Since the invasion of Ukraine on 24and In February, Russia faced international condemnation, isolation and scathing sanctions from the West. After weeks of national resistance and resilience demonstrated by the beleaguered people of Ukraine, Russia now needs a face-saving option. Russian President Vladimir Putin miscalculated the adventure of attacking Ukraine and is now running out of options to save his country from colossal economic losses and prevent nationwide anti-war protests.
The aggressor’s need for face-saving signals towards the need for a roadmap or strategy that can end the violence and establish peace. To avoid further condemnation and economic collapse, Russia must pay the price in the form of regime change. Putin will have to leave because he reflects a chauvinistic and expansionist mindset, which led to the first occupation of Crimea in 2014 and the recent invasion of Ukraine.
According to an editorial by The Economist, “If Mr. Putin causes a bloodbath, the West can tighten the screw. An oil and gas embargo would further ruin the Russian economy. And there is work to be done in Russia. Military commanders need to know that they will be prosecuted for war crimes. The West can quietly assure them that if they oust the Russian president from power, Russia will have a fresh start. A palace coup may seem more plausible as the horror of what Mr. Putin has done sinks. The economy is facing a disaster. Russian military losses are increasing. Will the life-saving formula of eliminating Putin for Ukraine’s safe exit from Russia work or will the hardliners in Moscow support their leader and remain confident of victory in the war? Will the Russian people who are facing the hardships of sanctions and the economic crisis eliminate Putin and his clique through a popular revolt?
Despite the ban on anti-war protests and laws to arrest protesters in Russia, frequent anti-war protests have taken place in recent days. This reflects popular discontent among Russians over their government’s involvement in Ukraine and the alleged genocide of Ukrainians. 13and In March, nearly 800 Russians were arrested for protesting the military operation in Ukraine. In St. Petersburg, a protester expressed her grief, lamenting: “It’s scary to come out, of course they’re holding everyone back. Many of my friends have been detained in recent days, some have even been expelled from college. Over the past week, police have arrested more than 5,000 protesters across Russia. Over the past three decades, Russia has given relatively more freedom to its citizens, which is now evident through growing dissent. A major challenge for the Russian regime is popular resentment against Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. The regime has been accused of serious human rights violations almost comparable to the Serbian military genocide in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
It has been almost a month since Russia attacked Ukraine and hit towns and villages with bombs and missiles, but Russian forces remained unable to occupy the capital kyiv and other major cities. Fierce Ukrainian resistance hampered their efforts. Western countries supplied anti-tank and stinger missiles to the Ukrainian army, which caused heavy losses to the Russian forces. The corpses of Russian soldiers who have been sent back to Russia further strengthen anti-war sentiment.
More than the embattled Ukrainian regime and its Western supporters, it is the Russian president who must save face to avoid the grave consequences of the gross human rights abuses of his forces in Ukraine. There are three reasons why a face-saving option is the need of the hour to prevent further bloodshed in Ukraine and its spillover into Russia.
First, saving face might be possible if mediation to end the conflict is seriously pursued. Diplomacy and dialogue are an option. Turkey and Israel can play a fundamental role in the mediation due to their proximity to both Moscow and Kyiv, which can ensure a safe exit for President Putin. Although Ukraine has agreed to talk to Russia without preconditions, it is unclear whether mediation can play a decisive role as the war continues. To create an environment conducive to dialogue, a permanent ceasefire must be established and Russian leaders must drop their condition that kyiv will not become a member of NATO or the European Union. Putin’s desire for regime change in Kyiv is unrealistic and will not be accepted by Ukraine or the West.
Second, eliminating Putin may be an acceptable face-saving formula to end the war in Ukraine because the West has blamed the Russian president for the current crisis. Will the Russian establishment, which largely subscribes to Putin’s mindset on Ukraine, accept Western pressure and agree to drop its leader in the country’s overall interest? The impact of the harsh sanctions imposed on Russia will begin to materialize in the coming weeks, leading to a foreseeable collapse of its banking and financial system. China could try to bail Putin out of the current predicament; however, this may not be possible due to outrage, particularly in Europe, over Russia’s blatant aggression against a sovereign state.
Third, eliminating Putin doesn’t seem very believable because most Western countries have taken a different approach to war and invasion in other parts of the world. In particular, the United States and the United Kingdom turned a blind eye when countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Afghanistan faced severe humanitarian crises and millions of people perished because of foreign intervention. The world has also continuously ignored India’s gross human rights violations in the illegally Indian occupied Jammu and Kashmir.
Many critics have accused the West of double standards by dismissing Putin and ignoring humanitarian crises and war crimes in other countries. If Ukraine had been a Muslim country and not part of Europe, no Western power would have reacted sympathetically. The entire Western world has adopted a single voice in condemning the Russian attack on Ukraine. It would have made more sense if he had taken the same position in the recent past when foreign occupation took place in Muslim countries or other developing countries.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 20and2022.
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