Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Living in the Ukrainian Trap

Our journalism professors taught us against getting overexcited and to instead keep the necessary distance between reading about developments and the people who made them. They warned us against falling under their spell. They were right.

But the journalist, like any human being, cannot set aside their feelings and biases for too long. The truth is, I had at one point admired Vladimir Putin and kept up to date on his news from the moment he sat on Peter the Great’s throne on the eve of the 21st Century.

My interest was piqued even further after listening to what Arab Communists had to say about how Russia will never forgive the West for rejoicing at the breakup and humiliation of the Soviet Union. They said that Russia will regroup and rise again against the unipolar world. I listened to the “orphans of the Soviet Union” and dismissed their remarks as wishful thinking.

Putin’s arrival to power in the Kremlin raised many eyebrows. The man did not boast a long partisan or military career that gave him the upper hand in assuming the post. He was just an officer in the KGB empire who was adept at fighting or recruiting spies.

I later heard that the main factor that allowed him to assume power was the formative years he spent in the military and security institution that shaped his agenda to avenge the catastrophe that was the fall of the Soviet Union.

Vengeance. I had heard from Yeltsin’s Moscow that the American ambassador was the most powerful man in Russia. I witnessed first-hand the piles of Red Army uniforms being sold for a handful of dollars on Moscow’s Arbat Street.

It never occurred to western leaders that the man with the terse smile and cold eyes had been planning a major coup. They found that he was good to work with, but they failed to accurately perceive the rage simmering in the heart of the Russian spirit.

They underestimated his country and promoted “colored revolutions”. They opened NATO’s doors to countries that were quick to abandon the Soviet house as soon as it started to show cracks. Wounded, Putin watch on as western jets humiliated Soviet weapons in Iraq and Libya.

I had paused at many significant moments in Putin’s career. The Russian federation saved itself from fragmentation and the world from the series of ethnic wars that could have bloodied it. He succeeded in reclaiming the position and role of his country and reclaimed Crimea with the least damage possible. He succeeded in securing the conditions for his military intervention in Syria by portraying it as a mission to save Syria from becoming an extremist hub in the region.

Our professors were right. When the Russian army moved into the Ukrainian map, I believed that they would deal a lightening blow and decisive victory. I had ruled out the possibility that the man, who had arrived from the world of intelligence gathering and reports, lacked the trusted information. There was no way that the man of accurate calculations could have made such a grave error. He could not have so greatly underestimated his foes and misjudged the strength of his forces.

As the Russian war on Ukraine enters its second year, we read a slew of investigative reports in major publications. Some were based on documents and recordings of Russian soldiers embroiled in the fighting.

Several reports said the Russian invasion was based on major delusions. Among them was that Ukraine was a weak country that could easily be pushed towards complete collapse. Another was that the fate of its actor-turned president was sealed: he would either be killed, flee or be forced to resign and later be exiled. Another delusion was that the Ukrainian army would collapse under the gravity of the first Russian blow and that the Ukrainian people would rather surrender that see their cities and villages turned to rubble. Other reports said some Russian officers had even packed uniforms with their medals to wear during a victory parade in Kyiv that would have been held just days after the war broke out.

I read with skepticism reports about the Russian army’s disarray in Ukraine. Head of the Wagner group, however, inadvertently confirmed them. He appeared, in person, to reprimand army and defense ministry generals, holding them responsible for the rising death toll in Russian military ranks.

Strange. Putin had spent hundreds of billions of dollars in rebuilding the army, reviving its spirit and upgrading its arsenal. Moreover, when they want, western circles are good at exaggerating a danger or tarnishing an image.

I found it hard to believe that the man, who came from an intelligence background, would have taken action based on such a massive amount of wrong information and inaccurate assessments.

It was also said that officials in Putin’s inner circle had predicted that Russia’s lightening blow to Ukraine would force the West to accept the situation and drink the cup of poison in spite of its bitterness. The opposite happened. The West and NATO were awakened. They began pumping weapons and billions of dollars into Ukraine.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy surprised the world. A comedic actor, with no political background, wore the uniform of the fighter and he took advantage of his knowledge of modern media to win over the world.

The United States, which was preparing itself to confront the “Chinese peril”, chose to take the hard road in depriving Putin of the victory. So, Europe, once again became dependent on the US.

The Russian war on Ukraine has marked its first year. Corpses are buried in Ukraine and others are returned in coffins to be laid to rest in Russia. It is a battlefield that has shaken the global economy and security. Bread is now hard to come by in counties near and far. Energy and grain prices have skyrocketed.

The most difficult part about the Ukraine war is how to end it. Putin cannot emerge defeated from a Ukraine that he barely even recognizes as an independent nation. Russia can only be ruled by a powerful man. He cannot see Russia again weaken and broken. What would he say to history? How would he defend himself before Stalin and Peter the Great?

The master of the Kremlin fell in the trap and he has taken the world along with him. The world itself cannot tolerate another year of this massive bloody war. The arms race will intensify and prices will continue to soar. More people will be plunged in poverty and instability will only increase.

The Chinese doctor will have a hard time in saving both Russia and Ukraine. Russia cannot admit defeat and the West cannot approve of a map that does not include Ukraine. A prolonged stay in the Ukrainian trap is costly to Russia, Ukraine and the world. And yet, it is necessary to save Mr. President, who launched the “special military operation”, because saving the world depends on saving him to avoid prolonging the destructive war any further.