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“Putin is about to do the same in Ukraine as in Syria and Chechnya, rampage until they surrender”

The expert in international conflicts and peace issues Mariano Aguirre, current associate researcher at the British institute Chatham House and linked to the Research Seminar for Peace in Zaragoza since its inception, believes that Vladimir Putin’s objective is Ukraine and not to extend the war to other nations. “He knows that if he touches one of the NATO countries he risks a very harsh response,” he notes. In addition, he comments that for them – “who look at the world and see the US in an internal crisis and Europe, divided” – it was the “great moment” to take steps in the short term to recover Kiev for the Russian sphere and to stand up to the Atlantic Alliance, “make a very tough move and affirm that they are ‘a great power'”.

Eight years ago you pointed out that a return to the Cold War was unlikely and now we are in the most delicate moment since that time.

Yes. We are in a very serious and serious moment where there is no return to the Cold War as we knew it, in the sense that it was a confrontation between two ideologically distant visions of the world, very marked by economic models (one of centralized, the communist; and another liberal economy) and that, in turn, each of them was linked -at least formally- to a parliamentary democratic model with division of powers, and the communist, to a single party model and political authoritarianism. What we have now is a confrontation between three powers: the United States, which has defined China (already with Donald Trump and now with Joe Biden) as the main adversary, and at the same time we have that in the end Washington’s main adversary, the NATO and the EU are turning out to be Russia, with whom it seemed that a kind of model similar to that of the Cold War was going to be maintained (between tensions, the growth of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons, negotiations to control or manage these levels of growth of weapons…).

How do you explain the dangerous step taken by Putin with the invasion of Ukraine?

There are several factors that explain what is happening. One is the end of the Soviet Union. When in 1991 Ukraine decided to leave the Russian Federation and declare itself independent, it was a blow to those who, like Putin, thought that the greatest catastrophe that had occurred in the 20th century was the end of the USSR, to the extent that they believed that despite the problems it had was a great power. Since then, there has been a sector (military, civil, civil service and political leaders, among which Putin stands out) that considers that Russia should once again have the role of superpower that it deserves in the world. The second factor is that the independence of Ukraine was considered by Moscow as a move promoted from the West. For them, Ukraine is not an independent state and must become part of Russia again.

Add to that that they have about 25 million Russians outside their territory, many of them live in Eastern Europe and even in Ukraine. Hence it comes that in 2014 it took the Crimean peninsula arguing that most of its population, if not all, are Russians; and, with the same logic, it also occupied the eastern region of the Ukraine. And to all this we must add the expansion of the Atlantic Alliance. The countries that Russia did not want to enter NATO became members with borders with Moscow and this has been seen by Russia as a humiliation and a danger. Since then she has been ruminating that this could not be the case and that is why when the Ukraine crisis began, one of the conditions she set for not attacking her was that they would guarantee that she would never be a member of the Alliance.

And why has he now decided to invade Ukraine?

Fundamentally because it carries out an analysis, which is also carried out by China. When I say Putin I mean the civil, military, bureaucratic and intelligence elite, who share the hard nationalist vision that Russia has to return to being a great power in the world. They look at the world and see the US in a domestic crisis, they see it as a power in decline (which is not unwise from my point of view). They look at Europe and see it divided, unarmed, without a common security policy and that it is also divided, among other things, very strongly by Brexit. They look and say: it is the great moment to take steps in the short term to recover Ukraine for the Russian sphere and stand up to NATO, make a very tough move and affirm that ‘we are a great power’.

“From the first day that the crisis began, the United States said that it was not going to intervene militarily and wage a war over Ukraine, which was also said by Great Britain and NATO; with which, for Putin, it is evident that he can do what they are making”

They have entered the Ukraine, defined the war in Syria in their favor and in that of Al Asad, they are strong players in the war in Libya, they have an increasingly greater weight in Africa and have even set foot in Latin America (in addition to Cuba and Venezuela). And, at the same time, it feeds the part of the Russian population that shares this kind of nationalist ideology, which is not all because there are many people who are against it and are being repressed. They have also been very clever because from the first day the crisis began, the United States said that it was not going to intervene militarily and wage a war over Ukraine, something that Great Britain and NATO also said; with which, for them it is evident that they can do what they are doing and what matters to them is to win this war.

So you don’t think Putin is crazy but a good strategist?

He is not crazy. And as a strategist he is playing the cards; for the last four-five weeks he has been setting the agenda for this crisis. I think that Putin is about to launch a war in the Ukraine on the big cities – particularly Kiev – in the same style as he did before in Chechnya and Syria. Bombing civilian targets to terrorize the population, key communication sites (television, radio, internet centers), bridges, highways, etc., and then destroy them until they surrender. Unfortunately I think that’s what they’re going to try. Hopefully the Ukrainian resistance can hold out and that the weapons and intelligence that can be provided from outside will serve, but I fear that in the next few days we are going to see an offensive of this type. The model is Chechnya and Syria.

When they entered Syria they turned the conflict around.

Yes and they used the air force; they haven’t done it here yet. When they do, I think that’s where they’re going to put the United States and the NATO allies in a very tough dilemma. The reasons for not wanting to go into a third world war are pragmatically very powerful and I think Biden is right to express it and to be very cautious. But I think this is going to generate a political debate. Plus the fear that the Baltic countries, Hungary and Poland have that the Russians want to go further.

“The negotiations are a farce for Moscow to be able to say in the United Nations that they are trying to negotiate. They simply want the Kiev government to resign, surrender, period”

Do you see the possibility of the war spreading to other countries?

I think that Putin’s target is Ukraine. He knows that if he touches one of the NATO countries he risks a very harsh response. I don’t think I’ll get there, but honestly right now it’s very difficult. When one now reads all the declassified documentation of what happened in the Cuban missile crisis, one sees that there were moments in which simple human error could have generated a nuclear war.. This can happen again, when the channels of dialogue between Russia and the US are also broken, as they are at the moment, and when the negotiations are a farce for Moscow to be able to say to the United Nations that they are trying to negotiate. They simply want the Kiev government to resign, surrender, period.

Should the EU intervene militarily in Ukraine?

It cannot because it does not have an army or any type of military apparatus to intervene. What it can do is what has been approved for the first time in history and that is that each of the EU Member States can provide offensive or defensive weapons to the Ukrainian government. That has problems: Russia is cutting off the entry routes and if a plane from a NATO member country enters Ukrainian territory, it risks clashing with the air force.

The important thing is that all the sanctions that are being imposed are fully complied with and for that the governments are going to have to be very firm. For example, the British Executive of Boris Johnson is involved with the Russian oligarchs up to the ears. He is a chronic liar, is he going to fulfill the same things he is saying? And, of course, all the negotiations that can be done, both official open, secret channels…

What defense does Europe need?

Basically you need to analyze what risks you have and how you deal with them: if there is a risk of terrorism, of invasion of any of your countries… And from there, open a public discussion about what defense system you need. I think that discussion does not yet exist.

But, do you consider it necessary for it to have its own defense system?

Yes, but within limits. That it is not rearmament for rearmament’s sake, that it be a defense system not based on nuclear weapons, that is more defensive than offensive, that is not oriented towards interventions in so-called Third World or peripheral countries…

The war in Ukraine has also highlighted the desirability of Europe rethinking its energy policy.

It is essential to consider the energy issue. You have to delve into what alternative energies are.

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