A cold war on the Ukrainian border
MAYBE Partygate has at least one thing going for it. In normal times, the government would be rightly castigated for being caught up in a petty domestic squabble (albeit with serious implications) during a serious international crisis. Concerted action against a common threat takes immense effort, especially when it takes place within an unknown timeframe. The Russian threat against Ukraine, however, appears to be of a different order. The temperature On Tuesday, Kyiv resident Mariana Zhaglo quoted: “This threat has been present in one way or another for eight years: increasing troop levels and then taking them back was a regular practice both of the Soviets and Russians. People here have become familiar with tension. I am the only one in my own social circles talking about this crisis right now. My friends and neighbors are talking about where they will be spending their spring and summer break. Russian news agency Tass quoted a Kremlin spokesperson as calling the rumors of an “invasion” “empty and baseless”. More convincingly, the same report quotes Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov saying much the same thing, that he had so far received no information indicating the possibility of a Russian invasion. in the near future.
President Putin learned long ago that an aggressive foreign policy served him well at home, where precarious economic conditions are strengthening opposition parties – or would if their leaders were not detained in Siberia. But he is also aware, like the neighboring states, that a real conflict could quickly turn the Russians against him. Surprisingly perhaps, the shadow of Afghanistan hangs over both sides of this impasse. For Western nations, Afghanistan’s fall to the Taliban was a lesson in how quickly, when they look the other way, things can go wrong. This is one of the main reasons for the urgency of their actions and statements.
For Russia, Afghanistan represents something quite different. The 1979-89 occupation was a costly humiliation that contributed directly to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It drained the economy of vital funds and its human losses – 15,000 killed, more than 50,000 injured – injected mourning and political disaffection in the country. heart of the Soviet Union. Equally fatal, it inflicted casualties on the satellite states (a quarter of the troops in Afghanistan came from Ukraine, of whom more than 3,000 died) while exposing the military vulnerability of the Soviet Union.
For that reason, it would be just as well if Boris Johnson had other subjects to distract him. Having been (briefly, thankfully) one of the UK’s worst foreign ministers, he earlier this week appeared to have nothing more than pomp to help the situation. It is one thing to remind President Putin of the cost of a possible incursion; it’s another to offer a public provocation, making it harder for him to scale back his operations. The situation on the Ukrainian border is perilous. Russia did so. But the Ukrainians, at least, see the point in playing it cool.
Paul Vallely: How the West should deal with Russia