Winter a sobering time for West’s political elites
The special military operation in Ukraine has been ongoing for nearly 11 months. Such a long delay is due to some mistakes by our generals in military planning, however, the goals of this operation are natural and justified.
Back in December 2021, the Russian Federation invited the NATO countries to sign a security treaty, which would have excluded the further expansion of the alliance and the accession of Ukraine to it.
In addition, Russia and NATO would undertake to refrain from deploying weapons and forces in areas that would be perceived by the other side as a threat to national security, and also to confirm that they do not consider each other as adversaries. The parties would exclude the use of ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles in areas from which they are capable of hitting targets on the territory of other participants.
The US and other NATO countries rudely rejected our proposal.
Unfortunately, Western states constantly resort to deception and backtracking on their commitments, even though they made a clear commitment in 1990 not to expand NATO eastwards.
US Secretary of State James Baker, during a meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow on Feb. 9, 1990, assured that the proposed unification of Germany would not become a catalyst for NATO expansion in Eastern Europe. In exchange for the unification of Germany, Baker offered Gorbachev “iron-clad guarantees that NATO’s jurisdiction or forces would not move an inch to the east.” He repeated this promise three times.
Unfortunately, Western states constantly resort to deception and backtracking on their commitments.
And in a conversation between German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher and his British counterpart Douglas Hurd on Feb. 6, 1990, declassified by the British Foreign Office, Genscher said: “The Russians should have some confidence that if, for example, today the Polish government withdrew from the Warsaw Pact then tomorrow it will not join NATO.”
However, in 1999, Poland, together with the Czech Republic and Hungary, joined NATO over Russian objections. Five years later, on March 29, 2004, the gates of the alliance opened even wider: NATO included Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia, as well as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
As you know, in 2014, a coup d’etat took place in Ukraine and the legitimately elected president was overthrown, although the foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland guaranteed a peaceful settlement of differences.
The people who came to power in Kyiv immediately banned the Russian language, although it is spoken by about 80 percent of the population of Ukraine. This caused legitimate protests from predominantly Russian-speaking regions, primarily Crimea and Donbas. The population of Crimea almost unanimously voted in a referendum to join Russia. As for the Donbas, the leaders of Ukraine at the time immediately began shelling its cities and towns in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions. The indignation of the Donetsk people was so great that, having mobilized a significant part of the male population, they proceeded to retaliatory actions and defeated the Ukrainian troops. Then Kyiv turned to France and Germany and urgently requested a truce — and the so-called Minsk agreements were signed, which provided a significant degree of autonomy for the Donbas within Ukraine.
A lengthy negotiating marathon had begun.
However, Kyiv, as it turned out later, was not going to accept the Minsk agreements, which former German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently admitted no one was going to fulfill and that they were needed only to accumulate Ukraine’s weapons with the help of the West and to train military personnel. We have evidence from Ukrainian defectors that Kyiv was preparing a powerful military offensive against the Donbas, which they called a separatist entity.
As a result, on Feb. 24, 2022, we were forced to launch a special military operation. For Russia, the deployment of NATO military bases in Ukraine is completely unacceptable, because then the flight time of missiles to Moscow is reduced to five to seven minutes. This means that we will not be able to strike back, since the flight of intercontinental missiles takes at least 20 minutes. The military doctrine of Russia does not provide for a nuclear strike first — we use these weapons only for a retaliatory strike.
As a result, Western states began pumping into Ukraine a variety of weapons on an unprecedented scale; in addition, they are constantly introducing new sanctions against Moscow (the ninth package of EU sanctions was agreed last month).
In total, more than 11,000 sanctions by Western countries have been imposed against us over the past year — this is the largest number of restrictions that have ever been imposed on one country.
At the same time, NATO officials, declaring an actual economic war on Moscow, emphasized that these sanctions would lead to the collapse of the Russian economy and that the decline would be at least 20 percent. Bloomberg also reported this.
However, Russia managed to cope with the imposed restrictions. The decline in gross domestic product in 2022 will reach 2.9 percent and, in 2023, according to President Vladimir Putin, it will be 0.9 percent, then we will move in a positive trend.
All this demonstrates the resilience of our economy in the face of growing challenges.
One of the serious measures that contributed to Russia overcoming the negative consequences of the imposed sanctions was the creation, by presidential decree, of a coordinating council under the government of the Russian Federation headed by the prime minister, in order to meet the needs of a special military operation (including the supply and repair of weapons, military and special equipment, material resources, medical and sanitary services, carrying out repair and restoration, construction and installation and other works, providing logistics). To put it simply, this decree gives the government the right to oblige both public and private organizations to fulfill the necessary orders.
The Russians, despite the harsh campaign of the West against us, look to the future with confidence. In addition to grain (our harvest last year amounted to about 150 million tons, of which we are ready to export 50 million tons), we are the world’s largest exporter of oil, gas, fertilizers and many metals and other raw materials, while in addition we have more than a quarter of the entire planet’s drinking water reserves. By the way, a quarter of the world’s diamond production comes from Russia.
