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Why the War in Ukraine Seems Destined to Get Far Worse

Ukraine
Russian TOS-1 MLRS. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

There has been a flurry of effort to contain the level of violence in Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine have met in Belorussia to discuss terms. Russia and Ukraine also agreed to humanitarian corridors through which civilians in Ukrainian cities could flee (although these appear to be breaking down). Russian President Vladimir Putin has also spoken with other leaders, including France and Israel, would-be mediators of the war.

Ideally, these efforts would bring about some kind of cease-fire or pause. Even Putin – judging by the light force he originally sent in to take the country – can see the advantages of avoiding the destruction of Ukraine. Devasting the country in order to win means there is little to win, and it drives up the cost of the war. And mass civilian casualties will likely ignite an insurgency, making Russia’s hard-fought victory tenuous. Putin can see the threat of a replay of the Afghan insurgency against the Red Army in the 1980s just as well as we can.

Nevertheless, Putin will likely not back down.

Putin’s Demands are Unacceptable to Ukraine

Putin was badly embarrassed in the first week of the war. The whole world has watched as a supposed military superpower was fought to a standstill by a middle power led by a former comedian. We have seen pictures of abandoned or destroyed vehicles. We have heard the stories about Russian units running out of food, fuel, and ammunition, or conscripts not even realizing they were in a war and surrendering. Putin almost certainly wishes he could get out of this mess before it becomes worse.

But Putin is a leader rather obsessed with traditional metrics of power. He has long been prone to tough-guy posturing; his shirtless photo-ops are notorious. He relentlessly insists that Russia is a great power on par with the United States; he has refused to admit Russia’s reduced ability to pursue capacious goals such as his pre-Ukraine War demand that NATO returns to its 1997 borders. He suffers from an acute imperial hang-over or nostalgia, not only for lost Soviet power but even the old Russian empire which he has bandied about in his speeches justifying the Ukraine incursion.

His answer to last week’s confusion will almost certainly be escalation – artillery shelling of cities and vague nuclear threats at the West. And his conditions for a ceasefire will be non-starters with the Ukrainian government: the deposition of Volodymyr Zelensky as president, and his replacement by a pro-Russian quisling like Victor Yanukovich; recognition by Ukraine of Crimea’s loss to Russia in 2014; acceptance of the independence of the Lugansk and Donetsk ‘people’s republics’ (declared in late February); a massive reduction in the size of the Ukrainian military; and iron-clad guarantee that Ukraine will never join NATO or the EU.

These demands are enormous. The Ukrainians would likely reject even one of them; as a package, they will never accept them. The parties are so far apart politically that there is no ‘off-ramp.’ Both are looking for a military decision at the moment.

The Chinese are Watching

Almost as important for Putin is that China is watching, and they probably do not like what they see from their supposed ally. It seems likely that Putin tipped off Chinese President Xi Jinping about the war. Xi appears to have agreed to look the other way in order to receive Putin’s support for bringing Taiwan back under Chinese control one day. Chinese media has notoriously danced around calling this a ‘war’ or ‘invasion.’

Russia is the junior partner in that relationship. Its economy is much smaller and even more corrupt. Russia is highly dependent on natural resource exports and technology imports, which makes it very susceptible to sanctions. China can stand more on its own, and in less than a decade, its aggregate GDP will exceed America’s. A sanctioned, isolated, postwar Russia will be hugely dependent on China financially and economically.

To keep some balance to the relationship, Putin needs to show he is a winner, that he can tangle with the West and hold his own. Russian belligerence in Europe creates political space for China’s own projects in East Asia. But now Putin cannot reduce a smaller number of people with a weaker military. His vaunted military is stuck in the mud. China will be tarred with the consequence of supporting Putin, much as the world hangs North Korea around its neck. But those costs are worth it if Moscow and Pyongyang prove their worth as troublemakers. In short, Putin needs to win to justify Chinese sponsorship.

Putin has strong incentives to prosecute the war, even as Ukraine evolves into a major, unanticipated proxy war with the West. Putin’s rule at home and reputation abroad rests on his image of toughness and iciness. He needs to reverse last week’s humiliation. He also needs the Chinese to know they have backed a winner. On the Ukrainian side, there is growing confidence that they might fight the war to a stalemate, and therefore need not accede to Putin’s demands. Both sides are looking for a battlefield decision now.

Dr. Robert Kelly is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University in South Korea and a 1945 Contributing Editor. Follow his work on his website or at Twitter.

