Over the last year, Western leaders have had to give up on many of their assumptions about Ukraine and Russia, Aleksandr Skobov says. But they still have yet to recognize that they want two things that cannot take place simultaneously: Ukraine to win the war without Russia suffering a defeat.
Western leaders have kept that internally inconsistent agenda because they want to avoid escalation, the Russian commentator says. However, it is also because they do not understand either the nature of Putin’s system and how such an approach gives Putin a chance to continue to blackmail the West by continuing to threaten “what the target of his blackmail is afraid of.”
And unless the West understands what the Kremlin leader is about and how he rules Russia, Putin may be able to come out of this conflict strengthened rather than weakened at home. He even has the chance to keep the conflict going in ways that could give him partial victories abroad despite the heroism of the Ukrainian nation.
As Putin’s war in Ukraine passes into its second year, Western analytic centers are increasingly talking about “the real prospect of an extended war, in which at the beginning almost no one believed. At first, they did not believe that Ukraine would withstand a hit by forces greater than its own” and would “capitulate.”
“Then, these centers did not believe that that Russian society, accustomed to a post-industrial relaxation, would prove completely insensitive to the pain of huge losses in what is clearly not a defensive war,” Skobov says.
They did not and, in many cases, do not understand that Russians remain indifferent not only to the pain of others but to their pain as well.
Many in these centers and elsewhere still “refuse to recognize the Putin regime as the reincarnation of Nazism primarily because they do not see in society a real political and ideological mobilization” like that which existed in Hitler’s Germany. There is no “genuine mass enthusiasm” but only its “purely” formal and pale “imitation.
That, however, is the core principle of the way in which Putin has built his system, Skobov says.
“Putin’s post-modern Nazism is Nazism de minimis.” But “that is what gives it its vitality” because “society is not at all obsessed with a desire for victory or particularly hurt in the event of failure.”
Because of that combination, the commentator continues, “there is no longer any certainty that Putin’s regime will start to crumble even after ‘the loss’ of Crimea, whose acquisition once briefly set the hearts of Russians on fire. Now, they may not care all that much about that either.”
“And having turned off both conscience and the ability to think rationally. We get the same result [in Putin’s Russia] as in Hitler’s Germany: people with whom the government can inflict any abomination and whom it can force to commit any abomination.”
If the West refuses to see that this regime must be defeated, even if that takes escalation, the future is grim indeed.
As long as the West believes that its first operational principle must be to avoid any escalation, “the Nazi dictator of Russia has the ability to blackmail the world with exactly that” because he can escalate the conflict at will, something that may not bring military victories but impose “another psychological victory over the West.”
That must not be allowed to happen, Skobov says. Ukraine must win, and Putin’s Russia must be defeated. Any other outcome will be a defeat not only for Ukraine but for the West as a whole.