Our breakthrough achievements in the field of modern weapons show that, in technological areas, we can also feel at ease.
The ill-conceived actions of the Western powers, which unleashed a furious anti-Russia campaign, led to a serious aggravation of the energy and food crises.
The West crossed all the red lines and began to resort to openly terrorist actions against us: The Crimean bridge was blown up, linking the peninsula with the Krasnodar Territory, and sabotage undermined the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines, significantly reducing the possibility of pumping natural gas to Western Europe, which was especially beneficial to the US.
Western states have introduced a price ceiling for the sale of Russian oil. This measure is harmful to world energy markets because, at some stage, it will lead to a catastrophic increase in prices.
Having rebuilt our economy, we will continue to move forward to achieve the goals of a special military operation. For this, we carried out a partial mobilization — 300,000 were drafted into the army and 77,000 of them are already in combat units, while the rest continue training.
We are taking energetic steps to expand cooperation with developing countries that, despite pressure from the West, refuse to join anti-Russian sanctions.
The rough anti-Russian actions by Western powers led to an even greater rallying of Russian society: Approval of the actions of President Putin remains at the level of 80 percent. Some dissenting Russians have left the country — there are less than 200,000 of them, while the population of Russia, taking into account the accession of the Donetsk People’s Republic, Luhansk People’s Republic and the Zaporizhzhia and Kherson regions, as voted for by the majority of their inhabitants in referendums, is more than 150 million people.
The Russians, despite the harsh campaign of the West against us, look to the future with confidence.
We are absolutely confident that the military conflict in Ukraine will end in 2023, but the political settlement process may take much longer.
Russia is doomed to win and Western capitals are well aware of this. So, with perseverance that is worthy of a better use, they continue to supply Ukraine with weapons in the hope of depleting our country.
Meanwhile, we have repeatedly spoken about our readiness for the negotiation process.
Moscow proceeds from the fact that the process of joining Crimea and the above four regions to Russia should not be discussed in the negotiations, which are needed to consolidate the neutral status of Ukraine, its denazification and its demilitarization.
It should be mentioned that, in Moscow, there is a serious public movement that advocates returning the originally Russian city of Odesa — it was founded at the end of the 18th century by Catherine II — to the Russian Federation. We receive a lot of requests from Odesa residents on this issue.
We do not renounce any contacts with Western countries, but emphasize that they must be built on the principles of equality and consideration of mutual interests. Some European leaders are already coming to this understanding and are aware that Russia is the largest European state and it is impossible to build the security of the continent without the participation of Moscow, or in spite of it.
In the near future, we will see more active attempts to impose a truce on us in order to give the Ukrainians respite. Nevertheless, in the ruling circles of some Western states, primarily France and Germany, which to a certain extent feel responsible for the failure of the Minsk agreements, arguments are increasingly appearing that any military action should end with negotiations. They simply need to save face, because some figures argued that Ukraine would definitely win. In this regard, it was noteworthy that the defense minister of Italy last month stated that, if negotiations were to begin, Rome’s military assistance to Ukraine would be terminated.
This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)
In a number of EU countries, leaders are beginning to think about the future: How to explain to their populations the economic and, in particular, energy difficulties if hostilities do not end quickly. The US and the UK show the greatest zeal in trying to convince Kyiv to fight to the last Ukrainian, but they, ultimately, cannot avoid answering the question “why are such huge expenditures of money needed to arm Ukraine?” Since last February alone, Western states have transferred weapons worth tens of billions of dollars to Kyiv — meanwhile, the annual budget of Ukraine is only $52 billion. The US administration has announced its intention to take its total allocation to Kyiv to $100 billion. For comparison, the Americans have allocated just $55 billion to all African states.
We are convinced that, sooner or later, the new centers of the multipolar world order and the West will have to start an equal conversation about our common future — and the sooner the better.
At present, the contours of this new multipolar world are being formed. Most likely, these constructions will be built around two associations that cover most of humanity: BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, while Algeria recently filed an official application to join) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which includes Kazakhstan, China, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, India and Iran. In addition, 12 more states have the status of observers to the SCO or dialogue partners: Afghanistan, Belarus and Mongolia, as well as Azerbaijan, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nepal, Armenia, Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
Many European countries, due to the ill-conceived nature of the sanctions imposed against us, face serious difficulties, especially in terms of meeting their energy needs. We expect that winter will help to sober up the political elites.
The future world order is being formed before our eyes and, in this world order, we must listen to everyone and take into account every point of view and every people, society, culture and religious idea, without imposing a single truth on anyone. And only on this foundation — realizing the responsibility for the fate of peoples and the planet — can we build a symphony of human civilization.
- Veniamin Popov, a former Russian diplomat, is an analyst at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).
This article first appeared in Asharq. It is part of a series titled “2023: A year of difficult questions.”