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 

22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Ziv Bnd

    March 6, 2022 at 9:33 am

    Putin is going to be the 21st Century version of Benito Mussolini. Trying to be just as tough as his colleague in crime, Xi/Hitler. And Putin may end up just like Benito, strung up by his heels in public, dead as a doornail.

  2. Alex

    March 6, 2022 at 11:50 am

    Some fantasies. The entire military operation is going according to plan. The best option for Russia is to complete the operation in a week. The worst option for Russia is to finish the operation in two weeks. One thing is clear for sure: Ukraine will be cleared of the Nazis and capitulated.

  3. A penny tossed to the wind

    March 6, 2022 at 3:02 pm

    Thanks again for these excellently-reasoned and well written articles.

    A portrait of Putin is being solidly placed in much Western media; a brief snippet from the above article while not to paraphrase the article leads into the thrust of this comment:

    Putin’s rule at home and reputation abroad rests on his image of toughness and iciness.

    So what’s going on?

    Vladimir Putin is being recognised by the West as a legitimate head of state.

    He has a free hand as to how he wreaks destruction in this invasion with the only imposition to it being sanctions and the supply of resources to the people standing in his way.

    We all know he cannot be trusted, that he has thrown down the gauntlet and taking brutal action, breaking the rules, because he simply places no credence on the West. He’ll say anything, do anything.

    What does this mean? It means he feels that he can say anything and do anything – lie and massacre – because he has written off the West, in his mind.

    Yet the West continue to legitimise him.

    Surely that is a fundamental error now.

    Look at it from his perspective. In his mind, Western proclamations and responses serve to validate his position as a leader on the planet, who, having written off the legitimacy of the West, continue to validate his position until in the short term he prevails with military might and in the long term he himself decides to remove himself from the position of being a leader of, to him, the greatest nation on earth.

    With every statement Western leaders, media and countryfolk make, Putin is validated, in his mind, as legitimate.

    So far, with everything he has proven by his deeds to have become, the situation remains steadfast and immovable that Putin continues his invasion or Putin decides the terms of ceasefire and cessation of war.

    It’s all about Putin.

    Have a think about that for a minute.

    The more the West issues statements and takes action, the West’s steadfast position prevails: The West is validating Vladimir Putin.

    Can anyone else see how senseless and ineffective this is?

    Why persist?

    If all of the Western responses so far haven’t stopped him, and as I am arguing here have only emboldened him – in effect, supporting him – then a comprehensive Western coalition needs to attack him where it really hurts.

    That place of attack is that place of validation as a world leader.

    So let’s posit that strategy again:

    The West declares Vladimir Putin a rogue actor and no longer validates his position as a world leader.

    Make that statement.

    A comprehensive Western alliance, or, better, the entire Western leadership, issues on worldwide public record their removal of Vladimir Putin from valid consideration. He is declared rogue and incapable of occupying the position of a national leader.

    However, in line with that, the Western world declares it is seeking peace and has identified a person within the Russian regime who is a valid representative of that nation and it is with this person, she or he, the Western world will now negotiate.

    This means that by removing Putin from consideration and validation as a world leader the West is not declaring war but seeking peaceful resolution.

    These are extremely powerful messages that require no military actions, threats or risks.

    By identifying that valid person within the Russian regime there then becomes an entirely renewed and refreshed series of events.

    So what happens then?

    Putin will reject this immediately. He will simply enforce his position in response that he and he alone controls the military and determines what Russia does.

    Perfect. By making that declaration the message is passed to every Russian citizen, its military and all members of the Russian regime that the West has invalidated him.

    That’s the take-out message. The West considers him invalid as a world leader. Putin himself, by making that declaration, laughingly as he would, is in effect doing what the West cannot do: penetrate the propaganda machine and getting that exact message across to the Russian people.

    Imagine hearing that as a Russian citizen. Your own leader is forced to declare himself valid. That sets up a national mindset whereby Putin is isolated and considered weak. It strikes to the heart of Putin’s power and he is now under personal attack, without military threat; rather, with the intention of resolution and peace, and the lifting of sanctions and a return to normal life, for them.

    It isolates Putin from his own people.

    Putin himself would not validate the person chosen by the West as the West’s new point of contact and the personal avenue for peace. Never.

    But the regime gets it.

    So what it comes down to? I find it hard to accept that tne entire Russian regime believes in and supports what Putin is doing to his country.

    Surely the effect is to separate the regime in two: those in the regime who believe Putin has made a mistake and bringing unwanted cost to their nation in his personal pursuit, and those who accept the heavy cost and agree with his action.

    In effect, then, the regime is now in war with itself.

    See what’s happening?

