VLADIMIR PUTIN — KREMLIN.RU/
Putin’s war is predicated on a false narrative. In an hour-long address to the Russian people on the eve of the Ukraine attacks, Vladimir Putin revealed his grand argument as to why the Ukraine deserved to be invaded.
Putin claimed that Ukraine was created by the authors of the Russian Communist Revolution more than 100 years ago to be an extension of Russia. That in the last 30 years, the United States and Europe, collectively referred to as the “West,” connived to install Neo-Nazi leaders in the Ukrainian government. Since taking the reins of power, the Neo-Nazis have been feeding the Ukrainian people anti-Russian rhetoric with the intent of exterminating the Russian-speaking communities in the eastern part of the country.
Putin asserts that Ukraine aspires for full NATO membership. Once a part of the western military alliance, Ukraine will serve as the jumping point of the west to obliterate modern day Russia “just as Hitler did 80 years ago.” This time, Putin assures, the Russian people will be ready.
With clear and present dangers, Russia must invade Ukraine to save the Ukrainian people from Nazi tyranny and protect the Russian motherland from possible NATO attacks. Besides, Putin says, if the Ukrainian people are going to disavow Russia and the land the Communist Party gave them, then it must be taken back.
In summary, Putin’s justification for his war hinges on four points. First, that Ukraine has always belonged to Russia. Second, that Ukraine has been “hijacked” by the west. Third, that the west controls the country through Neo-Nazi puppets. And fourth, that NATO is bound to use Ukraine as a bridge to attack Russia.
Aware that the Russian people will reject a bloody invasion, Putin framed his siege as a rescue mission and a national security necessity. This Russian narrative, however false, is echoed by Russian diplomats around the world including the Philippines.
The Putin narrative is untrue on all levels. In the first place, Ukraine was never a Russian creation. Kiev, the capital, was a thriving independent city even before Moscow came to be. It has its own culture and its own historical borders.
Since gaining independence from the USSR in 1991, Ukraine has had seven presidents, all of whom were democratically elected except for Oleksander Turchynov who was an interim president. None of the presidents were Neo-Nazis. In fact, in the 2019 elections, the political party representing the extreme right (the closest in philosophy to Neo-Nazis) won only 2% of the votes and no seats in parliament. As for NATO, Ukrainian membership was never a possibility since it failed to meet the alliance’s qualifications.
Despite a justification based on falsehoods, Putin ordered an all-out invasion in the early morning of Feb. 22. Entering the Ukraine from eight strategic fronts, the Russian forces first seized rural areas with tanks and missiles, before slowly making their way to the cities.
Putin made a grave miscalculation. He thought the Ukrainian people would not resist given the overwhelming strength of the Russian forces. He believed many would even welcome Russian occupation with open arms, especially the citizenry in the Donbas region. How wrong he was.
In an admirable display of bravery, the Ukrainian people resisted Russian aggression with their lives. There is a long waiting list today to join the Ukrainian army. Men and women took up arms to fight. Molotov cocktails versus Russian missile trucks. Civilians used their bodies to block tanks…. many lay prostrate on the streets to prevent Russian convoys from progressing. With such dedication and bravery from the Ukrainian people, the Russian forces are losing despite their immense firepower.
Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky was offered to be airlifted to safety by the US but he chose to fight shoulder to shoulder with the people. He said poignantly, “I need ammunition, not a ride.” To that, western democracies came to Ukrainian aid in an unprecedented show of support. Even neutral Switzerland sent arms to help the resistance.
The unshakable resistance of the Ukrainian people and the all-out support of her allies foiled Putin’s plan.
As events unfold, it is highly unlikely that Putin will have the victory he designed. Everybody will lose, but Russia will be the biggest loser.
Putin may succeed in driving the Ukrainian government out of Kiev and seize large swaths of Ukrainian territory for itself. But it is impossible to occupy the entire country without spending hundreds of billions of dollars — dollars Russia does not have. Ukraine has Europe’s largest land mass at 603,548 square kilometers.
The Ukraine Republic will endure but perhaps with a smaller territory than it had before. It will rebuild with massive support from the west and other democratic nations.
As for Russia itself, its economy will suffer the severe aftershocks of the stiff economic sanctions imposed by western democracies. Moving forward, Russia will become increasingly isolated, to its peril. Putin’s cabal of oligarchs will lose large parts of their wealth and will slowly turn their back against their benefactor. Some already have.
In Ukraine, whatever support Russia enjoyed from loyalist in Donbas and Crimea have diminished as Putin’s true colors were revealed. Putin’s stronghold in Ukraine has all but vanished. In contrast, the Ukrainians have witnessed how the West has supported them and this has drawn them closer to the democratic way of life.
As for Putin himself, he lost the trust of the Russian people. The majority now realize that Putin’s narrative was a lie — the Ukrainians, with whom the Russians feel kinship, were never under Neo-Nazi control nor were they preparing to attack the Russian mainland. For this, scores have expressed resentment towards Putin for duping them into war.
If anything, Putin’s war succeeded in uniting the West and strengthened NATO anew. With a common enemy and a common purpose, western democracies have banded together with a renewed resolve. The West got stronger while Russia got weaker. A bitter pill for Putin to swallow.
Andrew J. Masigan is an economist