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By October, hopeful information was coming in about Ukrainian pressure on the Russian defense line. There was a belief that we would help Kyiv win and liberate the occupied territories. Now there are doubts about the success of the Ukrainian offensive, and our view of the conduct of the war is beginning to change. On the meaningfulness of Zelensky’s fervent efforts to achieve peace militarily, not through capitulation and loss of territory. On the compactness of the military and political leadership of Ukraine. Even on the compactness of the West’s attitude.
Doubts overshadowed the facts. That Ukraine has been resisting superpower attacks for 22 months. That it didn’t happen like we did in 1968. That tens of thousands of Ukrainian men and women fell. That half of the Russian army is gone and the myth of elite formations and superior capabilities is irretrievably gone. Including the credibility of Russian weapons systems. That the losses of the Russian army far exceed the war in Afghanistan (1979-1989). That Russia internally keeps itself in war condition only at the cost of sacrificing poorly trained recruits. Even at the cost of falling from the windows of disloyal minions, oligarchs or opponents. Including the slaughter of mercenary commanders, to the humiliating Moscow panic before the advancing mutinous Wagnerians.
Putin’s loyal allies from the countries of the former USSR are falling away. It is also losing favor in the developing world. Moscow has definitively lost its position as a superpower. It has sunk to the level of cooperation with North Korea. It must bow to China and Iran, to which it appears to be transferring nuclear and military technology. Putin is sitting at home, he can only fly where it is certain that he will not be arrested for barbaric acts in Ukraine.
The continuation of the war drains almost a third of Russia’s budget, brings about a deep internal moral decay of the country and the degeneration of internal conditions into an oriental dictatorship. Russia has ceased to be a partner of the West and will no longer be part of advanced Western projects, from space research to modern technology, science and sports. At the same time, it does not have the diligence, efficiency and discipline of Asia, where it tries to establish itself at least with its raw materials sold below the price.
Russia on the defensive, the West on the defensive
The apparent stagnation of war is not the result of the restoration of Russia’s military or diplomatic capabilities. Not even a decline in the abilities of Ukrainians. Rather, it is the fatigue of the West and the erosion of the will to support Kyiv with the necessary means according to the accepted commitments. In conditions that are no longer the result of the euphoria of the Ukrainian uprising, but the pressure of the necessity of self-defense. It is no longer about sympathy, but about elementary civilizational and self-preservation cohesion.
The decline of the West’s cohesion is evident in the internal political obstructions in the US Congress, which block further aid to Kiev. Republicans are more concerned with damaging Biden than Putin. The obstructions may have been predictable. However, Europe did not even meet its obligations, let alone replace the American shortfall. Obstructions in support of Ukraine show the depth and character of the internal political crisis in the USA. It will undoubtedly continue.
The pro-Russian line was also manifested in the blockade ambitions of Budapest. Orbán’s mockery of liberal democracy in Europe is openly realized by a departure from Western values, international law, and an attempt to sabotage the EU’s policy of supporting Kyiv. Who does it serve? The new government in Bratislava may follow a similar path. The new decision on the participation of Russian athletes in the Olympic Games is also a metastasis. At the same time, the IOC must know that it is risking a disaster for the entire Olympics in Paris.
Warnings about the breakdown of attention by the outbreak of a second conflict between Israel and Hamas are being fulfilled. In the Middle East, the West finds a common policy much more difficult. Public opinion and the media are divided, and not only in Europe. The longer the conflict lasts, the more likely Russia will try to return to the global scene precisely in and thanks to this division. Similar to what it did in Syria, after the annexation of Crimea, where it triggered a wave of migration in 2015. It will want to deepen the regional conflict and further escalate it by involving other countries.
The Kremlin will once again escalate the migration of civilians from Ukraine as well, and the wave of migration will affect the European elections in Europe. Let’s notice how migration returns to pre-election agendas. Let’s notice who will feed it domestically in synergy with the Kremlin and its interest.
We will not avoid the crisis either, we are already stagnating
Our own situation is already fully developing as internally problematic. The effects of the war, in terms of energy prices and subsequent economic difficulties such as inflation, were fully reflected in domestic political difficulties. Unexpectedly, populist protests arose in the most educated professions and strata of Czech society, among teachers, health professionals and doctors, although these strata are not the most economically affected. Economic difficulties are used here as a trigger for discontent even among the most educated.
Undoubtedly, the internal political crisis is also encouraged by a clumsy or hesitant, socially disproportionate government policy of spending restrictions. Unfortunately, the failed efforts to capitalize on wartime difficulties by the populist opposition and trade unions also play a significant role. Regardless of the clear and understandable causality and threat of the ongoing massive war conflict in the neighborhood. We do not seem to have a common responsibility for the state and its future, even in the threat of war and when it stops thriving. Again, everyone kicks for their own benefit, without exception.
National chauvinistic rants against war refugees even appeared on the political scene. Breaking the social and internal political consensus on the need to help the attacked in solidarity is an open destruction of the elementary elements of social cohesion and the humanitarian tradition, which we ourselves have used so many times from the West. Political clashes over the consequences of the war, even with some government errors in managing the impacts and risks, are likely to lead to an even deeper domestic political crisis.
We will be in crisis also because we are passive
Unfortunately, it is evident that the government coalition lacks a clear move towards an active and practical pro-Western policy in a wide range of agendas in the crisis. From deeper western integration of the country by entering the eurozone, through a rational debate on reforming the EU agenda by expanding majority voting in the area of common security policy, to accelerating the construction of European defense and military capacities. Although we need to strengthen a common European policy and position, counterproductive Euroscepticism continues to manifest itself – trying to undermine or block strategic joint EU agendas and questioning European cohesion and its creation.
The renewed hesitancy in a more agile policy towards Russia, beyond the tug-of-war over property and sanctions agendas, is also surprising. It is reminiscent of sticking one’s head in the sand in front of the size of the Russian embassy in Prague until the explosions in Vrbětice were investigated. We need a shift towards a more offensive policy in interfering with Russian domestic political discourse and developments in Russia. From sending a new ambassador to more offensive interference in Russia’s internal agendas. At the very least, in response to Russian interference in our internal affairs, we should respond by increasing our presence in Russia’s internal affairs, by all means possible and available. If the Kremlin can handle it against us, why don’t we learn a lesson?
The will and the new space to coordinate foreign and security policy are there, but so far they have not manifested themselves in sufficiently tangible and offensive results and steps. No matter how successfully we overcame the degenerative Zeman era and the risk of its presidential recurrence this year. Unfortunately, the electoral preferences now signal that we cannot avoid the return of the National Socialist anti-Western policy. This time for a change in the composition of parliament and government. It is not a disaster to make a mistake, but it is a good idea to repeat it. At least because in our region it immediately follows the mutilation of important democratic, public law and judicial and legal institutions. Let’s take a look at Slovakia.