Analysis. The response of Russian police remains consistent: arrests continue

Russians protest against the invasion

With an attack begun at dawn and conducted throughout the day against military targets, the head of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin, has moved the plan with which he intends to change the architecture of security in Europe from the halls of diplomacy to the army barracks. In a single day of war, Russian armed forces destroyed much of Ukraine’s defensive capabilities: airports, arsenals, command and control centers.

It happened across dozens of cities, over a territory almost a thousand kilometers wide. By the admission of the Kyiv General Staff, the country’s anti-aircraft system no longer existed on Thursday. The Russian military even took the territory around the Chernobyl plant, about a hundred kilometers from the capital.

The decision taken in Moscow to keep a large number of ports of call in southern Russia closed until March 2 sets a deadline for this operation, at least on paper. Which in many ways recalls the brief campaign undertaken in 2008 in Georgia.

But this time, it was without any provocation, and on a much larger scale. The offensive moved on three fronts. From the east, and therefore from the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. From the south, that is, from Crimea and the ships deployed in the Black Sea. And then from the north, from the Belarusian border, where 30,000 Russian soldiers have been present for days, officially for exercises.

Putin described the reasons for what he called a “special military operation” in a video that public TV broadcast on Wednesday, in the early hours of the morning. During those few minutes, he appeared tense and tired. He spoke of the request for military support received from the rebel republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, which he himself had acknowledged on Monday, and of the legal framework built around the intervention, a framework that the Federation Council completed this week with the green light to use armed forces abroad.

In the video, he reiterated his intention to “demilitarize” and “de-Nazify” Ukraine. And he placed this war in a line of continuity with the fight against terrorism waged in Chechnya 20 years ago; with the intervention in Syria in the face of the threat of the Islamic State; and with the annexation of Crimea. After that, he launched fearsome threats against governments that could hinder Russian plans, perhaps referring to the Baltic countries, or to Turkey, which has been asked by Ukraine to close off the entrance to the Black Sea to Russian ships.

Western intelligence agencies believe that Putin’s message was recorded on Monday, after the summit at the Kremlin with the Security Council and after the signing of military agreements with the representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk.

What happened in the three days between the recording of the video and the decision to proceed with sending in the army? It is possible that informal negotiations with the United States continued, covered by the highest level of secrecy of which diplomacy is capable. And it is possible that those negotiations reached an impasse considered by Putin and his advisors to be insurmountable.

Perhaps the Russians and Americans had already found themselves in the same condition on other occasions in the course of the last few months, and it was in those circumstances that the head of the White House, Joe Biden, launched his warnings, deemed alarmist by the Ukrainians, about an “imminent” invasion.

Washington’s last act before the invasion was to sign off on economic measures affecting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. It was now “a hunk of metal at the bottom of the ocean,” a state department spokesman said. A few hours later, Putin’s recording was broadcast on Russian TV.

It’s as if with this operation, the Kremlin tried to obtain on the military level those “written guarantees” on security that the Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, has been working on in recent months. On Wednesday, diplomacy gave way to the military. The outcome of this choice is not certain.

First of all, because the chances of having their concerns heard by the United States and the European Union do not seem to have increased at all. And then, because the war on Ukraine risks arousing strong protests in Russia’s big cities. Stock exchange indices have reached an all-time low. The national currency is trading at near one hundred rubles per euro. The latest Levada Center poll says that 60 percent of citizens are blaming NATO for what is happening.

But in more than forty cities, starting with Moscow and St. Petersburg, thousands of people have taken to the streets in protest. The response by the police has been the same already seen on several occasions in the past: many arrests, almost eight hundred according to the Interior Ministry.

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