3 March 2023
There is a still a cheerful assumption that Russia can be driven out of Ukraine, and this is accompanied by copious rhetoric about Putin’s unprovoked aggression, the need to fight for democracy, and a dismissal of his claim that it is an existential issue for Russia.
It is also hopefully assumed that the war will end when Putin falls, but that fall is extremely unlike.
Putin sees the war as an existential issue for Russia. Whether this is right or wrong, it is certainly an existential issue for him, and he needs either a victory or a settlement that saves face.
It must be noted in terms of strength that Russia has more than three times the population of Ukraine (146 v 41 million) and the per capita income in 2021 of Russia was almost three times that of Ukraine ($US12,259 v $4,594- UN figures). The casualty figures available are decidedly (and no doubt deliberately) vague.
The Chinese have a 12 point plan that, strangely, has not been seriously discussed in the Australian mass media. It was hard even to find the plan, though there was plenty of commentary that it was vague in detail, paid only lip service to territorial integrity and did not condemn Russia. A copy of it is at  or . This is at least a starting point.
An article by Jeffery Sachs arguing for peace is below some of my comments.
Some background issues:
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and James Baker, the then US Secretary of State is said to have promised Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO would not expand to the east if Russia accepted German reunification. Russia also agreed to independence for Ukraine, despite the fact that its base was in Crimea.
After the Soviet collapse the East European countries flocked to join NATO, which accepted them. The list is extensive: the Baltic States, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania; from old Yugoslavia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Montenegro and North Macedonia. Even Albania, which had been the most hard-line communist country in Europe, joined NATO.
Georgia was invaded by Russia in 2008 easily when its government tried to assert its authority over the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which were demanding autonomy and were recognised by Russia. The Russian invasion went beyond those provinces but did not occupy the capital, Tbilisi. Western reaction was muted, which is said to be the reason that Putin was so emboldened and regarded the West as decadent. Georgia was Western-oriented and had applied to join NATO.
Ukraine wanted to join NATO and since the invasion, Finland and Sweden have also applied.
From a Russian perspective, NATO had been encroaching east. There had been a pro-Russian government in Ukraine up to 2014 under President Viktor Yanukovych but when he did not sign a treaty between Ukraine and the EU there was the Maidan revolution in February 2014, probably helped by the CIA. Petro Poroshenko was elected President.
The provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk in Ukraine, collectively called the Donbas, and Transnistra in Moldova are significantly Russian oriented, and Russia supports their requests for autonomy and their separatist movements. Russian troops are ‘peacekeeping’ in Moldova as they were in the Georgian provinces. Whether these provinces want to be part of Ukraine or part of Russian is hard to determine, particularly now, but one might suspect that there is considerable division of views and that they would prefer local autonomy to the highest degree possible rather than a distant government of either flavour. A number of polls in 2014 came to different conclusions. A 2020 poll showed primary concern was for local issues and fear of war. Ukraine was having trouble dealing with the separatist movements before Russia invaded, so there are parallels with Georgia there. Perhaps because of the Ukrainian military’s reluctance to fight Ukrainians, the Azov Brigade, a right-wing privately funded paramilitary group initially did most of the fighting against the Russian –backed separatists, which allowed Russia to claim it was fighting Nazis who had killed pro-Russian Ukrainians. The actions of the Azov brigade were not popular, yet they were somewhat controversially absorbed into the Ukrainian army.
After the Crimean invasion, separatists seized control in Luhansk and Donetsk and declared their independence in May 2014. There was a civil war there, which led to the Minsk agreements in September 2014 and February 2015 that led to a ceasefire with the separatists having control of about a third of the provinces, with the objective to return the region to Ukraine but with significant local autonomy. Russia recognised the independence of the breakaway regions in February 2022, just before it invaded.
The Russians invaded Crimea in 2014 in response to the change of government in Kiev. The provincial Parliament in Crimea was pro-Russian, and initially Putin claimed that the invasion there was from Crimea itself. There was little voting in Donetsk and Luhansk as the Kiev government did not have good control there. While ‘territorial integrity’ is taken to mean existing borders, Kiev’s demand for this means that Russia would have to agree to its naval base being isolated, and Kiev having another attempt at suppressing the pro-Russian separatist provinces on Russia’s border.
Russia currently occupies about 20% of Ukraine’s territory and now has a land corridor in the south west of the country that links it to its key naval base in Crimea. The only other link it had was via the 19km Kersh Strait Bridge, which is 19km long. The bridge was planned after the 2014 Ukrainian coup and was completed in 2018. Clearly if the government in Ukraine is hostile to Russia, it does not want to have its major warm water naval base only accessible by a bridge, and would never concede Crimea.
The US arms industry, which is immensely influential in US foreign policy, is the chief beneficiary of the war, and President Biden has pledged support for as long as it takes. The Republicans, however control the Senate, and have an increasing isolationist voice. The US President has quite a lot of discretion in waging wars, but if the US economy goes into recession there is a significant chance that the Republicans may win the 2024 Presidential election. That is quite soon in terms of Russian war thinking.
For Americans, war is an inconvenience, fought overseas. Russians have quite a different history. In WW2 Russia lost far more people than the Germans and all the Allies in Europe combined, 26 million, or 13.7% of the population. Russians see WW2 as one between themselves and Germany and were very critical of the rest of Allies for not helping them earlier. The long siege of Stalingrad ended in February 1943 and the Russian armies were advancing for 16 months before the D-Day landings of 6 June 1944. So if Putin can convince Russians that it is an existential issue their expectations of what has to be sacrificed will be quite different to the US.
Volodymyr Zelensky was a comedian whose show ‘Servant of the People’ had him as a history teacher who accidentally became Prime Minister because a student filmed his rant about corruption and it went viral. He was honest and the satire on corruption was a huge hit because Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries. He was elected with his party having the same name as his comedy show. He is well intentioned, and not a US puppet as some in the leftist media has portrayed him, but it is unlikely that he can end a nation’s entrenched corrupt traditions. But recent US articles have said that US arms are getting to the frontline, which was a concern early in the war. He wants the territorial integrity of Ukraine and a total victory over Russia. The question is whether he is realistic, and to what extent the West will support him if the war drags on.
If one is to explore the lofty rhetoric of democracies deterring unprovoked aggression, one would have to concede that the US actions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya could be called the same. If one is to draw historic parallels with Chamberlain conceding Czechoslovakia to Germany, one could say that the difference is that Putin would know that even if he moves the border a bit to provinces that already had a Russian speaking and Russian-orientated population, he would have steep and organised resistance to any further moves in Ukraine or elsewhere.
Listening to a Chinese peace proposal sounds like a good idea.
 Russia: military deaths 10.6 million, civilian deaths 16 million, 13.7% of population. Germany military 5.0 million, Civilian 7.2 million 8.2%; France military 210,000, civilian 390,000 1.4%. UK military 0.6 million, 67,000, civilian, 1%. Australia military 31,700, civilian 700, 0.58%, USA 407,000 military, 12,100 civilian, 0.3% of population. Wikipedia accessed 3/3/23