By Paul Goble
There is nearly universal consensus that World War I was the most senseless conflict in modern times, Yury Yarym-Agayev says; but in fact, Putin’s war in Ukraine is even more senseless than that war of a century ago in that none of its proclaimed goals are real and its real goals are not achievable.
The former member of the Moscow Helsinki Group who emigrated to the United States in 1980 and has worked as a physicist at Stanford and MIT has avoided making comments about Russia until now. But the war in Ukraine has compelled him to end his silence, he says (wow-press.com/u-vojny-net-celi-tolko-putin/?amp=1).
All the goals that the Kremlin has proclaimed as the reasons for this war “are either completely invented or unfulfillable in principle,” Yarym-Agayev says. “There weren’t any separatists, neo-Nazis committing genocide or innocent victims requiring defense. There were no threats from NATO toward Russia or by the Ukrainian authorities toward the Donbass or Russian speaking population.”
Thus, “this war is not only criminal but completely senseless.” And that is true even of the real but undeclared goals of Putin’s war – his battle for personal power by destroying Ukrainian democracy and by increasing repression at home as part of his war against democracy as such.
“Putin sees in the development of Ukrainian democracy the chief threat to his rule, and without a strengthening of his power, he could not successfully achieve the main goal of his life, the suppression of freedoms in the country and indeed in the entire world,” the former human rights activist says.
“Unfortunately, in many cases, he has succeeded although only for a time. Happily, part of his attempts have failed as in Montenegro and Bulgaria; but the chief failure has been in Ukraine.” Despite all his efforts, “democratic processes” there and in the world “continue to develop,” especially in areas close to Russia itself.
By annexing Ukraine’s Crimea and invading the Donbass, Putin was able to slow Ukraine’s process, but he has not been able to stop it. And as a result, Yarym-Agayev says, he “began ever more to feel that he had been driven into a corner” and was “surrounded by enemies,” the democratic forces in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and above all Ukraine and in Russia itself where they have not disappeared.
In invading Ukraine, Putin’ decided to kill two birds with one stone: to overthrow Ukrainian democracy and remove the threat to hi power and, having done this quickly, to increase his popularity and strengthen his power. That is, he concluded that he could repeat the Crimean gambit but now already at the level of Ukraine as a whole.”
Putin thought he could seize Kyiv and install his own government and do so in only a few days. “But as we know, Yarym-Agayev says, “nothing of the sort occurred. The Putin plan completely failed, Zelensky remained alive and his authority and influence have only grown. Kyiv remained free, and the Russian army faced with serious resistance had to shamefully flee.”
The main reason for this failure was Putin’s miscalculation about the Ukrainians and how they would react to the arrival of his troops, but the second cause was his mistaken assumption that he could install a dictator in Kyiv and that all Ukrainians would bow down to him and to Moscow as well.
“Both these are fatal mistakes for Putin,” entirely his responsibility, “and he will answer for them with the loss of his own power, Yarym-Agayev says. That is why he is trying so hard to keep the war going because he knows that when the war ends and however it ends, it will be his end as well.
Already, the Kremlin leader has suffered serious defeats. Instead of forcing NATO to make concessions, he has united the Western alliance and allowed it to attract more members. Instead of suppressing Ukraine, he faces a Ukraine more united and committed. And instead of demonstrating Russian power, he has shown it to be remarkably hollow.
Before he started his expanded invasion of Ukraine, Putin could at least believe with some reason that the West took his military seriously and that it was afraid of him. But now, that is no longer the case, and even Russians who have accepted so much of his line are beginning to see the reality and the fact that he is hurting them directly.
And that raises another point. If Putin somehow “won” and occupied Ukraine, that would represent almost as great a defeat in terms of what it would do to the Russian people and to Russia’s status in the world. Moscow would have to depress the Russian standard of living for years to boost that of occupied Ukraine, and Russia would be an international outcast.
According to Yarym-Agayev, “the result of this senseless war, in which actively or passively have participated almost the entire population will be moral degradation and a deep depression of a large part of Russian society.” And Putin will act even more arbitrarily and in an authoritarian manner as long as he stays in office.
The single positive aspect of all this, he argues is that “this war will inevitably lead ot the end of the Putin regime regardless of how it ends.” Putin could have achieved his goals only if he had realized his plan, but his plan, based on imaginary ideas and a complete ignorance of reality, had no chance of being fulfilled.
The activist says that Putin “understands this and is doing everything he can to put off the end of the war and retribution for his crimes.” He “fears its end for he sees in it his own. But the end will be bad for Russia unless Ukraine wins quickly and frees all of its territory. And thus for Russia’s future, the best thing is to support a rapid Ukrainian victory.