Different rationales of war
by Stefano Caprio

For the first time, Ukraine is set to celebrate the Nativity of Christ in a unified way on 25 December, a symbolic event for its new identity. But the country’s real challenge is to take control of the game away from Putin, truly showing the world the face of a new people, beyond any rationale of war.

We have now reached the two years for the "rationale of war", given that Russian troops began to deploy on the borders of Ukraine at the end of 2021, before the invasion in February 2022.

The whole world, already tried by the two years of pandemic, had to completely change its visions of the present and the future, no longer just trying to resist the evil that spreads everywhere, but committing itself to responding to a threat that risks erasing, or at least shaking up the civilisation we thought we had built.

Yet the human soul still hopes that this crisis might be overcome as soon as possible, that the war may end like the infection eradicated by vaccines, even though the latter continues to infiltrate the soul even more than the lungs.

The succession of conflicts, in the Middle East after Ukraine and the Caucasus, makes this desire increasingly feeble and confused, forcing governments to review the measures they must take, pushing parties to rewrite the platforms on which to confront each other, even driving religions to scrutinise their sacred books once more for revelations that will unravel the darkness of the mind and heart.

War is one of the oldest and most persistent aspects of human history; indeed, nations and civilisations are the result of conflicts, much more than progress or ideologies.

Understanding the rationale of war becomes indispensable to truly understand one's social, national, and individual identity, not only when one is an aggressor or a victim, for no one is ever just a more or less interested spectator.

Even when the war is far away, it affects everyone, and in an increasingly interconnected world, we no longer even perceive the distance, no matter how many kilometres separate us from the frontline.

It is therefore necessary to become aware of this confrontation with an "absolute evil", one that we would never want to see or hear, and pay attention to those who can offer us elements of understanding.

One of them is political scientist Aleksandr Morozov, one of the most respected commentators since Soviet times, now abroad for his incompatibility with the war ideology of the Putin regime, and a former editor-in-chief of Russkiy Zhurnal (Russian Journal), one of the first online Russian publications on current affairs.

In an article in Ekho Kavkaza, Morozov identifies at least six different rationales for the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine.

The first one is the war itself, which follows its own path led by military budgets, weapons production, logistics, mobilisations, call-ups, and battle planning according to timetables and seasons, whether in winter or summer, well in advance.

War "goes on by itself, which can be stopped by political decisions", but presently, there are no glimmers of hope for negotiations or short-term solutions.

The second rationale, the political scientist explains, is that of the "development of Putinism as a system." It is an aspect that currently feeds off almost completely on the effects of the "special operation", on which it has concentrated all its forces and motivations, but it does not originate from the war – it comes from the post-Soviet (i.e. post-colonial) crisis, and is projected onto the post-globalist future.

The stages in the rise of this new image of Russia are different – they start from the "reassurance of the people" in the face of the uncertainties of the first years after the end of the USSR.

It is not only a question about chaotic economic transformations from a failed communist order to an "inhumane" capitalist system, which have greatly traumatised a population accustomed to planning and more levelled out social conditions.

Russians have suffered from the inability to manage the tensions that come with the confrontation of ideas, freedom of thought, speech and even religion, and Putin has declared the phase of "democratic pluralism" over, imposing the "rule of the majority", in fact of a passive conformism that delegates everything to the authorities.

This rationale starts from the revival of the Soviet paradox, that of the "struggle for peace" (borba za mir), which imposes an aggressive attitude to defend uniformity and "quiet living". Russians may be unhappy with the war as such, but they continue to support Putinism for fear of having to throw themselves back into the vortex of plurality.

The Soviet ideology has therefore been replaced by a "militant" version of Orthodox Christianity, which is certainly not a Russian invention, but a legacy of ancient theological and interethnic diatribes, so that one feels truly "Orthodox" only when one identifies the enemy as "heterodox" and therefore immoral, even better if the enemy is the whole world, and our people are the only holders of the one true faith.

Putinism, an imperial, "Soviet-Orthodox" ideology, will continue even after the war, and will survive the passing of Putin himself, an inevitable and partly already evident fact.

This is the third rationale of war indicated by Morozov, the "Putin’s rationale", which is not so much about the personality of the strongman in the Kremlin, who cuts somewhat mediocre figure, indeed chosen precisely for this reason by Russia’s ruling class. It is a caste rationale, which is not based on a "state ideology,” packaged for the masses to be kept in a state of submission.

The strongmen of Russia’s economy, politics, and military, the "collective Putin", who replaced Yeltsin's "family" at the end of the 1990s, have only one problem to solve: how to retain power without limits of space, time, or structure.

For this reason, the political scientist suggests that the system needs to always keep tensions high outside the country in order to facilitate its stranglehold on society at home. A constant escalation of conflicts is needed to surprise the enemies "not where they expect it, and not in the form that is expected", to be the last man standing.

If analysts around the world fear the use of tactical nuclear weapons or the invasion of Estonia, Putin and his followers act accordingly, reviving threats with military exercises on the Sea of Japan, or moving nuclear weapons to Belarus.

Russia is not seeking an all-out war, knowing full well that it could lose it, but rather the constant feeding of tensions, like supporting Azerbaijan’s reconquest of Karabakh, or the terrorist uprising by Hamas, hinting that there could be problems with Finland or Kazakhstan.

Even if he wanted to, Putin can no longer stop the war and has no interest in ending it; instead, he fuels it like a “key musical theme" for which Kremlin strategists write continuous arrangements, from hard rock to rap, perhaps taking breaks for "tactical armistices", and then resuming the open conflict.

Morozov’s fourth rationale is American, in which Ukraine and the war are part of an internal political struggle in the United States, which is also subject to power imbalances.

If it is obvious that Washington is opposed to Moscow, a tradition that goes back a long way, it is equally clear that the Americans will act according to their needs, and if they were to abandon Ukraine it will happen suddenly and radically like in Afghanistan, which encouraged Putin to start his war.

The fifth rationale, that of Europe, is different. Before Putin's conflicts, the European Union seemed to be an unsuccessful plot destined to progressively go adrift. Now with the prospect of Ukraine’s entry, a country that has come to symbolise the defence of the entire continent, Europe is forced to rethink itself, expand again, into the Caucasus, restart in the Balkans, and deal more openly even with Turkey.

For the first time, the 2024 European elections will be more important than national elections, and Europe must finally express its rationale of peace, responding to the war with a new idea of its future.

Finally, there is the last rationale, Ukraine’s, which is set to mark for the first time in a unified way the Nativity of Christ on 25 December, a symbolic event of a new identity and a new people, separate from the East, living in harmony with the West and Europe.

This rationale now hangs on the edge, not only between destruction and reconstruction, between exile and reconciliation, but also between the country’s own domestic political forces, and its Churches, Orthodox and Catholic, engaged in a difficult attempt to reach out to each other.

Russians are not that interested in the outcome of the war, which is really in Ukrainian hands, not so much for the possible success of the counteroffensive or the reconquest of Crimea.

Ukraine must say when the war is over, whatever its borders and disputed territories, taking control of the game away from Putin; it must show the world the face of a new people, with whom we can build a new civilisation together, on all continents and beyond any rationale of war.