SECTIONS
Premium

What’s the end game of war in Ukraine?

A view shows the Ukrainian State Border Guard Service site damaged by shelling in the Kyiv region, Ukraine. [Reuters]

It’s more than a week since Russia invaded Ukraine. So far, the country (Ukraine) is yet to be subdued. Images of war are being streamed into our living rooms.

We are left wondering how to explain to children why there is war among white people.

One would have thought that in the 21st century, we have gone beyond war as a means to settle disputes. The war in Ukraine has left me wondering if we are different from the rest of the animal kingdom.

The lion is not guilty of devouring the antelope, that is food. Are we not behaving the same way by attacking other countries and killing citizens?

One week later, we can still ask the question, what is Russia’s end game? Why attack another country, much smaller and less armed?

Denazification

Propaganda is one of the weapons of war. Why invoke Nazi, the party once led by Adolf Hitler in Germany? What did Russia mean by ‘denazification’ and ‘nullification’ of Ukraine?

We have argued that history has no manners and it is in Ukraine where that fact is coming out clearly. History is a deep well full of grudges. You pick the ones that suit you.

Have you noted how Nazi and the Jewish background of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy - a former actor, and comedian are being weaved together to create emotions and anger? Remember the Holocaust?

Russian leaders have not been clear - both to themselves and to their population - on the main reason for invading their neighbour, who looks like themselves with similar culture such as language and religion.

Beyond propaganda, let us try and break through the fog of war.

Bloodshed

One, Russia wants to redraw the map of Eurasia by force. Sadly, and history shows, most country borders were drawn with blood.

It took long years of bloodshed before country borders got settled in Europe where racial homogeneity rules today. The United States and Mexico once fought over the border.

Remember the Kenya-Somali border and Shifta war? North and South Korea? Pakistan and India? The list can be longer.

But how will the new map of Eurasia look like? Does Russia want Ukraine to become part of Russia, an oblast or province? Is that what nullification means?

Is that why Russia wants to subdue this country into total submission? Make it helpless? What next?

Two, we argued last week that Russia wants to install a friendly government in Ukraine then withdraw or keep troops there to ensure “peace.” That is what happened in Chechnya (not the one in Naivasha), South Ossetia and Abkhazia near Georgia.

That looks more plausible. But you need lots of money and manpower to occupy a country like Ukraine. Remember the US and Russia (formerly the Soviet Union) withdrawing from Afghanistan?

Or would proximity to Russia make such an occupation easier? Remember the cost of running the colonies made colonialists go home?

What of the international community’s response to such an occupation and Ukrainian resistance? Remember the arming of Mujahedeen in Afghanistan? Who is arming Ukraine?

Three, by letting the refugees flood Europe, Russia could be punishing Europe and by extension the US for supporting Ukraine’s entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and European Union (EU).

This looks like a replay of the refugee crisis after the Syrian war. Remember Russia turned the tide of war in favour of Bashir Assad who is still in power? Did the Syrian war and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan embolden Russia?

Four, there is a great fear that after Ukraine, other dominos like former Soviet republics - from the Baltic states of Latvia to Lithuania and Estonia - would fall to Russia.

Is that what the Ukraine president meant by the spectre of a new iron curtain?

Five, Russia may want to get recognised as a new superpower, ahead of rising China. Is threat the quickest route to superpower status? Russia, read, President Putin and his inner circle have mentioned nuclear alerts.

That route will not work. The Russian population of around 144 million should not threaten the whole world. Superpower status goes beyond weapons and war; one must invest in soft power too.

Note the dominance of the US media, movies, religion, currency, language and even in academia. Check the most cited authors.

Russia has a long way to go before catching up from where the old Soviet Union left. Russia is ignoring history; its lack of pedestals for soft power and too much focus on the military-industrial complex failed the old Soviet Union.

Could Russian repeat the same mistake?

Could adventures in Ukraine and elsewhere stretch Russia to lthe imit like all ambitious empires in past? Recall Russia is slowly making inroads beyond Ukraine, even into Africa. Hopefully away from our August 2022 polls.

Six, trying to revive her superpower status could be torpedoed by the home crowd. Will Russians cheer the war in Ukraine indefinitely? Students of history will note that one way to shore up your political support at home is to lead your country into a war that you must win.

What happens if body bags start arriving home from Ukraine? Could the unpopularity of war at home force Putin to withdraw his troops? Remember how Vietnam and Afghanistan drained America?

Seven, could other restive areas of the former Soviet Union rise against Russia in solidarity with Ukraine? Remember Chechnya, South Ossetia, Tatarstan and Abkhazia?

Russia’s vast and far-flung regions could use the focus on the war in Ukraine to stake their freedom from the centre

Eight, few countries have come openly to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We would love to hear from countries like China, Iran or Israel. Could that isolation make Russia rethink its strategy?

Could that isolation make Russia more dangerous like a cornered rogue buffalo? Could Putin overreact if he feels the West, read NATO want him out of power?

Nine, what if the Ukraine invasion leads to Putin losing his grip on power? Who is his likely successor? What would be his new strategy? Could this war be a sign of Russian decline, trying to show the world “we are still there”?

Cloud of fear

Ten, until president Putin makes clear his strategy, the end game in Ukraine, we shall remain speculating with a cloud of fear engulfing Europe, former Soviet republics and the rest of the world. Could strategic ambiguity be deliberate for Russia?

Eleven, could be punishing us with higher fuel and food prices coupled with falling stock prices be part of the Russian game? What is really in the mind of the Russian leaders?

Why so much anger? Could Putin’s life in Germany as a KGB officer have made him angry with the West?

Finally, the fear of a nuclear confrontation is making Russia have its way. A nuclear confrontation would be worse than a war in Ukraine.

That is why international pressure and non-military responses such as sanctions remain the most viable option, beyond arming Ukraine.

What if Putin suddenly orders a stop to the war in Ukraine. Would we praise him? It seems while the prediction of the Ukraine invasion was correct, the aftermath was less predictable.

We hear Russia is negotiating with Ukraine. What are the terms? Is the war calculated to extract maximum concession? War is not fun and the sooner it ends the better for all of us, even for us away from the frontline. Spare a thought and a prayer for Ukraine, the beautiful land by the Black Sea, the breadbasket of Europe.