This article was discussed just before 50 minutes into the 4 January episode of UK Column News when it appeared in the original German. It has been translated by Alex Thomson and is published with the permission of the author and of Zeitgeschehen im Fokus. Footnotes and graphics have been omitted.
As a Swiss Army colonel, Jacques Baud (who now resides in Belgium and who was recently interviewed in English by James Delingpole) was in charge of monitoring Warsaw Pact forces in the final years of the Cold War for the Strategic Intelligence Service of Switzerland. His book on the Russia-Ukraine war is currently available in French only.
Our media are currently showing us tragic footage of children and civilians who have taken refuge in the Kiev metro in the cold and dark to seek shelter from the bombs. This is heart-rending, and they merit our sympathy. Naturally, it is easy to blame Russia for it; but neither these Ukrainians nor our [Western] media, diplomats or governments showed the same compassion for those other Ukrainians who were bombed by Kiev’s armed forces in the Donbas for eight years and who have spent every Christmas and winter in the same conditions since 2014. How come?
The fact is that for the Ukrainian neo-Nazi militias, the people in the Donbas are only “subhumans” who do not deserve our compassion. This position was shared for eight years by our media, which never raised their voice against these attacks. The death toll among these people, surpassing 10,000, has moved neither our media nor our diplomats, who are so concerned about respect for international humanitarian law—but only for certain kinds of people!
If our diplomats and media truly had been concerned to prevent war in Ukraine, they would have denounced Ukraine’s disregard for the status of the Crimea in 1995; they would have deplored the 2014 coup d’état; they would have condemned the discrimination against Russian-speaking, Hungarian-speaking and Romanian-speaking minorities by the unelected Ukrainian authorities in 2014; they would have been urging Ukraine from 2014 onwards to comply with its obligations under the Minsk Accords; they would have shown some compassion for Russian-speaking Ukrainian civilians in the Donbas, who have been embattled by their own government since 2014; they would have drawn international public opinion to the attacks by neo-Nazi militias on civilians in the Donbas; they would have condemned, in February and then again in August 2021, the closure of Ukrainian opposition media, which were on the verge of alerting the international community to the preparation of an offensive in southern Ukraine that had been decided upon in March that year; they would have criticised the Ukrainian artillery shelling of civilians in the Donbas in mid-February 2022; they would have condemned the banning of opposition parties in Ukraine in 2022.
The Ukraine crisis could have been avoided altogether if we had made an effort to try to understand it and address it in time, i.e. from 2015 onwards. However, we did not do so—intentionally! The recent interviews with Angela Merkel in the German newspapers Der Spiegel and Die Zeit show that Germany has deliberately sacrificed peace in Europe in order to maintain a semblance of unity in NATO.
As always, the West (on both the Left and the Right) has not been listening to the key actors but rather imposing its own reading of the conflict, one congruent with its own fantasies. On 24 February 2022, Vladimir Putin stated the reasons for and objectives of the Russian intervention. Our journalists—and apparently our diplomats—appropriated from it whatever fed their narrative (demilitarisation and de-Nazification) and purged whatever contradicted it. In fact, in our reading of the problem, we denuded the Russian intervention of the rationality that the Russians apportioned to it, so as to make Putin’s decision seem irrational, or disproportionate to the aim which we ascribed to it. Incidentally, to proclaim that Putin is at death’s door or mad is in just the same spirit and frame of mind. We—that is, our media—have thereby distorted the picture of the situation and have thus created conditions that render dialogue impossible.
I always like to say that how we conceive of a crisis will determine how we resolve it. Our persistent tendency to replace what the key actors are saying with our own “impressions”, ones distanced from the facts, inevitably leads to an aggravation of the situation. I have in mind here not just journalists—whom I already mentioned a few weeks ago, who continue to disseminate the thinking of Ukraine’s neo-Nazis—but also analysts who are sometimes considered “pro-Russian”. These professed experts have developed a whole palette of discourses in a quest to explain Russian intervention, based not on what the Russians have said but on their own perceptions. Yet peace is founded on facts, not on pipedreams.
Some such narratives, in no particular order:
Russia’s intervention is the artefact of a clash of civilisations: This narrative, propagated by both the far right and the far left, exegetes the war in Ukraine as a showdown between a traditionalist, religiously-inspired civilisation and a “woke” West. Wrong. Although there are two “major” currents in how society is regarded on the European continent, the faultline does not run along the Russian frontier, but rather between Western Europe (Donald Rumsfeld’s “Old Europe” ) and Eastern Europe (“New Europe”). The Baltic states, Poland, Belarus, Hungary—and, yes, Ukraine—have the same understanding of society as prevails in Russia. Russia is not waging a civilisational war. One could even plead the opposite. The West feels that only its view of things is correct and that the rest of the world must adopt its worldview. The Russians, on the other hand, believe that every society has something to recommend it and that there is no reason to impose a given view on others.
