By John Dunkelgrün
No one can predict the outcome of Putin’s war. As Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace writes in the New York Times (19/8/22), Mr. Putin aims to capture and hold on to the Donetsk/Luhansk region, make the rest of Ukraine a puppet state, and establish a new world order in which the “West” is run by people like Orban, Bolsonaro or Trump. Yet in many ways, he has already lost.
First, not just the rich countries of the “West”, are trying to rid themselves of fossil fuels, but most of the world. His war has caused many countries and companies to turbo-charge that effort. In the short run, the world will face severe shortages, and Russia will get more money for less oil and gas. Starting in very few years, however, the demand for fossil fuels will go down sharply. China, India, and North Korea will continue to buy Russian oil and gas, albeit at steeply discounted prices, but they too understand climate change and the risks of depending on Mr. Putin’s Russia.
Secondly, the sanctions are starting to bite. Modern weaponry needs advanced technology which Russia doesn’t have. Its best and brightest were busy hacking, phishing, and influencing Western politics rather than developing world-class technological products and services. Without advanced technology, Russia simply cannot build weapons to match Nato.
Also, the focus on fossil fuels has caused the neglect of developing other parts of the economy, which will be much more difficult now that many parts can no longer be imported.
Thirdly the attempt to weaken Nato has spectacularly failed. Nato is now bigger, and more agile and its membership has increased its military spending massively. Ukraine is a candidate for membership in the European Union.
And most importantly, for many decades to come, not just Mr. Putin, but Russia as a state, has lost all credibility. No one, least of all its neighbors, will feel comfortable having Russia as a partner. The lies, the attacks on Crimea, then the Donbass, and now Ukraine with its brutal wanton bombardments of civilian targets are etched in the minds and memories of leaders all over the world. Even after the guns fall silent, the knowledge of the brutality and the cruelty will remain. Chances are, there will even be a Nürnberg-style trial.
There have been articles about the Russian people during this war they may not call that. They approve of Mr. Putin and his war, they feel hurt about the dismemberment of the Russia of yore, they don’t know any better because the only news they get is government-controlled, etc.
This may be true up to a point, but as the saying goes “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.”
Many Russians have relatives in Ukraine. Their messages, phone calls, and photos of destroyed buildings will eventually sink in. Mr. Putin may hide the casualties by using Wagner proxies, soldiers from remote areas, and using mobile crematoria rather than body bags to hide the tens of thousands of casualties, but eventually, people will wake up. Where is Sacha’s son, where is Katya’s uncle? Why was Uncle Dmitri’s house bombed? Why can’t we buy computers, see Netflix, and eat at a real McDonald’s?
The economy will slow down dramatically, every day more products will disappear from the shelves, paying mortgages for a house abroad will become almost impossible, and Russians will be shamed if they travel abroad.
For a while, Mr. Putin’s PR machine will provide boilerplate answers, but Russians aren’t stupid. Bit by bit their awareness will grow. Even the inner circle will get desperate. Mr. Putin will fall, not Hitler-style hunkering in a bunker but from forces within the country.
Beware of Brutus Mr. P.
He knows, and that perhaps is why he sits so absurdly far away from everyone.