    The new battlefield has been shifted into the Russian regime. They are now forced to deal with the question: who supports the war and who doesn’t and what will they do about it.

    If there is a significant segment within the regime that does not support this war, that the cost is too much, the consequences far worse than the benefits, and will continue too long, then they’ll take action.

    All the while, they know the West stands ready to negotiate that resolution and return the Russian nation to a place of more, or at least somewhat more, respect within the world. That is a massive incentive.

    It is a whole new ball game.

    This strategy provides a direct strike to the heart of the problem, and provides a way out for Russia (and Ukraine).

    Problems with it? By identifying that single person the West could in effect be signing that person’s death warrant.

    It’s not too much of a stretch that, after hearing the entire Western world declare that new person as the valid Russian contact and avenue for further Russian action that Putin would consider that person a threat to his power and that new person gets a funny drink.

    Not good. So the way to counteract that, or prevent it, is to declare three people, not one, as the new and valid representative of Russia.

    Killing three people, or four, or five, or however many the West declares, would imperil Putin within his own country as those deaths could not be put down and sold as coincidence.

    So the strategy may be to declare a consortium, not a person, as the new valid Russian contact and avenue (whatever the better, single term is for that.)

    In effect, then, that consortium is immediately known as the internationally recognised Russian leader-in-proxy.And it is the consortium upon which Russian future is considered to rest.

    Imagine Putin’s fury.

    Imagine what he’ll say. Insolence!! The insolence of the West!! The West decides who leads Russia!! Never!! And so he goes, cementing the message within his own public, penetrating the propaganda wall as the message the West intends to impart is achieved, expressed from his very own lips.

    I reckon such a thing as this needs serious consideration.

    Looking on, day after day, the West makes this fundamental error in strategy by continuing, and strengthening, Vladimir Putin as a valid national leader.

    No war threat, no military. Just a comprehensive declaration by the West that removes Vladimir Putin from a place of validation and respect. Then set the Russian regime against itself and watch it tear itself apart.

    By taking this action, the isolation and removal of Putin as a valid contemporary world leader, the West is simply also being honest. No harm in that.

    Continuing day after day to validate Putin, which under these circumstances serves to strengthen that validation, is insane.

    Hit him where it really hurts.

  4. Dado

    March 6, 2022 at 3:03 pm

    After reading some of your texts, I almost started to believe that tanks are near Moscow, not around Kiev. Don’t tell me you paid some money for your Diploma, dear Professor …
    Russian special military operation in Ukraine is all about destroying Nazi military power, what is a great tradition of Russian Army for centuries. The main and best equiped/trained Nazi forces are now practically surrounded north of Donbas region. Just like at famous Operation Uranus, now they are going to feel the power of destruction of famous Cauldron of fire. Problem solved in less than a month, with just a portion of Russian active military.
    Russians also have a huge experience with the denazification: look at the Germany and Chechnya today.
    You should know better for your money and education.

  5. A penny tossed to the wind

    March 6, 2022 at 3:31 pm

    Just to help put the above comment, that is, strategy, in context:

    Two days ago, somewhere in the vicinity of 4000 Russian scientists were reported to have put their names to a statement against this war.

    Thousands of Russian people are daily protesting, and thousands of Russian countryfolk are getting arrested.

    This is not a normal war.

    The Russian people were not prepared for this war, were not prepared for its consequences, and were getting about their daily lives when it suddenly hit.

    Let’s not pretend that Russia is a country happy with this and supportive. Division and anger will only grow within the Russian population.

    There are without doubt sensible people within the Russian regime. They see what is happening to their country.

    If the overwhelming Western leadership declares Putin rogue and that the West no longer recognises him, that Putin is not a valid contemporary world leader — that just may be the incentive and support that some in the Russian regime need (for them to take action against Putin).

    They can then take action against Putin because they know all the while that the West awaits with, in effect, open arms and gratitude. Not all of them are paranoid and maniacal. They want Russia to be respected by the rest of the world. They know that not only is their population unprepared, angry and suddenly suffering, they know that their nation has lost respect.

    Again, this is not a normal war. It requires an unusual solution, an unusual strategy.

    Let’s invalidate Vladimir Putin.

    Let’s identify those within the Russian regime who are capable of a resolution and declare that consortium as recognised by the Western leadership and legit. And give them the way out.