The Russian intervention was somehow caused by the eastward expansion of NATO: Such is how anti-NATO persuasions justify the Russian intervention. This assertion is likewise false. There clearly were Western promises that NATO would not expand eastwards, which were never kept because they were not enshrined in a treaty. Nevertheless, in the early 1990s, Russia cherished the hope of becoming part of a NATO that would have been modelled on the OSCE and repurposed as a collective security arrangement based on cooperation rather than confrontation. For this reason, the Russians did not initially see the enlargement of NATO as a threat. Vladimir Putin maintained this position until the early 2000s. This changed from 2002 onwards, when the Americans, under the George W. Bush presidency, began to withdraw from all disarmament treaties. Although this poses a significant challenge to its national security, Russia has always believed that it is a problem of a diplomatic nature that must be resolved at this level.
Russian intervention is aimed at restoring the Tsarist Empire or the Soviet Union (take your pick which): This narrative is bandied about by neo-Nazis (or similar groups) in the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine. It is a form of conspiracy theory based on the writings of Alexander Dugin, who is described by the British tabloid press and Swiss media as a “confidant of Vladimir Putin”. This is simply a lie, because Dugin sees Putin as a “liberal” and openly criticises him. It even appears that the two men have never met, and he was reportedly even expelled from Moscow University in 2014 for his extremist statements, according to the Ukrainian Euromaidan Press. It is probably this rhetoric that encouraged Ukrainians to carry out a terrorist attack on Dugin in August 2022, and this would explain our media’s failure to condemn the act!
For example, Vladimir Putin (ex-KGB man, hint, hint) is accused of having been lamenting the fall of the Soviet Union when he declared that “the destruction of the USSR was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe in the history of the twentieth century”. This utterance regularly appears in the Francophone media such as RTS (Radio Télévision Suisse), Le Monde, Le Figaro and France 24 to illustrate Putin’s notional ambition of restoring the “greatness” of the USSR. In reality, the sentence comes from a speech delivered on 25 April 2005 where Putin was deploring the chaotic way in which Russian society had transitioned to democracy, not the end of the Soviet régime. Unlike Belarusian President Lukashenko, Vladimir Putin is by no means a nostalgic figure hankering back to a communist world. On the contrary, he has promoted a very “Western” economic policy. Incidentally, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Alexander Dugin—described as Putin’s sources of inspiration—were also trenchant opponents of the Soviet system.
Russian intervention is an expression of hatred for the Ukrainian people: This argument comes from Ukrainian neo-Nazis and has been widely taken up by Western “like-minded” media. It says that Vladimir Putin denies the existence of the Ukrainian people and considers them to be a part of the Russian people, which supposedly justifies his intention to “reconquer” Ukraine. This argument comes from an interpretation of an article signed by Vladimir Putin himself and published on 12 July 2021, entitled On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians. The response to this by the ultra-right Ukrainian media is further disseminated by our journalists, who claim that Vladimir Putin considers Ukraine “a non-existent country” and that he “does not recognise the existence of Ukraine as a country”. Of course, they contrive to see in this a conspiracy by Vladimir Putin to unite the two countries by force. This is wrong: at no point does Putin speak of an annexation, or even of a reunification of Ukraine and Russia.
What the ultra-nationalist/neo-Nazi media are actually concealing is that this article is a response to the Law on Indigenous Peoples of Ukraine, adopted on 1 July 2021. This law, somewhat redolent of the Nuremberg Race Laws of the 1930s, grants Ukrainian citizens differing constitutional rights depending on their ethnic origin, as Oleg Seminsky, a Member of Parliament for President Zelensky’s governing Servant of the People Party, has argued. Vladimir Putin’s article not only unequivocally recognises the existence of Ukraine by defining it as a “free state” but also clearly speaks of the “sovereignty of Ukraine”. His intention is thus clearly not to suggest a reunification of Russia and Ukraine, but to make it clear to Ukraine that it has no reason to discriminate against its citizens of Russian ethnicity vis-à-vis its citizens of Ukrainian ethnicity.
The Russian intervention was motivated by hatred of the West, of Europe, and/or its democracy: It is said by some to be out of hatred for democracy that Vladimir Putin has instigated a war against the West. But let us recall that in 2013, it was the European Union that opposed a [Russian] association agreement with Ukraine that would have aligned its economic interests with Russia. Exactly the same argument was dished up to us as an explanation for the Islamist terrorist attacks, the only real reason for which was our illegal, illegitimate and criminal interventions in the Middle East (in view of which, it should be noted, the Swiss Government—a doughty defender of international humanitarian law—has not taken any sanctions!) For Russia, this argument is based on the claim that Vladimir Putin started this war in 2014 by opposing the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. This is false, because it was the then President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, who himself forced a choice on Ukraine, while Russia had put a compromise solution on the table. Truly, Presidents of the European Commission are not selected on the basis of their ethics or competence.
