Putin is very much in control however much the situation in Russia has deteriorated, Shmulyevich says. “There is no opposition in Russia; all opposition figures (except perhaps Navalny) are either in the West or more likely under the control of the FSB. The West isn’t supporting any real opposition or spending money to oppose Russian propaganda.”
Moreover, and far from the least important, the Israeli analyst says, “Putin has a very powerful repressive apparatus. In fact, nothing threatens him.”
“The West’s problem is that it doesn’t listen to Putin who with remarkable candor says what he wants,” Shmulyevich says. He said it already in Munich: he is seeking to reestablish the Russian Empire. Putin wants the greatness of Russia as he imagines it at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20 centuries.”
According to the Israeli analyst, “Putin wants to return what was lost with the disintegration of the Soviet Union. He has pursued that goal through his entire period in office, building up a repressive apparatus and a military and putting the economy on military rails.” Russia’s strength has grown but the standard of living of the Russian people has not.
“In order to return to the status of empire, Russia must recover Ukraine. Putin has more than once said that Ukraine is a state that should arose as a result of a mistake and which should not exist because Ukrainians are part of the Russian people.” Putin in Crimea and the Donbass has used a strategy of “creeping annexation.’”
Given this goal, Shmulyevich says, “Putin doesn’t need ‘a small victorious war’ but a big war which will give him control over Europe and the world.” (emphasis supplied)
What has just happened in the Kerch Strait raises the stakes and show how far Putin is now prepared to go, the analyst continues. “Never before has the Russian regular army opened fire on Ukrainian forces. The transfer of Crimea took place without a single shot being fired. And Russia had denied that its forces are in the Donbass.”
Now, however, “Putin has attempted to annex the Sea of Azov de facto and for the first time has opened fire on Ukrainian ships in international waters.” Today, “the question, ‘Is NATO prepared to defend the Kerch Straits?’ is equivalent to the question ‘Is NATO prepared to die for Narva?”
To avoid disaster, Shmulyevich says, “there must be a clear reaction and not just words expressing concern.”
Ukrainian elites and Ukrainian society are not ready to fight an all-out war with Russia, he adds. They have used various euphemisms to avoid facing up to the sweeping nature of Moscow’s aggression. That has had the effect of only leading Putin to conclude that he can go further and further.
Putin’s aggression now echoes Hitler’s in the years before World War II, and the response of many in Europe to it now echoes the reaction of many Europeans in that period as well. Everyone must understand that “Putin is preparing for a third world war and for revenge,” Shmulyevich says.
“Ukraine must define itself: either it is an ally of the West or it is part of Putin’s system. To continue to sit on two stools at the same time is no longer possible. I very much doubt,” the Israeli analyst concludes, “that European politicians understand this truth” and the stake not only for Ukraine but for themselves as well.
As long as they don’t, he suggests, Putin will continue his advance, pocketing anything he can.