«Russia did not calculate it, but peace can only be signed with Zelensky»

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Jon Kortazar believes that this war is the escalation of a confrontation that broke out in 2014. / Ignacio Pérez

Jon Kortazar Billelabeitia, professor at the UPV/EHU

He argues that Russia is interested in ending the invasion “as soon as possible” to prevent casualties from skyrocketing and go down in history as an “aggressive superpower”

The UPV professor, Jon Kortazar Billelabeitia (Mungia, 1986), provides a historical context for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, dissects some of the features that resemble Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky, and assures that the Kremlin is interested in ending the conflict « sooner”. The opposite will play against your interests. More military casualties and civilian deaths. Russia is “not interested” in going down in history as “a super-aggressive power,” he stresses.

– What are the root causes of this conflict?

– One would be international. There has been a certain ‘sokatira’ between NATO and Russia. The Alliance, with its open-door policy, defended that any country has the right to enter and secure its own security. Russia or China were betting on a comprehensive security policy. That is, that security must be for everyone and that no State can be used as a platform or, with the excuse of seeking its own security, pose a threat to the security of other countries.

– And this is how Moscow interpreted kyiv’s claim to be part of the Alliance…

– That Ukraine should not enter NATO was a long-standing Russian demand. Sergei Karaganov, Putin’s chief political scientist, said: “We have always wanted to be partners with the West but they did not accept us and the West continued to expand despite having warned them that joining NATO could mean war.” This on the one hand, on the other hand there are intra-Ukrainian causes, which come from the 2014 coup and the civil war that ensued between the new government in kyiv and the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.

– The thesis of the latent conflict.

– This war escalates in 2022, but it really starts in 2014. All wars are a drama, a disaster. The first, for civilians; those who die, those who have to escape, those who lose their homes, relatives, those who are left with traumas, etc. Eastern Ukrainians suffered this in 2014. There were 14,000 deaths and a million or so refugees. Now it has spread to all of Ukraine. The UN speaks of 900 dead civilians, but we’ll see, and more than four million refugees. I insist, it is something terrible.

– Are we facing a dictator, a president who lacks scruples, a madman or a good strategist?

– Look, psychoanalysis is not valid in politics. Putin came to power above all under a logic, that what happened in the 90s could not be allowed.

– The years of transition from communism to capitalism…

– Yes, when the whole country was privatized, it was looted by the oligarchs and, apart from losing international positions, Russia lost a lot of quality of life. Putin really is a representative of the old sectors, we are not going to say communists, but state sectors, which seek a certain preeminence and continuity of the State. He sought to restore the prestige of Russia and the primacy of the state against different oligarchic groups. He had very good economic results at the beginning that allowed him to raise his own personal prestige and have a certain consensus in Russian society. It is also true that in Russia there have been problems of authoritarianism. I am not an electoral analyst, but in none of the elections has the opposition fully recognized the results, nor has the communist party, which is the main opposition force, nor the liberals nor the various nationalists.

– And your ideological stamp?

– Putin sells more stability, continuity and management than ideology itself. Conservative yes it is, nationalist not excessively for the Russian panorama; liberal capitalist free market yes, but not excessively; It is not a communist, but it does use a certain state leadership and sometimes a certain anti-oligarchic populism. He likes to play all the vectors of Russian society.

popularity reborn

– And Volodymyr Zelensky?

– He was elected with two promises, to dismantle the Ukrainian oligarchic system, because Russia was an oligarchic and corrupt state, but the Ukrainian… Much more. That for one thing. And on the other, develop the Minsk pacts. The first couldn’t do it and the second couldn’t either. Why? Either they didn’t let him or he didn’t trust the Donetsk and Lugansk republics or Russia, or he didn’t know how to convince the military police leadership… We don’t know. If he writes his memoirs one day, he will tell why he went. He was elected by more than 70% and in 2022 his popularity was at 30% or so. And it is true that the war has once again made him very popular. Then something else happens. If not Zelensky, who is going to sign the peace? That is something that perhaps Russia has not calculated. You enter the war but how do you get out of it?

“Without China there will be no agreement”

-This war seems to have relaunched the arms race.

– Germany has said that it is going to put a lot of money into its Army to make it the third largest in the world. Other countries are also rearming. But it is a trend that came from before. We may notice it a little more in Europe, but the US and China were already engaged in a mini-arms race with tensions between the naval armies of both countries on the borders of the China Sea. So this rearmament is a peak in a trend that was already being seen in previous years.

– We are witnessing a very active mediation by Turkey for a peace agreement. And China?

– I don’t know if it will play the main role, but without China there will be no agreement. In a pact with geopolitical implications that go beyond Ukraine, Beijing will try to take advantage and ensure that its interests are reflected.

– Is the risk of a nuclear threat credible?

– I would say no, but I also thought there would be no war… On February 17 in a letter to the US, Russia still adhered to the Minsk agreements. Just that week in a couple of conferences that I gave, I thought that those agreements were going to go ahead. And I didn’t get it right, so lately when I’m asked ‘do you think this or that is going to happen?’, I prefer not to get wet. I would say no, but…

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