Following reports that Ukraine has regained more than 6,000 square kilometers of Russian territory since September, and mass surrenders from Russian troops in the northeast and southeast, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz this week urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to call off his troops.
A readout of the call said the German chancellor “urged the Russian President to find a diplomatic solution as soon as possible, based on a ceasefire, a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and respect for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine,” in light of the “seriousness of the military situation” in Ukraine.
“The chancellor stressed that any further Russian annexation moves would not go unanswered and would not be recognized under any circumstances,” the readout continued.
Scholz also reportedly stressed the importance of ensuring that the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant remains safe, following a mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency and the recent decision to transition the plant to a cold state.
After the two world leaders spoke over the phone, Scholz’s spokesman, Steffen Hebestreit, said they agreed to remain in contact. The Kremlin offered no comment on the German chancellor’s push for a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine.
A statement published on Scholz’s Twitter page also appeared to suggest that the call was less of a recommendation and more of a threat.
“Russia must withdraw its troops from #Ukraine and recognize the sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Scholz said, adding, “otherwise, a diplomatic solution is inconceivable.”
90 Minuten Telefonat mit #Putin: Russland muss seine Truppen aus der #Ukraine zurückziehen und die Souveränität und territoriale Integrität anerkennen. Anders ist eine diplomatische Lösung nicht vorstellbar. pic.twitter.com/OizvxZHwiE
— Bundeskanzler Olaf Scholz (@Bundeskanzler) September 13, 2022
The comments seemed to suggest that if Putin doesn’t act now, the chances of a diplomatic solution in the future are slim. With Russia weakened, Ukraine and the West may now be in a position to continue with this momentum and push all Russian troops back out of Ukrainian territory and allow Zelenskyy to take back Crimea, too.
In his nightly address on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy updated the world on just how much territory has been claimed in the recently-launched counteroffensive. After first claiming to have retaken 6,000 square kilometers this month, Zelenskyy clarified that over 4,000 square kilometers had been ultimately recaptured by his troops, and an additional 4,000 square kilometers are being stabilized.
With the support of Western leaders like Scholz, Zelenskyy may be in the best position in the war yet – and save some radical new approach from the Russian military, now could be the time for Ukraine to cement its victories and reclaim territory lost almost a decade ago.
Ukraine’s recent victories are a huge blow to Putin’s goal of capturing not just the Donbas region but also Kharkiv, and whether Putin likes it or not, he now must make big decisions that could decide the fate of his soldiers in Ukraine.
Will Putin Listen?
It’s unlikely, but for many reasons. It doesn’t help, of course, that Scholz’s position on the war in Ukraine has been made very clear many times since February. In August the German chancellor accused the Russian president of launching his invasion of Ukraine for “completely absurd” reasons.
“NATO was never a threat to Russia,” Scholz said during an event in Berlin. It was a direct rebuke of Putin’s claims that NATO’s eastward expansion
The German chancellor has also compared Putin’s goal of “conquering” Russia’s “neighboring country” to early Russian imperialism.
If being told to withdraw his troops by a Western politician wasn’t enough to make Putin double down on his war in Ukraine, the fact that his position as president is at risk likely is. Over the last week, television personalities who were previously vocal supporters of Putin’s war in Ukraine have turned on the Russian president, questioning his ability to win the war.
A group of Russian politicians from Russia, including municipal deputies from some of Russia’s biggest cities, signed a joint statement that was shared online on September 12. The statement called on Vladimir Putin to resign from office.
“We believe that the actions of President Vladimir Putin inflict harm on the future of Russia and its citizens,” it reads. “We demand the resignation of Vladimir Putin from the office of President of the Russian Federation.”
One councilor from St Petersburg also called for the Russian president to be impeached on grounds of treason in recent days.
Facing mounting pressure from within Russia, and the prospect of an embarrassing loss in Ukraine, Putin must now make a choice. The Russian president must withdraw his troops or double down on the war by implementing new tactics to regain ground in Ukraine or punish Western countries so severely that they stop supplying weapons to Ukraine.
Jack Buckby is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.