The war in Ukraine has become an asymmetric war with Ukrainian forces retaking territory while Russia tries to destroy as much infrastructure as possible. So says senior researcher Bob Deen of the Clingendael Institute. ‘Russia uses the destruction of infrastructure as a bargaining chip. It’s a kind of blackmail that hasn’t worked so far.”
Deen refers to a tried and tested Russian tactic: create a problem and then make the other party pay to fix it. In this case, the Russians will cease missile attacks against Ukrainian civilian targets in exchange for an end to the Ukrainian counter-offensive.
“Russian negotiators are very good at creating a problem first and then charging you to fix it. Actually, that was the grain deal: We block your ships unless we get something in return,’ says Deen.
Aware of Russian missile attacks, Deen increasingly begins to wonder what the Russians are after and what it means. Is this an attempted genocide? You have to be careful with that term – you must really have the intention to destroy a people as such. But if you add it all up: wanting to expel Ukrainians, erasing Ukrainian culture in the occupied territory. They are puzzle pieces that are starting to point in that direction.’
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However, the Ukrainians are clear about this: Russia is committing genocide. This is also not surprising, in the 1930s Stalin tried to starve the population of Ukraine, a period Ukrainians refer to as the Holodomor. So there is that genocidal factor in the Ukrainian national consciousness. Whether it is indeed genocide is something lawyers will have to consider, thinks Deen.
Because the West is so afraid of escalation and a nuclear conflict, Russia can, according to Deen, “go far enough” before the West intervenes. Deen points to the many discussions that have taken place about whether or not to provide defensive or offensive weapon systems. «Even then there was a kind of fear of getting involved in the conflict, and it still is, it is also noticeable on the American side. No troops, that’s where we all draw the line.’
And the same (again) applies to the delivery or non-delivery of some long-range weapon systems that can strike targets on Russian territory. An argument that hasn’t gotten any easier now that Russia has annexed parts of Ukraine and considers them its territory.
‘This also blurs the line with what we find acceptable in the West. That discussion is now focusing on Crimea.’ According to Deen, Crimea is no different politically and legally from anywhere else in Ukraine. Yet there is great Western reluctance to provide Ukraine with the supplies it needs to recapture Crimea for fear of an escalation.
After all, Crimea is extremely important to Putin. Not only do Russians have a high sentimental value regarding the peninsula that belonged to Russia until 1953, with Sevastopol Russia having a very strategic military base in the Black Sea. Finally, the conquest of Crimea made Putin very popular in Russia.
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