Whereas in fact...
These sundry narratives are neither the motive nor the cause for Russian military intervention in Ukraine. They are merely enabling factors that swirl in the background and serve to deepen the gulf between the West and Russia, which Russia has nonetheless never considered as a cause for military confrontation.
They cast the war in Ukraine as an inevitability that cannot be influenced by negotiations. That is why they are cropping up (repeatedly) in our media to insist that there is no point in opening a dialogue. These are revisionist constructions of events not based on any concrete facts, and that resemble a conspiracy theory.
The trigger for the Russian special operation was the Donbas. The victims in the Donbas will never be mentioned because they are the real reason for the Russian intervention. Some will say that they were merely a pretext for it; that is perfectly possible. But we have done everything to provide Putin with this pretext, one which, incidentally, is perfectly legitimate in itself: it is nothing other than the application of the principle of the “responsibility to protect” (R2P). If our diplomats had made an effort to comply with international humanitarian law from 2014 onwards, we would not be in this situation.
It should be noted that our media date the beginning of the “war” to February 2022. In truth, this war started back in 2014, and the Russian intervention is only a military operation within the framework of that war. The neo-Nazis, however, deny that it is a war and have been calling it an “anti-terrorist operation” since 2015 in order to avoid having to abide by international humanitarian law, which is commonly known as the law of armed conflict.
The reason our media date the start of the war to 24 February (rather than to 2014) and never talk about the casualties in the Donbas (or, if they do, dissociate them from the Russian operation) is because these provide a legitimate reason for intervention. The Ukrainian neo-Nazi militias that operated in the Donbas region considered Russian speakers Untermenschen.
By their silence on these crimes, our media—and our politicians—show that they harbour a similar attitude. However, they do not want to be equated with neo-Nazis. Thus, Swiss RTS fails to see neo-Nazis in Ukraine (or attaches only marginal importance to them) and dismisses it all as Kremlin propaganda. That RTS is not working in accordance with the principles of the Munich Charter can be seen in the more nuanced statements of American media outfits. The Atlantic Council, a platform linked to NATO and the US Government, had long warned that “the Azov Regiment has not depoliticised” and that “Ukraine has a real problem with far-right violence” (no, that headline really wasn’t written by RT). In March this year, NBC News wrote that “the Nazi problem in Ukraine is real”—contrary to the claims of RTS—while the centrist US website The Hill declared that this had nothing to do with Kremlin propaganda. Swiss media obviously have very strange political preferences, and I would like to believe that they do not harbour neo-Nazi sympathies, but their analyses do not bear that hope out.
We have already seen that some Swiss public service broadcast journalists are perpetuating theories about an Islamist conspiracy threatening the West and aiming at a “Great Exchange”!
Moreover, their refusal to brook any negotiations even at this stage is only feasible if they completely disregard Ukrainian losses. Since February 2022, they have been acting as if the war were only claiming victims on the Russian side; as if the Ukrainians were waging a victorious war without casualties.
Because the price paid by the Ukrainians seems lower to us than the price paid by the Russians, we egg Ukraine on to keep fighting. The trouble is that the situation is the exact reverse. We know that, but we refuse to say it.
The Swiss stance
On 23 November 2022, our Ambassador in Kiev, who is well-known to me, told the French-speaking Swiss television station RTS that negotiations with Russia would mean rewarding the aggressor. He made it clear that Switzerland was not neutral in this conflict, but was applying “the law of neutrality”, which, in his version, consisted of not joining any alliance and not supplying weapons to the warring parties. Given the illegal and illegitimate nature of what Russia is doing, Switzerland stands behind Ukraine’s position and abides by international humanitarian law, he said.
Unfortunately for him, Angela Merkel admitted in Der Spiegel the very next day that Ukraine had not signed the Minsk Agreement in order to implement it, but rather to buy time and bring its armed forces back into shape for war. She had entered into the Minsk Agreement herself without really intending to implement it. She went on to confirm this confession in her interview with Die Zeit on 8 December. This was actually not news: Petro Poroshenko had already admitted the same thing and made it clear that he had only signed the agreement to give Ukraine breathing space to rearm, and had even been lured into a confession by journalists over the phone to this effect. What was new was the confession that Germany was an accomplice of Ukraine and was not prepared to fulfil its role as a trustworthy guarantor. Moreover, in June 2022, the publication of the telephone conversation of 20 February 2022 between Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin had shown that Macron had simply never read the Minsk Agreement, of which he was supposed to be guarantor.
