Waiting for Putin: Russia’s Fake War Unfolds Like Surreal Theater | Simon Tisdall

OWaiting for Russia to invade Ukraine is like Waiting for Godot. In this bold reworking of Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece, Russian leader Vladimir Putin is aptly cast as restless Vladimir while US President Joe Biden is dozing bowler-hatted Estragon. frequently.

The central conceit of the play is that the mysterious Godot, expected at all times, never arrives. After Russia agreed last week to continue talkingUkrainian citizens have reason to hope that the crisis will turn out to be a relatively meaningless non-event – ​​a singularly Putinian contribution to the theater of the absurd.

The border standoff, which began in earnest in November, has dragged on so long that tea-leaf reader Biden believes Russia “has got to do something.” This penetrating analysis of Mystic Meg is not necessarily correct. Nobody, maybe not even Putin, knows if “something” will happen today, next month or ever.

Continuing the existentialist theme, even the definition of “invasion” is endlessly debated. Biden anticipates a D-Day-scale Russian operation. But many analysts expect any attack to be swift, covert and asymmetric, using special forces, sabotage and cyberwarfare, as in Donbass in 2014.

As this somewhat surreal waiting game continues, it is possible and instructive to assess what damage has already been done – and which individuals and countries are winning or losing so far in Ukraine’s Phoney War.

For example, Annalena Baerbock, Germany’s newest foreign minister and co-leader of the Greens, has had a good war so far. Ignoring the chauvinistic sneers about her inexperience and sex, she faced Sergei Lavrovhis horrible Russian counterpart, when they met recently in Moscow.

On the other hand, his boss, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, is having a bad time. His dithering over what anti-Russian sanctions Berlin might support, and his blocking of arms supplies to Ukraine, have raised wider questions about his jurisdiction — and German leadership in Europe.

Having long resisted US pressure to scrap Russia’s recently completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, Scholz appeared to relent last week. It was an unlucky start for Angela Merkel’s less popular successor.

Frenchman Emmanuel Macron, facing a presidential election in the spring, is struggling to reconcile his vision of European ‘strategic autonomy’ with the reality of continued reliance on NATO, amid mockery from the Briton Boris Johnson.

“We will never abandon the dialogue with Moscow,” Macron said. But his bridge-building has repeatedly been undermined by Putin’s backsliding, symbolized by the 2020 poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Undeterred, Macron continues to seek “de-escalation” and a “European solution”.

Yet how real is it? Putin insists on dealing with the US, not the EU, which he disdains and has deliberately bypassed. The so-called “Normandy format” talks finally resumed in Paris last week. But Brussels, slipping into insignificance, is the big loser in the undeclared war for Ukraine so far.

The opposite can be said, surprisingly, of NATO. Obituaries have been written for the 30-member alliance after the humiliation of Afghanistan last year. Macron declared her “brain dead”.

Today, thanks to master strategist Putin, NATO is experiencing a mini-renaissance. The “frontline” Eastern European states rushed under its protective umbrella, successfully appealing for more troops and weapons. There is talk again of membership for Finland and Sweden. Even more unlikely, Putin’s Beckett-like inscrutability has changed Washington’s calculations, as analyst Paul Taylor has noted.

“Putin’s demagoguery has dragged the United States deeper into European security, just as two successive American presidents have attempted to pivot Washington’s strategic focus toward China,” Taylor wrote. It’s a big plus for Moscow’s ally, President Xi Jinpingwho feels the same about Taiwan as Putin feels about Ukraine.

Other authoritarian regimes are also profiting from the drama. The heat is off the Iranian mullahs. And who among Western leaders is focused on the chaos in Myanmar, Yemen or Tigray – or the resurgence of Islamic State terror in Syria and the Sahel?

Ukraine’s unlikely president, Volodymyr Zelensky, a former traveling comedian and comedian, eschews the bowler hat – but performs well in front of foreign audiences as a valiant underdog. Concerns about official corruption in Kiev, democratic deficits and intransigence in Donbass have been brushed aside by the likes of Liz Truss, Britain’s foreign secretary. In his simplistic analysis, it is about freedom versus tyranny.

Truss, a jet-setter Margaret Thatcher impersonator, is not fighting a good war. Like her predecessor Dominic Raab during the Afghan withdrawal, she strolled as the Ukraine crisis reached its peak, goofing off in Australia as she and the barking, terminally distracted Johnson should have led the charge to maintain the peace in Europe.

What about the main architect of this prolonged imbroglio? US-based Russian expert Fiona Hill says Putin is winning without firing a shot. ” He has the America where it wants it,” Hill wrote.. A “master of coercive incitement,” he advanced his overall goal of ousting America from Europe in belated revenge for the defeat of the Soviet Union.

May be. It is true that Putin succeeded in forcing the United States to focus on Russia’s security concerns, including future missile deployments and NATO exercises. He will keep up the military and diplomatic pressure for now, to see what concessions and gifts he can get.

But Washington will not agree to freeze Ukraine from NATO or remake post-Cold War security structures in Europe, and Putin surely knows that. Meanwhile, his aggressive tactics rallied restless Western democracies and bolstered opposition to his rule.

As a world watching awaits Putin, Biden is threatening to personally sanction him, as requested in this space last week. Like a thief in the night looking to see what he can grab, the Russian leader is making himself and his country a pariah on the world stage.

War or no war, real or imaginary, which looks like a defeat.

About Victoria Rothstein

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