When Russia announced that its main goals now are to control as much of eastern and southern Ukraine as possible, many in Lithuania and around the world reacted with irony. This is Russia’s way of admitting its impotence and defeat, Vytautas Bruveris writes in lrytas.lt.
But what is defeat or triumph in this war?
From the very beginning of the Russian invasion, it was possible to say that it would be a victory for Ukraine if, even though it had lost another part of its territory, it could hold out and that Russia simply lacked the strength to take over the capital, Kyiv, and the other main cities, and to destroy and replace the current Ukrainian government.
It can, therefore, now be stated that this victory is already a reality.
However, a Ukrainian victory in the true sense of the word would be the expulsion of Russian forces from all the territories currently occupied in the Donbas and Crimea, which is unlikely in the foreseeable future.
So it is more likely that we will see something in the middle – Russia, having seized as much as it can, will declare “victory” or “objectives achieved” and pause. The sooner it exhausts its forces to encircle and crush the Ukrainian military group in the Donbas or to break the front there. But, on the other hand, if Russian forces do manage to achieve this, the pause will be postponed until later, as the Kremlin seeks to consolidate its successes and seize even more.
In any case, if Ukraine holds out, Russia will still have to stop sooner or later and start real negotiations on what to do next. So there will probably be a new ‘ceasefire’ agreement, but it will no longer be named after Minsk, but after some other place where it will be signed.
It is clear that the West is not only expecting and waiting for this but will do its utmost to influence both Moscow and Kyiv so that such a ‘ceasefire’ is signed and the war is ‘stopped’.
However, Western leaders themselves are probably clearly aware that this is ephemeral.
But is strangling the Kremlin regime, or at least weakening it as much as possible to the point of pre-death, the West’s main strategic objective at the moment?
Clearly not. It is difficult to discern any major strategic preference at the top of the West at all, apart from the self-evident desire for Ukraine to stand its ground. Even so, different Western countries are contributing to this goal in very different ways in terms of military aid to Ukraine.
In a word, the main desire in the West – both at the political top and in public – is that what is happening now should end as soon as possible, even if only for a short time.
Whichever way the political or legal formulations and provisions of such an agreement are oriented, the mere signing of the agreement would only record the fact that Ukraine has lost new territories and that the war is entering a new phase of indefinite continuation. This is a new loss and a new toll on the country under attack.
Of course, it could be said that this phase is both the final phase of Russia’s attempts to regain imperial power and the agony of the regime itself. However, at least for the duration of this agony, Russia will have taken Ukraine hostage.
And what are the most ominous and undesirable consequences of this long-term process for countries like Lithuania? Apart from terrorist attacks, provocations, or even a direct outright attack by Russia or Belarus?
One such consequence would be an internal war with its Russian-speaking citizens. The danger of this increases with the growing enthusiasm of a part of the public and politicians to make a “one more contribution” to the fight against the Russian regime.
With the increasing drive to remove Soviet relics in cemeteries and the sharpening of politicians’ rhetoric against the Moscow Patriarchate and the Orthodox hierarchs in Lithuania, a large part of the Russian minority is likely to perceive this as an action against them.
So, even if we agree with the direction and the essence of such a policy, it is worth remembering that all this should not be done on the basis of a procession, not just as a demonstration of apparent power and a display of pleasure, but as much as possible in the search for dialogue.
Do we understand this sufficiently, and are we prepared for long, complex processes?