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Sensemaker: If Russia “wins”

Sensemaker: If Russia “wins”

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Volodymyr Zelensky called for the UN to strip Russia of its permanent seat on the Security Council.
  • Eight East European heads of government signed a letter urging the EU to fast-track Ukrainian EU membership.
  • Google said Russian searches involving the word “emigration” quintupled last week. 

“I’m a little worried in terms of negotiations with the Russians, because I don’t see what we can negotiate right now. The only thing we can negotiate is how fast they can leave Ukraine and how much they will pay to our state. The only thing they cannot pay for are the lives of the people that have been lost.” Listen to Naliia and others today and every day inInvaded – Voicemails from Ukraine

If Russia “wins”

As feared, Putin escalated. Kharkiv is under intense bombardment from unguided Grad missile launchers. The southern city of Kherson, gateway to Dnipro, is under renewed attack and possibly surrounded. A 40-mile column of Russian armour is – slowly – approaching Kyiv from the north, and Ukrainian officials confirmed the deaths of 70 soldiers in a rocket attack on their base in Okhtyrka on Sunday. Russian forces have been denied a quick military victory but a slow and grinding one is possible, even likely. It’s worth pausing to ask how, and what might happen next. 

Hardware. Russia did not send in all its tanks and artillery at once, but the Pentagon says three quarters of them have been committed. They will aim to

  • secure the air supremacy they have so far been denied, by targeting Ukraine’s remaining air defences and in particular an air base at Vasylkiv south of Kyiv;
  • beseige Kyiv and Kharkiv by surrounding and controlling access to them; 
  • take control of their water and power supplies; and
  • shell them into submission.

Information. Putin is operating on the assumption that even if he doesn’t control the narrative everywhere, he controls it where it matters.

  • Outside Russia, outrage over the humanitarian crisis he has created and his use of unguided weapons on civilian targets is intense. It may not peak for weeks or months, but his calculation is that it will peak eventually, and pass, and in any case is only outrage. Efforts are already under way to charge him with war crimes at the International Criminal Court but he is no more likely to submit to its jurisdiction than Stalin was to apologise for the Gulag.
  • Inside Russia most people still get most of their news from state TV, whose message is that Russian troops are meeting only limited resistance. At the weekend the RIA Novosti state news agency had to withdraw an article heralding victory and restored Russian “unity”, but that is the language being lined up to describe the end of military operations, whenever it comes, whatever the cost. 

People. This is where the plan to restore Russia’s “historical fullness” collides most awkwardly with reality.

  • Military doctrine says an invading army facing determined defenders needs to outnumber them by at least three to one. Russia’s doesn’t. Its estimated 190,000-strong force faces perhaps 200,000 Ukrainian soldiers and reservists.
  • Putin appears to have expected his forces to be welcomed, at least in eastern areas. They haven’t been. 
  • If he intends to follow invasion with occupation he will have to do it without the consent of a population of 40 million. That is a serious challenge even without the 7 million the UN estimates could flee, especially since any newly-occupied territories are more anti-Russian than Crimea and the Donbass, and more anti-Russian than before the war.

Money. Putin’s ex-prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin, said last week the Russian economy would take a hit as the invasion led to sanctions, and he was right. 

  • Foreign investors were temporarily barred today from dumping Russian assets as Shell, Disney, Warner Bros and others scrambled to follow BP out of the Russian market.
  • The ruble has recovered some of yesterday’s losses but is still trading at close to record lows against the dollar.
  • Banks are running out of western currency as Russians queue at ATMS and try to swap rubles for dollars and euros as a hedge against inflation, now at a 40-year high. 

For Russians over 40, this will bring back traumatic memories of the post-Soviet chaos from which Putin rescued them. It is hard to find anyone in Moscow who thinks he will be dislodged by a palace coup – but just as hard to find anyone who supports his war.

Does he care? Maybe not. Worth re-reading: Liana Fox and Michael Kimmage last month in Foreign Affairs, arguing that he didn’t care who objected to his military intervention in Syria. He persisted, and replaced the US as the dominant foreign power in the Middle East.

