As the Kremlin’s spokesman tells us – somewhat improbably – that regime change was never Vladimir Putin’s goal, the debate on whether Russia and Ukraine should be negotiating gets another bounce.
Depressing – but necessary – to bear in mind that a settlement will rest more on power than on justice.
Some other lessons from the conflict also seem to be getting neglected.
First, that the success of Ukraine’s resistance is due to the courage and commitment of a smallish group of mostly young men. A group who in general weren’t getting good press or much encouragement before all this kicked off.
Secondly, the steady flow of Western self-congratulation seems overdone.
This war ought to have been a disaster for the Russian and Ukrainian people, and for Western interests. That the latter at least has not happened is due to advanced weaponry and tech-based tools, new tactics and trained men willing to fight.
Military success seems to be brushing earlier Western appeasement and unpreparedness under the carpet, just when it should be exposed in the spotlight.
Recall that back in February, Point of Order’s cautious hopes of successful Ukrainian resistance were not widely shared.
So the blunting of aggression against a flawed but plural democratic nation is an astonishing – and perhaps even undeserved – gift. It might be wise not to waste it.
Thirdly, this is a war with a system, rather than a country.
To understand it, you could do worse than browse The Russia Conundrum by former billionaire oligarch and political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
His persecution is glossed over, perhaps because so many believe a successful Russian businessman must be a crook.
He offers his six years in the gulag and the confiscation of his business – when he could have chosen collaboration with Putin – as evidence of his commitment to liberal values and his country’s welfare.
And as a Russian and an insider, he provides a vivid picture of the creation from the security apparatus of a governing class that is a law unto itself.
During Putin’s twenty two years in power, it has systematically eliminated the bases of civil society: security of property and the fruits of labour; reliable justice and restraints on state power; fair competition for the right to govern; the opportunity and ability to organise, express and disseminate alternatives.
What Khodorkovsky captures is the thoroughness of the transformation. According to his numbers (unverified and perhaps unverifiable) the governing class takes 10% of Russia’s GDP through corruption: a tithe, but much more destructive of welfare. One in six entrepreneurial businesses has been stolen from its owner (the rest presumably operating under ‘protection’).
The contrast with China is stark. Deng Xiaoping also toiled for nearly twenty years but in a different direction. He sought to convince the workers and peasants that the Communist party would respect the fruits of their labour – just as long as they did not challenge its governance (and hence the significance of President Xi’s recent signals that he might renegotiate the bargain).
This suppression of independent activity – social and entrepreneurial – would now appear to be Russia’s chief source of political and economic weakness.
It should clarify that the principal enemy is the Russian governing class, rather than the Russian people.
And that we all win if the Russian people can be helped to turn round the course of the last twenty two years.
Don’t forget then, that in all that time the only people who have come near to inflicting a political defeat on that class are a handful of American (and British) trained Ukrainian men.
So it might be a good idea to be very clear what you are negotiating about, before starting.