Interview with Peter Frankopan, Professor of Global History, Director of the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research and Senior Research Fellow at Worcester College, Oxford University.
What is your view on the latest developments in Ukraine? What do you think is Russia's ultimate objective in Ukraine?
One of the big problems is that Putin and the gang around him do not know their objectives in Ukraine – and certinaly not their ultimate objectives. The initial plan was clearly to subjugate the entire country and turn it into Belarus. This was based on a series of assumptions and spectacular misjudgments, but it had gone wrong within 72 hours. From that point, the landscape of the objective has kept moving, making the position both exceptionally dangerous and volatile. What is remarkable about Putin’s speech when he announced the annexation of four parts of Ukraine was that he more or less did not mention Ukraine at all: his long and rambling speech was about the West in the age of empires and slavery; about the Second World War and about the US being a malignant actor. So Russia’s objectives have turned into something that has nothing to do with Ukraine. That makes the coming weeks and months very difficult as it is unclear what Russia wants or thinks the problem is. From Putin’s speech, it would seem that Satanists, transgender people, and Anglo-Saxons are responsible for ruining the world. If he is right (in an alternative reality), how to fix this is not clear.
What can the West do more to help Ukraine?
I think the West is doing and has been doing a great deal since before the invasion started. I do not see any slow-down in the very profound support that has been given. While we talk a lot about the West propping up Ukraine, I think one of the most striking things since February has not just been the bravery and determination of the Ukrainian people but their ingenuity too to create, build, adapt and defend their country. The West can take some credit. But Ukraine is still standing because of its own people.
What do you think are the highest risks for Ukraine right now, and how can Ukrainian leadership cope with them?
Putin and the Russian leadership are the most significant challenge. I cannot see any scope for negotiation or settlement, so escalation provides one significant risk; but combat, material and physical exhaustion is another – especially within Russia: at some point, the music stops, and it is very likely that risks will magnify when that happens. So I would be thinking carefully about managing that process by first understanding what it would involve.