When the Russians launched what they call a special military operation in the Ukraine, the window for a negotiated settlement was wide open. The Russians were prepared to go back to the Minsk accords and work out a deal with Ukraine. In fact, such a deal was close to happening in April, but then London, at the behest of Washington, stepped in and convinced Zelensky to end negotiations. The collective West was now fully behind Ukraine and they would accept no deal with Russia.
The Russians left open the possibility for a deal. Despite the sanctions and the flow of weapons into the Ukraine from the West, the Russians kept playing for a negotiated settlement to the conflict. The main reason is a deal signed by Zelensky would prevent future shenanigans from Washington. Liberating the disputed areas and degrading the Ukrainian military would leave open the possibility of more fighting. Ukraine would become like the Korean peninsula.
Yesterday the door for a negotiated settlement has closed completely. In an address to the nation, Putin announced that Russia would accept the results of the referendums planned in the Donbas. When these areas vote to join the Russian Federation, they will become sovereign Russian territory. The second thing he announced is the call up of roughly 300,000 reservists to defend Russian lands in the Donbas. An attack on Donetsk or Luhansk is now an attack on Russia.
This change will be lost in the Western media because they are assigned the task of selling the Western war on Russia. They describe Russia as a large outdoor gas station run by vodka-swilling peasants. Putin is described as a tyrant with absolute and undisputed control of the country. This is complete nonsense, but most of what appears in the Western media is nonsense. They make the old communist propaganda organs look like objective observers.
Reality in Russia is quite different. For starters, Putin is not a dictator and he has to worry about his constituents. Like every other country, Russia is ruled by a coalition of forces that have real power. Putin leads this coalition and he has to respect the interests of the coalition members. Russia is also a bureaucratic country. Things are done a certain way, through certain processes. Russians like rules and the Russian bureaucracy is nothing if not a playground for those who love rules.
The other important thing about Russia is that Putin is the most dovish, pro-Western voice in the ruling coalition. There were voices calling for military action in the Ukraine going back to the 2014 coup that toppled the Ukrainian government. There are voices today that want full mobilization and total war on the Ukraine. Putin has preferred to work the diplomatic angle. He saw signed deals with the West as a way to hold the collective West to their commitments.
In announcing the next phase of the war, Putin is signaling that he has moved in the direction of the hawks. This means the rules of engagement that up to now have prevented the Russian military from targeting civilian infrastructure and command centers have been removed. That means damns, power plants, water treatment plants and other essential structures will be attacked. It also means the Russian army can now take the lead in fighting the Ukrainians.
This is another thing lost in the Western media. The rules the Russians placed on themselves in this fight were to limit contact between the Russian army and the Ukrainian army. This means the militias did the bulk of the fighting with air and artillery support from the Russians. Private military contractors were also brought in to assist the militias with weapons and logistics. That changes now. The Russian military will take the lead in the war going forward.
Presumably, the Ukrainians will not respect the referendums and keep attacking these areas, which means Russia will now be at war with Ukraine. This may sound like a distinction without a difference, but it is a big change. From the Russian perspective, they are following international law. The Western powers supporting Ukraine are now parties to the war between Russia and Ukraine. In other words, it is no longer a proxy war but a direct conflict between West and East.
What does that mean? For starters, the Russians can now cut off all energy supplies to NATO countries and be on firm legal ground. They can also point to Kosovo as a precedent for their actions. Kosovo elected to break away from Serbia. The West recognized it and then bombed Serbia. Putin has mentioned this precedent in the past and will no doubt point to it after the referendum. The point is to show the rest of the world that the Russians are operating by the rules.
That is another piece of the puzzle. Prior to this announcement, Putin has been meeting with his counterparts in Asia. It is clear that China and India are onboard with what the Russians are doing. That is the point of these self-imposed rules. It makes the point to other countries that one side is following the rules and the other side is not. If you are worried about being regime changed, this is important. Every leader outside the collective West is now worried about regime change.
All wars have a moral component. No one wants to see themselves as the bad guy, so the parties to a conflict seek to claim the moral high ground. This is what the Russians have been doing since the war started. These limitations they have placed on themselves were about establishing their moral position. This next phase of the war was not what they wanted, but the other side left them no choice. Whether you accept that or not, the Russians accept it and that is what matters.
What all of this means is that the war has now entered a much more dangerous phase and it will only end militarily. The West is pledged to fighting until the last Ukrainian and now Russia is accepting the challenge. In addition, Russia will now make it much more difficult for Ukraine to function as a country, much less provide the necessary support for its army in the field. That also means direct targeting of Western assets in Ukraine by the Russian military.
Sadly, the only hope for a peaceful solution to the war now lies with Washington getting its wish and reaching the point of the last Ukrainian. The Russians drive up Ukrainian losses quickly over the next few months. The military loses its fighting ability and the civilian population is put under terrible stress. The combination of the two forces a settlement, despite Washington’s desire to keep fighting. In other words, the hope for peace lies in a tragedy for the Ukraine.
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