Putin’s declaration of war does not mention Belarus. But it does mention Belgrade, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Putin laments the existential threat to the Russian regime from the West, suggesting that Russia must invade Ukraine to avoid sharing the misfortunes of the fascist regimes in Belgrade, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Putin pretends Russia faces a military threat from NATO, and does not mention the EU. But the real threat from “the West” to Russia’s backward Tsarist autocracy is very clear. The threat is that the slavs would prefer to flourish in the EU rather than the life of slaves to Tsarist autocrats.
It is too late to to drag the Ukrainians back to slavery. But it is not yet to too late to delay Belarus going the same way. A joint operation with Belarus to occupy parts of Ukraine could help postpone the next regime collapse in Russia. Maintaining endless conflict and disruption in Ukraine makes Ukraine’s path away from rule by corrupt oligarchs more difficult and slower. It also provides a basis for much harsher repression to keep the people down in both Russia and Belarus. Putin’s war can make Ukraine a less successful and attractive contrast to Russia’s stagnation and the “Western” enemy can be blamed for that stagnation continuing to get worse.
My guess is that’s what the war is about. If so, I would assume Putin would want to occupy areas with as few Ukrainians engaged in guerilla resistance as possible, while posing a constant threat to the rest. Occupying a narrow coastal strip from the Donbas to Transnistra would block Ukrainian access to the sea. That strip includes Odessa, Ukraine’s third largest city. But that is a less difficult proposition than long term occupation of the whole country. It is also easier to exit from if things go badly.
That’s just a guess. It is consistent with a blitzkrieg aimed at surrounding and then seizing Kiev, perhaps with special forces pretending to represent an internal coup from the Ukrainian army to decapitate the current government. But it does not require a capability to maintain a long term occupation with a puppet regime in Kiev. It could succeed if the West actively blocked Ukraine from getting adequate supplies of weapons and other support. But I don’t think the Western acquiescence over Ukraine is anywhere near the level of the current Western betrayal of Syria or the 1930s Western betrayal of Spain. Ukraine won’t run out of ammunition to keep fighting.
The omission of Belarus from Putin’s speech is curious. With only one ally directly participating, surely it would be worth mentioning?
“In the near future we will do what we and Russia need,” Sputnik Belarus quoted Lukashenko as saying.
He also stressed that, if necessary, Belarusian troops would be involved in Russia’s military operation in Ukraine.
“We will not make excuses about whether we participate or not participate in this conflict. Our troops are not there. But if it is necessary, if it is necessary for Belarus and Russia, they will,” the President of Belarus said.
https://tj.sputniknews.ru/20220224/lukashenko-belarus-operation-1046212644.html (Google translation)
The troops directly threatening Kiev crossed the northern border of Ukraine from Belarus at its weakest spot, the radioactive and therefore undefended Chernobyl exclusion zone. But most of them remain positioned in Belarus.
Lukashenko’s boasting that he persuaded Putin to keep Russian troops in Belarus for protection against the West has nothing to do with fears of NATO invasion from Poland, Lithuania or Latvia. It reminds the people already rising up against the local fascists that removing them would require more than breaking the local armed forces.
That reminder is realistic. When it falls the Belarus regime will fall more heavily as despised collaborators. But it will take longer to overthrow them than if they were not backed by a Tsarist garrison.
Putin’s speech is also a direct threat to the Russian people. Claims that they face genocide and nuclear attack from Ukrainian Nazis are not intended to convince anybody. Western media keeps repeating how ludicrous such claims are. But there seems to be some assumption that they would look less ludicrous to Russians. I haven’t seen any discussion of the implications of them looking ludicrous to Russians too.
To me these claims are similar to the sort of claims made by the Assad regime when it unleashed its thugs to suppress the Syrian people with nerve gas, Russian support and Western acquiescence. The point is that if you resist you will be crushed, not argued with. There is some support for invading Ukraine among the more stupid and reactionary sections of the Russian people. But not much, even among Putin’s fellow oligarchs. Putin has not even attempted to mobilize popular support and does not have reserves available to mobilize for a long occupation. If the present level of repression was maintained in Russia an anti-war movement would quickly gain majority support and become a serious threat to the regime. The message is that opposition will be far more ruthlessly crushed than previously. The regime knows it will continue to become less and less popular and is declaring that it will continue to rule by naked fascist force, as in China.
I haven’t studied what’s actually happening in Ukraine (or its neighbours) and am relying on quick impressions gained from reading the Australian (ie US) mass media plus the “other side” as linked above. A more nuanced version of the other side is provided from a Russian foreign policy think tank in an interview:
“How are Putin’s actions going down in Russia itself? What do Russians think about this?
