Like the dictators he has modeled himself on, Vladimir Putin has issued the only kind of declaration of war against Ukraine he is going to make: the Kremlin leader has blamed Ukrainians and those working with them for the combat losses Russian forces are suffering in the Donbas and thereby preparing his country for more losses ahead.
After weeks and even months in which Russian officials have lied about the presence of Russian forces in Ukraine and tried to cover up losses there, Putin said yesterday that responsibility for deaths in the Donbas lies on “those who have given such criminal orders,” even though they know the only way forward is via “peace talks and means of a political character.”
At a meeting of the Russian Security Council, the Kremlin leader said that “we often hear, including from today’s official Kyiv” that it is committed to that “means of resolving questions” but “in practice, everything is proceeding entirely differently. I hope,” he concluded, that in the end, good sense will triumph.”
Putin added that Moscow has not received an answer from Kyiv to Russian proposals for resolving the conflict in the Donbas. “Unfortunately,” he continued, “we not only have not received any real answer to our proposals, but we see “that the Kyiv authorities have given an official order about the start of major military operations” throughout the region.
Many of those who have been in denial about what Moscow is doing in Ukraine will undoubtedly contort themselves again in order to maintain that Putin is a peacemaker not a warmonger and that Ukraine is to blame for everything, thus allowing themselves an excuse not to take any action.
But those who do so in the wake of the obvious role of Russian forces in the destruction of the Donetsk airport are deceiving themselves every bit as much as those who 75 years ago accepted Hitler’s suggestion that the Poles had attacked Germany and Stalin’s claim that the Finns had attacked the USSR, forcing those two dictatorships to act.
Putin’s statement, which such people will write off as just the latest salvo in Russia’s propaganda war, shows how wrong they are. As Yury Vasilchenko points out in a commentary in Kyiv’s “Delovaya stolitsa” yesterday, the Kremlin leader, like his predecessors, is preparing his countrymen for major combat losses.
Even yesterday, Vasilchenko points out, Putin couldn’t tell the truth: No one in Kyiv has given the order he says the government there has, and Putin himself still refuses to acknowledge the concentration of Russian forces on Ukrainian territory, something which “testifies to Putin’s intentions to launch an attack.”
“Beyond any doubt,” the Ukrainian commentator says, Putin’s words represent a declaration on his part that a major invasion of Ukraine is in the offing. Such a campaign “can begin at any moment.”
First, Vasilchenko says, the Kremlin leader want to intimidate the West into re-writing the Minsk agreements in Russia’s favor.
Second, Putin is preparing his own population for the “enormous number of killed and wounded” Russians are going to suffer in such a campaign by suggesting to his countrymen that they are engaged not as aggressors but as peacekeepers and that all the fault is on the side of the Ukrainians and their backers.
And third, Vasilchenko continues, Putin is interested in triggering a new wave of “anti-Ukrainian hysteria in the Russian Federation.” Kremlin propagandists following his lead “will sow hatred to Ukrainians, ‘who have killed our sons,’ demand from the Kremlin ‘a war to a victorious conclusion,’ and accuse the West of being behind the conflict.”
Putin needs not only the complete support of his own people for his aggression but he also – and according to Vasilchenko, this is “the main thing” – must not allow the emergence of “anti-war attitudes in society,” attitudes which “could appear when caskets with the bodies of Russian soldiers arrive not by the dozens as now but by the hundreds.”
How should Ukraine respond? According to Vasilchenko, it must simultaneously prepare for the coming Russian attack and “intensify its diplomatic work so that Brussels, Berlin and Paris will not give in to Putin’s blackmail.” And in no case must Ukraine agree to any modification of the Minsk agreements.