In the battle of narratives, Ukraine is not Iraq

With the recent “partial” mobilization order of Russian fighters and the annexation of invaded territories in Ukraine, the war seems to have crossed a line from which it is no longer possible to return.

)Unlike the feeling in February 20 when the fall of Kyiv was almost taken for granted, it is no longer possible to say who will win the war. annexation ceremony of Kherson, Luhansk and parts of Donetsk and Zaporizhzhia on Friday (30), Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled for the return to the negotiating table of peace.

But this comes at a time when the Ukrainians hold the initiative on the battlefield and President Volodymyr Zelensky replied that he will only negotiate with the next Russian president – suggesting an eventual fall of Putin The invasion was too brutal for the current generation of Ukrainians to be able to forgive and forget.

Putin prepares his contingents of newly called up soldiers to try prolong the war as long as possible – waiting for European governments to fall under the pressure of inflation and the energy crisis, or for a friendlier president to arrive at the White House in 2024. His hope is that the West will cut off the economic and military support that has been vital to Ukraine’s survival.

Because of this, the fate of Ukrainians and Russians will depend on one very important intangible factor: How will the world view from now on the support of Washington and its European allies for Kyiv in the war?

Within the US and in the global south (groups of developing countries including Brazil) , Washington’s indirect involvement in Ukraine has been compared to the second US invasion of Iraq, in 2003 – a morally unjustifiable operation, which was based on a search for non-existent weapons of mass destruction .

Another common association is with the botched military withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 – after almost 20 years of a military operation in response to the September 11 attacks that had a legal basis, but which generated criticism about the legitimacy of North American interventionism American.

Part of these image associations can be attributed to a Russian propaganda effort, inserted in the current information war and in the Russian attempt to avoid diplomatic isolation.

But Ukraine is not the Iraq of 2003. This time, the West is not engaged in a counterinsurgency war to impose values ​​- or simply elections – on an entirely different culture. On the contrary, it is offering indirect but vital support for an established democracy that struggles not to be annexed into Russia’s expansionist and authoritarian project.

In an article published in the American journal Foreign Affairs, Professor of Yale University history Timothy Snyder compared the current situation in Ukraine to the Munich Agreement of 1938 – an episode that helped trigger Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia and the World War II.

At the time, Nazi Germany claimed possession of the Sudetenland, a territory of Czechoslovakia where there was a majority of ethnic Germans. The process happened similarly to what Russia does with Ukraine today. Hitler accused Czech democracy of authoritarianism and violations of the rights of ethnic Germans living on its territory. Putin does the same with Ukraine.

According to Snyder, Czechoslovakia had decent armed forces, the best weapons industry in Europe and improved natural defenses by building lines of mountain fortresses. According to the historian, perhaps Germany would not have been able to beat the Czechs in an open war, or at least would have had great difficulty in doing so – if Czechoslovakia had received support from its allies at the time, France and the United Kingdom. .

But Édouard Daladier (then Prime Minister of France), Neville Chamberlain (Premier of the United Kingdom) and Benito Mussolini (Leader of Italy) decided to hand over the Sudetenland to Hitler to appease him, without even let the Czech government participate in the negotiations. That was the Munich pact.

Winston Churchill, one of Chamberlain’s biggest critics at the time, said at the time: “You had a choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will receive war.”

After taking the Sudetenland without combat, Germany annexed all of Czechoslovakia. With weapons looted in the country, he then invaded Poland and his military campaign gained momentum – which attracted allies and started the war.

Snyder speculates that if Hitler had faced a hard battle in Czechoslovakia , perhaps the popular appeal of his regime would have been less and the UK and France would have had time to prepare for combat. This could eventually have prevented the outbreak of World War II.

Putin is facing a tough battle in Ukraine. For the historian, the world today may be in a scenario similar to that of 30 – with the difference that this time the West decided to act and send help to a democracy placed in check by an authoritarian regime.

But to avoid a nuclear war, support has been in the form of sanctions and isolation from Moscow, in addition to remittances of financial resources, weapons and intelligence – without sending troops.

It is not possible to know for sure how far Putin’s expansionist appetite goes. He invaded Georgia in 2008 and in doing so realized that his Armed Forces needed to be modernized. This has been partially implemented. In 2014, he annexed Crimea and fostered separatist movements in the Ukrainian Donbas.

It is known from an essay published by him in

, that his ambitions are inspired by a distorted view of history, according to which Russia today has a “natural right” to dominate a number of neighboring territories. This was the subject of our column last week.