It’s not a full-scale invasion as yet. This is something like the Syrian campaign. And till now we see only air strikes, targeted air strikes – something like surgical strikes in the Indian sense. Till now, Putin does not need the people’s support.
In the result of these strikes, there is no news about Ukrainian and Russian casualties. The limits of this operation will be known only by and by, and the level of the resistance from the Ukrainian forces. When you carry out air strikes, you don’t need any great public support – the US didn’t need public support in their campaign against Iraq, for example. Modi did not need public support, did not take Parliament’s support for surgical strikes. So until the [time the] scale is limited, the problem of public support is not an issue, not a question for Putin.
Where do you see it all heading? Will it stop at these strikes, do you see this escalating?
Because of the US and European sanctions against Russia since last year, they were very soft. The Russian economy did not face any problems because of these actions. If it is full-scale sanctions, problems with Swift, problems over our banks, it will be one thing. If these are softer sanctions, meant to find a resolution to the problem, it’s absolutely different. Now, the Russian economy is quite strong, we have very low national debt, we have our own system, we don’t have any great loans from the western market. What will happen further, I can’t say now.
But I don’t think he wants to incorporate Ukraine in Russia because for us, in fact, it needs a political solution. The Ukrainian issue has to be decided by compromise, not by incorporation.”
My impression is that interview is worth studying carefully as an indication of how the Russian foreign policy establishment views the war. I don’t think it’s just covering up an intention to maintain a long term occupation of Ukraine. Rather it reflects a realistic assessment that there is no support for a long term occupation and wishful thinking that the West will somehow actively rescue Putin by arranging a “compromise”.
My take above is that it is a war on the slav peoples rather than just a war on Ukraine.
I haven’t seen that suggested elsewhere so I am throwing it out there.
I may be quite wrong but it makes more sense to me than the ludicrous fantasies about it being some sort of contest between the West led by the USA (with Joe Biden as “leader of the free world”!) and Russia.
Even Greg Sheriden can see the obvious:
“So far, in response to his aggression against Ukraine, the West has hit Vladimir Putin with a swarm of denunciations and a sanctions response that resembles being beaten with a wet lettuce. This bodes very ill for Ukraine.”
The West has made it utterly clear that it won’t fight for Ukraine and won’t do much to help Ukraine fight. So Putin’s fight isn’t with the West. Certainly his fight is with the Ukraine, but I am saying it is also, and even more importantly a declaration of war by the Tsar of all the Russias against the peoples of all the Russias.
On February 18 Sheridan noticed that:
“… the number of Russian soldiers on Ukraine’s borders continues to increase and is now somewhere between 130,000 and 150,000.That is enough to invade Ukraine, given the superiority of Russian equipment, aircraft and firepower. It’s probably not enough to occupy a nation of 44 million people indefinitely.”
But despite that rare flash of insight, Sheridan by 23 February is totally pessimistic and defeatist:
“Here we come upon another intensely strange and paradoxical moral dilemma. The future of Europe may turn on how hard the Ukrainians are willing to fight for their freedom and independence. Yet if Moscow goes for a full-scale invasion, the superiority in quality and quantity of Russian arms must mean eventual defeat for the Ukrainians.
So should they fight or should they just surrender, because the result will be the same in the end anyway?”
Evidently Sheridan has not learned much from having been on the losing side in Vietnam.
Given the superiority of American equipment, aircraft and firepower it wasn’t enough to occupy the small nation of Vietnam indefinitely. That “superiority” just meant the American aggressors did more damage than the French before them. Of course the Vietnamese did not fight when and where the Americans wanted them to. They retreated and hid and fought when it suited them. The American “superiority” did not mean “eventual defeat” for the Vietnamese. Help from the rest of the world was important, especially from the American people and especially from anti-war US soldiers who killed their officers and broke the US army. The key point was that an expeditionary army of half a million was not enough to occupy another nation “indefinitely”.
Sending NATO troops to Ukraine would not be particularly helpful. Russia has complete local dominance in its region (land, sea and air) and would defeat NATO in such battles. But if the West wanted to do more than just send arms and other supplies to the Ukrainian resistance it could certainly cause serious military problems for Putin instead of just making speeches. For example Turkey could and should close the Bosphorous to bottle up the Russian fleet (as could and should have been done over Syria). NATO naval forces would be completely dominant everywhere else and could cut off most of Russia’s revenue from trade. It would be up to Russia whether it wished to escalate from a losing position or would prefer to withdraw quickly. A lot of lives could be saved if the West was not so completely gutless. But the peoples of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine will still win in the end. The long term result will be regime change in Russia again.