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Geopolitics

Minsk, My Beauty: How Putin Is Luring The West To Give Up On Ukraine

The Russian president’s much talked-about insult toward Ukrainians and President Zelensky was really part of his long game to force the conditions of the Minsk agreement that would destabilize Kyiv and distract the U.S. and Europe enough to move in on Putin's terms.

Macron hold talks with Putin at the Kremlin on Monday, as part of a diplomatic efforts to defuse the tensions around Ukraine

French President Emmanuel Macron’s visits Putin in Moscow

Anna Akage

-Analysis-

French President Emmanuel Macron’s visits to Moscow and Kyiv produced nothing of substance. Instead, while more Russian troops reach the Ukraine border, the world’s attention was diverted by a certain turn of phrase, I’ll call it a joke, from Vladimir Putin.

He pronounced the instantly legendary line following his meeting with Macron, but it was directed to Ukrainians: "Like it or don't like it, it's your duty, my beauty."


Commentators in Russia, Ukraine and internationally focused on how insulting the phrase is, its superiority and sexual undertones and its origins in Russian folklore. More of Putin’s crass bullying, observers agreed. But the moment reveals the devious splendor of his political game for the substance, more than the form.

Zelensky as strawman

His veiled threat to Zelensky was not about a new invasion, but about the Minsk accords that the Ukrainian leader opposes since it confirms Russia’s occupation of Donbas and Crimea. With the world paying attention, and a nasty remark, Minsk is now back on the table. Chapeau. Standing ovation to the man from the Kremlin!

It is just another sign that Putin is running circles around the whole lineup of world leaders. Think about it: All this time, as Putin assembles troops on the Ukrainian border, he repeatedly states that Russia will never attack Ukraine; All this time that Western media spreads news of an impending full-scale Russian invasion and takeover of Ukraine; All this time, the U.S. and Europe have been sending military and financial aid, establishing new economic and security alliances, preparing sanctions, and monitoring Russian military movements on the Ukrainian border.

And yet, through all this time, the Ukrainians themselves are skeptical — of what both Moscow and Washington are saying!

Meeting of the President of Ukraine with the President of France

Meeting of the President of Ukraine with the President of France

President of Ukraine official website

Destabilizing Kyiv

No, most people in Kyiv doubt a major war is about to happen, they also know that nothing is impossible after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. And that brings us to Minsk, and Zelensky’s supposed “duty” to comply with the formalization of Russia’s occupation of Donbas and Crimea.

The fear of a major war of the past two months diverts from the reality that these Ukrainian territories were seized eight years ago in the wake of the annexation of Crimea, under the pressure of a bloody military operation where hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers and volunteers were caught in the Ilovaysk cauldron, more than 300 of them killed and many others were taken captive (and still held today, more than seven years later). Facing the pressure back in 2014, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the Minsk agreements.

How much longer will "my beauty" be able to dance by the Russian fire without burning out?

But if implemented now, it would set off mass protests and almost certainly be the end of Zelensky's political career and the death of his party. But even more than that, Putin knows it could trigger the kind of domestic destabilization that would make the Russian taking of Kyiv easier than he could dream of, with no need for additional troops and only minor European or U.S. resistance.

Zugzwang predicament

Acceptance of the Minsk agreements would be a disaster for Ukraine and would never be accepted by the Ukrainian people. At the same time, it is quite obvious that the position of the Ukrainians will not find support in the world. Peace in Europe at the price of some local agreement is not just acceptable, it is the best outcome.

Putin's elegantly terrible strategy has finally left his adversaries cornered before a zugzwang predicament on the regional chessboard: the non-acceptance of the Minsk agreements will be taken by both Russia and Europe as Ukraine’s rejection of peace, and therefore could lead to new military interventions. Putin could seize, for example, Kharkiv or Mariupol, border towns where the mood is highly ambiguous. And their acceptance would lead to a social explosion within Ukraine itself and the fall of the current government.

How much longer will "my beauty" be able to dance by the Russian fire without burning out? It seems to depend not only on how sincere are the European and U.S. leaders of truly backing Ukraine — but whether they will understand that by forcing Ukraine to make peace with Minsk, the price will be its very existence.

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