  6. from Russia with love

    March 6, 2022 at 5:08 pm

    A penny tossed to the wind:
    I will greatly disappoint you. 200 protesters arrested in my city today. and this is on the day on which the “largest” protests were announced. 200 in the second largest city in Russia with almost 9,000,000 inhabitants. it’s not even a hundredth of a percent. the protesters fell short of the level of statistical error. and yes, except for the West, no one here worries about their arrest. your hopes for internal pressure on Putin, to put it mildly, are not justified …

  7. Jacky

    March 6, 2022 at 5:24 pm

    Anti-war protests in Russia show that Russia has plural voices unlike the situation in US & NATO today which resembles late 1930s fascist Germany when day and night, German media and German politicians were railing against ‘jews and bolsheviks’ while eyeing the territories to the east.

  8. A penny tossed to the wind

    March 6, 2022 at 5:26 pm

    Dear from Russia with love, what rights have you been given, by the current Russian regime, to express your views on this war?

    How respectful is your regime of your, and your countryfolks’, voice?

    Is the current Russian regime strong, stable, and confident such that it can hear the voice, and allow to hear the voice, of the Russian people?

    The current Russian regime is there to represent you, and your countryfolk, isn’t it?

    These are questions we in the West worry for our Eastern friends, as equal members of the human family. You and your countryfolke have voices. We do not wish for them to be shut down or controlled or constricted. The human voice in expression is beautiful. We are all born with a voice, yes?

    Indeed, you are speaking freely here,expressing yourself freely here and without fear, on this site, yes? This is a good feeling.

    If you are personally happy in your country, that is good for you.

    Personally, I wish only for the best for you and your countryfolk.

    The intellectual question we also ask is: From where do we get our information? Please by all means share in that question.

    Go well.

  9. Commentar

    March 6, 2022 at 5:30 pm

    Putin must not allow western media (controlled directly and indirectly by State Dept) and Washington to distract him from the job of denazifying Kyiv and to defang a militarized banderite state serving the interests of NATO.

    Get on with the job at hand, take Kyiv and expel the banderitites to the west of the Dnieper ! ! !

  10. Jimmy John Doe

    March 6, 2022 at 5:40 pm

    Today, in Washington, nobody opposes the military march of the warmongers, everyone cheers the martial music, and yodeling for war glory.

    Any individual not really enthusiastic for Washington”s imperial moves is strongly or energetically hissed at and has his/her social media accounts suspended, closed down or even worse, has a file opened by FBI , CIA. NSA.

    The situation harks back to the surreal or lovely mcCarthyism period of 20th century US history. When actors, poets, scientists, priests, writers and even ordinary breadwinners feared for their careers and even their lives lest they were wrongly fingered. Better dead than red, everybody cried. Yeah, brainwashed to love death. Better dead than alive.

  11. Commentar

    March 6, 2022 at 5:50 pm

    The war in ukraine is destined to fully open the eyes of foreign countries which are on the list of states slated for elimination or subjugation.

    US & NATO have anointed king of the realm themselves and to carry out the task of purifying the earth and eliminating the unworthy the subhumans and the misfits.

    Thus nations must fully prepare for the day when the NATO horde appears at their borders, front gates, backyards, shores and even over their cities to carry out their ‘cleansing’ ops. It’s time for nations to share rs-28 technology ! Share it or lose it.

  12. FRAZIER STALL

    March 6, 2022 at 6:00 pm

    It is REALLY strange that the world is allowing an elderly man, especially an elderly man with a prodigal son (known to have worked as a foreign agent or agent of foreign powers) to dictate it’s destiny.

    The elderly man, knowing he has not long to live and thus can’t be around to protect his son, has cornered Europe into a dangerous situation which could end in nuclear Armageddon.

    Is the entire world so dumb or so headless to let the elderly man have his way or perhaps nobody cares anymore. Perhaps the elderly man is the destiny maker that came from the netherworld and thus has power to mesmerize the whole world.

  13. Jacky

    March 6, 2022 at 6:08 pm

    We humanity will be forever tarred with irresponsibility by the judgement of history if we don’t oppose the intentions of NATO to expand eastward.

    NATO expanding eastward is the same as the march of Hitler’s panzer units and SS divisions eastward. The result was tens of millions of lives lost.

    We will forever by cursed by history for failing to stand up to policies and desires of latest genghis and his horde.

  14. Commentar

    March 6, 2022 at 6:16 pm

    The banderitites are amassing foreign fighters, foreign volunteers,foreign citizens and foreign domiciles to fight in the war in eastern ukraine.

    Obviously,nobody is interested in peace. Everybody is interested in war, and this plays into the hands of the war gnomes in Washington and Brussels. Next, we will see jihadists and religious-political forces fighting in the war as well, replicating situations in northern Ireland, Syria , Cyprus and Iraq and other places.

