It has been argued that all unnatural control systems have a key element in their composition – the fatality that they will naturally collapse. One would certainly wish such is the case: but sometimes, as in Ukraine, we may not have the luxury of hanging around to find out. The murderous invasion mounted by Moscow was the biggest military operation in Europe since 1939. Vladimir Putin is not coy about his intentions – he means to delve deep into the country and seize what he can.
The Kremlin will argue that Russia is taking what is rightfully its, thus any negotiation that allows Moscow to set the terms will be seen as legitimising criminal actions. It also undermines the core principles that have held the peace in Europe since World War II.
Nor do we have any grounds for believing Putin’s expansion plans will end with the annexation of Ukraine. He has repeatedly denounced what he perceives as an American-led “Empire of Lies”. He is committed to disrupting the post-Cold War global order. Nor has he any regard for long-established neutral political and legal principles.
He has again said his war is “going to plan”, which would suggest he is in it for the long haul. However, the dangers of a protracted conflict, given the reckless abandon with which it is being pursued, ought to give us all grounds for concern.
This week, it was reported that Russia is using Europe’s biggest nuclear power plant to shelter from Ukrainian bombardment and launch attacks on civilians. It prompted the UN into warning that the situation is “completely out of control”. About 500 Russian soldiers seized control of the Zaporizhzhia plant and ordered the staff to surrender access to the engine rooms of three of its reactors to store heavy weaponry.
The visit by US Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan has also forced us to look closely at how fragile international stability has become.
The trip was always going to be provocative, but the Chinese response of flexing its full military muscles in a show of menacing intimidation has left us in no doubt that if we continue as we are, we are toying with annihilation.
Moscow remains confident it has the backing of Beijing. In a world of laws and reason, Putin might not have a leg to stand on. For instance, Ukraine, as a member state of the United Nations, is covered by the UN Charter’s ban on “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”.
Thus the moral high ground belongs to President Zelensky. Be that as it may, the current confluence of events threatens an order that has kept a major conflagration in check for half-a-century. As provocateur, it is clear Putin has no interest in pulling back, but what is not clear is how he might be stopped.