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The World Will Never Accept a Russia Led by Vladimir Putin

Russian Military Tank
Russian T-90 Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Russian Re-Normalization with Putin in Charge is Likely Impossible after His War Crimes – At some point, the Ukraine war will end. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the war will last years. Even if true, the war will conclude eventually. A part of the settlement will be the ‘re-normalization’ of Russia. This means rolling back the sanctions and permitting Russia to resume normal economic and diplomatic interaction with the sanctioning states.

After World War I, France famously inhibited Germany’s resumption of normal intercourse with the world via the Versailles Treaty. This is now widely seen as an enormous error. Versailles crippled the Weimar Republic and opened space for both rightist revanchist and Marxist revolutionary movements. In time, fascism destroyed a weak interwar German democracy.

A core challenge of any final settlement with Russia be the terms of its re-normalization. Russia is a large, nuclear-armed, consequential power with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Even if the war reduces it to middle power status, it will retain enormous potential to cause trouble. We are already seeing the difficulties of fully de-linking from the Russian economy. It owes debt payments to western institutions who do not wish to lose those monies; it supplies natural gas to Europe which has struggled to find alternatives; it, and Ukraine, are food exporters, and those prices look set to rise.

So permanently isolating Russia from the global economy – leaving the sanctions on it indefinitely, even after the war to punish and weaken (as France did in 1919) – is risky. It may reduce Russian national power – which is now, obviously, a threat to Russia’s neighbors – but a rolling, foreign-driven, semi-permanent economic collapse is precisely the kind of stimulus which will fire even more radical voices than current Russian President Vladimir Putin.

This was the situation a week ago. In mid-March, a peace treaty looked somewhat close. Everyone realized that Putin himself, despite his aggression, would stay in power and that to ask for his deposition would kill any chance for peace. This was the reason for the sharp response to US President Joseph Biden’s ad lib that Putin needed to leave power. Putin needed an ‘off-ramp’ to back out of the war without embarrassment. Demanding regime change – as Biden implicitly did – would put Putin’s back to the wall and encourage him to fight harder.

This week’s revelations of mass civilian killings in Bucha and elsewhere change this. Re-normalization will likely never happen with Putin in power. Global public opinion will increasingly demand that Putin himself leave the Russian presidency before all the sanctions are lifted. Without formally enunciating regime change, the massacres will make it effectively the sanctioners’ goal, out of sheer shock and horror.

Indeed, if more massacres are revealed – and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said we should expect more – the sanctions will likely worsen. The public pressure to demand Putin’s removal will be substantial. No Western leader, for example, will likely ever meet Putin again. And Putin will almost certainly never leave Russia again for fear of arrest, as former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in 1998 in London.

Putin, of course, will not agree to go. Hence the sanctions will roll on indefinitely. Russian re-normalization will be blocked. The world will then conduct an experiment in sanctioning a large economy, far larger than typical targets like North Korea or Myanmar, for a lengthy period of time.

It is hard to avoid this conclusion – and the risks it entails – because the Russian violence is so horrific. For weeks, the Russian army has indiscriminately shelled civilian areas. The imagery of burned-out apartment blocks has been widely seen. And Putin’s military behaved similarly awfully in Chechnya and Syria. Putin was already widely loathed as casual violator of human rights and norms of targeting in war.

But the images of Bucha are akin to death squad activity. These are not random deaths from sloppy indirect fire. Nor are they individual illegal battlefield killings. Instead, they are the systematic killing of civilians. The most recent analogies we have for that are the competing Sunni and Shia militias in the worst phase of the Iraq War, or the anticommunist ‘White Hand’ militias in Central America in the 1980s.

These killings are methodical – suggesting they were planned – and explicitly targeted civilians. This is a war crime by almost any definition, and it looks to get worse. And there seems to be no purpose to it either. The killings do not help the Russian war effort, and the Russian military must have known they would be discovered. Indeed, the Russian army made almost no effort to clean up or hide the corpses. These are strictly revenge killings, and their scale is wide enough and systematic enough that they must have been approved of fairly high up the chain of command.

All this makes the re-normalization of Russia almost impossible with Putin in power. He is an imperialist, a war criminal, and, judging by his language and governance style, arguably a fascist. A resolution of the war and re-integration of Russia just got much harder.

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

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. 

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Jacky

    April 6, 2022 at 4:14 pm

    To the west, it doesn’t matter who leads Russia. The west will never never never accept russia, until it has gone through ‘reprocessing’ like the kind that happened to Iraq.

    Iraq fully underwent US-mandated reprocessing that involved TD. (TD=territorial dismemberment plus disarmament.)

    But, Russian public is behind Putin, so west can go shovel manure cuz Russia under Putin has smoke nukes and a world-leading hypersonic arsenal.

    It’s clear the west is behaving like genghis and the beast, dividing the world into two camps or halves.

    To those who have eyes, it’s time to build and test nukes like hell is coming for ya.

  2. Traveler

    April 6, 2022 at 4:20 pm

    You are right: that is how things SHOULD be.
    But the reality… significant French (e.g., Total oil) and German (e.g., Henkel) companies still operate in Russia, even now. Along with many other examples.
    These countries will “renormalize” given any fig leaf of an excuse.
    Just look back at the UN “oil for food” program corruption with Saddam Hussein.
    I trust only the eastern European NATO countries to be stalwart.