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

On the rebound
Today the IPCC publishes its latest report on the impacts of climate change. Many are dire and irreversible but there’s hope in conurbations, including those at risk from extreme weather events and rising sea levels (see our Net Zero Sensemaker for more). There is also a specific warning about over-reliance on technology. Linda Schneider of the Heinrich Böll Foundation tells the BBC that if machines are used on a mass scale to extract CO2 from the atmosphere they could create a risk of increased greenhouse gas emissions from oceans and land-based carbon sinks. She calls it outgassing, as a result of a “rebound effect”. Genuine question: do current high levels of atmospheric CO2 actually limit outgassing from the land and oceans?

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperitY

Stupid statement, stupid war
Two of Russia’s best-known bankers and businessmen are angling for sympathy. Mikhail Fridman and Pyotr Aven have gone public to say how unfair it is that they’ve been included on a list of individuals sanctioned by the EU. Brussels called Aven one of Putin’s “closest oligarchs” and Fridman an “enabler of Putin’s inner circle” but they’ve hit back with a press release calling the claims demonstrably false. Fridman then called a press conference to say he was as Ukrainian as he was Russian, that he had zero influence over the Kremlin and that he would endanger the livelihoods of tens of thousands of Russian employees if he went public with a “stupid statement” condemning the war. Hmm. It’s true that just because you’re Russian and rich, doesn’t mean you’re a Putin crony. But the longer Russians think it’s stupid to condemn this war, the more people it will kill.

belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Conscience of the Lords
The UK government’s Nationality and Borders Bill had a bruising evening in the House of Lords, mainly on account of its plan to triage asylum seekers based on whether they arrived in the country legally or illegally. Lord Dubs, who fled Nazi Germany as a child and wrote the Dubs Amendment to the Immigration Act 2016, which briefly enabled unaccompanied children to enter the country from EU refugee camps, said it was “a complete nonsense” to refuse entry to people on the basis of how they arrived. “It’s not workable and it diminishes the country in the eyes of the world,” he said. It also contravenes the 1951 Refugee Convention, under which those who pay traffickers to cross the English Channel, for example, are entitled to apply for asylum on arrival. The UK government also continues to split hairs over which Ukrainian refugees will be allowed to enter the country, as the EU fast-tracks a plan to let them all into the bloc for three years, no questions asked. Priti Patel, the home secretary, claims to be worried about Russians getting in under false pretences and posing a security risk. 

New things technology, science, engineering

The trouble with Starlink
Elon Musk has sent hundreds of Starlink “terminals” (dishes) to Ukraine to help people disconnected from the web by the war get back online. In normal circumstances they cost $499 each plus $99 a month for the high-speed satellite broadband service they provide. It’s not clear what sort of deal Musk is offering his new Ukrainian customers, but the Atlantic reports that quality of service depends on being within reach of a Starlink ground station and having a clear line of sight to the satellites as they sail overhead. It also notes that Starlink rushed to deliver terminals to Tonga when a tsunami knocked it offline last month. Fair enough to record that Musk and his subsidiaries are quick to use disasters for publicity, but is there just a faint sense here of piling on for the sake of piling on? FWIW, Starlink says it has plenty of ground stations near enough to Ukraine to cover the whole country, even though there are none inside it. 

covid by numbers

25 million – Covid vaccines being administered worldwide each day.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Hospitals’ O2

Covid, unfortunately, doesn’t stop for war. An estimated 1,700 patients are currently hospitalised with Covid in Ukraine, where hospitals are struggling to even get the most basic supplies as Russian attacks intensify. A particular worry for the WHO is rapidly depleting oxygen supplies, which it says are fast reaching a “very dangerous point”. Some hospitals have already run out, putting thousands of patients – not just those with Covid – at risk. The Independent reports that an intensive care doctor in Kyiv had to resort to emergency back-up supply as a nearby plant that supplied his hospital with oxygen was bombed. Groups are organising globally to move supplies into Ukraine, but it’s unlikely to be easy.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

Photographs Getty Images

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