Vladimir Putin has so many motives for his actions against Ukraine that it is often the case that those watching him fail to see the forest for the trees and focus on dealing with one or another of them rather than recognizing what they are all directed toward, Aleksandr Skobov says.
But a consideration of them collectively shows that what Putin is about is not just subordinating Ukraine to his will but forcing the West to recognize his power and right to do so, a recognition that would represent a far greater victory for the Kremlin leader because it would destroy the current rules of the international system and even the West’s role in it.
And ultimately this means that the continued existence of the Putin regime and the international system are mutually exclusive, either one will succeed or the other, and thus what may look like just one problem among many is in fact an existential question for both the Kremlin and the West.
Putin may go to war in Ukraine or he may decide he has already “won without war” now that US President Joe Biden has agreed to talk with him about arrangements, Skobov says. Or alternatively, he may decide that having forced the Western leader to the negotiating table, now is the time to double down and push even harder militarily.
What must be recognized in the current situation is that it is “impossible in principle” to achieve any serious compromise between the survival of Ukraine as an independent state within the international system and Putin’s desire to subordinate it to a Russian imperial system that will give Moscow the last word on all decisions in Kyiv.
And what is equally important for the West to recognize is that Putin not only wants to achieve that subordination of Ukraine but wants to force the rest of the world and above all the West to recognize that he has the power and right to do so and will continue on that road unless and until someone stops him.
In this, Skobov argues,
…it is a mistake to think that Putin and his entourage are making risk-benefit calculations like those in Western capitals.
Yes, they engage in an “imitation” of this, but their underlying drive to empire and to a world in which they do not have to live by any rules other than those they set regularly overwhelms such considerations.
Putin’s focus “on the destruction of the world legal order arises from the very character of the new ruling class which has taken shape in post-totalitarian Russia,” the analyst says. It reflects the values of the streets and yards of Leningrad/St. Petersburg from which Putin and his core advisors come.
Because of globalization, it was inevitable that their values that everything they want to do is permissible would clash with a world based on the principle that law and not just brute force determines what can be done.
Acting as if this fundamental contradiction does not exist works to the benefit of Putin and his team.
That is because it means that the West tries to solve each individual issue in isolation and does not see that the Kremlin’s moves in Ukraine and elsewhere are part of a larger plan designed to sow chaos and disorder so that by an act of will, Moscow can gain power despite its much diminished position in the world.
Sometimes addressing partial questions will delay Putin from using force but it will only postpone and not end them.
No agreement that leaves Putin’s regime in place will change the fundamental goals and calculations of either its leader or of those who execute his orders, Skobov argues.
In such a situation, delaying the start of a battle is appropriate only if the opponents of the lawless regime in Moscow use the time to build up their strength in order to be able to oust that regime. Otherwise, Putin will in salami tactics fashion pocket one victory after another, and the West will find itself marginalized and defeated.
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Tags: criminalization of Russian state, Russia's confrontation with the West, Russian aggression, Russian geopolitical strategy, Russian imperialism, Russian military strategy, Russian neocolonialism, Russo-Ukrainian War (2014-present)