[Rétrospective Ukraine] 2022: Unsustainable complacency in the face of authoritarianism

The young politician Vincent Chao, met by The duty in his office in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, last summer, had finally grasped the spirit of the year 2022 which is coming to an end a little before everyone else: « The war in Ukraine has awakened […] on the fact that the conflicts between authoritarian regimes and democracies are no longer just ideological », he said from this Asian territory which has itself been under threat of invasion by the all-powerful China for several years. neighbor. “They can now turn into wars. »

On February 24, it was not just one country, Ukraine, which was caught up in the war triggered by Russia by its invasion. It is also the free world that has shifted into a new reality where complacency towards dictatorships can no longer be justified.

“The outbreak of this war has reshaped the attitude of democracies towards authoritarianism, summarizes in an interview Tomas Janeliūnas, professor at the Department of International Relations at Vilnius University, joined by The duty in Lithuania a few days ago. For too long, by accepting to trade and to profit economically from relations with these regimes, democracies have neglected that they reinforce the esteem of authoritarian leaders, that they allow the financing of their army and that they encourage the repression of their population. The Russian war in Ukraine produced this impulse which is now forcing the West to review the general principles of the treatment to be reserved for authoritarian states,” adds this specialist in European geopolitics.

Everything in this aggression of the former Soviet republic is there to feed this paradigm shift. With, in mind, a Vladimir Putin who, on the night of February 23 to 24, let an excessive confidence speak by triggering his « special military operation » aimed at liberating Ukraine from a « Nazism » of which he was convinced of existence. Two days earlier, the strongman of the Kremlin had, in a gesture of defiance from the West suggesting the worst, recognized the independence of the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow thought then that a world still and always caught up in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, that the divided political climate in the United States, that the chaotic exit of Americans from Afghanistan or even that the end of the era of Angela Merkel in Germany and the weakening of the European Union by a Brexit that Russia deliberately supported behind the scenes could offer her an opportunity to break the impasse of her partial occupation of Ukraine that began seven years earlier. .

Sure of himself, Putin had the ceremonial costumes put in the saddlebags of his soldiers who entered Ukrainian territory in the early morning of February 24, believing he could proudly parade them in the streets of kyiv in the following days. Moscow hoped to bring down the capital in less than three days. The “liberation” of the country was also to lead to the fall of its president, Volodymyr Zelensky. By flight or assassination.

Ten months later, none of this has happened, leaving the Russian dictator’s troops to face a quagmire and above all resistance from Ukraine rather than the army claiming to be the biggest, proudest and most strong of the world had not rated very well.

Calculation errors

“Vladimir Putin made a monumental decision by keeping his elite in the dark, and here is the result, summarizes in an interview, from London, Ben Noble, professor of political science, specialist in Russian policies at University College London (UCL). The personalistic authoritarian systems characteristic of Putin’s Russia foster this kind of environment, with officials holding back from conveying information they believe the ruling head does not want to hear. This increases the unpredictability and dangerousness of the decisions taken, and this, in an environment where the information is necessarily distorted. »

A Chinese proverb says that what is « difficult when you have decided to ride a tiger is to get off », a metaphor that sums up quite well the perilous attack carried out by Moscow against kyiv, and the following things , Russia risking being eaten by the unruly animal she has decided to ride, failing to tame it, as she hoped.

The outbreak of this war reshaped the attitude of democracies towards authoritarianism

“This conflict can take several paths, says Tomas Janeliūnas, but I think the war is already lost for Russia. The extent of this defeat will depend, however, on the advancement of the Ukrainian forces [dans les territoires annexés par Moscou]but also the support of Western countries », whose unity will remain crucial until the end of this crisis, according to him.

And he adds: “Some Western heads of state, like Emmanuel Macron, the French president, or Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, still believe that Russia is too big to fail. However, this Western political thought which aims to conceive of Russia as a complicated partner, but always potential for the future, is tragic. It can only lead to the prolongation of the dictatorship in Russia. The Kremlin will take advantage of the exit doors that could be offered to it only to regain its strength, to regain the confidence of the international community, and this, only in anticipation of its next aggressive act. »

The constancy of the allies

Last week, this international community especially reiterated its support for Ukraine by raising no less than 1.4 billion Canadian dollars in donations to help the population get through the winter, during an international support conference organized in Paris. Canada took part. The Pentagon has also approved the rapid dispatch of Patriot missile defense systems to the former Soviet republic to enable kyiv to defend itself against relentless Russian bombardment targeting its vital infrastructure. Washington also doubled its capacity to help train Ukrainian troops from the start of 2023.

The Ukrainian president, for his part, called on Russia to “withdraw its troops from Ukraine” before Christmas during a videoconference speech before the leaders of the G7, proposing in passing the holding of a “world peace summit to decide « how » and « when » the peace formula for his country could be put in place, 10 months after the start of the aggression. An idea which, paradoxically, is gaining more and more consensus within Russian society, according to a survey by the Federal Protective Service (FSO) in the service of the Kremlin, revealed by the Russian dissident information site Meduza, installed in Latvia.

In November, 55% of Vladimir Putin’s population said they were in favor of peace talks with Ukraine, compared to 32% last July. Support for the war also dropped to 25%, while 57% of Russians were still behind the Russian dictator five months after the start of the invasion.

« Several observers have suggested that Russia’s military setback could lead to the collapse of Putin’s regime, » Ben Noble said. But these predictions are more wishful thinking than a rigorous assessment of the context. Yes, there is evidence of dissatisfaction with the war and the way it is being fought among the Russian elite and population. But it is very difficult to infer whether there is enough dissatisfaction to inspire an actual attempt to impeach Vladimir Putin. »

In this context, the best possible scenario for kyiv still lies in the complete resumption of control of the lost territories, including Crimea, annexed by Moscow in 2014, believes Tomas Janeliūnas. « Only this option would mean a total defeat of Russia and could lead to a radical transformation of Russian politics, » says the Latvian academic. Only by accepting defeat and the need to change political behavior can Russia be so slowly transformed from within. This would ultimately be the best way out of this conflict for Russia, the Russian people” and, no doubt, the rest of the world as well.

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