Just one year ago, President Putin took the heavy decision to go to war against his neighbor. Was Ukraine a threat to Russia’s existence, sovereignty or peaceful life? No.
What did Russia gain and what did it lose? After one year of war and at least one hundred thousand of its young men killed, wounded or taken prisoner? It has conquered 15 per cent of Ukrainian territory. These lands are now only ruins and desolation, deserted by their young people.
It has, of course, consolidated the supply of drinking water to Crimea, annexed in 2014, and made the Sea of Azov a Russian inland lake. Did Russia, which already has so much, really need those extra acres and miles of shoreline?
In any case, it is strategically obvious that it has lost much more than it has gained. The considerable influence that it retained in Ukraine is lost for a very long time. Too many deaths, too much destruction, too many war crimes.
All the trade, very profitable for her, that she did with the Europeans, is also over, as long as she has not apologised. Even if peace returns one day, European investors will think twice before returning to Russia.
It is as if Vladimir Putin has not understood that, in the contemporary world, soft power is much more effective than hard power in protecting his political influence and economic interests.
What happened a year ago in the mind of this head of state who had always acted rationally until then? Like the Americans, who offered President Zelensky a place as a refugee, he probably did not anticipate such fierce resistance from the Ukrainian side. No doubt he had also excluded such a deep solidarity of the Western camp towards the attacked people.
The Russian army thought, in February 2022, that it would take Kiev in three days. Its soldiers had their parade uniforms in their packs, in anticipation of a victory parade in the duly ‘denazified’ Ukrainian capital. But, thanks to the courage of the Ukrainian defenders and the effectiveness of American military intelligence, Putin’s gamble failed.
The problem is that he had no plan B. He was therefore obliged to go deeper and deeper into the conflict, gradually moving from a “special military operation” to a “total war”.
What a huge waste, for Russia and for the world! Russia had other options.
Instead of the chimerical dream of reconstituting the Empire of the Tsars, it could have, geographically, invested itself entirely in the development of the immense Siberia. Socially, it could have created a functioning rule of law instead of a corrupt police state: investors would have flocked to it.
Internationally, it could have become a respected leader in the preservation of the Arctic Ocean and the fight against climate change.
How many missed opportunities by the great powers for the common good of humanity at the beginning of the 21st century!
Let’s imagine that Bush’s America had given up invading Iraq and had spent the same amount of money on a vast program to protect the seas – against overfishing, piracy, pollution… Thanks to its navy, the first in the world, it would have solved the oceanic problems and would have gained the recognition of the whole world.
Warmongers, like Bush or Putin, are always convinced that they are working for good and against evil.
For George W. Bush, the aim in Mesopotamia was to replace a dictatorship “with weapons of mass destruction” with a pro-Western democratic regime, which would spread to all the countries of the Arab-Muslim world. In the end, all these democratic countries would mechanically make peace with Israel, because Kant taught that democracies never make war on each other.
For Putin, it was a matter of “liberating” his Ukrainian “brothers”, who had had the misfortune to fall under the control of ‘Nazi’ leaders.
In the two cases of the Iraqi and Ukrainian invasions, we find the same three characteristics: a biased starting point, an underestimation of the pride of the attacked populations, and a refusal to examine the consequences of the preventive war in case of failure.
When France abruptly launched a war against Libya in March 2011, there was not a single French decision-maker to anticipate a prolonged destabilisation of the entire Sahel. Only the president of Niger gave us a solemn warning.
War mongers are always blinded by their conception of justice; they never anticipate the possibility of a immense human mess as a consequence of their decision.
This post first appeared in Le Figaro.