Saturday, October 8

Keep taking those iodine tablets . . .


There was something very satisfying about the news of a bridge being blown up today. It was also quite surprising and I am pretty sure it has taken many people by surprise, even those who claim to know what is going on in Ukraine rather better than I do.

The bridge is the Kerch Bridge which was built by Russia following their annexation of the Crimea region in 2014. The Russians need that bridge to enable support to reach their front quickly. Now they'll need to take a longer route and it does seem to be a most significant gain by Ukraine. Ukraine has, since I last wrote, made remarkable advances and retaken a large amount of land and some key towns in the North East, with Russian troops pushed back, in some cases we're told they're scampering back, to the 2014 line. Even in the South, Ukraine troops are making advances around Kherson and there has been a lot of positive news about the places returning to Ukraine control.

At the same time Putin has enforced residents of the areas that Russia have been controlling to vote for their towns and villages to become part of 'Russia'. People really have had no choice - anyone seen to vote (and it seems that their voting intentions are seen) against becoming part of Russia is regarded as some sort of Ukrainian agent or generally undesirable and likely to end up in prison or carried away on some excuse or another. There may be one or two people who genuinely do prefer the apparent peace that they believe might stabilise in their town, and the money and employment offered by new town governors, but I doubt they number more than 5% at most. The other 95% will have voted the way they did merely to stay alive and well and living in what they hope will become 'Ukraine' again. 

I am actually surprised that the votes we have been told about were not 99% in favour in every place. The same tactic was adopted in 2014 to justify the takeover in Crimea and some less definitive Russian control of towns in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. We didn't believe it then and we don't believe it now. No way have Ukrainians voted to be Russian after all that they have seen happening in their streets and fields.

So I have been fully expecting great efforts to be made to pull those areas back and it is encouraging that, even as Russia attempts to set up some administrative systems in some places, they are being driven out by Ukraine's advance. What I had not expected was any effort to retake Crimea. I had tended to think that there might have been some historical anomalies in how the borders were drawn whenever the whole area was divided up by whoever did the negotiations back in the 1950s. My knowledge is poor on this but I have heard quite strong arguments asserting that the Crimea region might not have been so obviously a part of Ukraine. That doesn't mean that it was necessarily a part of Russia either and certainly these doubts were no justification for the 2014 invasion. It does mean that, at that time, I felt there might be a good reason for both sides, and international advisers, to look again at the map and thrash out something and, of course, consult properly the population there. Forcibly taking it and conducting a dodgy poll in 2015, however, did more to damage Russia's interests in the Crimea than help them in my view. 

I had rather thought that suggestions that Ukraine might want Russia to withdraw not only to their 2014 positions but also from Crimea were extremely optimistic, whilst laudable aims. Now I am beginning to believe that they could actually do it and that would most definitely not go down well in Russia. I can imagine the population at large in Russia not paying a great deal of attention to the 'special military operation' ending more or less with the Russian troops where they started and no great change to any borders - and neither the extraordinary amount of damage to Ukraine's cities and towns nor the great loss of Russian lives and equipment would be broadcast to them and they'll look the other way to a large degree if they do happen across any real data that shows Russia in a bad light anyway. To lose Crimea would be another story. And that's why there is going to be some massive escalation in due course.

Putin simply cannot let the Ukraine advance continue and, whilst the bridge being damaged doesn't exactly make it much easier for Ukraine to retake Crimea, and there is still a huge amount of work to do in the South, it has become something that more and more people now see as feasible. Before it was a sort of dream and no-one I knew considered it part of the current plan.

My guess is that there has been a significant amount of support from other countries under no national flag, maybe UK, maybe Lithuania, pretty definitely Poland and Estonia and there are people there on the ground making a difference. Ukrainian troops are getting some better weapons and lots of training too and they seem to be applying all this new-found knowledge and ability to most impressive use. If this is, indeed, to be a tipping point in this war then now is the time that whatever we can do needs to be done as it will have the best chance of success while Russia is clearly on the back foot. Before they can regroup, rearm and generally figure out the next move we should make ours. Throw whatever we can in to help Ukraine and get every European country to join in. USA too, and Canada and Australia and whoever else we can get on board. Leaders like to be on the winning side and they can be now.

The one question remains, of course: will Putin hit the nuclear button? I think it is likely that he will, with a small but nasty missile hitting some infrastructure or town in Ukraine as a threat to show what he can do if we don't cease the assistance. That will alienate a lot of support within his own country, though, and start a major divide between the Russian population who will be unable to avoid the publicity of such action. No 'special military operation' now. This will not be what they thought they could ignore and look the other way about. They managed to ignore Bucha, children being hit, massive civilian causalities and other ghastly crimes committed in their name but nuclear war they'll not be able to let pass as if it hadn't happened.

If they're lucky the wind will not blow any radioactive dust their way. But there will be a response from the West and several weapons bases will be hit almost straightaway and no military commander will risk going along with Putin's next steps, whatever they may be. The writing will be clearly on the wall for Russia as a whole at that point. However mad or bad his colleagues may be, they'll not risk escalation in full knowledge that more will come their way, however many missiles they may have. No-one except Putin signed up for that sort of conflict. We need to call their bluff and soon we will have a great opportunity to do so.

There's a long way yet to go but I am finally feeling positive about Ukraine's chances of not just regaining control of its territory but settling this on Ukraine's terms, not those of some committee.
But my friends may need to keep taking those iodine tablets.

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