to avoid the Russian-Georgian war of 2008. That short war can be seen as a continuation of a long old conflict where Russia may have only been one of several instigators along with, for example, the really existing Ossetian separatists. For a moment, we can imagine that it was so.
The war in eastern Ukraine is different. It was inflamed by propaganda within just a few months completely from scratch, without any objective reasons for it. It is possible that a certain person’s emotions about Euromaidan [the Ukrainian revolution of 2014] have played a role. The Euromaidan marked the failure of already the second, following 2004, attempt to impose a post-Soviet authoritarian regime on Ukraine. And this is the particular tragedy of the current events.
Russia has no chance to win this war. Even if we imagine that “Novorossiya” [New Russia, a term pro-Moscow separatists use for their territory] stretches to the Dnieper or that Russia legally recognises another “South Ossetia”, with a capital in Donetsk, it would firstly mean a guerrilla war in the rear of the Russians.
Look at the morale of the people in Mariupol or at the “safari” organised by a few elder veterans of the Soviet Army from Kharkiv in the war zone. All the enthusiasm of the Maidan is now directed against Putin’s Russia.
In the apt definition of one Ukrainian commander, the present Russian-Ukrainian war is a war between the Russian state (with a paralysed Russian society) against the Ukrainian society (with a paralysed Ukrainian state). The motivation of Ukrainians is the struggle for national liberation.
Secondly, if Russia does not stop its attack on Ukraine, the West will start a “cold war” against Russia.
And this is a war the West had once already fought and won. Moreover, the last time its enemy was the mighty and militarised Soviet bloc, and not just one single corrupt regional raw materials producing country with a much weaker military and economic potential, than those of the Soviet Union; and with a population that has no serious ideological motivation to fight against the West. A population, which, in addition, will be becoming more sober as soon as more simple Russian soldiers get killed in the war in Ukraine.
It is already clear that Western sanctions against Russia are likely to be expanded and even stronger hit the Russian economy, which was on the verge of crisis already at the beginning of 2014.
In addition to the sanctions, Russia’s economy has already become burdened with having to support the unstable economy ofCrimea and with increased military spending.
Even if the separatist “Novorossiya” survives, the financing of this entity will also come at cost of the Russian state budget.
Therefore the path Russia has taken now leads to sanctions, followed by defeat in the war and an economic crisis, followed by a political crisis.
The only questions are timing and severity – the longer it will last, the worse will be the likely consequences.
Russia can’t stand this senseless and pointless colonial war. I do not remember whether they ever gave a Darwin Award to a whole country – but we are witnessing the emergence of a worthy contender for this.
What’s all this for Belarus? There are risks – if under euphoria or despair the Kremlin decides to finally carry out the Anschluss of Belarus. But there are also opportunities, if the current ruling elites of Belarus understand the threat of being annexed and will start a productive dialogue with the West. In any case, Belarus – and today both the society and Lukashenka are “in the same boat” as never before – has a chance to get out of isolation and to end a long period if post-Soviet stagnation.
And it’s more good than bad.