The danger…

19 02 2022

At the beginning of this past week, I still believed that Putin’s military maneuvering around Ukraine was a form of grandstanding and sowing panic, with the goals of gaining a few more international concessions, asserting a stronger presence on the global stage (in part to reassert his “strength” to a wavering domestic audience), and perhaps biting off a bit more of Donbass. Full-scale war, involving an invasion of Kyïv, seemed to me an incomprehensibly crazy idea, too crazy even (I hoped) for Putin.

(As regards the Biden administration’s announcements of imminent war, they really do appear to be a well considered strategy of “calling Russia out” so as to avert an invasion, rather than egging them into war. That’s a long conversation, for another time.)

My perception has changed over the course of the week. Hearing Putin’s accusation of “genocide” by Ukraine stuck in my craw when I heard them uttered in his meeting with Olaf Scholz. The accusation is ridiculous, and could only be taken as an attempt to create a new narrative pretext for invasion. (Get ready for the social media blitz, especially if you hang out on Telegram, VKontakte, Parler, et al.) But it is not new, and it was at least reassuring to see that western governments cared enough to take note of it. One day we will be analyzing how well Biden/Blinken’s “‘we see what you’re doing’ (even if you know we won’t do much about it)” strategy worked…

By yesterday, though, after listening to Putin’s and Lukashenko’s speeches in their joint press conference, hearing about today’s joint Russian and Belarusan nuclear “exercises” (which include ICBMs and cruise missiles), seeing the beginnings of the DNR/LNR’s announced evacuations of their own “citizens” to Russia, and tuning in to some increasingly hysterical Russian media conversations, I became pretty confident that full-scale war is imminent. Putin has simply judged the likely costs — in lives, and in sanctions — to be inconsequential compared to the perceived gains of becoming a global strongman. The West does not have the belly to be drawn into a global war, and enough people and states around the world (China, among others) are prepared to let him have what he wants. And he relishes that information war that will accompany it all (with the Tucker Carlsons of the world lapping at his feet).

I have many friends who advocate peace and diplomacy. (I do, too.) Today’s Trilateral Contact Group meeting on Ukraine did not happen because the Russian side did not show up. That raises the question: what happens to diplomacy when one side refuses it? Of course, peace requires trying harder. But at some point that can end, too.

If an invasion of Ukraine goes forward, and if, as I suspect, it goes on for a while, the only hope I see is that it will overextend the Putinist state to the point, ultimately, of collapse. (He is, after all, deeply misjudging Ukrainians’ readiness to resist a Russian takeover.)

As Russian sociologist and lawyer Sergei Davidis said in a recent interview with Open Democracy, the hope is that “All this darkness will somehow lead to a collapse…” That, to my mind, would be a moment of great danger, but also a moment of genuine possibility — one in which it will be exceedingly important for global civil society to act to help Russia come together again as a post-Putinist society. (Needless to say, and as happened once before in the early 1990s, there will be others moving in with other agendas…)

At the moment, the Russian anti-war movement is small and inconsequential because of the many factors that limit its expression. That movement will also need our help as this madness unfolds.

A few references:

And here’s an article from last April that still resonates right now:



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