Sunday, February 5

There will be trouble ahead . . .

That's the question many people are asking and, quite honestly, no-one knows. Some excellent writers who really do seem to know what they're talking about in The Spectator see a kind of stalemate developing. Much as we had been optimistic following the recent progress and just the fact that Ukraine had halted much of Russia's advance and had even started to take back some areas, some fear has crept in that there will be trouble ahead. It looks very much like Russia has built up considerable troop presence and is stretching Ukraine's defence preparations in two, if not three directions. The next wave of attacks is likely to come from troops trying to make progress from the South East to secure Donbas and Luhansk regions once and for all and prohibit much Ukraine advance in the direction of Crimea. By sheer force of numbers one would expect Russia to have some chance of success and then to be able to call for a ceasefire with the intention of holding those Eastern areas as a condition of withdrawal elsewhere.

It is highly unlikely that Ukraine will agree to any loss of land and will insist on withdrawal to the pre-February 24 positions and, indeed, will not simply give up the desire to bring back Crimea to its internationally recognised placing as part of Ukraine.

Russia will not agree to that, nor will they cease their demands for Donbas and Luhansk and the international community may wish to take their side on that just to get this war finished, as they will see it. The problem is that these areas, like Crimea, are now almost completely populated with people who prefer to be under Russian control. This may seem odd if they have been watching anything other than Russian TV but most probably haven't, everyone who in any way supported being part of Ukraine having left long ago. Crimea is almost completely 'Russian' in that respect with those residents who remained and do support Ukraine making very little signs of this for fear of being carted off somewhere and disposed of. They live quietly in hope as I guess several families in the East still do. But the vast majority of 'residents' in these disputed areas will vote to stay Russian in any poll, however independently that poll may be organised.

This, coupled with the difficulty that would inevitably be associated with any attempt by Ukraine to take full peaceful control of these places, with their populations as they stand today, being virtually impossible, with much resentment building up and that makes its way into the minds of those helping to decide things elsewhere. Even here in very supportive England, I can imagine much less enthusiasm being expressed for Ukraine to continue to fight when a peace deal is offered. They will almost be obliged to take it. I doubt that they will, however, and they'll simply fight on.

Russia will have no choice but to keep piling in more and more troops and my guess is that if that's all they do then that stalemate will be the result. A little movement here, a little movement there. A lot of Russian lives will be lost, far more than Ukrainian and it will be Ukraine's hope that the numbers become so vast that they really start to have an impact upon what the Russian public believe is happening. In all this unresolved mess I see mistakes being made and sooner or later a town other than in Ukraine gets hit and the huge risk of other countries being dragged into the war becomes reality. At that point, maybe, there will be some last ditch attempts to get some form of agreement as Russia really would then have to expect a lot more support, if not direct action in, Ukraine.

In the absence of a mistake or bombs being dropped somewhere in Europe or some dirty nuclear attack to bring this to a close, I can only see two outcomes that might work and allow both sides to stop. One is where some agreement is made that the disputed areas will get some sort of independent government. They're not ceded to Russian control, nor are they left solely under Ukraine administration but run by some independent entity that also represents both sides as well as the interests of those living or desiring to return to live there. For some considerable time this will need to run so that the population of the areas can settle into whatever natural grouping it would have done had 2014 or this war never happened. 

It has to be wrong that Russia simply walks away with Crimea as a prize, with the international community agreeing that it's all Russian from here on. Similarly, it would be wrong for any area to be so regarded at the outset. Maybe after some years, some rearrangement of borders does take place as these areas are not going to function as completely independent nations and will need to be part of one of the other. That new border has to be right and fair and to work or all this will just happen again one day.

As this stands, if I were to suggest that Ukraine might lose a single square inch of its land then I would be shouted down and told that simply can't happen as it would be seen as allowing Russia to have bullied them and having somehow won, especially with all the destruction to homes, lives, livelihoods and the economy generally. So Russia will have to suffer considerably more financially in order that they pay for the damage done and this, too, needs to be part of any agreement, however and whenever it is reached. Anything less simply will not be accepted. 

Refusal to agree to any peace deal will see international support ebb away and maybe Russia has already worked that out and is banking on Ukraine just being worn down over the years. Russia can keep finding troops to die even if there is no significant advance. They'll win eventually on that basis.

The second outcome is that we all get involved. NATO or, at the very least a few strong nations, join Ukraine in the fight and call Russia's bluff. Indeed, if they're effective enough they could cause Russia to withdraw very quickly and then it would be Russia who would be likely to lose the support of any international minds should they start firing missiles at anyone else. That's when they lose. And they lose all of the land in Ukraine, including Crimea. Perhaps even a new administration is ordered for Russia itself, much like Germany had to be controlled after World War 2's defeat.

Because Russia is a nuclear power and does have a lot of weapons, this would be dangerous and messy but I believe showing Russia that we are united and strong in hating this dreadful business that they started in 2014 and now wish to continue will convince them that their best policy is to stop. That way maybe they can say they don't lose and some face is even saved by people in charge there. Be that as it may. Providing tanks will help but I still want to see real help on the ground and in the air and, indeed, in Russia too where smart technology and highly secret attacks on key infrastructure could stop the threat of those weapons ever going anywhere.

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