Western intelligence got it right that Russia was planning to invade Ukraine. And it did one year ago, raining missiles on Kyiv and other cities.
Taking Kyiv by stealth failed and the frontlines have shifted back and forth in the last year. We are still scratching our heads - why did Russia invade Ukraine?
Recent observers have linked the invasion to the Russian elections in 2024 for which President Vladimir Putin will most likely offer himself for reelection. Wars have a way of raising the profile of leaders or destroying them if they are defeated.
Beyond war, which unifies a country through fear, the ghosts of the former Soviet Union haunt Russia. It was the epicentre of the superpower that counterweighted the United States for 70 years.
History shows that rarely are empires revived. Why would Putin want to revive an empire whose life ended? That fact alone could determine how the Ukraine war will end.
I would love to visit both Russia and Ukraine to find out on the ground what is the key issue beyond the threat of Ukraine joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and reviving the Russian pride espoused by czars Peter and Catherine the Great.
By the way, we covered the history of Russia in Form One and Two, while the book “Government Inspector” by Russian author Nicolas Golgol was one of our set books. Its characterisation of corruption still rings in my mind. Is NATO in Baringo the same as NATO in the military alliance?
Russia - read Putin - could be out to cut the West to size, showing them they can’t do much if he invaded another country. By prolonging the war, Putin might slowly puncture the western coalition.
It may get tired of funding the war after feeling its effects such as inflation. Russia’s failure to overrun and occupy Ukraine might be a deliberate strategy to wear out the West. We all think Russia wants a quick victory.
By prolonging the war with daily reports of missiles, the other countries could fear, slowly getting into the Russian orbit. And Russian stature as a power that could stand up against the West would rise.
Will the Warsaw Pact be revived as a countervailing force to NATO? Or will China and Russia get closer as the counterweight to NATO?
Oil and gas
What of unintended consequences like damage to the Russian image and economy? It seems that can wait.
Russia has some leverage with oil and gas. Her other leverage is getting a network of allies.
Who buys Russian oil and gas? It seems that with time Russia has built an economic network that keeps her economy going - away from the West.
And she had prepared for that long before invading Ukraine. How effective have been the sanctions?
Another country under Western sanctions is Iran, which has been instrumental in the Ukrainian war by supplying drones. Could sanctions have the opposite effect, making a country self-reliant and spawning local innovations? Remember South Africa under sanctions and its innovations?
The longer the war lasts, the tighter this network becomes enforced by fear. It has even roped in some African countries such as South Africa.
What next? The other emerging superpower that could be a countervailing force to the US is China. But unlike Russia, China’s prowess has largely been on the economic front without neglecting its military.
Russia has not done well economically and wants to be a superpower using the old style of conquest.
It’s paradoxical that the old Soviet Union died because it neglected the economic pillar on its way to superpower status. Any empire that stands on a shaky economic foundation will not last.
Seen any Russian bank, non-governmental organisation (NGO) or factory in Kenya or elsewhere in Africa? Got something “Made in Russia”
To build a successful empire, you also need a cultural foundation. Why else do we speak English and still use the Roman legal or Greek democratic systems? Russia’s cultural influence is limited. We do not study Russian unlike Mandarin and other foreign languages. The Russian Orthodox Church has few members in Kenya but curiously shares its cross with the African independent Pentecostal church (AIPCA).
Who are the Russian musicians or movie stars? Beyond military hardware, the Russian global reach is limited. That could make it hard for Russia to hold onto Ukraine if they succeed in subduing her. Without soft power, hard power based on the military is temporary. Remember Russians in Afghanistan or the US in Vietnam?
It’s the soft power that recently took US President Joe Biden to Kyiv to demonstrate his support for Ukraine. It is soft power and patience that slowly eroded the old Soviet Union without the Cold War ever getting hot.
In the battleground, the weapons have been tested leading to a stalemate which is likely to prolong into the second year.
Could the war be won using soft power just like the Cold War?
One wild card in the Ukraine war is China. Will she join Russia as a new countervailing force to the US or NATO? Will she midwife a negotiated settlement?
Would China take sides to turn the tide of war? We could also ask who are the war profiteers.
Who is making the weapons from drones to missiles? Who is benefiting from high oil prices?
We have argued repeatedly that Ukraine is not just a localised war, it’s also about remaking the world order. So far, that project has not succeeded. Will it succeed in year two? Will the re-election of Putin in 2024 end the war?
Will Russia be satisfied with taking eastern Ukraine? Will Russia go beyond if Ukraine falls? These fears have kept the West awake. Sadly, the war has entered its second year with intended and unintended consequences.
The Ukrainians know that first-hand. We too can feel that war in our pockets. One year is long enough, let Ukrainians and Russians make peace, they are neighbours, they are brothers.