This is all to say that the main Western players in the Minsk Agreement themselves admit that they entered into the agreements with no intention of ever keeping them. So they have lied to the Russians, then, as well as to the people of the Donbas and the Ukrainian people. I remind you that Russia’s position until February 2022 was autonomy (and not independence) of the Donbas republics under Kiev’s authority, as provided for in the Minsk Accords.
Angela Merkel's confession hit the "rest of the world" like a bomb, demonstrating as it did the West’s duplicity. Of course, our Swiss media do not mention Angela Merkel’s confession, because it would lend some credence to Vladimir Putin’s lack of faith in the West! Not only did the West allow the riots against Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the Donbas, but it did not even have any intention of enforcing the Minsk Accords that were the subject of UN Security Council Resolution 2202 (of 2015). Our Ambassador’s concern to enforce respect for international law is perfectly legitimate, but it should have been expressed in 2015; not in 2022, after the situation had become catastrophic.
The statements of our Ambassador, and the almost simultaneous statements of Angela Merkel, sound like an unbelievable failure of European (and Swiss) diplomacy, and show that our conception of international humanitarian law is a moveable feast and is being used as a pretext not to promote the opening of negotiations between Ukraine and Russia.
The statements of our Ambassador in Kiev regarding the idea of negotiations to resolve the conflict in Ukraine raise several problems.
The first is that he looks at the conflict like a football game where you have to go into extra time to have better conditions for negotiations. This could be understood if it were a game, but it means underestimating the human cost of these extensions.
The second is that, as he quite rightly says, the decision to negotiate “lies with the Ukrainians”. The problem now is that we have prevented Zelensky from doing so at least three times: in February, March and August (quite apart from failing ever to help him to implement his manifesto of 2019), by pressuring him to drop his proposals. Here too, Switzerland—which had been authoritative in the run-up to the Minsk Accords—has since been reticent.
The third problem is that Switzerland, as the Ambassador himself says, is not neutral in this matter.
The nub of the problem, however, is not that Switzerland is coming to Ukraine’s aid (which is fair enough), but that it has not been able to make an objective analysis of the situation that is independent of Ukrainian propaganda. Today, the lines of communication between the West and Russia are broken and there are only loose back-channels to the USA on such topics as prisoner exchanges and nuclear issues. In this context, however, it should be noted that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are mediators: Europe is not, nor is Switzerland. In December, it was Turkey that announced a meeting between Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin. But neither of these countries is a model of democratic governance, their actions are not particularly neutral, and Turkey even supplies weapons to Ukraine. So why does Russia have more confidence in Turkey than in Switzerland?
Fools and conspiracy theorists will say that “only dictators can understand each other”. A less simplistic explanation would be that Turkey has a more balanced assessment of the conflict. As the Kyiv Independent writes: “Turkey firmly supports the territorial integrity of Ukraine, though it opposes the incitement of contradictions in the region through the ‘inconceivable policy’ against Russia.” While our diplomat is acting as judge and jury, Erdoğan is trying to solve a regional security problem and stop the loss of lives. This is the difference between an ideological and a pragmatic approach. For effective mediation, it is not the facts that need to be adapted to the conclusions, but the conclusions to the facts.
Fourthly, our Ambassador expresses himself like someone who wants to punish Russia instead of looking for a solution to the problem. When you are a judge and a party to the conflict, it is impossible to play a mediating role. That is regrettable. When Switzerland used to refrain from partisanship, it was able to mediate between the USA, Iran and Cuba. It did not have to become communist or Islamic to do so.
The fifth problem is that the Swiss Ambassador presents the situation as he would like it to be, not as it is. He paints a very rosy picture of Ukraine’s military capabilities, assuring us that it is looking to exploit its recent successes in Kharkov and Kherson to win further gains.
Our Ambassador believes that Russia is seeking negotiations for fear of a Ukrainian reconquista and that it is therefore not the right time for Ukraine to bargain. The trouble is that this absolutely does not correspond to reality. The capture of the Kharkov area, which the Russians had previously abandoned, was fatal for the Ukrainians, despite the lack of fighting [at the time of capture]: they blundered into a turkey shoot (огневой мешок, “fire zone”) and were annihilated by Russian artillery without being able to exploit their “success”. The same applies to Kherson, which Ukraine had already decided to evacuate two days before our Ambassador’s interview after trying in vain to position artillery units there. Since February, the Ukrainians have only advanced into areas that had previously been abandoned by the Russians. They advanced without a fight and were then wiped out in these zones by Russian artillery without the Russians suffering any losses. This explains why Zelensky was sceptical about the Russian withdrawal at Kherson and (rightly) feared that it was a trap: he had learned from the events at Kharkov! By the beginning of December 2022, all Ukrainian “counter-offensives” (or, more precisely, counter-attacks) had been repelled.
