Russia’s forces continue to make incremental tactical successes in the Donbas, but regardless of what progress it makes now, Ukraine has already defeated Russia. After failing to achieve its initial military objectives and then significantly scaling down its objectives, Ukraine has exposed that Russia’s military is not the formidable fighting force decades worth of propaganda has led us all, including itself, to believe. Instead, the embarrassing performance of the Russian military has forced scholars to retreat and rethink what it means to be a “great” power with Russia in the crosshairs.
An economy running on fumes
It is probable that President Vladimir Putin is now desperate for a ceasefire and will likely call for one of the remaining Ukrainian-controlled territories in the Donbas to fall into Russian hands. The Kremlin’s propaganda channels will immediately go into overdrive and claim that the Russian army has achieved the objectives of its so-called special military operation. The Ukrainian army will not back down and will continue doing what it has been doing since February 24.
Although a recently leaked poll commissioned by the Russian presidential administration reveals that only 30% of Russians want an immediate cease to hostilities, Putin needs a way out of the war. Absolutely nothing about the war has gone according to the Kremlin’s plan.
Although Russia’s economy has not immediately collapsed under the weight of sanctions, its economy appears to now be running on fumes, with even Putin himself admitting that sanctions are starting to bite in some areas of the economy more than others. The sanctions were never designed to ruin the Russian economy immediately but inherent to their design was to bleed the Russian economy over time, and sustaining the sanctions is not feasible in the long-term for the Russian economy.
This is where Putin’s next gamble will come into play. A ceasefire will be called, and a large chunk of Ukraine will fall under Moscow’s yoke like so many times before in its history. The Kremlin will claim the war is being prolonged by Ukraine and the West through arms deliveries and will call for an immediate end to the now-rephrased “Ukrainian hostilities.”
[quote float=left]Like sleeper agents, Russia sympathizers across European countries who for years have toed the Kremlin line and had their pockets lined with cash will crawl out of their holes and begin calling for a ceasefire[/quote]Like sleeper agents, Russia sympathizers across European countries who for years have toed the Kremlin line and had their pockets lined with cash will crawl out of their holes and begin calling for a ceasefire. Similarly, Western European leaders are also searching for a way out. Inflation is at unprecedented levels, fuel prices are rising, households are beginning to feel the pinch as the cost of living crisis worsens, a recession is just around the corner, and the risk of another wave of migration as Russia starves Africa off food looms over Europe.
The timing of the ceasefire calls will take place ahead of winter. Russia began to gradually switch the tap already before the war, and in late July 2022, it further halved the amount of gas flowing through Nord Stream 1 to Europe to 20% of capacity. Come winter, Russia will attempt to freeze European leaders into submission.
[quote float=left]Come winter, Russia will attempt to freeze European leaders into submission[/quote]Although European states have begun to gradually diversify their energy supplies and the European Commission has prepared a European Gas Demand Reduction Plan in case of further supply disruptions, Europe remains woefully unprepared for a complete switch off of Russian gas. European leaders have scrambled to secure energy-supply deals. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi travelled to Algeria to strike a deal aiming to increase gas imports by 20%, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen signed a deal with Azerbaijan to increase gas flows from the Caspian Sea, and the EU has similarly struck deals with Israel and Egypt while at the same time the continent is importing record amounts of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
However, the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s latest analysis is damning, revealing that the extra gas Europe needs over the next three months is in the region of 12 billion cubic meters – equivalent to 130 LNG tankers. The IEA’s Executive Director, Dr. Faith Birol, said that “it is categorically not enough to just rely on gas from non-Russian sources – these supplies are simply not available in the volumes required to substitute for missing deliveries from Russia.”
Scrambling to fill the gap
While Europe has scrambled, Russia, despite its economy heavily relying on revenues from Europe, has also begun striking its own deals. In February, before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Gazprom agreed to supply the Chinese National Petroleum Corporation with initially 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year with the intention of increasing it to 48 billion cubic meters annually. Smaller deals have been struck with nations such as Serbia, and more will eventually follow. While there is a long way for Russia to go to replace the 158 billion cubic meters of gas it supplied to Europe in 2021, Putin has clearly been planning for this moment for a long time, while Europe has done very little to wean itself off Russian gas.
[quote float=left]Faced with the prospect of a difficult winter, we can expect European leaders to fold like cheap suits[/quote]Faced with the prospect of a difficult winter, we can expect European leaders to fold like cheap suits. Some European states, particularly those in Eastern Europe who have stood firm by Ukraine’s side the longest, will brave the winter because they know the stakes are high. The same cannot be said for leaders such as President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Olaf Scholz. We should not be surprised by these antiheroes who either spent the early days of the war naively pandering to Putin or were not present at all and lacked any coherent stance.
We’re also beginning to see cracks emerge in the European Commission’s will to continue to pressure Moscow with concessions being made in relation to the transit of goods through Lithuania into Kaliningrad Oblast and the Commission moving towards softening some sanctions which will unfreeze some assets owned by Russia’s largest banks.
The odds are in Putin’s favor
As Jakob Kirkegaard, a senior fellow in economics and trade at the German Marshall Fund, warned, Putin “needs a reset in the Ukraine war” and “one way to do that is by messing around with Europe’s energy supplies in the hope that support for the Ukrainian cause will therefore evaporate.” Putin’s next gamble will be to crush European solidarity turn public opinion in Europe against the war and in favor of a ceasefire. Faced with democratically accountable politicians who are only able to see as far as the next election, the odds are in his favor.
Ukraine is only as strong as European, and US arms supplies continue flowing, and Kyiv is acutely aware of this. This might explain President Volodymyr Zelensky’s very public declaration to liberate Ukraine’s southern regions as intensifying the conflict and scoring military victories in the South might be essential in keeping public support in Europe in favor of Ukraine continuing to resist.
Europe faces a difficult winter, but this is the cost it must bear for years of passivity. No matter how difficult it becomes, Putin must not be offered a way out. Putin will use a ceasefire to replenish its arms, reassemble its forces, and will strike again in the future. After all, the war is not the result of the perceived threat of NATO ascension for Ukraine. Useful idiots in Europe and the US continue to parrot Kremlin lines without realizing that for Putin, the mask has already come off.Time is running out for Putin, and defeat will not be enough. Like tyrants that came before him, he must ultimately be crushed. Click To Tweet
Tyrants must be crushed
The objective of the war is, and always has been, the destruction of not only the Ukrainian state but also the nation. It would be naive to assume that a ceasefire and a demarcation line will not be the end of the war. As evidenced recently, when Russia launched two cruise missiles at Odesa’s port just hours after reaching a deal to unblock grain exports, Russia cannot be trusted. Russia will strike again, it might not be this year or the next, but eventually, it will strike.
It must be remembered that Russia has already been defeated and that it is only resorting to freezing Europe because its army has failed in every single one of its objectives. Time is running out for Putin, and defeat will not be enough. Like tyrants that came before him, he must ultimately be crushed.
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