  3. Lance Joe

    April 6, 2022 at 6:39 pm

    there is also the matter of compensation to Ukraine to rebuild. Could Russia’s foreign reserves be used for this purpose?

  4. Joe Comment

    April 6, 2022 at 7:56 pm

    Jacky: Yes, this was exactly the standard operating procedure of Genghis: when he met the Ukrainians, he promised they would someday join the Mongol alliance, but after 15 years he had still not got around to giving Ukraine a Membership Action Plan. (sarcasm)

  5. PJ

    April 6, 2022 at 11:38 pm

    Today’s news (7 April 2022) gets even worse with the news of Russian mobile crematoriums for burning up bodies of victims to erase evidence of Russian atrocities.

  6. from Russia with love

    April 7, 2022 at 5:31 am

    the article is a common example of Western chauvinism. only US-controlled countries are considered as “the whole world”, which is about 1/3 of the real world. all the rest do not exist for these analysts. For them, they are second class people. hmm .. it seems a little breath of fascism;)
    but now there is a collision of the Western world with reality. in Russia, which is under sanctions, the inflation rate is lower than in Western countries. the list of countries with the largest public debt is suspiciously the same as the list of countries that make up the Western “whole world”. now we are on the verge of collapse of economies based on stock market speculation.
    it looks like Russia is not going to jump on the sinking “Titanic” of the Western world.

  7. from Russia with love

    April 7, 2022 at 5:58 am

    about Buchi, the author makes seemingly correct conclusions and analogies. for example, the “White Hand” detachments financed and armed the United States, just as they are now arming the Nazis in Ukraine. it is correctly noted that such actions are completely unprofitable for the Russian army, but why does the author not ask to whom these actions are beneficial? why were there no corpses on the streets of Bucha from March 30 to April 2, that is, before the entry of Ukrainian troops into this settlement? why did the corpses appear on the streets of the city only after the Ukrainian units entered there, which, as the author correctly noted, were tasked at the highest level with the task of cleaning up the collaborators on April 1, before entering the city?

  8. Slack

    April 7, 2022 at 6:00 am

    The west is finished. Kaput.Gone-case.Finito.

    This is because Biden, in the late evening of his life, racked by dementia and possibly Alzheimer’s, knows he’s about to soon meet up with beau and gang, so he’s gonna get the brothers to provide him company on his way to the pearly gates.

    Biden’s sole aim now is to press and poke Russia until it reaches a stage where Biden thinks he can deliver the final great blow on it.

    But Biden’s way more stupid than Adolfo, ww3 in Europe ain’t gonna provide the win he wants.Russia will use nukes to finish the west ONCE AND FOR ALL and make them go to hell. All of ’em. Biden & sidekicks.

  9. David Chang

    April 7, 2022 at 9:18 am

    Democratic Party say that Russia President is wrong, but Democratic Party is the same wrong, because Democratic Party and the Russia President always violate God’s law, people in the world should also oppose America Democratic Party.

  10. Eric-ji

    April 7, 2022 at 12:37 pm

    The west may not accept it but they’ll have to live with it.

  11. Alex

    April 7, 2022 at 7:11 pm

    Why talk about the whole world? The Anglo-Saxon world is only 15-20% of all mankind. You are not the whole world, far from the whole world.

  12. Joe Comment

    April 7, 2022 at 11:34 pm

    Alex: It’s a lot more than the Anglo-Saxon world. The UN General Assembly passed ES/11-1 condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by a vote of 141-5 with 35 abstentions. Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria were the only countries voting with Russia. China and India abstained, but even China has not recognized the Russian annexation of Crimea and publicly support’s the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

  13. Alex

    April 8, 2022 at 4:45 am

    Joe: And what’s the conclusion? Russia wanted to spit on all these vociferations. After more than one decade, Russia itself began to set conditions when it concerns its interests.

  14. Joe Comment

    April 8, 2022 at 10:58 am

    Alex: The conclusion is that Russia has completely lost the respect of most of the world, North Korea is now Russia’s role model, and Russia has nothing left but to raise the nuclear alert level every time one of its occupation troops is cursed by a Ukrainian babushka.

  15. Alex

    April 9, 2022 at 11:33 am

    Joe:
    1. The Anglo-Saxon world is not a large part of the world, but only 25%. Russia is no stranger to beating enemies from the west throughout history. This is in every resident of Russia in the genes.
    2. Bandera Nazis and their supporters love to talk about all Ukrainians. Remember: the inhabitants of the western lands are not even Ukrainians.

  16. Philip Arlington

    May 14, 2022 at 7:13 pm

    You talk of “re-normalisation”, but Russia has never been a “normal” country. There is no past version of Russia to which we should seek to return.

    Post WWI Germany is an entirely invalid analogy for today’s Russia. Germany was one of the most advanced Western nations. Russia is not. Germany had the potential to find allies in Europe. Russia has not. Germany was not in relative demographic decline. Russia is.

    Alex, the whole Western world has never been united against Russia before. You’ve only beaten individual groups of Western countries, or small groups thereof, and even that not very often. You didn’t win WWII on your own. You were propped by the Lend Lease – and not a few of “your” soldiers were Ukrainians and other non-Russians.

    Calling all Ukrainians Nazis just makes Russians look ridiculous. It is the most ludicrous lie in history. Putin is the only fascist dictator involved in this war.

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