Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

Eastern Europe is betting on Putin's fall

Poland and Baltic states reject the idea of compromise with Russia

The potential outcomes of the war in Ukraine have recently been a hot topic in the international media. Foreign commentators contend that the war in Ukraine should conclude an hour sooner in some fashion when the winter season and the impacts of the prolonged war are causing problems on the battlefield and in the Western economy.

The idea that the conflict in Ukraine would end through some sort of settlement is advanced by calm voices in the West. Russia could negotiate the achievement of some goals it set at the outset of the conflict, particularly Ukraine's neutrality (non-membership in NATO) and the future of Crimea and Donbas. In such a scenario, Ukraine would appear as the side that triumphed over a superpower invasion.

There are "voices" within the European Union that are opposed to this proposition. Poland and the Baltic states contend that a compromise solution would allow Moscow to gather its resources and prepare for future aggressive operations. This justification leads the authorities and analysts of these nations to concentrate on an extreme scenario that essentially makes removing Vladimir Putin's government a prerequisite for the end of the conflict.

The "calm" voices

"The word 'peace' resurfaced after the Ukrainian reconquest of Kherson, a strategic defeat of Russia," reminds us of Demétrio Magnoli, who adds: "Because of the recent military failures, Putin (now) is aiming for a long truce based on the current "military situation." Hostilities would be suspended with the continued Russian occupation of Luhansk and part of Donetsk, as well as the strip of southern land that forms a "land bridge" between Russia and Crimea.

"The Putinist peace scenario would offer the regime the opportunity to proclaim a partial victory to a restless Russian society in which support for war fades. 'Peace' here is a misleading term. The extended truce would propitiate a recovery of Russian military capability and prepare a new offensive," states Magnoli, who adds: "The Ukrainian peace scenario would amount to a complete victory, even if Russia kept Crimea. In a way, it would engender a return to the 1989–1991 cycle, marked by the democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe, the end of the Cold War, and the implosion of the USSR. However, a total Ukrainian victory would be contingent on Western supply of more advanced warfare systems, which the Biden administration opposes due to Russian nuclear escalation."

Based on the above and presenting a "calm" voice amid perpetuating hostilities, the analyst is reaching this conclusion: "Wars, almost always, conclude with negotiations based on painful concessions. The most likely peace in the ongoing war lies between a partial Russian victory and a total Ukrainian victory. A realistic scenario would involve a return to the status quo ante, that is, the retreat of Russian forces to the positions held on February 23 and the establishment of a format for negotiations on the final status of Crimea and the separatist enclaves in the Donbas."

Who and why are they betting on the overthrow of the Russian government?

For Anna Gromada and Krzysztof Zeniuk, the above scenario is unconvincing for one crucial reason: Neighboring countries have more to gain with an absolute defeat of Russia than with a compromise solution.

"For Poland and the Baltic countries, the matter is simple. They want Ukraine's victory to be unequivocal. The advantages would be both material and psychological. Ukraine's victory would soothe centuries-old angst. For Poland, Russia has augured conquest, partitions, genocide, colonialism, and communism. The obsession is mutual. In his 2021 essay arguing that Ukraine and Russia were historically one people, Putin included more than 30 references to Poland–some hinting that Ukrainian national identity was plotted by Poland's elites. Over the past 600 years, Russia and Poland have waged more than a dozen wars. There is little love lost between them," the columnists warn.

Gromoda and Zeniuk also underline that "Ukraine's success would also entail a historic chance for the region to exit the status of the periphery and become a counterbalance to the EU's big western member states. Victory in Ukraine would probably spill over into regime change in Belarus–the second missing piece in the historical project of the Intermarium, or a buffer of allied countries stretching from the Baltic to the Black Sea to counterbalance Russia's power."

The columnists remind us that all significant Polish parties support Ukraine, hoping Kyiv's victory will eventually bend towards a new geopolitical order in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Russian regime.

Calling for Putin's overthrow

The conclusion of Gromoda and Zeniuk is supported by the most recent analyses that show an impact on the Polish and Baltic media. Wojciech Lorenz, the coordinator of the "International Security" program at the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), agrees that Ukraine's wintertime resistance is crucial. In a few months, a new reality will emerge in the area if Kyiv can fend off Moscow's pressure, and Moscow will be compelled to accept unfavorable conditions for peace.

Going a step further, Estonian columnist Ülo Mattheus wonders whether we will debate the removal of Putin's administration in a few months' time. "It cannot be ruled out that the Kerch Bridge explosion was organized by a GRU (The Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation) sabotage group and that it came as a surprise to the brass and Putin himself. It has also been suggested that a military junta is forming, ready to seize power in Russia should it prove necessary," adds Mattheus.

The Latvian expert Magda Riekstina concurs with Lorenz and Mattheus that the West must be patient as it awaits the following months and Russia's ultimate humiliation and collapse. The columnist cautions her readers not to listen to the "soft voices" that advocate direct understanding with Moscow because she is guided by the belief that the West will benefit significantly in the event of a final collapse of the Russian system.

For Latvia to resist Russian influence, the country's energy industry and economy must be reoriented to other markets, says Riekstina, who emphasizes that at that point, it will be crucial to keep in mind that the Kremlin cannot be trusted, no matter how generously promises are made in advance. Strengthening Latvian self-confidence while embracing Western ideals is the top priority for the Baltic country.

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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