Politicians and foreign policy experts keep worrying about how to build a bridge for the Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to end the war in Ukraine while saving face. A Yale professor now says that this is not necessary. On the contrary.
Putin does not need a way out, a bridge to peace negotiations. Because Putin controls public opinion in Russia with his propaganda and dictates to the media what is true and what is not.
Timothy Snyder, professor of history and international politics at Yale University near New York, says there is no point in trying to protect Putin from feeling like he’s losing: “He’ll find out for himself and he’ll act to protect himself to protect.”
According to Snyder, the Russians did not feel cornered: “The Russian army is an invading force. If she is defeated, the units simply retreat across the border into Russia,” Snyder wrote on Twitter. “Putin rules in a virtual reality where there is always an escape route. He cannot be cornered in Ukraine.”
With his state propaganda, Putin ensures that his opinion prevails in the country: “For people in other societies, it is difficult to understand that Putin is a dictator who controls his country’s media,” says Snyder: “He governs by changing the subject.”
And Putin keeps changing the subject – as he pleases. Snyder: “The last time Russia invaded Ukraine, the media switched the subject to Syria overnight and the Russians went along with it. When Russia invaded Ukraine in February this year, the Russian media quickly switched from saying an invasion was impossible to saying it was inevitable. The Russians went along with it.”
As in every dictatorship, freedom of expression and freedom of the press are blocked in Russia and access to foreign media is difficult. Putin can manipulate facts and reality so easily: “If he is actually defeated, Putin will simply announce victory on television and the Russians will believe him – or pretend that he does not need our help for that,” he said Yale Professor.
It is pointless to create an “exit” for the dictator in the real world, since Putin only needs one in a virtual world: “And he controls it completely.” According to Snyder, the talk of “alternative routes” for the Russian leadership is in these otherwise such difficult times at best something to laugh about.
The Russian leadership has it in its own hands how and when the war is to be ended. Snyder: Of course, Putin could make a mistake and wait too long to declare victory in the virtual world. In this case, he loses his power. We cannot save him from such a miscalculation and it would be unwise to try.”
Putin’s power over the Russian media and Russian public opinion is all-encompassing. What the West is doing or not doing is something the Russian public is completely unaware of. According to Snyder, it makes no difference whether the West builds bridges for Putin or not: “Either our evasive maneuvers are unnecessary or they are irrelevant.”
Snyder: “It is grotesque to ask Ukrainians to make decisions about the war in order to please Russian TV producers, who are not based on the real world anyway.”
According to Snyder, the false concern for Russian face-saving is even counterproductive: “Misunderstanding Russia through clichés of ‘turn’ and ‘dodge’ will make the war last even longer because it distracts from the simple necessity of a Russian defeat.”
According to Snyder, the situation is completely different in Ukraine: “Unlike Putin, Zelenskyy is democratically elected, feels responsible for his people and governs in a world in which others play a role.” Ukraine has a free press that doesn’t controlled by the government. “Zelenskyj cannot simply change the subject. He has to take his people with him on every important decision,” Snyder said. Unlike Putin, Zelenskyy must convince his people that the war must end. “He therefore needs help, both to win the war and to tell the Ukrainians what’s next.”
Unlike the Russian soldiers, the Ukrainians have nowhere else to go. They couldn’t just go home since the war is being fought in their country. They will return to their homeland and rebuild it.
Snyder’s conclusion: “Ending the war means thinking more about the Ukrainian people and their future and less worrying about problems that Putin really doesn’t have.”