Russian President Vladimir Putin checks his watch before a news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron February 7, 2022 in Moscow, Russia.
Thibault Camus | Reuters
If we have learned anything about President Vladimir Putin in the 22 or so years he has been in power in Russia, it is that he has systematically and repeatedly sought to weaken and undermine the West.
But with his invasion of Ukraine, he appears to have achieved just the opposite, managing to unite most of the international community in his condemnation of Russia’s aggression against his neighbor.
“NATO is united – more than at any time since the collapse of the Soviet Union – with a renewed sense of purpose and mission,” commented this week Ian Bemmer, president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.
“This also applies to the European Union: Germany supports ending its economic dependence on Russia and almost doubles its defense spending; France is on board…even Moscow-leaning Hungary has condemned the invasion, endorsing a crippling sanctions regime and allowing in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees,” Bremmer said in emailed comments on Monday.
The West is used to Russia behaving like a “malicious actor” on the global stage, with its interference in democratic processes such as its interference in the 2016 US elections or its support for far-right political groups in Europe or the monitoring of state-sponsored cyber attacks and arming the energy supply with recent gas price hikes in Europe. It was also widely believed to be responsible for a nerve agent attack on British soil in 2018 and was subsequently sanctioned. Putin was then accused of ordering a nerve agent attack on his political nemesis and biggest critic Alexei Navalny in 2020. Russia denied involvement in both attacks despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Against this backdrop of bad behavior and geopolitical meddling, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should come as no surprise, especially given its 2014 annexation of Crimea and its open attempts to politically influence other former Soviet neighbors such as Belarus and Georgia.
Despite imposing sanctions on Russia over Crimea’s annexation, the West has been widely accused of not being tough enough on Moscow, with analysts saying Putin has learned from Crimea’s experience of invading and annexing a sovereign state and essentially get away with it.
But now, with Russia invading north, south and east Ukraine on February 24, the West looks as united as it has in many years. Recent divisions over, within and between NATO, the EU, the UK and other developed nations are seemingly dissolving overnight as the nations band together to help Ukraine defeat Russia.
The world pulls together
Diplomatic circles around the world have been busy in recent months as officials widely fear Russia is preparing for some sort of attack on Ukraine, though the full-scale invasion surprised many analysts and most expected a smaller incursion into eastern Ukraine.
Since the invasion, there has been another spate of high-profile and urgent meetings, visits and video calls between leaders of NATO countries with previous disagreements between members of the alliance – on a range of issues from defense spending to refugees, Brexit and energy security set the back burner.
A protester holds a ‘United Against Putin’ sign during a rally in support of Ukraine outside the White House in Washington, DC on March 6, 2022.
Stefanie Reynolds | AFP | Getty Images
Several public protests against Putin and his war in Ukraine have taken place around the world, while many iconic brands have pulled out of Russia, turning the country into an outcast on the global stage.
“Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine is changing politics in Europe and – possibly – beyond,” noted Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank, in his latest report assessing the macro-impact of the conflict. “The free world seems to be pulling together like never before,” he added.
Even before the war, Schmieding noted, Russia had begun to resemble some characteristics of “a Soviet-style petro-economy with an outsized military sector and ultimately prohibitive imperial ambitions” and seemed inevitably slowly falling further and further behind the advanced world.
Now, the cost of the war, mounting domestic repression, and correspondingly harsh Western sanctions “are likely to hasten the economic demise of Putin’s Russia much more, and much faster, than the costly occupation of Afghanistan contributed to the erosion of Soviet power in the 1980s.” said Schmieding noted.
As Putin looks increasingly isolated, Western democracies walk a tightrope by supporting Ukraine while trying not to be perceived as military intervention, a move that could easily trigger a broader and more destructive global conflict with Russia.
In his State of the Union address last week, President Joe Biden commented on the cohesion of the West in the crisis, saying, “We see unity among the leaders of nations and a more united Europe, a more united West,” adding that “in the Battle between democracy and autocracy, democracies are rising.”
Western democracies may be on the rise at the moment, but Russia’s invasion has certainly presented the EU and NATO with a moral, military and geopolitical dilemma.
Ukraine does not belong to either bloc, but its position on the edge of Europe, acting as a buffer state between NATO members and Russia, puts it in an important strategic position. The pro-Western and pro-democracy government and people of Ukraine, as well as aspirations to join the EU and NATO, have also aroused widespread sympathy for Ukraine and its people. Hundreds of thousands of civilians fled the war, but many stayed to fight, fueling global admiration for Ukraine.
Ironically, Putin’s invasion – largely based on demands that Ukraine should never join NATO – has inadvertently strengthened the case for joining the military alliance, with public opinion in Finland and Sweden shifting in favor of joining the organisation.
NATO stations in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states have already been reinforced with more troops and weapons, in turn strengthening an alliance that Putin wanted to see weakened.
Even China is worried
CIA Director Bill Burns told Congress Tuesday that China “did not anticipate the significant difficulties the Russians would encounter, and I think they are concerned at the reputational damage resulting from their close association with.” President Putin could emerge. ‘ Burns said.
China has refused to condemn Russia’s invasion, but analysts believe Chinese President Xi Jinping likely did not believe Putin would launch such an all-out attack.
Though China has also offered to broker peace talks and held calls with France and Germany on Tuesday, it has yet to walk a finer line with the Kremlin given Xi Jinping’s commitment to deeper strategic cooperation with Moscow.
CIA Director Bill Burns echoed many other defense experts on Tuesday in saying that Putin made fundamental mistakes in invading Ukraine because he believed it was “weak” and underestimated the resistance it was facing the Russian forces would encounter there.
Burns said Putin also believed he had “sanction-proofed” the economy and modernized his military to the point where they could easily “deliver a decisive victory quickly and at minimal cost.”
“He’s been proven wrong on every count,” Burns told Congress on Tuesday.
https://www.cnbc.com/2022/03/09/russia-ukraine-putin-always-wanted-to-weaken-west-hes-done-the-opposite.html Putin wants to weaken the West. He did the opposite