The War in Ukraine is a series of dilemmas detracting the players in this deadly game of chess from making clear and decisive moves.
The War in Ukraine has now lasted a good deal longer than Putin had planned for the Special Military Operation (SMO). The SMO—known in the rest of the world as “a war”—was only ever supposed to be a three-day deposing of the Zelenskyy government, with a few weeks to clean up afterward. But given that the Ukrainians met the Russian invaders with Javelin missiles and other military hardware rather than the bouquets and hugs they had predicted, things went from bad to worse.
Nothing has changed since I wrote the article “Where to now, Putin? Because there is no way you can win” in April 2022. There is no way Putin can win, so he is trying to elongate the conflict until the West tires of supporting Ukraine or becomes sidetracked by other worries. But tricky moral dilemmas continually present themselves, often without clear answers.
Let’s look at a few of these.
Many Russian men have sought to escape various summonses and rounds of mobilization by flying to foreign countries or rushing for the nearest borders. It might seem like these countries should rush to take such dissenting Russians, to support an anti-Kremlin stance. And yet, some countries have prohibited an influx of such Russians, as noted by Yahoo! News:
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have also since barred the entry of Russian citizens, including those fleeing conscription following Putin’s mass mobilization order in September, a decision criticized by other EU members. A big motive for this controversial decision, hinted Mikk Marran, the recently retired head of Välisluureamet [Estonian foreign intelligence service], wasn’t just showing solidarity with Ukraine but safeguarding Estonian national security. “Hosting a few hundred thousand military-aged men, aged 18 to 35 — I’m not so sure that’s a good idea for any country so close to Russia,” Marran said in a wide-ranging interview last November.
The rationale is that many of these people aren’t fleeing mobilization because of their moral and political stance on the war, but out of self-preservation. It might be that they are not against the war per se, but are simply against sacrificing themselves for that cause. As such, some European countries feel like inviting in a host of men of this age who may still be of Russian nationalistic bent may not be the best idea.
To welcome or not to welcome?
Some analysts believe that being able to hit the economy as hard as possible is one of the strongest signals to send the Kremlin. A unified approach to sanctions from Ukraine’s allies is intended to cause economic pain to Russia and its coffers, depriving it of much-needed income to fund the illegal war.
The harder sanctions bite, the greater the effect.
But as Putin decides to throw ever greater sums of money at the conflict, he is depriving his own country of funding for welfare, education, health services, and all the necessary provisions for a functioning society. The people who suffer the most are the working classes struggling to make ends meet, and not the power-brokers and oligarchs, generals and politicians, who are peddling permissions for war crimes to the South.
On the other hand, economic hardship can be a useful motivator to political unrest, and with any luck, some kind of revolt or coup.
To sanction hard—or spare the populace?
An oily mess
Related to the previous point is oil. Russia is used to making fistfuls of cash from their abundant hydrocarbons. As such, Ukraine’s allies have wanted to hit them where it hurts.
The problem is, the more they restrict the ability for Russia to sell their oil on the open market, the higher this pushes up oil prices (supply and demand), which pushes up inflation at home.
Hitting Russia’s pockets here empties one’s own.
This realization prompted the introduction of price caps that allow Russia to sell oil but just not at the rates that the Kremlin would like.
To strangle Russian oil profits—or avoid even higher oil prices at home??
The Putin Paradox
All of Ukraine’s allies want Ukraine to prevail, to win on the battlefield in order to be able to boss the negotiation table. But Ukrainian success could create quite the problem.
Putin is not one for walking away when things are looking bad. No, he is a man for doubling down. And many worry that doubling down might manifest itself in button-pressing.
In other words, the better that Ukraine does, the more likely it is that Putin could go nuclear, with no other options being available to him (as he would see it).
To win on the battlefield—or deflect a nuclear war?
Military-industrial complex discussions aside, everyone wants this war to be over sooner rather than later. But in order to win the war quickly, one side needs to thoroughly overcome the other on the battlefield. To see Ukraine prevail as quickly as possible, they should be given as many of the best weapons systems available.
In the same vein as the rationalization of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, heavy casualties in the short term could save many more in the long term.
On the other hand, this provision could lead to Russia getting its hands on some of the most cutting-edge NATO technology. It could also leave allied countries short of their own defensive capabilities.
But as a rebuttal, what was this equipment designed for in the first place if not for battling “Soviet” foes? Who is the UK or Germany going to fight in the next twenty years? If a country invaded the UK—wildly unlikely—then NATO’s Article 5 would kick in and NATI allies would rally to help. So, for example, the UK doesn’t need half the tanks and equipment it has or is due to replace right now. It might as well go to Ukraine.
Provide everything at a risk—or just enough at a different risk?
…and on. Around every corner, and down every foxhole, there are dilemmas. Of course, the ones presented here have been vastly simplified and have many more complex options associated with them.
Politics is difficult. War is difficult. Perhaps Mao Tse Tung is pertinent here: “Politics is war without bloodshed while war is politics with bloodshed.” Or military strategist Carl von Clausewitz: “War is simply a continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means.”
Every decision in this war pertaining to all parties has huge political and moral implications. It shouldn’t need repeating, but the longer this war continues, the greater the cost. When the currency is life, it appears that one side attaches significant intrinsic value to those lost, and the other sees lives as a resource to be expended for imperialistic gain. To Putin, blood runs as freely as black gold, and the conflict will continue as long as he can pay with either.