The core of the problem: our understanding of it
The interview with the Swiss Ambassador leads us to conclude—once again—that the core problem is the inability of our media and authorities to understand the conflict on the basis of facts and not on their ideology. They are not the only culprits, because the Security Report of Switzerland 2022, published in September, takes up the same rhetoric devoid of any analysis, which is a very serious shortcoming for a document that is supposed to guide our security policy and which is impelling us in the wrong direction. But that is another debate.
Every event presented by our politicians and media is delivered divorced from its context and the processes that led to it; everything is presented as if it were completely unpredictable and irrational. Yet what we are witnessing is so predictable that the analysts of the RAND Corporation had already predicted it for 2019 and were warning the West of the risks of its policy against Russia. So it is we who have deliberately brought about this situation!
The Western narrative is based on the idea that Russia is trying to conquer Ukraine. For this reason, we are measuring the Russians’ success by the speed of their advance. Since this speed is low, our media (and our diplomats!) see it as a failure. But the Russians measure their success in potential destroyed, not in miles. In June 2022, David Arakhamia, Zelensky’s advisor, declared that Ukraine was losing 1,000 men (killed and wounded) a day. At the time, they were engaged in fighting in Lysychansk and Severodonetsk.
At the end of November 2022, when the Ambassador spoke out, the battle of Bakhmut had already been going on for several weeks, and it will prove even more deadly. Ukrainian losses will reach the equivalent of one battalion per day! I would like to remind you once again that—to put it simply—the Russians could achieve their goals even without movement: all that is needed is for the famous Ukrainian “counter-offensives” lauded by our Ambassador to be shattered by the Russian defences. General Surovikin, the commander of the operation in Ukraine, had already said this at the start of October. Of course, our public opinion—already flagging from the sanctions—would reject the kind of succour we are giving to Ukraine if it knew that it was fostering an unnecessary prolongation of the conflict.
Moreover, our diplomat has still not understood that the Russians function according to the principles of Clausewitz, with their assumptions that a) war is the continuation of politics by other means and b) operational successes must be converted into strategic/political successes.
In other words, even if the Russians’ original goal was to ensure the security of the population in the Donbas, everything else is the result of adjustments to their politico-strategic goals in the course of their operational successes.
If Zelensky had been allowed to negotiate at the end of February 2022, a solution similar to the situation obtaining on 24 February would probably have been reached, with guarantees of Ukraine’s neutrality and for the security of the Donbas. This, by the way, was the content of Zelensky’s proposal in March, and the Russians were ready to discuss it. But by preventing these negotiations, Russia was given leeway to reshape its operational and thus its strategic goals. Moreover, it let Moscow suss out that the decision-making centre is not in Kiev or Brussels, but in Washington.
Thus, Russia had not attacked Ukraine’s energy infrastructure up until then, but the West’s determination to prolong the conflict prompted it to increase the pressure. Now this pressure is being directed not only against Ukraine, but also—and above all—against the West, which is committed to getting Ukraine fighting fit again. This is turning into a colossal burden for Europe.
Today, we can see that the voices calling for negotiations are coming from the military and their intelligence services (especially the American ones). Unlike our [European] diplomats, they have fully grasped that Ukraine will not succeed in liberating the territories occupied by Russia and that it is necessary to engage in dialogue. The Wall Street Journal revealed that the US military secretly modified the HIMARS missiles supplied to the Ukrainians to prevent them from reaching Russian territory. In plain language, the US military is trying to prevent an escalation of the conflict and has clearly signalled this to the Russians. The problem is that while the military is trying to calm the situation, the politicians are trying to escalate it.
The West is caught between its narrative and the reality of things. If what I have been saying since March of this year had been taken into account, Ukraine would probably be in a much better position today! That’s why the neo-Nazis call me a Putinist and a “conspiracy theorist”, while in the US I am seen as more “pro-Ukrainian”. Yet we have media [in Europe] that do not try to facilitate understanding or resolution of issues, but want to impose an ideological view of this conflict on us. We would like them to show the same zeal for the Palestinians, Syrians, Libyans, Iraqis and Afghans, but so far they have only been destabilising factors.
The recent statements by General Valery Zaluzhny, Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in The Economist give the lie to the optimism of our diplomacy and the propaganda of our media. They indicate two things. The first is that the Swiss Ambassador’s pronouncements fly in the face of the real situation on the ground. The second is that the actual situation of the Ukrainian armed forces, which is along the lines of the analyses that I have already presented above, is obviously being blanked out in our mainstream media, which are engaged in nothing more and nothing less than propaganda.
How can our diplomacy imagine contributing to a resolution of the conflict without understanding it?
Are the Russians demanding negotiations?
According to the Swiss Ambassador in Kiev, it is Russia that is asking for negotiations today because it is in a weak position. This is wrong.
