First ‘Nazis’, now ‘terrorists’: Putin’s latest campaign stems from desperation

Simon Smith

Simon Smith

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Putin’s missiles have clearly changed nothing in Ukrainians’ determination to defend their country.

The Russian missile strikes on Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine over the past two days have opened a further deplorable chapter in Russia’s aggression against the country. Yet we need to resist seeing it as a shocking new moment in Russia’s assault.

Each additional death brings new personal tragedy and heartbreak. It’s what millions of Ukrainians have been bravely living with for months.

It is, however, useful to reflect on the wider implications of the most recent attacks. Vladimir Putin himself has labelled the strikes an act of retribution for the “terrorist” act that damaged the Kerch bridge.

It’s partly an internal message: to underline to his “party of war” that he’s one of them, that he’s lost no time in launching an act of vengeance for this purported “terrorist” outrage. Putin is signalling that he is paying no heed to any waning commitment to the war among the population at large, following his mobilisation decision.

There is an external message here, too, to the many countries outside the Euro-Atlantic sphere that have declined to condemn Russia’s war of aggression. Putin’s hope is that those with no time to read beyond the “terrorist” label will lazily reassure themselves that there are, after all, bad lots on both sides, and that it’s OK to continue to sit on the fence.

Perhaps we’ll see the “terrorist” label emerge as part of a new Putinist rhetorical strategy, to replace the “Nazi” label he ludicrously attached to Ukraine’s administration in his “justification” of the 2022 invasion. (Note also that terrorism is associated in many minds with non-state actors, and a non-state is how Putin, in his pseudo-historical ravings, invites the world to see Ukraine.)

There is, of course, much else that the Kremlin is not saying about why the latest strikes were carried out. Even before the Kerch bridge incident, it has been a singularly disastrous few weeks for the Russian armed forces in Ukraine.

Then, seeing his claims that the war was necessary to defend Russia’s security recognised across the world as a lie, he was forced into an attempt to redefine Russia itself, through fake referendums and “annexation” of several regions of Ukraine.

Photo courtesy: REUTERS/Irakli Gedenidze

Add to this the widespread evidence that his mobilisation order has simply mobilised thousands of Russians to hide or leave the country, and it’s not hard to see that Putin would have felt compelled to try something new.

But for those countries, such as the UK, who have supported Ukraine’s efforts to defend its future, this is not a time to be shocked or awed.

As Ukraine’s friends in the international community continue to meet, in formats such as last week’s European Political Community, this week’s G7 meeting and beyond, they also need to ask themselves how they can do things differently.

Putin’s missiles have clearly changed nothing in Ukrainians’ determination to defend their country. They should equally change nothing in our own resolve to do what we can to ensure Putin’s vainglorious project ends in failure.

Courtesy: Guardian News & Media Ltd. To read full text of this edited version, click here.


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Illustration courtesy: Nicola Jennings/The Guardian
Simon Smith

Simon Smith

Author is chair of the steering committee of the Ukraine Forum at Chatham House. He was previously the British ambassador to Ukraine, and Russia, South Caucasus and Central Asia director at the Foreign Office

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