The Economist: How to stop Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine – International

The Economist: How to stop Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine – International
The Economist: How to stop Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine – International

LONDON – Soviet Union ceased to exist. Mikhail Gorbachev, its last leader, said that, even if the future was uncertain, at least “we had abandoned the practice of interfering in others’ internal affairs and using troops abroad.”

Thirty years later, the Russia, successor to the Soviet Union, is once again engaged in a conversation about outside interference. With Vladimir Putin, the country is ruled by a man who mourns the end of the USSR. Putin resents the way two Slav states, Ukraine e Belarus, escaped the control of Moscow.

He recently reasserted a large degree of influence over Belarus after the despot accused of electoral fraud asked him for help. And it’s gathering soldiers on the Ukrainian border – more than 100,000 – with access to supply lines, field hospitals and reinforcements. American intelligence fears he could invade Ukraine. What can be done to stop it?

Ukraine’s armed forces, despite being better off than when Putin started snapping up pieces of the country in 2014, are not strong enough to stop an invasion. There is no chance the countries of Otan intervene militarily to defend Ukraine. They don’t want, and shouldn’t, a war with a nuclear-armed Russia. However, there are ways to increase the costs of invasion for Putin.

Some modes are economical. Joe Biden, the US president, spoke with Putin in early December. He says he has threatened severe economic sanctions on Russia if she attacks Ukraine again – the country already annexed the Crimea and aided pro-Russian rebels in a conflict in the Don Basin of eastern Ukraine.

There is also talk of removing Russia from Swift, a system that allows international payments. That would hurt Russia, but it’s a bad idea, as it would hurt other economies and start a race by other autocratic regimes. The same deterrent could be achieved, with fewer side effects, by threatening to ban individual Russian financial institutions. Meanwhile, the US must present itself as a united front with European allies. For starters, Germany should not approve Nord Stream 2, a newly built Russian pipeline that bypasses Ukraine.

A second means is military. While Russia could easily invade Ukraine, occupying a country for a long period is another story, as the US discovered in Iraq. Ukraine needs to become indigestible. To help this happen, the West should provide more financial aid and defensive weapons to the country. Putin’s actions since 2014 have ensured that most Ukrainians, even the majority of ethnic Russians, resist Russian control.

At the same time, Western diplomats must look for ways to ease the impending conflict. This is complicated, because Putin’s demands are neither reasonable nor true. He says that NATO poses a threat. Is not true. He makes this claim because a functioning and democratic Ukraine on its border discredits its authoritarian system. And because your talk about defending Russia from imaginary external enemies is a good way to rally support. In a recent poll, just 4% of Russians said tensions in eastern Ukraine were Russia’s fault, while half blamed the US and NATO.

Biden is right to talk to Putin and should continue to do so. He should try to find ways to protect Putin’s reputation and make him back down. Since Putin controls how his actions are portrayed on Russian TV, that wouldn’t be impossible. Biden could make it clear, once again, that Ukraine is not about to join NATO, for example, although he should not grant Russia a formal veto.

Putin wants the US to make Ukraine implement his vision of the pact Minsk, a peace deal imposed on Ukraine at gunpoint after Russian forces defeated the Ukrainians seven years ago. He hopes to create a federal state in Ukraine, with Russia playing the cards in the east, controlling part of the border and having a major influence on foreign policy.

Ukraine resisted this by encircling the Don Basin, making no effort to regain its lost territory and forging a unitary, decentralized state that in practice excludes it. After many deaths and the displacement of 1.5 million people, the region’s reintegration into Ukraine is currently almost impossible, and many Ukrainians no longer want it, although they don’t say it out loud.

There is no simple solution to this confusion, so the best strategy is to keep talking, with two caveats. First, the Ukrainian government must be present at the dialogue. Putin should not be encouraged to treat the country like a puppet of the West, as he is not.

Second, the goal must be to make even a minor war uninteresting to Putin. He may calculate that he has more to gain and less to lose by threatening Ukraine rather than invading it. But he is an expert at finding excuses for small acts of aggression, which he blatantly denies he is committing, even when they are shown on TV screens. As long as Putin is in charge, Russia will remain a danger to its neighbors. / TRANSLATION OF ROMINA CACIA

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