The price of war




An invading army can win all the battles and still lose the war. The objective of a military occupation, especially one driven by imperial ambitions, is to neutralise armed resistance and secure control of the centres of power, ultimately aiming to conquer the hearts and minds of the occupied. In other words, to absorb and colonise. This is what the Russian president appears to have had in mind when he assembled, and later unleashed on his Western neighbour, the largest war machine seen in Europe since the end of World War II. However, so far, events do not appear to be unfolding as he may have expected.

Vladimir Putin created a narrative, into which he appears to have indoctrinated himself and his followers, that Ukraine is not a real nation. Last July, the Russian president published a 5,000 word essay asserting that both countries were essentially the same, grounding his assertions on questionable historical foundations and dismissing the current border as an artificial creation. A convolution he since held on to, repeating it several times. Crucially, Ukrainians do not agree with him.

Across the entire country, Ukrainians of all ages, both men and women, came forward, unequivocally showing to the Russian invaders, and to the rest of the world, what they think about Mr Putin’s idea, defending their land and independence with great courage and determination. The cost, however, has been immense, with their bravery and sacrifice touching many and generating an unprecedented wave of solidarity and international unity. It is impossible for Mr Putin, and those who support him, to win this war. They may, tragically, through the most obnoxious brute force, plant their flags over the destroyed buildings of Kiev, Kharkiv and other cities, but I do not believe they will succeed in subjugating the Ukrainians’ desire for independence.

The invasion of Ukraine is an error of judgment and a pivotal moment in history. Vladimir Putin, and those close to him, believe their own rhetoric, blinded by the desire to re-write history, reclaim the influence lost with the fall of the Soviet Union and, above all, undermining the greatest threat to their autocracy: A strong, united, democratic and prosperous Europe sitting on their doorstep.

Mr Putin will not go down in history as a great Russian, as he would have liked. Instead, he will be remembered as the one who dragged the country into a war it cannot truly win. He gave the European Union (EU) and the wider Western alliance a renewed purpose, creating an aversion to Russian ambitions among Ukrainians that is likely to last for many generations, and bringing them ever closer to the West. Last, but not least, through his actions he brought upon his fellow Russians a devastating combination of economic sanctions that have already resulted in the downgrading of the country’s credit to ‘junk’ level by agencies such as S&P and Fitch, while the rouble crashed to a record low and is now worth less than one US cent.

The global community’s reaction has been unusually consensual and robust. Several of Russia’s main financial institutions have been excluded from the SWIFT system, while VISA and Mastercard stopped accepting transactions from the country. The Russian central bank, the country’s sovereign fund, and the ministry of finance are no longer able to operate in most international jurisdictions. In practical terms, this means being unable to use the country’s $600bn US dollars foreign currency reserves. Russian ships and planes are barred from a growing number of countries, while imports of high-tech components for its industries are also blocked alongside several other crippling sanctions. Any of these restrictions would be damaging on its own – combined, they will be devastating.

Right now, it is difficult to see a way out and there is real risk of escalation as Vladimir Putin, trapped by his own ambition and pride, ominously issues thinly -veiled nuclear threats. We can only hope that the scope of international reaction and the unprecedented sanctions will, somehow, lead to a de-escalation. The alternative is too horrible to contemplate.


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