The three illusions and half-truths that explain the miscalculations of the Kremlin in Ukraine

Now that Russians are marking time in Ukraine by digging trenches and disseminating the conquered territory with mines, it is possible, more calmly, to reflect on the mental mechanisms that, plausibly, prompted Putin and the ruling class that surrounds him to embark on this war adventure.

If the imagined "blitzkrieg" in the Kremlin did not succeed, it is reasonable to assume that the Russian leaders have cultivated illusions. As is well known, the most damaging errors for those who conceive them are those that contain a grain of truth.

The first illusion cultivated by Moscow concerns "the expansion of NATO to the east": it is true that after the Cold War, NATO and the European Union expanded to encompass the outer belt of the former Soviet empire and the Baltic countries. The point, however, is that there is talk – even in the West – of "expansion" as if it were the German military occupations of 1940-41. In reality, after 40 years of Russo-Communist domination, the peoples of the east have freely and strongly wanted their entry into the western economic and defense area. Choices that have turned out to be happy: in recent years the countries of Eastern Europe have gone through a phase of development that, to a lesser extent, recalls the rebirth of Western Europe in the 1950s.

To give a concrete example, does Estonia today feel "occupied by NATO", or is it not rather happy not to share the fate of Belarus? In general, Eastern Europe does not regret at all either Soviet communism or Russian domination: on this "structural" datum – to repeat a term in Marxist language – the American-led West won the post-Cold War so much how bogged down in the sands of Iraq and the Afghan highlands.

Periodically, Hungarians, Czechs, Poles and East Germans rebelled against the Russian-Soviet domination; once the Russian tanks left their positions, the civil life of Eastern countries flourished in the double European and Atlantic framework. This flowering exerts a force of attraction on the Ukrainians, which the Russians do not understand.

Moreover, the flows of men have strengthened the ties between European peoples: Poles and Romanians moved to the West in search of work; the Ukrainians, in addition to emigrating to our country, have filled the empty spaces in a Poland which in turn has become a destination for immigration from the former Soviet Union.

To regain its grip on Ukraine, Moscow could have conceived a sort of Marshall Plan using a part of that enormous flow of money that comes every day from Western countries to which it supplies energy, instead it has chosen to use the language of force once again. After a month of war it can reasonably be seen that this dose of military strength proved insufficient: the Ukrainian patriots (those whom Putin and Dugin call "Nazis" with genuine ideological abuse) reacted fairly effectively. And such a reaction Moscow had not foreseen. Because?

Probably because the Russian politicians and military have cultivated the second illusion, that relating to the "coup d'état in Ukraine". Also in this case the illusion is fed by a half-truth: Americans and even Germans strongly urged the change of regime in 2014. And yet the Russians do not admit that if Euromaidan succeeded in 2014 it is because the majority of the population, for the economic reasons mentioned earlier (but also for the memory of the deep wounds of the Soviet twentieth century), by now he looked to the Euro-American West.

But it is on the basic orientation of Ukrainian society that Putin may have had the greatest illusions. He probably thought that it would be enough for him to give a military push to the political system of his fragile neighbor, and Zelensky would flee, the pro-Western government would be overthrown and the Russians would enter Kiev and impose a government that is tolerated, if not loved by the population. That this did not happen was clear just hours after the invasion began, when Putin's call to overthrow Zelensky fell on deaf ears.

The comparison between the behavior of the last pro-Russian leader of Ukraine Yanukovych and Zelensky is particularly bitter for Putin. While the post-Soviet bureaucrat fled swiftly in the face of the uprising, what is scornfully referred to as "the comedian" after a four-week siege by one of the world's most fearsome armies is still in place and resists.

The surprising thing is that Moscow did not get the pulse of the situation in Kiev. The Ukrainians were divided into incompatible and warlike camps: political immaturity was confused with a consolidated practice of corruption. And yet no sector of Ukrainian civil society was willing to return to the Russian protectorate… With the 2014 war Putin managed to recompose, against himself, the broken fragments of Ukraine. It wasn't easy.

But in the meantime in the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine? Russian propaganda insists – and here too there is a fund of truth that cannot be denied – on the acts of violence, intimidation, cultural repression that the government of Kiev has inflicted on the eastern regions, more similar to Russia. And yet now, as a result of the "special operation", the most martyred cities are the most martyred: Kharkiv, Mariupol, Dnipro.

In recent days, Odessa has become a fortress against the Russians: the same Odessa where the massacre of 40 people took place in a fire that broke out in the house of the trade unions after the clashes between Ukrainian and pro-Russian nationalists. A mournful, tragic event, but after which eight years passed in which Odessa coexisted peacefully until Putin began to invade Ukraine.

Regarding the Donbass, for equanimity, it is right to recall the oppression of Ukrainian nationalists, but also the fact that following the proclamation of the two republics supported by Moscow there was an exodus of about 500,000 people who escaped the local militias, but also the mercenaries that Moscow has brought in. The deaths in the Donbass were the result of clashes between Ukrainian militias, even notorious ones, and not exactly chivalrous Russian military forces.

Thus, by mixing propaganda and self-delusion, the Russians did not understand that:

1) Eastern Europe has freely chosen the West;

2) Ukrainian society was not willing to keep the Belarusians company in the "post-Soviet" area under the Moscow protectorate;

3) Many Russian speakers (precisely in symbolic cities like Odessa) would prefer to live in a Ukraine, albeit lacking in democracy, than to return to "Holy Mother Russia".

And without trying too hard to understand how the world has changed, Putin and his followers have returned to show the ferocious face of Budapest 1956, Berlin 1961, Prague 1968.

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This is a machine translation from Italian language of a post published on Atlantico Quotidiano at the URL https://www.atlanticoquotidiano.it/quotidiano/le-tre-illusioni-e-mezze-verita-che-spiegano-gli-errori-di-calcolo-del-cremlino-in-ucraina/ on Thu, 31 Mar 2022 03:56:00 +0000.