Thursday, June 22, 2023

 Michael - Alternate Thursdays

There’s nothing funny about the war in Ukraine. As I see it, a relatively peaceful, relatively stable, country was trying to make its way forward into the modern world, led by a president whose qualification for the job was that he was a comedian (apparently a necessity in politics these days), and that he played the president in a popular TV series. On the other side is the Russian Federation led by someone whose main qualification is that he was senior in the KGB and has essentially held the job since 2000. Apparently, President Putin was becoming a bit bored after twenty-two years and wanted some excitement, so he decided to acquire Ukraine for the Russian Federation or at least replace the democratically elected president by a puppet. The reason he gave was that the country was run by "Nazis". (Putin was apparently also trying his hand at humor since Zelensky is Jewish.)

It was clear to Putin that the “special military operation” would be a walkover, given the relative sizes of the armies, the economies, the populations, and so on. No doubt the West would be upset and toss a few sanctions around, but it would all die down. That playbook had already been followed in the Crimea annexation. Hitler had rather the same feeling about Poland after “peace in our time” had “resolved” the Czechoslovakian issue. It didn’t work out that well for him either.

Something strange happened. Zelensky turned out to be a brilliant leader – I don’t know how much of the military decision making falls to him, but his personality, commitment and, yes, acting skills were perfect for the moment. And he had courage also. When offered escape from Ukraine, he reputedly responded that "the fight is here [in Kyiv]; I need ammunition, not a ride". It was a brilliant response and ammunition he got. And tanks. And missiles. And drones. And soon fighter aircraft. The West if fighting a proxy war against Russia, and the stakes are very high. There is no telling what Putin might do if he starts to actually lose. It will be a race to depose him before he deposes everyone else.

So, how does this end? Zelensky will settle for nothing less than the recovery of all Ukraine’s territory including Crimea. He points out that any settlement ceding territory to Russia would be the appeasement that just leads to a bigger appetite in the future. Before the war he was prepared to negotiate on Donbas and Crimea. That’s history now.

On the other hand, Putin can’t accept anything less than the appearance of victory or he’s out on his ear. Being thrown to the hyenas is clearly not on his agenda. Besides which he feels that if he bides his time, the west will lose its commitment to the escalating cost. He may be right about that. A Trump victory next year might close the deal.

Well apart...

Enter the peacemakers. China at least had to be taken seriously. Putin needs their support—their tacit support at the very least, and that’s all he’s getting at the moment. Zelensky had to listen politely. Then Xi went home.

Last week the African Union had its chance, led by the South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa. Their idea seems to have been to arrange a ceasefire. (Quite different from China whose idea was to arrange a ceasefire.) The AU team set off with a suite of presidents each with a few retainers, except for Ramaphosa who took along about 100 people, mostly security, and twelve containers of stuff – some of which turned out to be weapons and ammunition for the security people. To be fair, apparently he’s pledged extra security to all the other leaders who therefore only needed a few retainers. It’s not a great idea to take a small, private army into a war zone, and the presidency didn’t handle the paperwork required by the authorities in Poland, which is where the mission started. Rumblings about Poland’s right-wing government and racism followed, but most of the security personnel and all the containers sat out the peace mission in Poland.

Not impressed?

It turned out that what the AU people needed was a bomb shelter. (Perhaps there was one in one of the containers?) Putin was so impressed by the peace mission that he chose that day to attack Kiev with missiles and drones. The presidents all scurried off to a shelter under the hotel. Zelensky rejected the idea of a ceasefire out of hand, much to no one’s surprise.

Smiles all round...

The meeting with President Putin had lots of smiles and photo opportunities. South Africa belongs to BRICS – the association of Brazil, Russia, India and China, the economic powerhouses of the unaligned world, with SA tagged on at the end as a wannabe in that group. SA is the host for the next meeting of BRICS leaders. That, of course, includes Putin. SA is obliged to arrest him in terms of an International Court warrant out against him. Lots of wriggling going on over that one. Perhaps Ramaphosa persuaded him not to come…

After that, everyone went home. No one has any idea how much it all cost. So maybe there is something mildly amusing about the war after all. Perhaps President Zelensky took some notes in case he has to go back to his original job at some point in the future.

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