Let’s suppose, fairly safely, that Putin is a thug, a megalomaniac even, as the Western media has it. In which case, calling him names will be water off a duck’s back. It might be cathartic but it won’t help Ukrainians. Will severe financial, commercial and trade sanctions on Russia help? Will seizing the assets of Russian oligarchs? I don’t know. I just think it’s worthwhile considering.
It’s also worth considering what the objectives are of isolating Russia and its 146 million citizens.
Roger James (Return to Reason, 1980) drew attention to what he called Solutioneering. This is when the objective is lost sight of as some chosen solution takes its place and assumes centre stage. In this case what is the objective? I assume (?) it is the dual objective of restoring as much Ukrainian sovereignty and independence as possible while saving as many Ukrainian lives as possible.
The objective shouldn’t be to tighten the noose around Russia or punish Putin and his rich hangers on; however satisfying. These are the proffered solutions. Yet, political leaders and all sorts of experts that I read and watch doubt that sanctions will bring Russia to heel. Thus, the war will drag on, and will be prolonged too, by another solution which is to supply Ukraine with weapons. Is the objective in doing this to push Russia troops out of Ukraine by making it too costly for them to stay? Again, most experts doubt this will work.
So, what’s happening, apparently, is that NATO countries are doubling down on solutions that they don’t think will work to achieve their objective. That happens when the solutions become the objective and the actual objective is lost sight of. In the meantime, more and more Ukrainians are dying and fleeing their homeland and the chance of the war widening and a nuclear incident is becoming less remote than anyone would like.
Russia has offered a peace deal. I don’t know whether the offer is genuine or not but let’s take it at face value. There are four components. Ukraine is to cease military action, recognise Crimea as part of Russia, recognise the independence of the Russian- speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, and change its constitution to enshrine neutrality (which would rule out ever joining NATO or the EU).
These conditions are unacceptable to Zelensky and I saw them described as “preposterous” in the editorial of my morning newspaper. To my way of thinking, a one-sided cessation of military action is preposterous. Are the other conditions all entirely preposterous? Just asking. Surely Crimea is already gone. As for Donetsk and Luhansk, might their independence remove a running sore? What about neutrality?
NATO, has gone from an initial twelve countries to thirty. It now includes countries which were formerly members of the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact. Most notably Poland joined NATO in 1999, Estonia, Latvia (both bordering Russia) and Lithuania joined in 2004. Under the current government Ukraine, with its very long land border with Russia, wants desperately to join.
I know we’re the good guys and Russia has nothing to fear from us good guys but do the Russians see it as clearly as we do? Just a guess, maybe not. True Ukrainians would lose an element of sovereignty in accepting neutrality. Could they close their eyes and think of Switzerland? And, unfortunately, Russia would have its aggression rewarded. Wouldn’t be the first. Think of the Turkish invasion of Cyprus; the Chinese takeover of Tibet.
To be clear, I don’t know the answer. But it would be good if cool heads were in charge to establish feasible objectives and to design solutions to achieve them and to be flexible as circumstances warrant. A headlong rush to impose more and more sanctions and supply more and more weapons, as objectives in themselves, not to mention this notion of a no-fly zone which seems to be gathering support, might become a road to perdition for Ukrainians and others.