Putin’s new land grab is dangerous for Ukraine and the world


Russia’s new land grab in Ukraine is an act of geopolitical piracy that will make war more dangerous, add new risk to Western strategic calculations and pose a long-term challenge to the international rule of law.

President Vladimir Putin is due to preside over a Kremlin ceremony on Friday to formalize an annexation process of the four occupied regions that will strip thousands of kilometers of Ukraine’s heavy industrial and agricultural wealth.

Indeed, the move amounts to stealing territory from a sovereign power and declaring it part of Russia after an unprovoked invasion, a clear violation of international law and a cause that much of the world will not accept.

The absorption of Ukrainian regions, reminiscent of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, will not change the reality of the war against Putin, which has taken a bloody toll on his forces and is fueling unusual dissent within Russia.

But it is a ruse – created through what the West says are fake referendums – that creates an alternative reality about the conflict, for Americans, for future US global power and the cause of democracy, even if the war will have significant consequences for seven months. Ahead, for many Americans, it may feel like a distant conflict on the edge of Europe that arose from ancient enemies.

  • First, in the political fantasy world invented by Putin, annexations turn war from an offensive operation to one of self-defense. That’s because Moscow will now define these new properties as part of wider Russian territory, sparking fears of escalating war as Putin warns he may use all weapons systems (code for nuclear weapons) to defend the Russian state.
  • This new dimension to the conflict means that the West’s firm support for Ukraine, which has made major advances in the east and south in recent weeks, could come with a greater risk reward, as there are no signs that forces in Kyiv will stop fighting to regain control. using billions of dollars in US weapons and materiel in the annexed districts.
  • In the longer term, the annexations will crystallize why the US and its allies have been so adamant about supporting Ukraine’s war effort. War threatens to engulf a precedent of a larger, more powerful nation simply marching on a smaller nation and seizing its territory under false pretenses. This scenario is not only a threat on the edges of Europe; it is one that can be created around the world and replicated by other autocratic regimes. It is a fundamental challenge to the international rule of law. And it tests the principle of the Western-led post-World War II world that free peoples have the right to choose their own national and political destinies.

President Joe Biden made this very point in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly this month, when he argued that nations should not be allowed to pursue imperial ambitions without consequence.

“This war is about extinguishing Ukraine’s right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine’s right to exist as a people,” Biden said. “Whoever you are, where you live, whatever you believe, it shouldn’t, that should chill your blood.”

The annexes include four regions: Donetsk and Luhansk, designated as breakaway republics, and Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, which are controlled by Russian troops after the invasion in late February.

The Ukrainian government, the United States and its European allies have rejected the idea that this land will henceforth be part of Russia.

“The United States will never, never, never recognize Russia’s claims to sovereign territory in Ukraine,” Biden warned Thursday at the Pacific Islands Summit in Washington. “This so-called referendum was a sham – a complete sham – and the results were fabricated in Moscow,” the president said, ordering a new round of swift and tough sanctions on Russia.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken has already made it clear that the US will not impose limits on where Ukrainian forces can use US-made weapons, calling Moscow’s bluff about the consequences of attacking what it now considers part of wider Russia.

“Ukraine has every right to defend itself throughout its territory, including to reclaim territory that Russia has illegally seized in one way or another,” Blinken said at a news conference on Tuesday.

“Since there is no change at all in the territory that the Russians are annexing for us or for the Ukrainians, the Ukrainians will continue to do what they have to do to recover the land they took away. . We will continue to support that effort,” said Blinken.

Putin warned when he announced the partial mobilization last week, which caused thousands of people to flee the country, that all means at his disposal would be used to defend the homeland’s territorial integrity. This was seen as a threat to use tactical nuclear weapons if the newly annexed regions were attacked. That scenario could test Putin’s newly established red line. But the threat of losing the newly annexed territories may also increase his embarrassment over the war he must win to continue his strongman rule.

The US says it has so far detected no movement of Russian nuclear weapons. This includes tactical battlefield devices that may have a smaller footprint than the higher-yield long-range strategic warheads that make up the nuclear deterrents of the United States, Russia and other declared nuclear powers. However, US intelligence officials told CNN that while the potential use of nuclear weapons by Russia still appears unlikely, it cannot be ruled out definitively.

From abroad, the hastily organized referendums in the occupied territories of Ukraine look ridiculously amateurish and rushed. In a sense, they are an example of Putin trolling the West, another display of his contempt for international law and the idea of ​​democracy. Putin left no doubt Thursday that he believes the war in Ukraine is part of a broader effort to check Western power and influence, telling intelligence chiefs from the former Soviet republics that “we are witnessing a difficult process of building a more just world order.” Mourning the fall of the former Soviet Union.

But, of course, the illegitimate nature of the referendums also points to its true purpose: to give the Russians the impression of progress back home, and also to justify the mobilization of thousands of reservists, who are now being sent to Ukraine to fight to defend them. Russian territory

In other situations, Putin’s annexations have been seen as a potential way to save face from the conflict and claim a measure of victory. But Ukraine has said such moves mean there is no reason to negotiate with Moscow. And recent battlefield successes and the flow of arms to the West (the US announced another $1 trillion package on Wednesday) mean there is no strategic reason to stop fighting now.

The new Russian land grab is also likely to strengthen support for Ukraine in the US Congress, at a time when a potential Republican majority in the House may be less eager to send billions of dollars in aid after this fall’s elections. Kiev – a factor that could affect Putin’s long-term strategy.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced a draft resolution on Thursday that would require Biden to immediately cut economic and military aid to any nation that supported Russian annexations.

Graham noted that the annexations were taking place while much of the United States is fixated on the devastation of Hurricane Ian in Florida. Congress is likely to convene in the coming days to fund a massive cleanup and rebuilding effort. But Graham, while noting that the storm was affecting his situation now, warned that lawmakers had to “do two things at once.”

“We have to help our friends and neighbors at home, but we also have to support those outside. So we’re dealing with Hurricane Putin, for lack of a better word,” Graham said.

“He is trying to rewrite the map of Europe, he is trying to do what he cannot do to the political process through weapons.”