At the end of October, even the US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, stated that Vladimir Putin was no longer asking for negotiations. In fact, as early as November, the West had to admit that it was no longer in control of the situation. On 1 December, Joe Biden declared that he was ready to negotiate with Vladimir Putin. On 2 December, Olaf Scholz spoke with Vladimir Putin to propose a negotiation process. The transcript of the conversation produced by the Kremlin clearly shows that Scholz called Putin. In diplomatic terms, this means that Scholz is the supplicant and not Putin. On 5 December, at a conference organised by the Wall Street Journal, Antony Blinken suggests that the US might drop the demand for the return of Crimea to Ukraine in negotiations with Russia. On the same day, Emmanuel Macron suggests negotiating with Russia and giving it the security guarantees it had demanded a year earlier.
So not only did the Western politicians know from the outset that the Minsk Agreement would not be implemented, but they also stated in advance that they would not lift the sanctions against Russia until the agreement was implemented! The malice of the West is obvious, and it is hard to imagine that this creates a climate conducive to negotiations today.
When Russia launched its operation in February, its first goal was to ensure the safety of the people in the Donbas. That was the goal of the Minsk Accords, which the Ukrainians did not wish to implement. This is what the West has deliberately overlooked. The threat of an invasion targeting the population of the Donbas in early February 2022 then prompted the Russians to enforce that security with their intervention.
The International Crisis Group (funded by George Soros) has charted the evolution of explosions in the Donbas since 2020. It is evident that the explosions rose to their first intense pitch commencing in March 2021, shortly after President Volodymyr Zelensky issued a decree to retake Crimea and the south of the country. This level of intensity was sustained throughout 2021. That explains the Russian shows of power on the border from April, and is apparently the reason for the making of a tentative decision for intervention for the sake of the population in the Donbas, but not yet a firm decision. This is why—at the end of January/beginning of February —NATO, the French military intelligence service and the Ukrainians themselves were stating that there were no indications of a [firm Russian] decision.
A study by the University of Adelaide on cyber activities at the beginning of this year in Ukraine shows that Ukrainians were clearly prepared for an intensification of military operations. From 24 February, cyber activity by Ukrainian bots was immediately at a very high pitch, and it was only a few days later that Russian cyber activity began. This suggests that Ukrainian networks had already prepared their cyber attacks before 24 February and were ready to launch them very rapidly on the day.
On 24 February, Russia’s aims were limited and Vladimir Putin probably assumed that his operation would get Ukraine to negotiate and end matters quickly. His calculation worked out, because as soon as 25 February, Zelensky was calling for talks to commence, which did begin on the border with Belarus. It was the West that quickly stymied this process. In late March 2022, it was the same scenario again: the Russians were ready to discuss Zelensky’s proposals and had withdrawn their troops from the north of the country as a sign of goodwill. In early April, however, the West urged Zelensky to withdraw his proposals. The idea that Russia was pursuing the goal of “taking over” and “destroying” Ukraine originated from the West, not from Russia; but it served to short-circuit any Ukrainian attempts to surmount the crisis.
What the Russians were underestimating was not Ukraine, but the West’s willingness to see conflict. It then dawned on them that the West was not concerned with Ukraine but with the collapse of Russia, and that it would do anything to prevent Ukraine from engaging in negotiations.
By April/May 2022, the Ukrainian Army of February was virtually non-existent and the West came into play to keep Ukrainian defences afloat. At this point, Ukraine began deploying reserve troops to counter the Russian coalition. Demonstrations by the wives and mothers of Ukrainian soldiers were violently suppressed.
The Russians know that one way or another, this conflict is going to end at the negotiating table. Their strategy to achieve this is hitting the country’s energy infrastructure: to create pressure in the country for a negotiation process for one thing, but equally to show the West that prolonging the war—especially by supplying weapons—will cost it unbearably dear in the future.
The Russian Government’s position to reach a negotiated settlement has been clear since February 2022. However, given the West’s lack of sincerity, the West will not take the initiative. So, contrary to what our Ambassador says, Russia is not the supplicant.
At the beginning of December, and especially after Angela Merkel’s revelations in Der Spiegel and Die Zeit, it became clear to the Russian public that Vladimir Putin had not lied and that the West was not in earnest. On 9 December, at his press conference in Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Vladimir Putin declared that the level of trust in the West was “almost zero”. Therefore, even though the Russian Government’s position since February has been to reach a negotiated settlement, it will not take the initiative in the face of the West’s forked tongue. Contrary to what our Ambassador says, it is clearly not Russia that is calling for negotiations.
This explains why public opinion in Russia remains in step with the government, if the latest poll by the Levada Centre (considered a foreign agent in Russia) is to be believed. It shows that 53% of respondents would favour negotiations (up from 57% in October), while 41% would favour war (up from 36% in October). These figures appear to approximate those of a “secret” poll revealed by the Russian opposition website Meduza, whose origin and authenticity could not be verified.
