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PUTIN’S WATERLOO

September 12, 2022

Diane Francis

There’s reason to be optimistic that Ukraine will kick out Russia, but also to be wary of military talking heads on U.S. or British television who predict victory soon. America’s track record, and Britain’s, on predicting the outcome of foreign wars is less than stellar. But there’s no question that American and European billions in weaponry has made a difference. The invasion has been halted and reports are that Ukrainian counteroffensives are recapturing territory. Vladimir Putin’s army is outmaneuvered, and his extortion attempts toward Europe — cutting off its energy shipments and holding a nuclear plant hostage — have backfired. The European Union is united against Russia and just six months away from permanently replacing Russian energy. The United Nations demands the demilitarization of the lands around the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant to avert a meltdown. The tide has not turned yet, but, after 200 days of war, Putin falters and his biggest success has been to unite the West with Ukraine.

The only outlier in Europe is Hungary, an inconsequential nation run by a wanna-be Putin named Viktor Orban. But rhetoric in the rest of Europe is inflammatory toward Russia, including a threat of nuclear attack made by Liz Truss just before she became Britain’s new Prime Minister — a statement that was never rescinded. The politesse that characterizes the rest of Europe has disappeared, and its members mortgage their financial future to help Ukraine and to subsidize their businesses and residents from food and energy inflation caused by Russia. They boost their armed forces, ship gobs of weaponry and cash to Ukraine, erect security fences along eastern borders, ban Russians from entry, and fast track membership for new nations who want to join the European Union (EU) as well as NATO.

Ukraine is now a de facto member of both organizations and the European Commission and World Bank just announced a gigantic Marshall Plan to rebuild the country once the war ends. Estimated costs of reconstruction and recovery in Ukraine thus far total $354 billion (349 billion Euros) – a staggering amount which will increase as long as the war continues. European Commission head, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Ukraine is fighting for democracy and our common values. The EU cannot match the sacrifice Ukraine is enduring but we are mobilizing all our instruments to address the most immediate needs, including for housing for internally displaced populations and to repair critical infrastructure.”

Europe’s resolve has been bolstered by America and Britain which have led the pack with military and humanitarian support – the least they should have done given that the two guaranteed in a 1994 treaty that they would protect Ukraine from any invasion and didn’t. Now both nuclear powers promise to stay the course. Last week, the first phone call that newly-elected Prime Minister Truss made was to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to pledge Britain’s support. This was followed a day later by U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken who stated in Kyiv that the United States will support Ukraine until its sovereignty is restored.

Ukraine’s other staunch allies are Poland and the Baltics due to historical grievances as well as the reality that they are Moscow’s next targets. All have supported millions of refugees and spent huge amounts providing weapons and equipment to Ukraine. The four have also created a land barrier to prevent Russians from entering Europe by erecting physical fencing along their eastern borders and by banning Russian visitors or tourists. The EU as a whole has also restricted visa entry for Russians.

Most importantly, Germany has seen the light after Angela Merkel played into Putin’s hands by making the country dependent for energy on Moscow. She closed German nuclear plants and replaced them with Russian gas and oil, but now her successor, Olaf Scholtz, has steered his coalition government into hawkishness toward the Kremlin and the expansion and strengthening of Europe as a whole. On August 29, he announced his commitment to the enlargement of the European Union to include the six countries of the Western Balkans, as well as Ukraine, Moldova, and ultimately Georgia, declaring that the “center of Europe is moving eastwards.”

Scholz also urged the EU’s 27 members to “close ranks, resolve old conflicts, and find new solutions,” adding that Germany would keep up its support for Kyiv “for as long as it takes.” He accused Putin of seeking “to redraw boundaries with violence” and said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was “an attack on Europe’s security order.”

“It is precisely this united Europe that is such anathema to Putin. Because it doesn’t fit into his worldview, in which smaller countries are forced to submit to a handful of major European powers,” the German leader added. “In the coming weeks and months, we will, moreover, be sending Ukraine new, state-of-the-art weapons — such as air defense and radar systems and reconnaissance drones. Our most recent package of arms deliveries alone is worth 600 million euros. Our objective is a modern Ukrainian armed forces able to defend their country on a permanent basis.”

Putin announced at one of his conferences that he’s pivoting to Asia because the “West is failing, the future is in Asia”. But the opposite is true. Europe is stronger than ever and neither China nor India are shipping Russia any arms, just buying cheap oil. The two Asian giants have not condemned the Ukrainian invasion nor agreed to impose sanctions, but each has criticized the Russian occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. Even Russian ethnics who live in the Baltics and Ukraine or Kazakhstan, whom Putin claims to be “liberating”, have condemned Putin’s invasion.

But recent setbacks are simply the beginning of the end, says retired US General Ben Hodges. He believes Ukraine may reclaim all of its pre-February 24th territory as well as Crimea and Donbas by the end of 2022. Others report that Russian soldiers are discouraged and retreating in droves because their supply chains have been severed. But much can happen once winter settles in, or if Putin decides to escalate. Nothing can be ruled out, and Western leaders must be prepared for anything, including a nuclear event. As The Wall Street Journal noted: “The prospect is horrific to contemplate, but Mr. Putin’s threat to the world is far from over.”