  15. Jacky

    March 6, 2022 at 6:25 pm

    Washington is using or following the playbook of genghis of the 13th century.

    Genghis often used allies that he had conquered or forced to join him to attack forts, castles and other strongpoints that he had discovered.

    Once they were weakened, starved, exhausted, or brought to their knees, genghis would send his best troops or warriors to begin his slaughter. He said ‘the fields are ripe. Bring in the harvests.’ By the way, genghis was not talking about crops or grains or fruits. He was referring to the women, treasures, belongings and captives of his defeated foe.

  16. A penny tossed to the wind

    March 6, 2022 at 6:35 pm

    Dear from Russia with love,

    I have had a moment now to look again through the statistics you have received.

    I do not wish to challenge your information. It was what you have received in this instance. That information is important to you.

    Let’s look at those figures as you say. 200 protestors! That is not many people, in a city of almost 9 million inhabitants.

    Less than one hundredth percent!

    Yes, I hear what you are saying. The number of protestors is very small. The number of protestors, the people whose voice is against the war, is a very small percentage.

    Very small percentage.

    Actually, very, very small percentage!

    Yes?

    This percentage is important. It proves your point, as you are saying. Because the percentage of people against the war is very small, it proves that the far, far greater part of 9 million people approve of the war.

    Yes?

    Are we agreeing so far? That I am hearing what you are saying correctly?

    A very small percentage. The percentage is important. The percentage is a provable fact that means a decision is good because by far more people approve of the war.

    Yes?

    If I am not correctly hearing what you are saying, please correct me.

    And I respect your viewpoint.

    And I respect your reasoning, with the information you have.

    And what I really love about your thinking is that you are using democratic principles.

    Less than one hundredth of a percent is a minority.

    Nearly nine million people is a majority.

    Your mind is using democratic principles.

    You are thinking democracy.

    _____

    Now then, here where I live it is going to rain. Must go, my friend, and get some groceries, or I shall get wet. Be happy.

  17. Jacky

    March 6, 2022 at 6:36 pm

    The situation in ukraine is going to get worse. Washington is using the banderites to fight it’s war with Russia.

    Later, it will use NATO’s rapid response force to fight Russia. When Russia has been properly weakened, Washington will step in and deliver the coup de grace. This will be replicated against other washington enemies or targets like Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, china, north Korea, etc…etc.

  18. BuzzBoss915

    March 6, 2022 at 6:45 pm

    Spinmeisters creatively justifying baseless aggression. Putin is a dangerous, delusional rogue with dreams of a glorious Russian Federation…. yeah, maybe if China writes the check? This Dink has overplayed his hand and now he reminds everybody; “you know, I’ve got nukes.” As we say out west, ALL HAT, NO CATTLE!

  19. Commentar

    March 6, 2022 at 6:49 pm

    The situation facing the world, not just ukraine, is indeed getting worse.

    This is because the world, controlled and besieged by the super powerful western media or MSM, has become blissfully unaware of the coming ides of march, when truth gets killed, peace gets destroyed and justice is shortchanged.

    The world has forgotten how US & NATO were chased out of Afghanistan where for nearly 20 years, US and gang committed wanton killings and
    now Bidenn has confiscated afghan money to pay for 9/11. Ha, ides of march. Today, now in our time. Ides of march.

  20. Commentar

    March 6, 2022 at 6:55 pm

    Biden will go down in history as the man who sacrificed the people of ukraine in order to protect his family and to preserve his dignity and legacy.

    But the 46th president will never be able to wash his hands clean of the blood of innocent humans, and thus, he will join the great pantheon of like-minded fiends in the afterworld. 2024 ? Nah !

  21. Commentar

    March 7, 2022 at 12:04 am

    Putin is a hero and a certified winner, he’s shown he has the BALLS to confront genghis and his almighty horde.

    Putin could have bowed and groveled at the feet of biden, but he didn’t. He bared biden’s intentions and unmasked the sneaky old fox.

    Now the world can heave a sigh of relief that US & NATO have been stopped (temporarily) and there is some breathing space for people to TRULY prepare for the final onslaught or final solution by US & NATO against the free, independent, non-aligned and genuinely sovereign nations. Thanks, putin ! GET THE NUKES READY!

    GET THE FOBS HYPER GLIDERS READY, HAVE THEM ON STANDBY!!!

  22. Richard Young

    March 7, 2022 at 10:14 am

    Zelenskyy is a bad actor in bed with Klaus Schwab & George Soros. He’s been in office 2 1/5 years has a 30 million dollar Mansion in Miami and a Billion in the bank. Stop playing into the One World Order’s Hands.

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