Our media read the figures as [domestic] disapproval of the Kremlin’s policy, but in reality the exact opposite is the case. It was the West—first and foremost the European Union and the United Kingdom—that forced Zelensky to withdraw from the negotiations, as otherwise he would no longer have received Western aid. It can thus be observed that the Russian population not only continues to approve of Vladimir Putin’s policies (his popularity rating in November 2022 is 79%), but that the popularity of “hawks” like Dmitry Medvedev is also steadily rising. What can be observed in recent weeks is a shift in Russian opinion towards a more hardline stance, which can be explained by a growing loss of faith in the West.
Incidentally, it should be noted that Russian public opinion remains stably supportive of the military operation in Ukraine. In September (after the withdrawal from Kharkov), there was a slight turnaround, which shows that Russian society does absorb Western information but is able to keep exercising discernment.
What we do not see is that Russians have access to Western media that are able to persuade them of [the falsity of] the information (some would say propaganda) in Russia. Conversely, people in the West do not have access to Russian media, and when Russians do appear on our screens, they are mostly opposition figures. Our image of the situation is thus deliberately misrepresented so that the public continues to support Ukraine.
In October 2021, RTS reported that the independent media channel Dozhd had been listed as a “foreign agent” in Russia, which means that all or part of its funding or management came from abroad. Since June 2022, Dozhd has been operating since from Latvia, which has just revoked its licence because its comments were “too Russia-friendly”! Welcome to EU democracy (no, RTS did not provide this information).
Conversely, in the West, the feedback effect of sanctions has weakened the economy and added tension to the social climate. The West’s policies are less and less accepted, leading to a rise in extremes. The foiled coup attempt in Germany is testimony to the prevailing tensions. But this is probably only the tip of the iceberg. The feeling that the authorities and the media are “adjusting” reality to justify ill-conceived, ideologically driven strategies is fostering an air of revolt. This could be called a conspiracy theory if it were not demonstrably true. Journalists who spread insidious ideas, media that exclude all dissenting thoughts—even if they are based on facts—are helping to create this climate of tension and the rise of new fascisms.
The West is incapable of learning from history and systematically underestimates the concern and compassion of Russians for their brethren abroad. That was the reason for Russia’s intervention in favour of Serbia in 1914; that was the reason for its intervention in Georgia in 2008 in favour of the South Ossetians, who were being bombed by their own [Georgian] government; that was the reason for its intervention in Ukraine in 2022; and that will be the reason for its intervention in Serbia in 2023, if our diplomacy does not take care.
Lack of strategy and coherence
Switzerland is right to stand up for international humanitarian law. Our Ambassador in Kiev is a worthy representative of our policy and is within his rights to take a stand for Ukraine.
But then, why did he not stand up for this principle before, and act in advance to enforce compliance with the Minsk Agreement and UN Resolution 2202 (of 2015)?
Furthermore, by the same logic, one could ask why we have continued to maintain diplomatic and trade relations with the US since 2003. So we have not only rewarded aggressors, but also countries that have clearly lied to the United Nations Security Council. What criteria does Switzerland use to award bonus points for aggression? Once again, I ask the question: Why is the conflict in Ukraine more reprehensible and condemnable than previous conflicts that we (be it passively) supported?
Russia does not want to destroy Ukraine, but to push it towards negotiations—not a negotiation with NATO, but with Ukraine, because its goal is to eliminate the direct threat to the Russian-speaking population in the Donbas. Vladimir Putin has said this from the start. Today, however, this aim also embraces the four oblasts in the south of the country that have joined the Russian Federation. Russia can achieve its goals in two ways: diplomatically and through negotiations, or by force, by destroying the Ukrainian military potential.
Russia has taken note that the West has not only been unwilling to implement the negotiated settlement for eight years but is even trying to prevent any negotiations today. Since the end of February, the West has sabotaged Ukraine’s various attempts to negotiate, by keeping it stocked with weapons and urging it to continue fighting. For the West is not even seeking a Ukrainian victory, but a regime change in Russia. That, by the way, is also the reason why Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree forbidding to negotiate with Russia as long as Vladimir Putin is in office.
That was the purpose of the massive sanctions: to bring Russia to its knees, prevent it from continuing its operations and thus impose a defeat on it. This was the strategy developed by the RAND Corporation for the Pentagon. This strategy would certainly have worked in 2014, but no longer in 2022: the West is eight years too late, and the RAND document foresaw all the risks for Ukraine that we observe today.
