The Russo-Ukrainian war is escalating. The Russians have annexed 4 Ukrainian territories and also declared a partial mobilisation. The Ukrainians are gaining ground and forbidding negotiations with the current Russian president. Medvedev, the former Russian president, again makes clear that the ultimate goal is an overthrow of the Ukrainian political elite. Zelensky believes it is realistic that they can recapture all the territories lost since 2014. That is to say, including Crimea. It is clear. Both the Russians and the Ukrainians believe they can win. Both sides are stepping up rather than down.
And that is precisely the problem. The West has to be the smart one in the room and look for solutions for peace. They say they want peace, but at the same time, they are giving huge amounts of weapons to Ukraine. You cannot continue to ignore Putin. If you want peace, you have to listen to both sides. They believe that Ukraine can be militarily victorious because of the arms deliveries. That is completely wrong. The only thing it will bring is a Putin who will go further. The more territory the Russians lose, the harder they will hit back. And then anything can happen, which is very dangerous. Not only for the region, but for the whole world.
There are two ways to get rid of Putin, but at the moment they seem anything but feasible. One can try to turn the Russian people against him. Or one can hope that his closest circle will get rid of him. Putin is currently one of the most popular leaders in the world. He remains at 77 per cent in polls conducted by the independent Levada polling institute. The trend remains relatively unaffected. After the invasion of Ukraine, his popularity increased, after the partial mobilisation it decreased slightly, and now there is a slight increase again. So that means that despite some concerns, Putin is still the right man in the right place for many Russians. So the first option is not realistic at the moment.
The second option cannot be relied upon either. The Russian president has built a loyal and close circle over the years. They all owe a lot to him and are where they are today only thanks to him. Those who could be disloyal left him some time ago or were eliminated during his first two terms as president. And even if his entourage gets rid of him, that is not good news. Who will be the successor? A democratic, liberal leader? Look at the people around him. As hard as it is to believe, Putin is the moderate one in the group. The West’s current approach is illogical. There is no way out at the moment.
The Russian president is less cagey than his Ukrainian counterpart and repeatedly states his willingness to negotiate. One does not have to be a clairvoyant to predict his criteria for a truce. He will demand the annexed territories as Russia and guarantees that Ukraine will never join NATO/EU. Even so, he would not have achieved all his pre-war goals. Putin will agree to lay down his arms (temporarily). He could sell this as a victory to the Russian people.
For the West, it would be unfavourable if the Russians could make this deal. But it is the only deal. It is already too late to get anything positive out of this conflict. The West could have won by avoiding this conflict after years of clear signals from the Kremlin. They just did not take them seriously. Russia was not sufficiently integrated into the European geopolitical security structure. Angela Merkel even admitted that the Minsk Agreement was made to buy the Ukrainians time and arm them better. The West admits that it would rather have won the conflict than avoided it. Well, now we have to deal with the consequences.
Ultimately, we will have to listen to Putin and make a deal with him. The West and Ukraine must make concessions if they want to stop the killing of innocent people. As painful as that will be. The Russian bully needs to be talked to. He will not stop before he can achieve victory. If not, he will meet his end. Politically, certainly, but perhaps physically as well. Putin is literally and figuratively fighting for his life in the Ukrainian fields. That is what makes this situation so dangerous. A cornered cat makes strange jumps.
[Photo by Kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]
Alerio Omari is a Belgian Political Science student. He is interested in geopolitical problems. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.