Entering the second year of the Russian invasion at the same crossroads

Ukrainian flag after shelling in Kharkiv. Photo Marienko Andrii UNIAN i

This is a story for an indefinite period, and its outcome is entirely uncertain. So the most important thing is not to overreact, Vytautas Bruveris writing on lrytas.lt news portal.

This is how one can describe the still dominant attitude in the West towards the war in Ukraine and the geopolitical conflict that revolves around it.

This is also reflected in the European Union summit discussions in Brussels this week on the ninth package of sanctions against Russia.

This package, or rather the question of whether there will be one at all, has been in limbo for a long time and, when it was made public, was criticised by Ukraine’s most ardent supporters for being too weak.

It was intended to sanction almost a couple of hundred Russian natural and legal persons, including some top politicians and parties.

It was also proposed to blacklist more Russian banks and ban the export of more technology to that country.

The EU summit did approve the package, but on the eve of its adoption, passions culminated in Poland and Lithuania blocking its adoption.

The main reason for this was that the package was intended to ease sanctions on several Russian oligarchs involved in fertiliser and food exports.

This would help to reduce tensions and risks for some countries in the so-called third world, which the Ukrainian grain export crisis has already hit.

Germany and several other major Western countries have offered exemptions, while Warsaw and Vilnius have declared it a mistake of principle.

The demarche by the Lithuanians and Poles, even while threatening not to support provisions that were important for other countries on other issues, achieved at least part of its objective: the names of the specific individuals who were to benefit from the easing of sanctions were removed from the package, leaving the provision that each individual case would be considered on a case-by-case basis if necessary.

Despite this result, at least the Lithuanian representatives demonstrated that the most that can be said about the ninth package is that it is definitely not the ninth wave and that it is only slightly better than nothing.

Moreover, the debate on sanctions against Russia has certainly not been at the epicentre of the EU summits.

Economic matters, gas prices, conflicts with Hungary and Poland and, of course, the unprecedented scale of the potential corruption scandal in the European Parliament were perhaps even louder.

The actions of Lithuania and Poland in desperately blocking the sanctions package can be criticised in a similar way to the behaviour of the Latvian authorities in shutting down the Russian opposition television channel Dozhd.

This was merely to give arguments to those in the West who always shouted that the Central and Eastern European countries are too radical.

However, politicians in Lithuania and Poland are saying that a decision must finally be made on principle as to whether the West is moving forward against Russia with all its might or whether it is continuing to keep its hand on the brake or even the reverse gear.

From the point of view of Vilnius or Warsaw, the end not only of the war in Ukraine but of the entire global geopolitical crisis will only begin to emerge in the mists of the future when the West starts to move full speed ahead on both tracks – support for Kyiv with arms and crushing sanctions against Moscow.

In general, the prevailing attitude in our region is that there will be no real victory or end to this story, not only and not so much without Ukraine’s success on its own territory but without a large-scale erosion or even collapse of the Russian regime.

This is what should be the main objective of the West’s efforts, which should be pursued without wasting time and attention on possible ‘negotiations’ with the Kremlin by pinning hopes on the country’s society, which should not be unduly punished by sanctions, or even by ending support for the Russian opposition, which is also held responsible for the aggression.

At the same time, there is much less of this fighting spirit in the West, where many people still prefer to see the war in Ukraine as a regional conflict in general.

Of course, the big capitals – above all, Washington – continue to step up their game by supporting Ukraine with arms and by talking forcefully about putting pressure on the Russian regime through sanctions and other means.

However, the tone of that talk and the pace of action are still indicative of the fact that a large number of politicians and ordinary citizens accept as an inescapable fact that the war is likely to last for years to come and that its end is fundamentally uncertain in every respect.

This has been repeated these days by the military and political leadership of Ukraine, which continues to be bombarded with Iranian missiles.

Zaluzhny, a military commander who rarely gives interviews, told The Economist that he is convinced that Russia will try to attack Kyiv again and, at the latest in early spring, launch a new large-scale attack, making the fighting even fiercer than it has been so far.

Both Zaluzhny and top Ukrainian politicians, who warn that Moscow will never give up its ambition to crush the Ukrainian army and destroy the country, see such warnings as an incentive to support their country further and attack Russia on all fronts.

In the West, however, many people still believe that Russia will not be defeated and that the only thing left to do is to stop this war somehow.

Moreover, it is warned that even if the Russian regime were to be ousted from Ukraine or if it were to collapse altogether, it would threaten the whole world with a nuclear apocalypse.

The fact that this attitude has not gone anywhere is evidenced, for example, by the renewed notoriety of French President Macron’s speeches on so-called security guarantees for Russia and his ambition to talk to the Kremlin’s ruler, Mr Putin, again.

It seems that we will enter the new calendar year and the second year of the Russian invasion at essentially the same crossroads as when the war began.

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