How to draw the war closer to its end
Kremlin (Photo:Michael Parulava / Unsplash)
People of different, nationalities, professions, and levels of influence have been looking for an end to the war every day, not just since the beginning of Russia's large-scale invasion of Ukraine, but since the first major Ukrainian defeat at Ilovaisk in the summer of 2014.
And lately, endlessly discussing the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive, they sometimes even arrive at an answer.
For example, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, sees the process as follows: Crimea must be de-occupied or taken under Ukrainian control. Donbas will be liberated, and then Russian dictator Vladimir Putin will leave. Because Russia completely destroyed Eastern Ukraine during the war, its only strategic value is as a land bridge to Crimea.
He is joined by Canadian journalist and political scientist Diane Francis. She no longer entertains making predictions but confidently says Russia in its present form will not last long. Putin has already realized what he has done – sending his state into a free fall – so he is ready to cut and run. He is just waiting for the right moment to “sell” the defeat as a victory.
I am presenting the most common opinions and conclusions, which in some form are then repeated by Ukrainian opinion leaders, even if they belong to different political camps. However, another view should be added here, which is extremely popular in Ukraine. It is voiced repeatedly by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, members of his team, as well as social media opinion makers and ordinary users. It’s centered around a sincere belief: Russia is one step away from collapse, Ukraine’s Armed Forces will usher in the empire’s collapse, and the war will end shortly afterwards.
However, none of these mainstream scenarios reflect what many in wartime Ukraine have grown to think. And we’re not talking about suggestions that Russia (and Belarus) must be occupied militarily, the Kremlin – along with Lenin’s mummified corpse – is to be razed, and that Ukraine deserves to hold a victory parade on the Red Square. Sorry, but these delusions should be treated psychiatrically. I’m talking about the aspirations of another, perfectly reasonable group of people.
That is, peace is a military victory over Russia.
Each of them wants to bring peace closer. But the first sees a path through to victory. The liberation of the occupied territories, the restoration of the borders as of 1991, the punishment of the guilty, a fair trial, and the collection of reparations.
The second group is still not ready to accept Russia as a defeated enemy. For them, the war with Russia is not a tragedy but a political, cultural, and linguistic misunderstanding. They either try to insulate themselves from the war or – when Russia bombs their cities – they blame the mythical Lviv nationalists for it, because they are responsible for everything in imposing their Westernization. For such people, peace means a cessation of hostilities, negotiations with the aggressor, mutual apologies, and, finally, the resumption of concerts by Russian pop stars at Ukrainian venues.
Both groups contain not just Ukrainian citizens who live within the Ukrainian borders. Politicians, cultural figures, opinion leaders, and most importantly, ordinary citizens of Eastern, Northern, Southern, Western, and Central European countries, as well as the United States and Canada, are equally divided on what victory means, and, therefore, what peace looks like. Unequivocal acceptance and declaration of democratic values and condemnation of the war coincide with support for Ukraine. But others have a longstanding, bizarre, irrational support for Russia. Predictions about Ukraine's inability to win, apocalyptic expectations of what will come with Russia's collapse, and calls for us to put up with a much stronger neighbor are not always paid for from the Russian federal budget.
Political scientist Vadym Denysenko published a book titled How to Destroy the Russian World. He is the executive director of the Ukrainian Institute for the Future, so his predictions are worth listening to. We have known each other personally for a long time but do not exchange the ideas like this so often. Therefore, it is nice to read that a professional researcher's predictions about Russia's future correspond with mine. And the most essential takeaway is in the assertion that Russia will not collapse the same way USSR did.
The collapse of Russia will not bring the war's end closer, because such a process is impossible. Accordingly, the end of the war will not bring the withdrawal of Russian troops from our territory any closer. Only occupation can pacify the aggressor, and only with the participation of multiple different armies, given how huge of a country Russia is. The comparison with Nazi Germany is obvious. But that won't happen either. The West is still confident that Putin will ultimately press the nuclear button. And in general, contemplating the occupation of hostile countries is very much passe in the 21st century.
Therefore, we are faced with a list of disappointing conclusions. First, it will not be possible to eject invading troops from the whole of Ukraine in a month, as it was done around Kyiv last year. The enemy is a quick learner, resourceful, and has motivated allies, as evidenced by continued air strikes on Ukrainian cities. The collapse of Russia is improbable. As is a palace coup. Even if Putin dies, others like him will carry on. The Russian people support the war. Occupation is impossible. So, the grim truth is that there is no clear path for the war to end.
But let's return to Denysenko's book. He convincingly proves that the prerequisites for endless wars of aggression can be found in the ideology of the “Russian World,” laid down by Ivan the Terrible, developed by Peter I, picked up by Nicholas II, and almost lost by the founders of the USSR. It fell apart because Ukraine, Moldova, the Baltic states, and the Caucasus had the status of union republics, not federal districts of the Russian Federation. They existed in different forms but kept a kind of their own identity. In contrast, Putin's Russia is capable, following the example of the tsars, only to absorb. Once absorbed, a territory becomes a part of the “Russian World.”
In one of the final episodes of the Soviet TV show Seventeen Moments of Spring, Gestapo chief Heinrich Müller gives perhaps the greatest monologue in the series. Its essence is this: Nazism will be reborn, once someone somewhere says “heil” instead of “hello.” The “Russian World,” already defined in Ukraine by the term Ruscism, has precisely the same capacity for regeneration and perseverance.
Wherever there is corruption, there is the Russian World. The Russian World lives wherever the formula "For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the law" applies. Wherever environmental protection is not taken care of, nature reserves are littered with garbage and endangered animals are killed for fun, the Russian World has taken root. Where there are representatives of Russia at festivals who sell themselves as “good Russians” – Russian World is there. Another Western adaptation of Tolstoy or a theatrical production of a play by any Russian playwright, a tour of Russian artists, and invitations of Russian authors to Western literary festivals means a creeping expansion of the Russian World. The expansion of everything ugly, aggressive, murderous, and barbaric.
Therefore, the destruction of the Kremlin or Putin’s death will not bring victory closer. Nor will the occupation of Russia and complete de-occupation of Ukraine. Victory and further stable peace are possible only under the conditions of the total destruction of the Russian World beyond the borders of Russia, together with its foundation. Russia should not have support at any level in any self-respecting country. Otherwise, sooner or later, the adepts of the Russian World will invoke Putin and stab their country in the back. Whatever that country may be called.
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