What is going on?
The Kremlin is demonstrating military force as an argument in a diplomatic dispute and a power battle with the West. The goal of Putin’s elite is to reach international agreements with key Western players on the division of spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. Russian foreign policy is being conducted with an unmistakable look backward to the mirages of the past because Moscow’s political establishment assumes to be Stalin’s heirs. For this reason, they would like to negotiate an agreement similar to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with the United States.
In the meantime, the Ukrainian President and Ukrainian military officials see no real risk of a Russian invasion. Despite minor confrontations in the East, the primary battle today is ongoing exclusively in the heads and hearts of people. Despite the concentration of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, today’s greatest threat is the information confrontation and panic, which threatens Ukrainian economic and socio-political stability.
Ukraine noticeably lacks good leadership at this challenging moment. Third countries discuss the country’s fate without even inviting Kyiv to the negotiations table. President Zelensky is inconsistent in his statements and overall strategy. However, his attempts to prevent a possible panic in society, which could turn into a catastrophe for the Ukrainian economy, have been quite successful.
Do Russians and Ukrainians hate each other?
There are Ukrainians out there who are so deeply offended with what Kremlin did that they would not even talk to a Russian person, and there are Russians brainwashed with state propaganda who argue that Ukraine is not a sovereign nation. These people skew the overall spectrum significantly, thus causing a false impression that Ukrainians and Russians hate each other.
The vast majority of Russians do not want war neither with Ukraine nor NATO. At the same time, some fall under the influence of the Russian state propaganda and consider the advancement of NATO to the East a threat to Russia. We do not have full and accurate sociological data on Russia due to state censorship and control policy.
Position of the West
Officials from Western nations name exact dates but do not provide any concrete evidence to the public. These dates have been changing way too often, bringing this situation to the classical The Boy Who Cried Wolf scenario.
The large-scale evacuation of foreign diplomats and military advisers is sowing panic and hurting the Ukrainian economy and socio-political stability. The evacuation of Western diplomats, military staff, and business people can be perceived as a weakness by Kremlin.
At the same time, the Soviet occupation contributed to the growth of interethnic conflicts in Baltic states, and namely Latvia. At the moment, the international environment and propaganda on both sides are creating unnecessary inter-ethnic tension across the region. Using their old and trusted playbook, Kremlin is trying to use the Soviet resentment for its own geopolitical benefits, therefore, endangering regional security.
Suppose security negotiations between the Kremlin and the West finally reach a dead end. Any major provocation can further result in resuming clashes and subsequent confrontation on the territory of the DPR and LPR. The Kremlin, in turn, can recognize these so-called Republics in a similar way he did with South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Direct hostilities between the Ukrainian and Russian armies and/or their proxies are likely in such a scenario. The events will be reminiscent of the war in Georgia in 2008.
Russia has been making its citizenship readily available to the populations residing on the DPR and LPR territories for a reason. Any attack or a false-flag operation leading to the death of Russian citizens provides Putin with a formal pretext for an offensive operation.
Preservation of power and economic assets of Russian oligarchs has been at the forefront of Vladimir Putin’s agenda. Putin is often mistakenly and unknowingly called a Russian nationalist or an imperialist in the West. In the meantime, Putin’s domestic policy does not represent the interests of the common Russian people.
In order to reach such a conclusion, it is enough to visit any provincial Russian school or hospital. The Russian population is actively dying out; officials and oligarchs export money stolen from citizens abroad. These trends are apparent, and a significant fraction of Russian society supports any sanctions if those are aimed at oligarchs and their assets abroad.
Maintaining power and influence are the primary concerns for Putin’s elites today, and to preserve their wealth, they are willing to sacrifice thousands of young Russian men.
About authors: Co-authors, Victor Oleynik and Anton Gromov, fled Russia after their work drew negative attention from the Russian authorities and violent groups affiliated with the government.