Macron, and Putin, and Ukraine: can ‘jaw jaw’ ever stop ‘war war’?
It’s on! Another war in Europe.
The conflict has been fermenting for months — even years. And now it’s become a reality. Although no one wanted to call it what it is. For a while, it was simply a ‘flashpoint.’ Or an ‘impasse.’ Then it became a ‘crisis.’ And finally, when Vladimir Putin ordered his troops into the rebel-held pro-Russian eastern region, an ‘invasion.’ In his words, to ‘maintain the peace.’ So Russian forces have invaded Ukraine and war it is.
How on earth did we get to this?
It’s complicated, but from his perspective, Putin has continually complained that the West ignores Russian requests for what he calls “security guarantees.” He’s long requested a promise that Ukraine will not join NATO. And for a reduction of NATO troops and equipment in Eastern Europe.
Putin has always seen a NATO-aligned Ukraine as an attempt to isolate and encroach on Russian borders by moving the East-West frontier eight hundred kilometres closer to his capital. A move that would effectively ring-fence Russia’s access to the Black Sea. And Putin believes this is totally against the spirit of the agreement negotiated when East and West Germany were reunited.
The Russian Empire history and Putin memories
The Russian President has a vivid memory of two other key points in the history of the Soviet Union.
The first is the disintegration when several former Soviet Union states left the sinking ship to join the West. Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic were first — soon followed by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Rumania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, and, most recently, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
The second is that the Russians are besotted with the memory of how Hitler and Napoleon were both beaten by the weather — and the vast distances formed by the huge protective buffer zone known as the Steppes.
When things started heating up, and to the delight of the world’s cartoonists, President Macron tried to portray himself up as an international peace broker. He traipsed off to Moscow to meet President Putin in the Bear’s Lair. A flurry of “big table diplomacy” cartoons appeared in the media worldwide. They showed the two leaders talking across a piece of furniture the size of a small tennis court.
Macron wasn’t the only one in the queue.
A trail of European leaders was seen lining up at the Kremlin. All wanted to ask the Russians why those tanks were manoeuvering so close to the Ukrainian border. And to please desist and withdraw.
For a while, it seemed as if their cajoling, pleading, and vague threats of sanctions were having an impact. But suddenly things took a turn for the worse when Putin staged a TV pantomime with his Security Council. Then he announced that he was recognising the independence of two Ukrainian states — and sending in Russian forces to “keep the peace.” The drumbeat of war suddenly got louder. And a French presidential official pointed out rather lamely that Putin had “not respected promises made.”
The Allied response to the crisis not above criticism
The West quite often gives the impression of being far from united.
Without a clear strategy; often acting without consulting one another; and even ignoring each other’s goals. The precipitous withdrawal from Afghanistan, Britain leaving the EU, and Australia suddenly dumping a contract with France to build submarines, have all added to this perception of disunity. So has a Western disagreement on how to handle problems in Syria, Palestine, and other flashpoints around the world.
Although it’s hard to see where this might end, or even where it’s going, perhaps it’s time for Emmanuel Macron and some other Western leaders to get around that huge table in the Kremlin again.
Lots of blah, blah, blah releasing lots of hot air will always trump a rising death count and a war that some commentators are already warning could go worldwide. Let’s hope our leaders will agree to put their collective pride in their pockets and get on with face-to-face negotiations — before it’s too late.
Can talk win the war? What are your views? Comments below, please
1. Putin via The Atlantic
2. Why would Russia invade Ukraine via The Times
3. The Russian Empire 1914 to Russia and Ukraine today map
4. The long white table via Wikipedia
5. A cartoonist’s impression via Antena3.ro
6. US says Russian invasion could happen anytime via dw.com
7. Macron Cover of L’Express, 24 February 2022 – photo credit Ludovic Marin