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Has Putin Won?

Has Putin Won?

Sunday, 2 October, 2022 - 11:00
Tariq Al-Homayed
Saudi journalist and writer, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

President Vladimir Putin signing the decree annexing the Ukrainian regions of Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson, after having held internationally unrecognized referendums in those regions, raises an important question: Has Putin won? Has he achieved any victories at all?

To answer this question, President Putin wants to push the idea that he has won, especially domestically. However, annexing more than 15 percent of Ukraine seven months into the war cannot be considered a victory, as the series of events that have unfolded there are embarrassing to the Russians.

Moreover, the annexation of these Ukrainian regions, the largest annexation in Europe since World War Two, was rejected internationally. In fact, the Chinese ambassador to the UN said that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of every country must be respected.” Turkey also refused to recognize the annexation, considering it a “grave violation” of international law.

It is not easy to overlook the annexation of 15 percent of a European state in such a war. Furthermore, what is the explanation for this invasion and annexation of four Ukrainian regions, especially since President Putin denies seeking to reestablish the Soviet Union while stressing that he is committed to defending Russian “territory and values.” The fact of the matter is that developments on the ground in Ukraine are not exactly going in Russia’s favor. At the time of writing, Ukrainian forces are entering the Eastern town of Lyman, a city Donetsk that had been annexed by the Russians. Lyman is considered pivotal for Moscow, and losing it is a blow to the Russians.

In addition, it is becoming clear that announcing this annexation is intended to be a declaration of victory directed at a domestic audience and to paper over the news of Russian losses on the ground in Ukraine, as well as being an attempt to enhance Russia’s negotiating position once the war is over.

This is all happening as we await the winter, the point at which the Russians will find out just how much patience the Europeans have and whether they can handle the freezing cold without Russian gas. Moscow hopes that the harsh winter will create reverberations across the European Union and even create political cleavages.

The Europeans hope to overcome the coming winter without Russian gas. What European sources told me in New York days ago indicates that Europe is determined to endure the coming hardships of this winter. Their primary objective now is ensuring that Putin does not emerge victorious and that they overcome their dependence on Russian energy.

And so, all the factions need to buy time, including the US administration awaiting the Midterm results that will determine just how much room it has to maneuver. Everyone needs to buy time to enhance their strengths and overcome their weaknesses, including the Russian president. For this reason, talk of victory and defeat is premature. As I wrote in the past, it is difficult to define victory and defeat in Ukraine, and Russia is dealing with complex issues.

The most difficult of these issues by far, regardless of how the war ends, is how to remove the over 15,000 sanctions that have been imposed on the country.

To conclude, the Russians are in a hole, and they keep digging. And the saying goes: If you find yourself in a hole, you must stop digging immediately. Thus, there is still a long way to go before we can talk about guaranteed outcomes for any of the sides in Ukraine.

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