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Faced with the war in Ukraine, a world turned upside down | War in Ukraine

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In the short term, this murderous incursion leads to exactly the opposite of what the strongman of the Kremlin expected: namely, the collapse of Ukraine and the discord between Westerners.

Believing in his own propaganda, the Russian president was convinced that the Ukrainian nation did not exist. And that consequently, according to this personal phantasmagoria, the majority of the population of the country called Ukraine secretly dreamed only of being delivered from nazis drugged (sic) who run it, and to rally Russia, great Russia, the one and only true mother country, as quickly as possible.

A blitzkrieg to settle everything in 48 hours

People seem to have really believed, in Moscow, that a lightning offensive of the type blitzkrieg would break the neck at the core ofusurpers surrounding President Volodymyr Zelensky, that Russian soldiers would be welcomed as liberators in Kiev… and that everything would be settled in 48 or 72 hours, with a white flag flying over the Mariinsky Palace!

By the way, a certain Dick Cheney, then vice-president of the United States, had said much the same thing in March 2003, at the time of the invasion of Iraq by the American army!

On the contrary, by this bloody attack, Vladimir Putin cemented the idea – and the reality – of a Ukrainian nation distinct from Russia, as few had done before him.

Volodymyr Zelensky stands behind a lectern.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

Photo: via Reuters/Ukrainian Government Press Service

A people of 44 million, which until recently was divided 50-50 between pro-Russian and pro-Western leanings, have swung massively to the other side.

In Kiev, Kharkiv, Mariupol, we saw fierce resistance and the spontaneous organization of soldiers and civil society, despite the cruelly unequal forces present. Without a doubt, a surprise and a major annoyance for the Russian president.

One objective: to divide Westerners

Vladimir Putin’s other miscalculation concerns foreign reactions to the invasion, starting with European reactions.

In this case however – contrary to the excesses on Nazi regime in power in Kyiv and the ongoing genocide in the Donbass – there were some grounds for the president’s ruminations here. The spectacle of recent years in Europe had everything to delight him: Brexit in 2016, incessant quarrels between Hungary and Poland and Brussels, without forgetting the fracture with the United States, dug by former President Donald Trump and far from to be repaired under Joe Biden.

So there seemed to be fertile ground there.

Between the traditional and inflexible anti-Russian countries (Poland, Baltic States), the hesitant countries, because naturally pacifist or linked to Russia by the economy (Germany) and the friendly countries (Hungary, Italy when the extreme right took part in power), Putin believed that a crushing military action by Moscow would accentuate these intra-European divisions… but also, that it would drive a wedge between Europe and the United States.

Lightning and coordinated response

This calculation could make sense. But as Brassens sang in The gorilla : the sequel proved to him that not !

Instead, we saw a tsunami of indignation, a spectacular wave of pro-Ukrainian solidarity that swept through Western societies and swept away governments. This convergence has overturned, in the European Union and beyond, cautious, pacifist or neutral countries such as Germany and Switzerland. Switzerland!

“We support Ukraine”, could be read on placards exhibited by MEPs on Tuesday in Brussels.

Photo: The Canadian Press/AP/Virginia Mayo

During this week of diplomatic upheaval, concerted action took place on three fronts: humanitarian, economic and (indirectly) military.

First there was the humanitarian reception of women, children and the elderly fleeing danger zones. Seven days after the entry of Russian troops, we had reached the milestone of one million refugees according to the High Commissioner for Refugees, the specialized agency of the United Nations. Half of these refugees were received in Poland.

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total economic war

Then there is the total economic war led to Russia: the expression was used on March 1 by the French Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire, who then retracted.

However, economic war there is indeed in this set of unprecedented sanctions: freezing of hundreds of billions in Russian banking assets, suspension of the Russian-German gas pipeline, prohibition of airspace to all Russian planes, etc.

Two women are in front of a currency exchange office.

Russians in front of an exchange office in Moscow. The Russian currency, the rouble, fell against the dollar and the euro.

Photo: Getty Images/AFP/ALEXANDER NEMENOV

Contrary to what is usually said about sanctions, these seem to have an effect, and fast. The ruble fell in one week from 83 against the US dollar (on February 23, just before the invasion), to 100 on March 2.

Which means that a ruble is now worth only one US cent, a milestone never reached before. At the beginning of 2014, it was worth three. Consequence: accelerated inflation now threatens the Russian population for all consumer goods.

Arms supplies from everywhere

Third axis of this concerted action by the West: arms supplies, mainly via the Polish and Romanian borders.

The Dutch send rocket launchers for air defense. The Estonians, Javelin anti-tank missiles. Poles and Latvians, Stinger surface-to-air missiles (nightmare of the Soviet occupiers in Afghanistan in the 1980s). The Czechs promised machine guns, rifles, pistols.

Even traditionally neutral countries like Sweden and Finland have decided to follow suit. Switzerland – very attached to a centuries-old tradition of absolute neutrality in the face of conflicts – has chosen to resume the whole European Union economic sanctions and to send anti-tank rocket launchers.

Missiles are displayed on a carpet.

Javelin anti-tank missiles (archives).

Photo: Reuters/Ismail Zetouni

Perhaps the most dramatic change concerns Germany. Social Democratic Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced that Berlin will commit 100 billion euros (over C$140 billion) to a special fund for its armed forces and increase defense spending above 2% from now on, year after year.

Scholz also flip-flopped on Berlin’s stubborn refusal until recent days to export arms to conflict zones, pledging to send anti-tank rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles to the Ukraine.

Statement by Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the party Die Grünen, an ecological training, with a long pacifist tradition: if our world today is different, then our politics must be too. According to a poll published on March 1 by the daily Tagesspiegelno less than 78% of Germans say they now support a massive increase in defense spending: a real ideological revolution in Germany, 77 years after the defeat of 1945. All this in a single week… by the action of one man!

Diplomatic isolation of Russia

One can also note, on the diplomatic scene, the isolation of Russia which is reflected in the resolution (essentially declaratory and symbolic) voted in the General Assembly of the United Nations on March 2, which demands a withdrawal of the Russian army in Ukraine and denounces Moscow’s nuclear threats. By an overwhelming majority of 141 yes, 5 no and 35 abstentions.

Russia was accompanied in its refusal by Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea, four dictatorships.

Overview of the UN General Assembly.  Two giant screens show the final result of the vote on the resolution against Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The 11th Special Emergency Session of the United Nations General Assembly on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Photo: Reuters/CARLO ALLEGRI

Furthermore, Putin has to deal with the malaise, even the irritation of Beijing, which he would no doubt have hoped would have been more supportive, especially after the solemn declaration of friendship and cooperation made at the opening of the Beijing Games between the two heads of state.

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China this week evacuated 6,000 Chinese who found themselves under the raids. Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on the parties to negotiate. He spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart who encouraged him to intercede with the Russians.

In a notable editorial, the FinancialTimes wrote that China could be the best possible mediator. Will Xi Jinping go squeeze the gills of his friend Vlad to put water in his wine?

In the meantime, the bombardments continue and the Russian troops, even if slowed down, continue to advance. The town hall of Kherson, a major city in the south, fell. But Kharkiv, Mariupol and Kiev are still holding out.

Remarkable and unexpected, this resistance drew tears of admiration from the whole world. But how much longer can it last?

Russian misfires on the pitch

Despite its technological superiority in terms of missiles, navy and air force, despite the massive nature of the attack – with this column of 60 kilometers of armored vehicles north of Kiev – the Russian army has experienced failures for seven days.

However, it is powerful on paper, with an enormous strike force still far, unfortunately for the Ukrainians, from having been used at 100%. In several areas (missiles and bombs complex, artillery, aviation, nuclear arsenal), it is said that the Russian army is modernized and on the cutting edge. But not in all areas.

A satellite image showing dozens, if not hundreds of vehicles.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies shows a Russian convoy near Ivankiv, northwest of Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, February 28, 2022.

Photo: Associated Press

According to some specialists, this week we saw an army seized up, lacking motivation, poorly coordinated on the ground. He was found to have unexpected weaknesses, particularly in terms of communications, road equipment, failing supplies.

Some ground offensive columns seemed broken down; the material and human losses would be significant (the Ukraine claims to have killed at least 3500 enemy soldiers). And against all expectations, the Russian air force, on March 2, had not taken all control of the airspace.

But the Russian army has reservations and the sequel promises to be more deadly. Deluges of fire are now expected against the main besieged towns. The tactical restraint of the initial strikes will be forgotten. We can fear carnage of civilians, while according to Kiev, 2000 unarmed Ukrainians have already been killed in one week.

Two horrible precedents

A Chechen looks at a market in Grozny destroyed by Russian bombardment in February 2000.

A Chechen looks at a market in Grozny destroyed by Russian bombardment in February 2000.

Photo: Associated Press/ITAR-TASS

Two historical precedents, which directly implicated Vladimir Putin’s army, are chilling. That of Grozny (second Chechen war, 1999-2000), when he ordered that the city be literally razed to the ground: there were 150,000 dead, out of a total population of one million Chechens.

And we remember the martyrdom of Syrian cities like East Aleppo in 2016. With, there too, a terrifying scorched earth strategy, and a Russian air force that bombed civilians. Including, according to detailed reports by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watchhospitals and schools.

Barring a miracle on the ground or an improbable ceasefire, and despite the heroic resistance in this first week, the majority prognosis remains: a victory for the Russian army. By massive and, if necessary, indiscriminate use of brute force.

But at what price, with what horrors and for what political result?

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