22 January 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
A storm is brewing in Eastern Europe and it is increasingly likely that it will do some damage. And not even because Russian troops are being massed on the border with Ukraine but because random fools in the Kremlin regard a military invasion of Ukraine as a legitimate means of solving their own personal problems. They make no bones about talking of the possibility of war and, to be more convincing, express their thoughts in the language of petty criminals who hang around housing estates.
Admittedly, in the conflict unleashed against the entire world, Vladimir Putin has ready achieved if not outright victory then at least a tactical success. His top priority is for the whole world to acknowledge Russia as a great power and Putin himself as the great leader of a great power – the one and only, permanent and irreplaceable leader deserving of universal respect.
THE ROLE OF GRAND STATESMAN
Where this complex of underestimated grandeur comes from is a matter for teachers and psychoanalysts. In truth, it is an extremely widespread phenomenon – thwarted vanity and unachieved ambitions do sometimes drive the empty-headed onto a slippery slope. Some of them take up automatic weapons and go off to settle accounts with the society they are aggrieved with. Others, having reached the pinnacles of power, take it out on neighbouring countries. There are plenty of examples in both Russian and world history.
Putin’s current success is that Russia is once more being treated as a major international player and he himself as a vital figure in crucial negotiations. What else is required by those with thwarted vanity and delusions of grandeur? Simply that all of this keeps going. They don’t really care how they come to appear in the role of the grand statesman. It would, of course, be better if they were loved and esteemed (all dictators lap this up!) but if that doesn’t happen then let them at least be feared and respect feigned.
Within the framework of this Kremlin strategy are Russia’s knowingly unmeetable demands for the non-expansion of NATO, ultimatums about legal security guarantees and outlandish claims about NATO threats to Russia. All these demands aim to make the talks go on forever. Pointless they may be, but they are intended to underscore Russia’s significance in maintaining security in Europe.
WHEN ANY MOVE MAKES THINGS WORSE
The Western partners are in a state of zugzwang – a situation where a chess-player has to make a move, even though any move they make will put them in a worse position. The rejection of stupid and obviously useless negotiations will inevitably lead to the speedy beginning of a full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine.
In conducting negotiations, the Kremlin fraudsters are scoring a small geopolitical victory and, fired up by their good fortune, they will make more and more impossible demands until the negotiations lose all meaning. The only benefit of the second scenario is that war will be postponed. But we must understand that this is only a delay, and not a solution to the problem.
The motives behind Russia’s foreign policy are irrational. The seizure of foreign territory, aggressive rhetoric, interference in the internal affairs of other countries is not a goal, but a means. This is a way to occupy a significant place in the international community, to speak on an equal footing with world leaders, to equate the Russian authoritarian regime with Western democracies.
THE CURRENT AUTHORITARIAN REGIME IS NOT SUFFERING FROM DECREPITUDE
There is only one grain of rationality in this policy: a secure international status will enable the Kremlin elite to cling on to their usurped power. Terrified by the threat of military intervention, the West will cease to pay attention to the absence of freedom and democracy in Russia, preferring yet again not to alarm their unbalanced neighbour that wields a nuclear club.
So it was in the days of the USSR, when the Soviet authorities dictated their conditions to the whole world and the West made one concession after another. This would have continued had the communist regime not collapsed due to its decrepitude and under pressure from unfavourable circumstances.
Russia’s current authoritarian regime is not suffering from decrepitude. It will swagger and threaten and, if the world eventually adapts to this, then it will deploy rockets and tanks. In fact, the Kremlin has presented the West with a choice: either you accept our demands, or we shall enter Ukraine. The only thing that can restrain this aggression is the aggressor’s belief in the inevitability of their own defeat. But for this to happen, Ukraine needs to have trustworthy military allies, and there are none. The West is not ready to make an adequate response; instead it is relying on the threat of “powerful” economic sanctions and the supply of weapons to Ukraine. Unfortunately, this does not rule out the possibility of war.
Translated by Melanie Moore and Elizabeth Teague