In a speech on Friday, he said that “generations of Russians” have already fought for the lands currently being annexed in Ukraine, a possible reference to the military expansion promoted by Empress Catherine II in the century 18 Putin also classified the West as an “enemy” and a dictatorship of elites aimed against all societies, which profess a Satanist religion.

In his essay last year, the Russian president lamented decisions taken by Lenin during the Soviet period, which separated several regions that he believed were rightfully Russia’s.

If the Putin’s plans are to retake the territories of what he calls “historical Russia”, so citizens of countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan must have reason to be concerned. It is also unclear whether Putin would want to regain these areas militarily or through political influence or the installation of puppet governments.

Putin is preparing more 30 thousand men to send to Ukraine. But there are indications in the partial mobilization decree itself (which has secret articles) that the number could exceed one million soldiers – which would double the number of Russian Armed Forces. Such a contingent is not mobilized just to apply diplomatic pressure.

The troops can be used to hold Ukraine’s already conquered regions – and stifle resistance movements – or they can be used in new offensives that can to extrapolate Ukrainian territory.

Totalitarian state

But by forming this new army, Putin breaks an informal agreement he had with the Russian people: “ impunity for government actions in exchange for privacy and prosperity for citizens.”

As recruiters knock on Russian citizens’ doors, political debate returns to society. The blunders of the beginning of the partial mobilization – such as the summoning of the disabled and the elderly – highlights the incompetence and lack of determination of the Russian military and further fuels the nascent political debate.

To continue with the formation of his new army, Putin will have to tighten even more the instruments of repression of the individual freedoms of the country. He will, for example, have to prevent more episodes of recruitment center fires and recruiter murders. If he doesn’t, he may lose the ability to rule. Russia will increasingly become a totalitarian and police state.

Thus, an eventual Russian victory in Ukraine could mean the strengthening not only of Putin and his expansionist project, but also stimulating the proliferation of other autocratic governments, classified by Snyder as “tyrannical”.

In other words, according to the historian, the result of this war will establish the principles of diplomatic relations of the century 21 and directly influence the future of democracies.

Furthermore, if Ukraine and its Western allies are not able to win back Kherson, Luhansk, parts of Donetsk , Zaporizhzhia and Crimea (taken by Russia in 2014), the world can return to a more violent era, which until then had practically ended along with World War II: the era of motivated wars by territorial conquest.

The worst aspects of this type of war are the effects on the civilian population – which always ends up subjected to political ics of repression and is even the target of policies of withdrawal or annihilation to reduce the population density of certain areas.

Some of these aspects have already occurred in the seven months of war in Ukraine. Some examples are the indiscriminate bombing of civilian and military targets in Mariupol and Kharkiv and the alleged forcible removal of entire Ukrainian population contingents from occupied areas and their transfer to Russia’s remote interior.

Threat nuclear

The last attempt to revive this type of conflict for the expansion of territories had been made by Iraq, when it invaded Kuwait in 1990 . The country ended up expelled from the neighboring territory by a western coalition.

But Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction, as proved by the disastrous American invasion that followed, in 2003. Russia, on the other hand, has the largest nuclear arsenal on the planet and has been threatening to use it if the newly annexed areas are attacked.

Although the threats have to be taken seriously, it is unlikely that Russia will break the so-called “nuclear taboo”, even if it uses a bomb of a tactical nature (less destructive). This is because such an action could lead NATO (Western military alliance) to participate directly in the conflict, sending troops, ships and aircraft. This is a scenario Putin wants to avoid.

The recent threats to use nuclear bombs seem more like a Russian attempt to dissuade the West from sending even more powerful conventional weapons to Ukraine.

If you don’t get a peace agreement to say that Russia won the war by annexing 20% of Ukrainian territory, Putin will try to extend the conflict using more recruits and conventional weapons.

Critics in the West may argue that US industry is profiting by selling weapons to be used in the Ukrainian war and exporting gas to the European market.

The United Kingdom and the European Union, meanwhile, are already taking on debt to try to deal with the energy shortages and rising inflation resulting from the sanctions on Russia.

But, from the point of view of the West, if Putin is not stopped now, what is at stake is not only the economy, but the very future of peoples’ freedom and democracy – in the face of authoritarianism.

The defiant act of annexation carried out by the Russians last Friday should lead Western powers to assess the feasibility of measures such as the inclusion of Ukraine in the NATO (which legally is quite complicated), the imposition of a world price ceiling for oil exports or the sending of even more powerful weapons to Ukraine.

Therefore, it is expected that Washington and its allies try to increasingly portray their indirect support for Ukraine as part of a just war, unbound by counterinsurgency campaigns of the century 21 in the Middle East. To succeed, they must show that support for Ukraine can stop Russia now and thus prevent (not start) a Third World War.

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