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Three defeats for Putin

Thanks to his lies, the Russian president is losing the war on three fronts: economic isolation, larger domestic fragility and geopolitical counteraction

The bodies of Russian soldiers next to a bombed-out school in Kharkiv.
The bodies of Russian soldiers next to a bombed-out school in Kharkiv.Sergey Bobok (AFP)

There is almost no doubt left. More people will die, and it remains impossible to estimate the impact on human suffering, global economic disaster and physical destruction. It will be high, the highest since World War II. But with his lies, Russian President Vladimir Putin is losing the war: even if his army is moving forward, it is happening slower than he expected. Yuval Noah Harari, the audacious essayist, is already talking about historical defeat. Winning in the icy sludge of the north, east and south of Ukraine is a pyrrhic victory.

With more than a million refugees and displaced citizens, Putin has 44 million Ukrainians in a stranglehold. In the meantime, Europe is on tenterhooks, and Western powers are trying to guess his macabre next move. Will he dare to manipulate an uncontrolled nuclear plant? Or will he continue playing with the already terrified civil population of the sieged cities by opening and closing corridors?

Russia is in the process of financial and economic strangulation, oligarchs included – and that is despite the accumulated reserves of more than $650 billion and the fact that, for now, the energy sector is safe from the most severe sanctions. Gas and oil are still flowing to their regular clients, the EU included. Until? The West must calibrate, as this is the sanction that will have the biggest boomerang effect.

It would not be strange to wait for a renewed supply of Iranian production to take the drastic step of cutting off supplies, a production inaccessible for the time being due to the sanctions against this country imposed for stepping out from the nuclear agreement in 2020. It is an extraordinary coincidence, as, during these fateful times for diplomacy, the return of Iran to this crucial pact for the regional and global stability is being actively negotiated in Vienna by the EU, with Germany, France and the United Kingdom; as well as the US, China and Russia.

Putin’s second defeat focuses our view on his deeply stressed and manipulated society. It is a fact that at the moment, movements are limited and he has had to turn to the strongest repression against his fellow citizens, especially the media, whose journalists can only expect nothing but condemnation for spreading the truth. But even with some social media blocked, messages are being sent, videos shared, and the truth is opening its path.

At any moment, the apparent fragility of the mothers of soldiers could turn into a force against Putin. During decisive moments in Afghanistan or Chechnya, they were the ones playing a crucial role thanks to their continuous search for their sons lost at the front; they were the grounds for social consciousness, standing up to the lies of the Kremlin. Today, they receive messages leaving no doubt that the Russian invaders are deliberately targeting the civilian population, their equals. Their sons send these messages.

Let us be honest. The third defeat is geostrategic. It is impossible to hide what was behind the direct style and the incisive look of significant strategic importance, particularly on the European continent. How to better secure and protect democracies? How to motivate transitions in institutionally fragile countries? How to aid such transitions? Changes to the boundaries of key Western institutions are the silver lining, once guns are finally silenced. And not a single one of these changes will favor Putin’s interests. NATO and the EU are closer than ever, as is the condemnatory majority at the UN. Russia resists because of its veto.

Bravery and determination

That’s how everything has evolved from “deals can be made with him,” as the CEOs of power, chemical and mining industries used to say, to “no more deals.” The main and probably most-complicated agreement to draft from an intelligent and strategic vision is the eventual diplomatic negotiation. Although this, unfortunately, is still a long way ahead, thanks to, in part, the bravery and determination of the people of Ukraine and its vigorous president.

During the 1990s, Yeltsin’s Russia received the collaborating hand of the EU and NATO. Moscow was active in the reform of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to give greater content to Europe’s cooperative security that this reform entailed. In 1997, G7 became G8 until 2014, when the annexation of Crimea made its participation unacceptable. And in 2012 it entered the World Trade Organization. This happened despite Russia’s anchoring in the West beginning to shift in 2007. Putin began the journey to the current position of planning a new Yalta by force and at the expense of Ukraine with a glacial speech at the Munich Security conference, facing an unperturbed Merkel. His three defeats keep pushing him far away from such destiny.

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