Putin’s War In The Context Of World Meetings – OpEd
By Dr. J Scott Younger*
The period October-November was busy with world meetings none of which have or only peripherally involved Russia because of their malign intent on Ukraine.
A distinct change from reporting about the Ukrainian conflict was the football World Cup, the 4-yearly event now being hosted by Qatar, an occasion which was previously hosted by Russia in 2018, and where Putin was frequently visible. The fact that he had annexed Crimea 4 years before had been ‘forgotten’ about and he took all the praise for a successful event. However, Russia has not been qualified for the current Middle East held event. They will be sorely missed! The Qatari event is taking a significant amount of airtime, not just about football, but that is another story.
There was the UN sponsored COP27, at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt. At this, according to the Secretary-General of the UN, Antonio Gutteres, we are on a ‘highway to hell’ that is because we, especially the large countries of the developed and developing world that include China, USA, Russia and India, are not doing enough to cut emissions of CO2 so that global average temperatures are not kept below rising beyond 1.5oC above an arbitrary pre-industrial level. The keyword is ‘arbitrary’. It is felt that the climate change that would follow would be completely disruptive and leave the world in disarray. A factual contrary view is expressed by the American Institute of Economic Research (17 October 2022). One is left with the feeling that these huge meetings, which cost billions of dollars each year, finish with little in return. There must be a better way to handle the world’s problems!
The other major event which was taking place was a meeting of the G20, countries which are the largest in terms of their economy. This was held at the Convention Centre at Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia, with Indonesian President Joko Widodo as host. The ambience that Bali provides is wonderful, peaceful. Would that some of that peace could be spread around the world!
The leaders of these nations all put in an appearance at this event, except Vladimir Putin, which gave rise to the meeting being called the G19, although Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister attended for a short while to spout the usual denials and listen to G19 members tell Russia to get out of Ukraine and end the war. The conflict has hurt so many countries, particularly in Africa, because of disruption to essential grain supplies, Ukraine being a key supplier on the world stage of wheat. Russia is trying to deny Ukraine its crucial Black Sea outlet, or at least restrict it.
Meanwhile, Putin was in his ‘bunker’ in this period, lying low. Shades of Hitler! Will he meet a similar end? Probably not, since he has made strategic appearances more lately. The conduct of the war would seem to have been left to the generals, since there are reports of one or two further being killed. They continued to wage the war at long range, with missiles and Iranian drones, but latterly the mercenary group, Wagner, have engaged in fierce fighting in the Donbas area, in particular around Bakhmut. This was because they know that they cannot win the conflict on land but the Ukrainians don’t have the forces to bring it to an end, from their point of view. It could go on for some time, despite the Ukrainian success with the recapture of the strategic city of Kherson.
The Russians withdrew their troops largely intact and blowing up a section of the main crossing of the Dnipro River to greatly hinder the Ukrainian advance. With 30,000 soldiers, albeit a good number of raw recruits, properly dug in they will be very difficult to dislodge and, furthermore, they will continue their aerial bombardment. Such a strategy without progress on land has never worked; it stiffens the resolve of those under attack to resist. It has been a rather futile attempt, except for the additional damage to be repaired later, to harm the citizens and infrastructure, particularly the water supply and power grid during the winter months of bitter cold weather, but now coming to an end.
There was concern in December of a near miss on the nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia which lies about 100 km from Kherson. The UN has taken an interest with qualified observers on the ground. Each side blames the other and, although it is more likely to be the Russians, the disaster due to a strike would be worse than Chernobyl and would affect many people over a very wide area with the radiation fall-out.
Presidents Joseph Biden and Xi Jinping, of the US and China respectively, met at the G20 summit in Bali, shaking hands cordially in greeting. However, they only cemented points of national agreement and left issues, such as Taiwan, on the table. There will be trouble brewing in a couple of years with regards to Taiwan, by 2024, when the US are due to change their president, and we don’t know whether or not President Biden will be re-elected for a second term or whether Donald Trump will be given a second chance. I, for one, do not understand how Trump can earn the right to stand as the Republican candidate with a number of court cases outstanding against him. But the US is different! There could be a change in the attitude of the US government should there be a Republican in the White House and, if it be Trump, it will be impossible to predict what will happen with his maverick style.
One year after with a stalemate, favouring the Ukrainians
However, in the near term, Putin is reappearing if the present stalemate is favourable to him, otherwise he will leave his generals to run things, or appear to, so they can carry the blame if things go wrong. The end game is in sight, but don’t hold your breath, there would appear a long way to go.
The first anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s ‘special military operation’, as he calls his war in Ukraine, is fast approaching. The Ukrainians and the western allies are expecting another push by the Russians when the weather improves as Springtime approaches. President Volodymyr Zelensky has just completed a quick surprise visit to London, Paris and the EU at Brussels, meeting and addressing heads of government to shore up resolve and stressing the early donation of arms. He had a good response and the US, the main supporter for arms has also taken some further action. The message was understood, since it is fairly certain that the Spring offensive by the Russians will start soon.
Putin has just had a meeting with Lukashenko, President of Belarus, to get his agreement to allow Belarus to be used as a northern launching pad for the offensive. However, Alexander Lukashenko while agreeing the request for access does not want his troops used in the war with Ukraine. He will be careful because he knows that at the last election, he falsified the results with Russia’s backing to be declared the victor.
An interesting piece of news from Russia is that five remote regions are seeking self-determination and are putting it to the people to vote for a mandate. They do not like the policies of the Kremlin, who feed the Muscovites a daily dose of misinformation, vocal opposition to which probably results in a lengthy jail sentence with other unpleasantness thrown in.
To return to the war, it will most likely not be a short engagement but at least last till the latter part of the year. If the war drags on and Russia is seen to lose ground, will Putin survive, if he is still around? Watch and see.
Dr J Scott Younger, OBE, is a professional civil engineer; he spent 42 years in the Far East undertaking assignments in 10 countries for WB, ADB, UNDP. He published many papers; he was a columnist for Forbes Indonesia and Globe Asia. He served on British & European Chamber boards and was a Vice Chair of Int’l Business Chamber for 17 years. His expertise is infrastructure and sustainable development and he takes an interest in international affairs. He is an International Chancellor of the President University, Indonesia. He is a member of IFIMES Advisory Board. Lived and worked in Thailand from 1978 to 1983 and visited Burma, Bangladesh and Nepal for projects.