Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is another continuation of his way of solving problems. His interventions have one thing in common: minimal concern for civilians and unprecedented brutality. What is the bill of his military interventions?
Putin already gained power during the second Chechen war and ending it was his top priority. It has cost the lives of thousands of Russian soldiers and, above all, the still untold number of Chechens, including civilians: even Putin-installed Kadyrov speaks of 300 000 dead, more conservative estimates speak of 150 000 lives lost, the lowest estimates speak of ten thousand. Putin retains control of Chechnya through the Kadyrov clan, and brutal persecutions against the LGBT+ community are common (so much so that the EU announced narrowly targeted sanctions in 2017).
The twelve-day war with Georgia in 2008 fortunately did not have such a huge number of victims, but it still cost several hundred lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes.
The aggression against Ukraine and the illegal annexation of Crimea began in 2014 and, unfortunately, is still ongoing and the death toll is rising. The Kremlin is constantly escalating its aggression, including new declarations that Ukraine has no right to sovereignty or a huge military presence on Ukrainian territory.
We have seen where this can lead when Putin decided to attack Syria. Yes, his troops there also fought against the Islamic State, but he entered the war with the support of a dictator. And his bombing of hospitals and (presumably) deployment of cluster munitions against civilian targets qualify as war crimes.
The Russian Ministry of Defence claims to have neutralized 85,000 IS terrorists in its six years in Syria, a figure that is almost opulent. What we know for sure, on the other hand, is that it is the Assad regime that has tortured and bombed at least tens of thousands of its own citizens. In a country approximately twice the size of the Czech Republic. All this with the support and under the protective wings of Vladimir Putin.
War is always a dirty business. However, the approach of today’s Kremlin stands out from the crowd, especially in how little of a problem it has killing civilians, including its own citizens. We must not allow Kiev to become the new Grozny, Ukraine the new Syria.
A year ago, I had to endure a lot of hate when I criticised the European Union’s approach to Russia as weak and called for the Nord Stream 2 project to be stopped and for sanctions against the Kremlin to be tightened. Today, these measures are becoming a reality. These are suddenly levers with which the EU must put out the fire, and they even seem inadequate in the light of a full-scale invasion.
Together with blocking Russia from SWIFT, we must pull them, even though it was (literally) too late yesterday.