Which leaves the hard way
Until the Kerch Bridge attack, the Russians had only been targeting the power grid so as to disrupt Ukrainian military logistics by rail, but there was no systematic destruction. After the attacks on Darya Dugina and later on Kerch, the Russians realised that the West was trying to prolong the conflict by a full spectrum of means. Therefore, they began systematically to hit Ukraine’s electricity infrastructure, although in accordance with a set scheme. On the one hand, this was an attempt to induce the West to stop trying to prolong the conflict, and on the other, it was a reaction to acts of terrorism that no Western country condemned.
It is certainly questionable to destroy Ukrainian civilian energy infrastructure. One crime does not justify another. But if we had used sanctions or diplomatic measures to condemn the US, UK and France—who did the same in the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, as reported by the Washington Post—the Russians might not have done so. So is it only terrorists who refuse to reward aggression?
In March 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky was elected with the idea of making peace with the Russians. It was the neo-Nazis who then immediately threatened him with death if he did so. Strangely, none of our media sought to support Zelensky by standing up against these threats. On the contrary, they systematically kept pushing in the same direction as these neo-Nazis.
It is important to denounce war crimes, no matter which side they come from. But when you condemn only one side and systematically conceal the crimes of the other side, you are granting rewards for crimes. Since 2014, our media have never condemned the attacks on the centre of Donetsk and the civilian population, the use of landmines in populated areas, the torture and the massacres, but on the contrary have without fail tried to deny or play them down. How often has Switzerland protested against or condemned the attacks on civilians in the Donbas? If our media, diplomats and politicians had reacted at the time, Russia would most likely not have attacked in February 2022. In any case, their connivance with Ukraine’s disregard for international humanitarian law between 2014 and 2022 provided Russia with a legitimate reason to intervene.
Our Ambassador is right to support Ukraine. Yet his assessment of the situation does not lead him to the right solution, but rather is contributing to even more suffering. International humanitarian law is an essential part of our foreign policy and must remain so. But the time is no longer ripe for ideology. Our diplomats had eight years to enforce international humanitarian law in Ukraine. They failed to do so, thereby creating the conditions for military intervention. This is a terrible miscalculation. Had they read my analyses since March with less bias, they might have seen how to correct Ukraine’s course, which predictably drove the country to the wall. They did not do that either.
What can be derived from this conflict at the level of our foreign policy is manifold. First of all, we have “variable geometry” [double standards] with regard to the International Law of Assistance. However, compliance with the international law of war requires strict impartiality, which we no longer have. Secondly, the West—including Switzerland—has traded relations with Russia for the reinforcement of Atlantic unity, as Angela Merkel confirmed. We have traded peace in Europe for Nato cohesion.
We have the same problem with Kosovo, which international law (UN Security Council Resolution 1244) considers a territory of Serbia, but whose independence Switzerland recognises. We recognise the voice of the Kosovar people as being above international law, but not the voice of the Crimean people, voiced on 20 January 1991, to be “subjects of the USSR” (and not the Ukrainian Socialist Republic) before the independence of Ukraine. And we are giving bonus points to Ukraine, which de-facto annexed Crimea in 1995. So we apply international law as we please.
Russia’s collapse: A doubtful aim
Our governments lead as enabled by what the media say. This places a considerable responsibility on our media, which they are not fulfilling with diligence: disregarding the Munich Charter, as we have already seen with some programmes on Swiss television deliberately spreading “fake news”. By sometimes even contradicting the Ukrainian media, our media influence the way we react to the crisis. Had they but left room for different opinions, they would have made it easier for Ukraine. But that was not their goal. Their goal was to cause Russia to collapse, whatever the cost; and the brittleness of their narrative forbids them to let others have their say.
Everything we are observing today—the enormous Ukrainian losses, the loss of territories and the ineffectiveness of the sanctions—had already been foreseen by the RAND Corporation in its strategy (on page 100) against Russia in 2019. So it is we in the West (including Switzerland) who have, in full knowledge of the facts and in a very cynical manner, deliberately ignored these warnings and plunged Ukraine into this catastrophe.
From 24 February, we advised and supported Ukraine as if it were a winner, when we should have been supporting it as if it was possible for it to lose. Buoyed up by their hatred of Russia, our media shut out any critical analysis of Ukraine's actions and induced it to repeat its mistakes. Today, Ukraine is paying the price for the blind and idiotic smugness of our journalists and politicians.
For Ukraine to gain victory, it does not suffice to kid ourselves that Ukraine is winning. Since March, our media have been proclaiming slava Ukraïni, Russia’s defeat, Russia’s collapse, its isolation, and the imminent downfall of Vladimir Putin. None of this has happened. Our media are engaging in wishful thinking to satisfy their need for hatred. The reality is different. The inability of European diplomacy to assert itself other than through arms deliveries and sanctions, our differing treatment of this conflict compared to previous conflicts, and the condescending signalling towards Africa have discredited the Old Continent and breathed new life into Eurasia, whose main players are China, India and Russia.
We have failed utterly.