Weekly Gulan Magazine
- What is the potential outcome for Europe and the world if the Ukraine-Russian war continues for another year without any apparent resolution or hope for ending the war, as it steadily intensifies with each passing day?
The Ukrainian counteroffensive is taking longer than many people predicted and it is going to be long and bloody. According to the Ukraine’s military commander-in-chief, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, it is being hampered by a lack of adequate firepower, from modern fighter jets to artillery ammunition. Nevertheless, the aborted mutiny and potential coup in Russia has severely wakened Putin and exposed him and the Russian military as vulnerable. International sanctions have also weakened the Russian economy and the war has radically reduced their supply of military hardware and missiles. In such circumstances I cannot see the war continuing for another year. When Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, his goal was to erase Ukraine as a sovereign nation in a matter of days. At the time, in Russia and in the West, it seemed a plausible goal. Almost a year and a half later, Ukraine's survival is a much safer bet than Putin's. Putin's war is turning Russia into a failed state, with uncontrolled borders, private armies and warlords, a fleeing population, moral decay, and the possibility of civil conflict. But the only way Putin can be removed is if he dies, resigns, or is overthrown.
- Is the military and financial support provided by NATO to Ukraine insufficient, or is the Russian army simply too powerful, considering that despite the significant assistance from NATO member states, Ukraine has been unable to achieve victory in the war against Russia within its borders?
Ukraine has systemically and strategically taken back half the territory Russia seized, inflicting humiliating losses on Russia that have forced Putin to introduce a deeply unpopular draft. As Ukraine's battlefield victories pile up, the U.S. and its NATO allies are giving it increasingly sophisticated weapons. There is a growing expectation that Ukraine could fulfil President Volodymyr Zelensky's New Year's pledge to retake all of Ukraine by the end of the year.
- Is it reasonable to suggest that the ongoing placement of tactical nuclear weapons by both Russia and NATO nations on the borders of Belarus and their respective territories increases the risk of escalating tensions to the point of utilizing such weapons? Furthermore, can we conclude that these developments indicate a potential demise of international nuclear agreements?
The Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, said last week that he was certain Russian tactical nuclear weapons deployed in his country would never be used. Lukashenko and Russian president Vladimir Putin have acknowledged that some tactical weapons have arrived in Belarus and the remainder would be put in place by the end of the year. Putin has made repeated claims that he was prepared to use nuclear weapons if he felt Russia was threatened. Earlier this year Putin declared that Moscow would suspend its involvement in New Start, the only remaining arms-control agreement between the two nuclear superpowers. His illegal war in Ukraine and his nuclear threats have simply encouraged NATO to expand, adding Finland to its members and thus adding another 832 miles to NATO’s border with Russia. If Erdogan withdraws Turkey’s opposition, Sweden could also soon join NATO. It will then be almost essential for NATO to allow Ukraine to join. So, Putin’s claim that he launched the special ‘Special Military Operation’ in Ukraine because he felt threatened by NATO has totally backfired.
- What is the general sentiment among the Russian people regarding the war? If a significant portion of the population is against the conflict, could their opposition have contributed to its prolonged duration?
Young Russians in particular are deeply unhappy about the war. But as anti-war sentiment is heavily cracked down on by the police, few are truly open about their beliefs. These young Russians, unlike their elders, have access to smartphones and social networks, and therefore have access to a wider range of information compared with what they are told about the war on state media. Many have fled the country. They are well informed about friends and relatives who are dying on the front in Ukraine. The elderly, who remember the Soviet times, are more inclined to believe everything they are told on state media and therefore they support Putin and the war. However, there are growing signs that even they are becoming increasingly disenchanted by the massive increase in casualties and the failing Russian economy. Business, housing and community services, medicine, education – everything is sagging. After such colossal losses, even the army will have to be rebuilt again. The Russian middle classes are also dismayed that they are now severely restricted in where they can travel, and they are feeling the squeeze on their livelihoods with sanctions. There is therefore steadily increasing opposition to the war.
- If the war were to be prolonged, how do you foresee China's role evolving considering its current stance of remaining neutral but expressing support for Russia? Could China potentially play a crucial role in facilitating a peaceful agreement between both nations?
China has become an increasingly important trading partner for Russia, as it seeks to soften the impact of economic sanctions imposed by western countries in response to Putin’s illegal invasion. At the same time, China has been steadily expanding its military production capabilities and is now the world's fourth largest arms exporter. The United States has said Beijing is considering supplying weapons and ammunition to Russia, although China strongly denies the allegations. It is believed that although China has not overtly supplied Russia with lethal weapons it may be secretly selling it hi-tech products which could be used for military purposes. It is also well known that Iran is supplying Russia with weaponised drones that are being used daily for attacks on Ukraine. Chinese President Xi Jinping has signed a long-term ‘Belt & Road’ deal with Iran worth billions, effectively turning Iran into a client-state. Xi Jinping is also behind the recent détente between Iran and Saudi Arabia, where they have agreed to exchange ambassadors. Such mounting influence places China in a very strong position to facilitate an end to the conflict in Ukraine.
- Henry Kissinger, the former U.S. Secretary of State from the 1970s, has offered a solution to the ongoing war, suggesting that the territories Russia has taken should be retained by Russia, and the rest of Ukraine should remain independent. However, it remains uncertain whether NATO would accept this proposal, and if so, wouldn't it imply a loss for the NATO alliance?
In February 2014, following a meeting with his security chiefs that lasted all night, Vladimir Putin said: "We must start working on returning Crimea to Russia". By 18th March that year he had achieved his objective, effectively annexing Crimea and the city of Sevastopol as two federal subjects of the Russian Federation. The seizure of Crimea was simply another example of Putin’s attempt to recreate the former Soviet empire. In August 2008 he annexed more than 20% of Georgian territory. The regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, both scenes of violent separatist conflicts which left thousands dead and tens of thousands homeless, are now virtual no-go areas. Putin allows limited visits to Abkhazia by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), but South Ossetia has become a Russian military camp and the ill-defined demarcation lines established by the Russians are blockaded with tangled razor wire, guarded by military watchtowers. Hundreds of thousands were forced to flee during the 2008 war. Georgian government ministers claim that those who remain inside the two occupied territories routinely suffer human rights abuse, a lack of freedom of expression and widespread discrimination; their children are even denied education in their own native Georgian language. Scores of Georgian villages were destroyed by the Russian-backed separatists, particularly in South Ossetia and ethnic cleansing forced hundreds of thousands to flee. The then French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, claimed that he had arranged a ceasefire and single-handedly persuaded Putin not to send his tanks on to the Georgian capital Tbilisi, thwarting Putin’s plans to occupy the whole of Georgia. Kissinger is 100 years old. Does he really believe that Putin should be allowed to retain all the sovereign territory that he has seized. NATO and the West should have reacted forcefully to Putin’s aggressive behavior back in 2008. Their failure to do so has led to the war in Ukraine.