25 August 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
Two Reuters sources in the Kremlin have spoken about how the Russian authorities want to reach a ceasefire with Ukraine. This may be a slight exaggeration, but even if it’s a barely muttered willingness, that’s significant news. Outside Russia, this may be hard to understand, but inside the country it’s obvious that any letup in the pace of aggression and the heat of military rhetoric is tremendously difficult for Putin and entails tremendous risk for him.
He is a man of success, a man of victory. That is how he sees himself and how Russia’s citizens are supposed to see him. Dictators generally fear defeat the way a devil does incense, and they always view any sensible compromise as a strategic loss.
So if Reuters isn’t mistaken, we can assume that the Kremlin’s resources for waging war are running out. This is almost certainly not military resources and probably not financial ones but, possibly, the rise in open dissatisfaction in Russia, including among the Kremlin-adjacent elite and in the army.
A GAME BEHIND PUTIN’S BACK
If this is the case, then Putin has two options: either agree to mitigate the regime, reassure the malcontents, and feel his presidential seat totter underneath him; or use tested methods to ratchet up the repressions and turn the country into one big concentration camp like the Stalinist models of the 1930s.
Another possibility is testing both options simultaneously: put out feelers about a ceasefire and continue the policy of repressions. And stay with the one that proves most advantageous.
Nor can it be ruled out that talks about a ceasefire are just a game behind Putin’s back. This has happened in very recent history. There’s no point laying great hopes in such a development of events, though. After all, a victory of moderate forces in today’s regime won’t change the system fundamentally and will only save it from collapse and preserve the situation. Unfortunately, there are no miracles, and Russia will become a safe place only in the event of military defeat or powerful civil protest inside the country.
There’s no reason to count especially on the latter, since political repressions have reached a level such that civil protests are dying at conception and civil activists are rapidly evacuating the country en masse. The opposition fumbled the moment when protests might have achieved something, wasting it on pointless compromises and attempts to accommodate themselves somehow to the existing regime.
THE HOT BREATH OF WAR ON THEIR BORDERS
Now virtually everything depends on the international community and Ukraine’s position. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s refusal to hold talks with Russia as long as Ukrainian territory is occupied attests to his mature understanding of the nature of Russia’s authoritarian regime. The countries neighboring Russia generally understand that territorial concessions cannot lead to relative stability, let alone success.
I think they are simply feeling the hot breath of war on their borders. The Western European countries are another matter. Some of them still think they can negotiate with the dragon. Humanize it. At least give it a try.
In time of war, the military looks at events more realistically. Retired U.S. General Ben Hodges, former commander of U.S. land forces in Europe, says that war is a test of logistics and will.
“It is a test. Do we in the West have a will that exceeds the Kremlin’s will?” the general asks.
This is in fact a very good question for which no one yet has an answer. However, any possible searches for a ceasefire on the Kremlin’s part speak to the fact that Ukraine’s will to victory could radically alter the situation in favour of international peace and order. If the West, led by the United Kingdom and the United States, puts its resources toward this will, then General Hodges will have been right in suggesting that “Ukraine might possibly be able to push back the Russians by the end of this year.”
The only problem now is whether the West has the desire and will not only to establish a temporary ceasefire in the Eastern European region but to achieve a genuine peace founded on democracy and respect for international law.
Translated by Marian Schwartz