If there was one image from the recent G7 conference in Germany and NATO conference in Spain, it’s the war weariness on some faces of the main NATO nations over the ongoing war of attrition in Ukraine.
Clearly and militarily, given the nuclear arsenal which Putin possesses, an all-out war with Russia is off the table. This is not Kuwait, Iraq or Afghanistan where the Western powers can simply roll in their tanks, troops and planes.
Given Putin’s notorious Satan II missiles, a head-to-head conflict with Russia would produce a global catastrophe of Biblical proportions.
But another key bitter pill has been swallowed - the ongoing conflict is Ukraine is having an equally disastrous effect on the cost of living crisis with food and fuel prices rocketing.
Putin may have the resolve to make the Russian people suffer over Ukraine, but do Western electorates have the same stomach for a long-term conventional campaign? Could Putin be playing a long-term game of either starving or freezing the Western powers to the negotiating table over Ukraine?
Much has already been promised and delivered by the West in terms of aid, arms and taking in refugees. Is Putin’s own long-term strategy of attrition one whereby he ‘empties’ Ukraine of the majority of its citizens and simply rolls in his tanks?
Likewise, is Putin’s surprise ace card to wait until nations, such as Germany and the Republic of Ireland, take in a sizeable Ukrainian population in terms of refugees - and then launch terror attacks against those communities on German and Irish soil?
If the cost of living crisis gets out of hand because of the cost of the war in Ukraine, at what point do the Western powers admit ‘enough is enough’ and agree to face-to-face talks with Putin over a negotiated resolution to the war?
At this point, two major alarm bells start ringing. One is a comment from former Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionist Party in 2017 shortly after Sinn Fein collapsed the then power-sharing Executive at Stormont; a collapse which lasted three years.
In February 2017, Mrs Foster noted: “If you feed a crocodile, it will keep common back for more.”
Applied to the crisis in Ukraine, if the West agreed to give Putin a section of the Ukrainian land mass which was exclusively Russian-speaking, what are the chances of Putin totally withdrawing his forces from the remainder of Ukraine - or would be simply return in a few months’ time with his tanks? Or could the land swop be that Ukraine gets part of the Ukrainian speaking region of Belarus?
Then again, because of the huge losses which the Russian forces have already suffered in Ukraine, would such a peace deal give Putin his ‘opt out of Ukraine’ excuse without losing face either back home in Moscow or on the international stage.
Such a high stakes gamble also reeks of the notorious 1938 Munich Agreement, which was a failed attempt to appease Nazi tyrant Adolf Hitler, and did not stop the outbreak of World War Two or end the horrors of the Holocaust.
The September 1938 Munich Agreement was a ‘deal’ between Nazi Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy which permitted German annexation of the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia, territory which contained three million folk of German origin.
To end the suffering in Ukraine, is there an area of that current nation whose people are more Russian than Ukrainian? Would giving him this token territory appease Putin and end the suffering? Or, as Foster warned, would ‘Crocodile Putin’ simply come back for more in a few months time as Hitler did in 1939?
Then again, just as Hitler did not fully enjoy the support of all his senior military staff for war, if Putin was physically ‘off the scene’, would the next Russian administration grab a Munich-style agreement on Ukraine like a hungry wolf at a lamb?
With the nuclear option a clear non-starter, it will now be a case of who will blink first. Can Putin continue to use conventional warfare in Ukraine in the hope the Russian people will not topple him in a new revolution, or will Western voters get so tired of the poverty crisis they tell their leaders to ‘do the deal with Putin’
Perhaps the real deal could come through conventional warfare means with previously neutral nations such as Sweden and Finland now being ‘fast-tracked’ into NATO, effectively creating a new Western front in Europe.
The bitter reality of this war in Ukraine is that Western democracies are all very principled about combatting Putin, until the war creates a cost of living crisis whereby voters have to face the stark choice of ‘heat or eat’.
It’s not the cost of shells and bullets in Ukraine which will decide the outcome of this war, but the cost of food and fuel for the voters in the NATO nations.
Follow Dr John Coulter on Twitter @JohnAHCoulter
Listen to commentator Dr John Coulter’s programme, Call In Coulter, every Saturday morning around 10.15 am on Belfast’s Christian radio station, Sunshine 1049 FM. Listen online.