22 July 2023
Martin Dewhirst reviews How to end Russia’s War on Ukraine: Safeguarding Europe’s futures, and the dangers of a false peace, edited by James Nixey, published by Chatham House [online], London, 27 June 2023
For everyone who is seriously interested in the ongoing ‘special military operation’ (not, in Putin’s perverse opinion, a war), this short (54 pages) publication by the Royal Institute of International Affairs is absolutely essential reading. It tackles nine of the ten all too widespread ‘Fallacies’ about this momentous tragedy and in successive chapters convincingly refutes all of them. For really busy readers, there is a ‘Summary of principles for Western policy on the war’ on pp. 49-50, and a summary of the fallacies on p. 10, both written by the excellent overall editor, James Nixey.
Because of space limitations, I provide here a summary of the summary of the fallacies, with apologies in advance for my and its inadequacies.
1. The alleged need to end the war asap, because all wars end in negotiations. Factually incorrect.
2. Ukraine should agree to give up at least some of its territory.
3. Ukraine should again become forever neutral, as it already was from late 1991 until early 2014.
4. Ukraine must take [alleged] Russian security fears into account.
5. Russia must not be treated/punished like Germany was after WWI, or else what the latter country did later could shortly result in WWIII.
6. If Russia were about to be defeated, there is a real danger that it would be destabilised and perhaps even go nuclear.
7. This war is extremely costly financially, and the money saved by ending it asap could be used much more constructively.
8. Peace, when you really get down to it, is more important than justice.
9. The outcome of this war isn’t really crucial for the West, so why not end it now and use the financial savings to provide as much help as possible for the main victims and their country?
Thinking about this as usual in Russian, I was struck yet again by the ambiguity of the Russian word dolzhen, which can mean ‘should’ and/or ‘must’. Which does it mean in any particular case? However, I think it would be more interesting to use the available space not to discuss the nine fallacies in more detail but to raise the number of fallacies from nine to ten. (The tenth, but still very important, Commandment warns the allegedly religious Putin that ‘You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; […] nor anything that is your neighbour’s’, which he appears to have broken, and not for the first time, in 2014 by illegally grabbing two quite large chunks of Ukraine.)
So, I assume, in the search for the strangely missing tenth fallacy, that it is the very widespread but mistaken view that the Cold War ended in about 1989 and Russia quickly became post-Soviet. Of course, this is a matter of definition. IMHO, the Cold War began in January 1918, was relaxed from 1941 to 1944 and from 1989 to 1999, when it was resumed with a vengeance (literally). After all, Putin is much more ‘Soviet’ that Yel’tsin was, and Yel’tsin was much more ‘Soviet’ than Gorbachev was. Indeed, both the unsuccessful coup and the only too successful counter-coup in August 1991 were implemented by thoroughly ‘Soviet’ people who differed merely on strategy. In effect, the CPSU was replaced by strategists in the renamed KGB. Most experts (and others) fail to distinguish between ‘post-Soviet’ and ‘neo-Soviet’, and this is a very serious blunder. I would suggest that in 2023 Russia, Belarus’, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, for instance, are still essentially neo-Soviet, whereas Ukraine had genuinely moved from ‘neo-Soviet’ to ‘post-Soviet’ by 2005. (One worrying development is that it’s evidently possible to slip back from ‘post-Soviet’ to ‘neo-Soviet’, as, I fear, is currently happening in Kyrgyzstan. The good news (I hope!) is that its big neighbour Kazakhstan is finally, if hesitantly, moving from ‘neo-Soviet’ to ‘post-Soviet’.) What is the key difference between ‘post-’ and ‘neo-’? To me, it is the degree of internal personal and external social freedom for individuals and groups, and is hard to measure but evident in observable behaviour, the presence or absence of widespread fear and anxiety. I find the difference especially clear when watching and listening to TV commentators in Russia and in Ukraine.
So far as the current fighting in and over Ukraine is concerned, I think it’s impossible to overstate its importance to Putin, who, after all, started it personally in 2014. With his weird infatuation with history and his personal place in it, which latter of course he has desperately tried to hide, he was and is in real danger of being remembered, only or mainly, as the ruler of Russia who ‘lost’ Ukraine for ever, i.e., as a really great ‘loser’. But his megalomania and fear of failure are perhaps the major cause of this war, and they will be driving him to the very end of his Presidency, I fear. However, this is precisely why I am less pessimistic than many about the future of Russia fairly soon after he leaves the scene and is posthumously blamed for this ongoing catastrophe.
My relative optimism is also the result of regularly listening to and reading some of the best Russian political analysts, nearly all of them currently living abroad but appearing regularly on Russian television stations that are also now located abroad. In English alphabetical order they include (this is not an exhaustive list) Andrei Arkhangel’sky, Stanislav Belkovsky, Dmitry Bykov, Aleksandr Etkind, Yury Fedorov, Mark Feygin, Abbas Gallyamov, Lev Gudkov, Sergei Guriev, Vladislav Inozemtsev, Maxim Katz, Evgeny Kiselev, Ruslan Leviev, Elena Luk’yanova, Pavel Luzin, Dmitry Muratov, Maikl Naki, Aleksei Navalny, Anton Orekh, Vladimir Pastukhov, Andrei Piontkovsky, Yury Pivovarov, Aleksandr Podrabinek, Ol’ga Romanova, Ekaterina Shul’man, Valery Solovey, Maksim Trudolyubov, Igor’ Yakovenko, Vasily Zharkov, Natal’ya Zubarevich, Andrei Zubov. I have had the privilege (not being a member) of being allowed to listen to some of them at Chatham House, so it is with great disappointment that I have to note that not a single one of them is even mentioned, let alone quoted, in this generally splendid Report. They are much more interesting than most English-language neo-Sovietologists. This omission seems to be part of a widespread methodological weakness that can easily, I trust, be remedied in the future.
Provided, almost needless to add, that many more up and coming neo-Sovietologists and post-Sovietologists acquire a really good command of Russian.