The War in Ukraine: Vladimir Putin… An Established Winner
From Chechnya and Georgia to Syria, Putin and Russia emerged victorious in these scenarios. Now the Russian president faces the biggest challenge in Ukraine. Will the events unfold in another victory for him?
It’s not the first time for the world to see the Russian president engaged in a military conflict. Since the emergence of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s undisputed leader, well over two decades ago, Russia got involved in three wars. Ukraine is the fourth.
This is not to say that Putin is a war maniac or an ideologically – driven adventurer. Not at all. In fact, the Russian leader had shown a great deal of pragmatism and readiness to negotiate and deal with hostile adversaries and even bitter enemies to find diplomatic–political solutions to complicated situations and confrontations. His extensive dealings and arrangements with Turkey’s Erdogan and Israel’s Netanyahu are examples of that. His pragmatism and Realpolitik lead him to deal with a movement like the Taliban of Afghanistan despite the bitter historical relations. He also dealt with Hamas of Gaza despite its hostile ideological background.
However, Putin has red lines. With his Soviet-era service and background, he has a clear vision of the threats to his country, no matter it’s called Russia or the Soviet Union. Top among them is the Western power’s interference and meddling. Putin believes that the West, America in particular, is determined on encircling Russia, weakening it, or even breaking it apart. The Yeltsin years that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union show, in Putin’s eyes, how far America could go in humiliating Russia and depriving it of all its elements of strength as a nation.
Putin’s first war was an “internal” war, i.e. a war within the Russian Federation. Chechnya is a Russian autonomous republic. It was the first “national mission” of Vladimir Putin, then a newly appointed Prime Minister, to save the Russian Federation from disintegration. Putin could hardly forget the scene, back in 1996, of Russia’s President Boris Yeltsin being publically humiliated by the Chechen rebellious leader who asked him to change his seat at the table so that they could be peer – to –peer before he sits to negotiate! The Chechen rebels were carried away with their victories over the Russian state and made the fatal mistake, encouraged by the foreign Salafi – Muslim “mujahideen”, of invading the neighboring Daghestan province. That was Putin’s chance to set the record straight and restitute Russia’s lost dignity. He was ruthless and used the maximum force at his disposal until the Chechen rebellion was defeated.
The second war was within the Russian sphere of dominance, i.e. the belt of republics that once were part of the Soviet Union. Putin was never convinced that America’s approach to Russia’s smaller neighbors was motivated by goodwill. That’s why Putin, who was again in Prime Minister’s suite, was very annoyed by Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvilli’s blind jump into America’s camp in 2008. The spark of war came from Saakashvilli himself who attacked the Russian community and interests in the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia responded very strongly and inflicted total defeat on Georgia and imposed the recognition of the two provinces as independent states. Saakashvili's hopes of American support and intervention went in vain and Russia’s victory was complete.
The third war in Syria was for protecting Russia’s global position and interests. Considering the historical alliance of Syria with the Soviet Union, and then Russia, Putin decided to intervene in support of the Syrian state that was seriously threatened by a portfolio of militarized groups ranging in their loyalties from Turkey to America to Saudi Arabia to Al Qaeda! Putin’s military interference was decisive and proved to be a turning point in the Syrian conflict.
In the three previous wars, Putin achieved great deal of success: minimal military losses with short period of time. Russia wasn’t dragged into long, exhausting wars that drains its resources. Carefully-set objectives and well – studied war plan with a clear vision on how and when to end it.
He cares for diplomacy and for the legal justification of the war. His long-lasting Foreign Minister, Lavrov, is a real expert in negotiating on the global stage. The Russian diplomacy was never idle or void of initiatives and ideas.
Now in Ukraine Putin’s goal is crystal clear: keep NATO away from Russia. Bringing the Western powers to the doorsteps of Russia is not a “sovereign decision” that Ukraine can make unilaterally. The vast majority of Russians agree with that. And if the Ukrainians think rationally, away from the ultra-national incitation, they would also agree. Russia is simply asking Ukraine to be a good and friendly neighbor, and that’s not much to ask.
It is certain that Putin has done careful calculations before he took the war decision, considering all scenarios, including Western boycotts and sanctions. A mastermind in geopolitics, he knows very well the limits to which the West can go in support of Zelensky’s Ukraine.
Will Putin succeed in Ukraine? In all likelihood: Yes he will.