Why Putin will invade Ukraine.

{Image: Berlin demonstration against the bombing campaign of Putin’s regime against Syrian civilians in October 2016. The slogan “Stop Putin Stop War” has also been used in demonstrations against Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.}

Why Putin Will Invade Ukraine.

By Zigmund Schulz, 5th February 2022.

1. Article of intent.

As journalist Anne Applebaum pointed out in a recent article “Last summer [July 2021], he [Putin] published a long essay arguing, among other things, that Russians and Ukrainians are ‘one people’. He then sent that essay to every soldier in the Russian army.” The essay “On the Historic Unity of Russians and Ukrainians” [English translation] is full of gross omissions. It is a distorted history used to justify the fascistic claim that Ukrainian independence is a Western inspired aggression to divide the greater “Russian” people. As one commentator wryly observed, Russian history has become very unstable recently. In spite of this Sergei Shoigu the Defense Minister immediately ordered that the article must be included in the list of mandatory reading for military and political training classes for the Russian army. Ukrainian journalist and academic Mykola Vorobiov concluded:

“It is evident that the Russian president’s article is not so much an attempt to conduct a historical analysis of the relationship between the two countries as it is a political declaration of his intent regarding Ukraine and its Western allies. It is aimed to mobilize Russian society in the event of a potential war campaign against ‘external powers’. And since Vladimir Putin doesn’t consider Ukraine a subject in this game, calling it a participant in the ‘anti-Russia’ project, which was supposedly created under the patronship of ‘Western authors’, the threats of further escalation, including a military scenario, will continue to grow.
[“Putin’s article as a manifesto against Ukraine’s sovereignty” by Mykola Vorobiov 22/7/2021]

The Russian Armed Forces are serious about political indoctrination. Since 2018 the Soviet era Main Military-Political Directorate (GlavPUR) has been reintroduced. An article from May 2019 in Vedomosti claimed that GlavPUR employs 11,000 military and civilian specialists. and replicates the work practices of the former head of the Soviet GlavPUR and Stalin apologist Alexi Yepishev, who infamously said: “Who needs your truth, if it prevents us from living?”

Anyone who doubts the neo-fascist philosophy underpinning Putin’s regime need to look at its connection to the theories of the pioneering fascist philoposher Ivan Ilyin.

2. Stopping the spread of Democracy.

Putin has established a neo-fascist dictatorship in Russia. The survival of his regime depends on preventing the subversive example of neighbouring ex Soviet countries becoming successful  democracies. This is especially true of countries with strong historical and cultural ties with Russia, such as Ukraine and Belarus. The Anne Applebaum summarised Putin’s problem:

“Putin’s interest is also ideological. Every year, Ukraine becomes more confident, more united, more European. Every year, Ukraine inches a little bit closer to democracy and prosperity. What if it gets there? The idea of a flourishing, democratic Ukraine right on Russia’s doorstep is, for Putin, personally intolerable. Just as Ukrainian independence once seemed to Stalin to be a dire threat to his Bolshevik regime, so too would a successful modern Ukraine pose too great a challenge to Putin’s autocratic, sclerotic, kleptocratic, and ever more brutal political system. What if Russians start envying their Ukrainian neighbors? What if they decide they want a system like that too?
[“The U.S. Is Naive About Russia. Ukraine Can’t Afford to Be.” by Anne Applebaum 3/1/2022]

It is difficult to determine the popularity of a leader or regime in any autocratic system. Putin’s regime has a stranglehold on the polling agencies as well as the media. The one remaining so allegily “independent” polling agency the Levada Center reported that Putin’s approval rate had fallen to 59% from a phone poll in April 2020 (partly explained by chaotic government handling of the Covid crisis). According to Levada Putin’s approval rate has hovered between around 60% and 80% in the last 20 years, in January 2022 is was 69%.

This is not an approval crisis on the face of it; any democratic politician would be happy to get these ratings, but are they real? Most dictatorships do not bother with the pretense and just assign the regime laughable sky high approval ratings. Both Russia and China promote their regimes as attractive alternative models of government, and so need to make their figures credible.

The Levada Center was founded by a Soviet era sociologist Yuri Levada, his former institute was closed down by Brezhnev for reporting unpalitble truths, such as daring to say that few people actually read Pravda’s tedious editorials. In 2013 it was accused of being a “foreign agent” for receiving a small amount of foreign funding for commissions for polling, which then ceased. In 2016 it published a poll showing a serious decline in support for Putin’s United Russia party, and was listed as a “foreign agent” by the regime.

It is likely that polls are distorted by the triple factors of fear, propaganda and apathy. According to the journalist Eva Hartog writing in 2016 “Interpreting polls in Russia is often like battling a hydra: for every question answered, another two raise their head”. She then continues:

“Russians need little prompting to remember a time when speaking openly could lead to decades in exile or in a labor camp. In a poll published in January [2016] by Levada, 26 percent of those questioned said they were reluctant to express their views in polls. Considering those who said so actually opened their doors to the pollsters anyway, the real figure of people who bite their tongue is probably higher.

Numbers in support of the Kremlin are widely publicized in state media, and herein lies another vulnerability, says political scientist Yekaterina Schulmann:

“The Kremlin seeks an artificial overwhelming majority to intimidate dissenters into believing they are nothing but ‘random error….The effects of this are two-fold: As well as cajoling even more Russians into joining the pro-Putin camp, it could also make those who don’t toe the Kremlin line less likely to open their doors to pollsters….During normal times, people who choose not to talk to pollsters do so because they don’t feel like it or don’t have the time. But in a period of ‘political mobilization’ the reason to actually respond becomes politically motivated,’ says analyst Kirill Rogov. That could further distort the results in Putin’s favor.”
[“What Do Russians Really Think? The Truth Behind the Polls.” By Eva Hartog 4/2/2016]

The essential issue of the real popularity of Putin and his regime is difficult to prove. Indirectly any regime that poisons opponents and closes down free media is using oppression to keep an unpopular regime in power. So Putin would be fearful of the democratic influence of a neighbouring successfully reforming country like Ukraine.

