Is Vladimir Putin in a corner?

Ukraine woke up today to its sixth day under attack from Russia.

Reports that a big convoy of Russian military hardware is on the road heading to Kiev, a convoy stretching over 64kms as part of an advance, from Belarus, in the north – tanks, towed artillery and support vehicles.

Satellite imagery suggests the convoy is within 25km of the city centre.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, has said that more than 520,000 refugees had fled Ukraine and they expect the total to reach 4 million in the coming weeks.

I find it disturbing that the Australian Government persists with war-like rhetoric, the Prime Minister saying, “We stand up to bullies here in our own region,” and, “I don’t plan to give the Russian Government a heads up about what is coming their way, but I can assure them it is coming your way.

Is there a leader within the West who can offer a solution to this murderous attack on innocent people?

Comments by the Chinese Foreign Ministry are instructive, with the Foreign Minister yesterday saying that China“…supports all efforts that are conducive to easing the situation and seeking political settlement… relevant parties should exercise restraint and avoid further escalation of the situation… China supports and encourages all diplomatic efforts conducive to the peaceful settlement to the Ukraine crisis.”

Questioned on Putin’s nuclear threat, the Foreign Minister responded, “I reiterate China’s consistent belief a nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought.”

It might be time, in the interests of peace, to take China at its word.

You then note the almost pathetic rhetoric by President Biden arguing that America “stands up to bullies”.

As John Podhoretz, a former speechwriter to President Reagan and George H.W. Bush has written, Come on man. Putin isn’t a bully. He is either a lunatic pursuing a nation-murdering delusion or a man possessed of a world-historical ambition to make himself an equal in Russian history to the Greats, Peter and Catherine and Lenin and Stalin… in Biden’s telling it won’t be the US or NATO that will reverse this world-changing infamy. No, somehow it will happen because of history.”

Podhoretz rightly argues, “This is ludicrous and sentimental hog-wash, as it suggests somehow that the anti-Putin cause will prevail because he is against good things and will be punished for it.”

In a scarifying condemnation of Biden, Podhoretz writes, “It matters that Biden and his people defaulted to this kind of rhetoric because of what he did not say: he did not say that Putin will be defeated. He did not say the West will win. He said we will stand together and then history will work its wonderous magic.”

So where, tonight, does Putin stand?

The sanctions are tougher than those imposed, in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea.

But Putin has merely strengthened the resolve of Ukrainians that their destiny must never lie with a butcher but rather with the West.

This is the opposite of what Putin would want.

But what about Putin at home?

As I have written elsewhere, Russia has built its economy anticipating the kind of sanctions that are being imposed, reduced its dependence on foreign capital and built up its technology and cozied up to China, in the hope that China would be an alternative buyer to those things the West now refuses to buy.

But the EU still takes 27 percent of all Russian exports.

That is gone; and sanctions through the SWIFT banking-transaction network, or on big Russian banks, will cut off Putin’s financial system.

Putin may have embarked on the devastation of Ukraine but, as things stand, informed analysts argue that Putin is doing greater harm to Russia than the threat of war.

He has galvanised a West that has been weak and is now finding some backbone, a West determined to turn its back on Russian gas; and the Ukraine resistance makes Ukraine look more like the Afghanistan which Russia could never win, but which bled Russia of money and men.

Most importantly, Putin is already an international pariah, a fate from which he cannot escape.

Make no mistake, Putin is in a corner.

The trouble is, if he is the dangerous madman even some of his own people are painting him out to be, who knows what a dangerous dictator might do next.

Paradoxically, the real solution may lie with the Russian people and, yes, China.

As Robert Gottliebsen splendidly writes today, “By invading Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin has imperilled a pillar of Xi Jinping’s Chinese Presidency – the massive 9,000km fast-train project linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans… part of China’s massive Belt-and-Road infrastructure project.”

As Gottliebsen says, should this be delayed it would be a devastating blow to the high standing of Xi Jinping.

Australia should tone down its rhetoric against China and hope that China may be able to impose the restraint on Putin that the world seeks.


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