Voices from the Arab press: Vladimir Putin's calculated choice

A weekly selection of opinions and analyses from the Arab media around the world.

 A MURAL of Russian President Vladmir Putin is vandalized – with red spraypaint and the word ‘Murderer’ written above the original text reading ‘Brother’ – in Belgrade, Serbia, March 6.  (photo credit: Zorana Jevtic/Reuters)
A MURAL of Russian President Vladmir Putin is vandalized – with red spraypaint and the word ‘Murderer’ written above the original text reading ‘Brother’ – in Belgrade, Serbia, March 6.
(photo credit: Zorana Jevtic/Reuters)

Vladimir Putin’s calculated choice

Al-Masry Al-Youm, Egypt, February 28

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Russian forces have advanced toward the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and are positioned on the city’s outskirts. They’ve succeeded in destroying dozens of Ukrainian military sites, leaving hundreds of civilian casualties, including children.

The supposed goal behind the Russian campaign is to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, and to install a pro-Moscow puppet regime that will be submissive to the Kremlin.

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s worldview, the only way to change the political calculus in Eastern Europe is to use brute force, not diplomacy. This is ironic given the fact that many of Russia’s conflicts have taken place in neighboring territories that share not only a common culture with Russia but also extensive trade relations. Therefore, one would assume that soft power would also be a tool used by the Kremlin.

 RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin delivers a special address Thursday on Russian state TV, authorizing a military operation in Ukraine’s Donbass region.  (credit: REUTERS TV) RUSSIAN PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin delivers a special address Thursday on Russian state TV, authorizing a military operation in Ukraine’s Donbass region. (credit: REUTERS TV)

The timing of Russia’s assault isn’t coincidental. Moscow has chosen the winter, when the European need for Russian gas is at its peak. Indeed, what we’ve seen is that France and Germany, the two largest beneficiaries of Russian gas, were those most reluctant to take action against Putin and his government. They changed their stances only when other EU states severed their ties with Moscow and hardened their position toward Russia.

Furthermore, Putin’s timing is advantageous due to political reasons as well. The American democracy today suffers from both internal and external challenges, and the recent American withdrawal from Afghanistan has undermined America’s credibility in the world. It is highly unlikely that the Biden administration will push for an active American intervention in Ukraine.

Of course, none of these factors suggest that Putin will win this war. The Russian president’s fate will be determined to a great degree by his immediate next steps: Will he prolong the war and lead to more casualties? Will he stop at Ukraine, or violate the sovereignty of other countries, such as Poland?

Regardless of the outcome, it’s important to remember that Putin’s steps are a product of a clear and calculated strategy. The Russian president considered his options and chose a military campaign to achieve his goals.

So far, despite the sanctions imposed on Moscow, many of Putin’s calculations seem to have been correct: NATO has not deployed ground troops to fight in Ukraine, and Western support remains limited on the ground. Russia will emerge victorious, if it succeeds in bringing about a quick ceasefire that would guarantee its cultural and political dominance over Ukraine for years to come. Anything else would be a failure for Moscow. – Amr al-Shobaki 

Russia, Ukraine & Arab countries’ interests

Al-Ittihad, UAE, March 1

The Russian invasion of Ukraine may very well represent the single most acute crisis of our time. It is a major international crisis in every sense of the word – one that has both an ancient and modern history to it.

On the one hand, we have Russian President Vladimir Putin, who seeks to rebuild the Soviet Union and weaken any Western influence on Russia’s borders. On the other hand, we have the Ukrainian people, who are being killed and displaced en masse and are seeking assurances from NATO and the EU pertaining to the protection of their sovereignty.

Meanwhile, no quick solution is in sight. Russia’s military campaign is far from decisive, while Western sanctions against Russia are only beginning to bear fruit. A crisis of this depth and complexity cannot be resolved overnight.

Notably, the Arab world isn’t involved in this crisis. Not a single Arab country is a party to this conflict, neither closely nor from afar.

The problem, however, is that some voices in the Arab media are seeking to imitate their Western counterparts by taking sides politically and introducing bias into their coverage of the unfolding events. The truth is that neutrality is possible. Presenting the issue from multiple viewpoints and angles isn’t hard to do.

Furthermore, it is the responsibility of Arab news outlets to represent the Arab interest in this conflict and analyze the events from the Arab viewpoint. The Arab world must look after its own interests, avoid getting involved in a conflict between great powers, and know how to carve out a space in the international arena. That should be our primary goal at a time when the guns are roaring on the international battlefield. – Abdullah bin Bijad Al Otaibi 

Ukraine & emergence of a new world order

Al Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, March 2

The global arena is messy and confusing, and everyone is looking toward Kyiv with apprehension and concern for the future of our world order. Moreover, a wildfire can easily erupt from the ashes still found underneath the ground of every European capital.

Therefore, the United States and the EU are being extra wary of inadvertently invoking any form of European national conflict due to their actions in Ukraine.

The fact of the matter is that the deep crisis we’re witnessing won’t simply disappear once Russia wins or loses this war. Today, President Vladimir Putin seeks to create an ideological axis that crystallizes the parity between Russia and the West and consolidates Moscow’s position as a force that has a serious role in shaping the new world order.

The most important question revolves around the ability of the West to tame Russia through nonmilitary means. But the current crisis is already giving rise to a new world order, in which great powers will rely more heavily on the use of force, and perhaps one in which wars will become more common.

Ultimately, it’s clear that the West will not accept a balance of power in which Russia determines the fate of all Eastern European countries. The war in Ukraine will set a precedent for other conflicts to come. And if the West fails to set the tone and mold this new international system to its own benefit, it will quickly discover that the situation is no longer in its control. – Ali al-Khushiban

Jihad in Ukraine?

Asharq al-Awsat, London, March 3

A prominent Twitter account associated with al-Qaeda recently shared a post claiming that the exiled Chechen leader Akhmed Zakayev, who served as prime minister of the unrecognized Chechen Republic during the first Chechen war, offered to sign a military cooperation agreement with Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelensky. According to the post, Zakayev offered to send Chechen volunteers to join Ukrainian soldiers in fighting against the Russian invaders.

Interestingly, there seems to be increasing chatter among jihadist circles about the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, with some voices posing the question of whether joining the Ukrainian forces constitutes a legitimate form of jihad. Does providing aid to non-Muslims – if such an act promotes Muslim interests – constitute a holy war?

This, of course, is interesting, since Ukraine is a predominantly Christian country. According to several estimates, the number of Muslims residing in Ukraine ranges from 300,000 to two million, most of whom are of Crimean Tatar origin. And yet, several jihadi groups seem to propose that the presence of a Muslim minority in Ukraine, no matter how small, suffices to justify participation in the fighting and protection against the Russian “crusader” enemy.

For now, these just seem like empty threats. But if the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that we should always be prepared for the worst. These groups, whether we like it or not, are doing something far beyond our imagination and drawing a link between Islamic holy war and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. And no matter how weak or questionable this link is, we already know how far and wide ideas can travel when they meet the ears of indoctrinated youth. – Meshary Al-Dhaidy

Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb.