As Russia’s war against Ukraine is about to enter its sixth year, there is still widespread international reluctance to acknowledge the global significance of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, leading to a preference for the kind of euphemistic language that blurs the lines between victim and aggressor.
This ostrich-like approach to the realities of the new Russian imperialism was on display during German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas’s recent visit to Kyiv, where he called on “all sides to contribute to de-escalation,” publisher of Business Ukraine magazine Peter Dickinson wrote in his piece for the Atlantic Council titled "Ukraine’s Slow but Steady Strangulation Is Taking Place in Plain Sight."
The author says Maas was "apparently untroubled by the absurdity of urging Ukraine to de-escalate its own invasion and dismemberment" and criticizes top German diplomat for "coming to the capital of a country fighting for its life and delivering a lecture on the need for moderation."
International appeals for both sides to de-escalate have become a depressingly regular feature of the dialogue surrounding the conflict, serving as the diplomatic equivalent of victim blaming.
Russia must take much of the credit for this state of affairs. While few believe the Kremlin’s ongoing denials of involvement in Ukraine, the plausible deniability underpinning Putin’s brand of hybrid warfare has created just enough ambiguity to muddy the waters.
Pretending the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a mere border skirmish will not make it go away. On the contrary, "the Kremlin may be settling in for a long campaign," having built a number of new Russian army bases along the Ukrainian border and redirecting Russian railway lines, which points to "preparations for future land operations inside Ukraine," the article says.
In recent months, Moscow has also tightened its grip on the Azov Sea and Ukraine’s southeastern seaboard, while at the same time pushing to increase the encirclement of the country from the north through a greatly enhanced military presence in Belarus.
The West’s refusal to recognize the scale of Russian imperial ambitions in Ukraine is also a matter of ignorance and misconceptions. The depth of Russian resentment over the country’s diminished post-Soviet status is simply incomprehensible to modern Western audiences who are more inclined to assume that Russians broadly share their values.
Outside understanding of Ukraine is even more limited. Ever since 1991, most Westerners have tended to view the country through the distorting and outdated prism of Russian narratives.
Calling on Ukraine to compromise with the Russian invader is also "strategically foolish" as the West already "finds itself locked in a new Cold War with Moscow that has its roots firmly planted in Ukraine," the author writes, adding that, until the war in Ukraine ends, this confrontation will continue to escalate.
Russia has expanded its hybrid hostilities on a dizzying array of fronts, ranging from Syria to the 2016 US presidential election and now Africa, but nevertheless, "all roads still lead to Kyiv."
Putin’s hybrid war in Ukraine remains at the epicenter of the global conflict and the struggle is now entering what could be a decisive period as Ukraine is set to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in 2019, with both votes likely to cement the country’s historic pivot toward Euro-Atlantic integration.
The election of another pro-Western president and parliament would be a devastating blow for Russian imperial ambitions and one that could persuade the Kremlin to consider increasingly drastic measures. Faced with the prospect of demotion, from hero of Crimea to the man who lost Ukraine, Putin will be acutely aware that his regime may not survive such a debacle.
"In the coming months, any talk of both sides de-escalating needs to be replaced by clear and unambiguous support for Ukraine in its defense against Russian aggression," Dickinson believes. "Moscow should be made painfully aware of the consequences should it seek to test Western resolve and Ukrainian resilience any further."
The new Cold War is the direct result of Western efforts since 2014 to appease Moscow and avoid the uncomfortable reality of a revanchist Russia, according to the author who says that this brand of "wishful thinking must give way to the kind of clarity that won the first Cold War."
"Ultimately, there can be no equivalence between Ukrainian resistance and Russian aggression. If Russia stops fighting, there will be no war. If Ukraine stops fighting, there will be no Ukraine," he wrote.