3. Escalating Cost.

Ukraine like the rest of the ex Soviet Bloc had an unnecessary brutal transition from communism in the 1990s, due to domestic weakness compounded by excessive neo-liberalism abroad. Growth in the economy since then has been severely impacted by oligarchs and corruption at home, a weak and divided state, mass emigration, a large shadow economy, irresponsible lending from abroad, unstable export markets as the focus shifted from Russia to the European Union, and an expensive and disruptive conflict with Putin’s regime. In summary the Ukrainian economy has been performing well below its potential, and should at least be on a par with Poland.

Reforms since the removal of the corrupt pro-Putin President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 have strengthened the effectiveness of the government and economy; in spite of the expensive and disruptive conflict inflicted on the east of the country by the Russian incursion into Crimea and the Donbas region.

The IMF have projected a steady increase in GDP (Represented below in “International Dollars” at “Current Prices” which represent the equivalent purchasing power of the economy in US dollars in any given year. It takes into account the cost of living in a given country. US dollar inflation is ignored here, although the value of a dollar has approximately halved in the last 30 years.):

An ever stronger Ukrainian state and economy is clearly going to become increasingly harder for the Putin regime to conquer.

Amy Mackinnon and Jack Detsch described the current state of the Ukrainian armed forces in an article from December 2021:

Since 2014, the United States has given $2.5 billion to support the development of the country’s armed forces, including Humvees, patrol boats, radar systems, and anti-tank Javelin missiles…….Since 2013, Ukraine’s military spending has jumped from 1.6 percent as a share of the country’s GDP to just over 4 percent last year, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. But it’s all relative. Russia has 900,000 active-duty personnel compared with Ukraine’s 209,000, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and is vastly outgunned in terms of equipment and aircraft.”
[Ukraine’s Military Has Come a Long Way Since 2014.]

The Ukrainian armed forces have significantly improved since 2014, due to this investment, reforms and experience from seven years of fighting in Donbas. As the economy improves and Western support continues the Ukrainian armed forces are only going to get stronger, which increases the price of the conquest of Ukraine by Putin’s regime.

Russia still has a great advantage over Ukraine in air power, in terms of aircraft and missiles. They also have experience in the indiscriminate murder from the air of Syrians since 2015.

4. Autocracy Incorporated Unleashed.

Dictatorships have ambitions only limited by their means. The means have radically changed.

Some background is needed first.

  1. Belief in Western Democracy is in decline, principally because of the disconnect with economics. The conflict between the dynamism of free market economics and the acceptable level of inequality has never been sufficiently solved to enable rational civilized politics.
  2. Uniquely there is now a neo-fascist superpower – Xi Jinping’s dictatorship in China – with advanced weapons and the second largest global economy. In Russia and China there has been a colour revolution, from red communism to brown fascism.
  3. Uniquely there is now an imminent Climate Change Crisis, coupled with looming global resource exhaustion and unsustainable global population numbers.
  4. Uniquely Digital Technology has advanced to the stage where populations can be efficiently monitored and repressed.

All these changes create a radically different balance between democracy and autocracy. International Relations academics work in a field that is focused on cataloging and understanding the past. There are many studies documenting a new wave of global autocracy with democracy in retreat, with the advice that this movement is fragmented – evidence for “autocracy promotion” is weak – and there is no need to panic. Unique factors make this unconvincing.

There is evidence of Russia and China – better termed the Putin and Xi Jinping regimes – as active preservers of brutal autocracy from Assad’s Syria to Hlaing’s Myanmar. These regimes are motivated by “autocracy preservation” masked by flimsy propaganda such as fighting “terrorism”. Obviously having the support of the Putin and Xi Jinping regimes in preserving a dictatorship is a strong motive not to reform, and also a strong motive for opportunistic domestic extremists to create and exploit the chaos and division needed to create a new dictatorship.

In December 2016 as Putin’s regime was bombing Aleppo in Syria, the geopolitical analyst Pavel Felgenhauer explained on Aljazeera’s “Inside Story” that supporting Assad’s war on Syrians was important to Putin because it showed other Middle Eastern dictators that if “they sided with Russia they would keep their jobs” in spite of whatever they did – in Assad’s case mass murder, mass torture and mass impoverishment. The same applies to any dictatorship in the world, obviously not only in the Middle East. The Western democracies and the United Nations myopically allowed Putin to get away with preserving Assad’s genocidal regime.

Putin’s essay already presents Ukraine as a natural part of Russia, which Enemies of Russia have unjustly divided into two. In Putin’s propaganda the annexation of Ukraine will not be an invasion, but an act of natural justice in preserving his regime’s autocratic rule over Ukraine.

If Putin’s regime is to take advantage of the unique opportunities for autocratic preservation-promotion that are now emerging in the twenty-first century, he needs to prove his brutality by at least starting to annex the countries closest to Russia.

Xi Jinping’s regime is well placed to make Western sanctions after the invasion meaningless, and provide discrete funding to pay for the invasion.

{Image: Demonstration in Berlin at the end of January 2022 against Putin’s threatened (further) invasion of Ukraine. “Schaut Nicht Weg” means “Do Not Look Away”.}


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