Asharq Al-awsat English Middle-east and International News and Opinion from Asharq Al-awsat Newspaper

On the Strength of the Russian War and its Weakness

On the Strength of the Russian War and its Weakness

Monday, 11 April, 2022 - 10:45

There is a noticeable discrepancy between the Russian war on Ukraine as a military event on the one hand and the political factors fueling this war on the other. A consensus has emerged that the offensive, which has become confined to the East, is faltering. In the inconsistency of this offensive, slow progress blends with rapid retreat, and we continue to see more and more reports that no Russia enthusiast or admirer of Russian army or weaponry would enjoy reading.

However, despite the broad political and humanitarian sympathy for Ukraine and two successive votes in the United Nations that saw the majority choose to punish Russia, the gains, large and small, that the Russian war and its politics have made racked up should not be underestimated.

China, whose puzzled hesitation has been broadly discussed, declared its support for Moscow through its ruling Communist Party. The latter prepared a documentary discussed by senior officials in which Vladimir Putin was depicted as a hero and compared to Stalin (who is revered in Chinese Maoism) during World War II. According to Western press reports, it seems that the ruling party and the universities, public of course, have backed a systematic campaign to spread the "correct understanding" of the war and accuse the United States of being the only one responsible for it.

Not very far from China, ousted Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accused this same United States of standing behind an attempt to remove him as part of its effort to change the regime in Pakistan. As for his evidence of these US intentions, it is his meeting with the Russian president when the war on Ukraine began, which shows that he was following an "independent foreign policy." It is well known that the Pakistani parliament passed a vote of no confidence in Khan right on the eve of his campaign against Washington.

Of course, we have also seen the oil and gas front falter, as it does not seem easy to link cooperation there with cooperation on other regional fronts that concern countries traditionally friendly with the US. Things are stalled even in Europe itself. Despite the increasing pressure to do so, Germany has all but affirmed that it would not go completely without Russian oil and gas, though it will reduce its dependence on Russian fossil fuels after the Bucha massacre. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused former German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as well as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, of emboldening Putin and encouraging his military policy by granting him too many concessions.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban also won a resounding victory in the elections - 135 out of 199 seats were won by his Hungarian Civic Alliance (FIDEZ), ensuring him a fourth term. Very soon after, Orban distanced himself a little from his "friend" Putin in the aftermath of the attack on Ukraine, indeed immediately after winning the elections, his “nature” overwhelmed the altered image he had been trying to “nurture” briefly. In his post-election speech, he attacked the "Brussels bureaucrats" and Zelensky, calling them "enemies." The latter had criticized Orban's policy of refusing to allow the transfer of arms to Ukraine through his neighboring country. Not too concerned by the European Union's opposition, the Hungarian prime minister also rushed to declare another position pushing in the same direction, indicating his willingness to pay for Russian gas in roubles.

In Serbia, things are moving along the same track as Hungary. The ultranationalist, anti-American and pro-Russian incumbent Aleksandar Vucic won a second term. Like Orban, Vucic has been among the leaders most sharply criticized by the opposition and European Union countries for human rights violations and the treatment of those with differing opinions in their countries.

Putin, for his part, was among the first to congratulate the Hungarian prime minister and Serbian president on their victories.

Another development with some relevance in this regard could be added: the Franco-Polish quarrels. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki compared French President Emmanuel Macron negotiating with Putin to negotiating with Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot. This pointed accusation was made in the aftermath of the Bucha massacre and in the run-up to the first round of French presidential elections. It warranted a response no less fiery from the French president, who accused the Warsaw regime of opposing democratic values and economic reforms, adding that the people of Poland "deserve better."

The impact of political support for Russia or the denial of support for Ukraine is tied to the performance of the Russian army on the ground and thus to Moscow's ability to benefit from the support it receives or the lack of support for the Ukrainians. It seems that until further notice, Russia's military performance will give its constituency little cause for optimism.

Moreover, it is noteworthy that problems plaguing countries' relations with the US, or the EU, are the reason for most of the political support that has been gifted to Moscow. With the exception of the "secret leak" of the Chinese Communist Party, those sympathetic to Putin do not necessarily hold him in particularly high esteem; few argue in defense of particular virtues that define the Russian regime.

Finally, we have the Ukrainian resistance, which the facts on the ground have so far indicated will have a major say in the war that many predict will go on for a long time. As for the capacity of the Ukrainian resistance to make an impact, it is expected to grow and expand as Russia's military failure exacerbates and "scorched earth" tactics continue to be pursued.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks