Will Durant, the distinguished American historian, philosopher and author of the 11-volume “Story Of Civilization” wrote “War is always the result of a longer period in history and each time the price goes up.”
Looking at origin of the conflict in Ukraine, the supposition this was caused by ignoring Russian security interests has undoubtedly “some” merit, but is not limited to this. As Zbigniew Brzezinski has noted in 1994 and also expressed in his book “The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives”, “not all of the Russian security concerns lacked legitimacy or were motivated by malevolent motives.”
A view which has been recognized by former U.S. Ambassador John F. Matlock, George F Kennan, who set out the strategic vision that would define US policy towards the former Soviet Union, and by CIA head William J. Burns, one of the few Russian specialists and backed by the former Defense Secretary William Perry and the noted scholar John Mearsheimer.
The lessons of history is, after the Cold War ended in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union the West until today failed to take a page from the book Count Clemons von Metternich wrote at the Congress of Vienna of 1815, when after the fall of Napoleon, a new security system for Europe was developed that included France to create a lasting peace.
Since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 the philosophy in international relationships is based on the principle of sovereignty; namely that a country’s internal affairs are free for it and you don’t interfere unless it threatens you, or breaches a treaty, or triggers an obligation of alliance.
In the world of sovereign national states, nations aim to maximize control over their own affairs whereby international sovereignty means that the state wants the ability to make its own decisions on both domestic and foreign policy, free from outside interference.
The international institutions we have place a high premium on the rule of law and essentially define the rights and obligations that should guide state behavior. These institutions are designed to guide and are useful tools of statecraft when states have mutual interests and facilitate cooperation between them, but do not enforce the agreed rules.
But great states only follow the rules and respect the rights when this is in their national and strategic interests or when this has no consequences, as there is no superior and centralized authority above states to protect or enforce these rights on the world states.
In today’s anarchic world the day to day reality is states in the fight for self-preservation compete for power based on “balance of power” policies, when conflicts are an ever present possibility and nations when matters of vital security are at play will do whatever they think is in their self-interest, regardless of whether this violates prevailing or written rules of international institutions.
This not only applies to Russia, but also to the U.S. as the Afghanistan and Iraq wars showed. Also Argentina, China, France, India, Israel, Saudi Arabia or the U.K. are some of the countries which have the same mindset.
The current events in Ukraine, a sovereign country, which entail atrocities by the aggressor and have a component of genocidal intent, are absolutely devastating. Russia has with the inexcusable annexation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine provinces violated the principle of national sovereignty and international law. This deserves a strategic calculated response, instead of the unlimited moral outrage which can be daily found on the airwaves.
But this is not as simple as our dreams, as Israel, India, China, Morocco and others show annexations are not “things of the past.” The tragedy of history is that most of our European borders are the result of annexations.
Nevertheless, with this Russia is no longer a country with officially recognized borders and placed itself outside the international rule based order and is travelling on the road towards shrinking international significance.
The economic sanctions against Russian interests were a response to the annexation of Crimea, the war in Eastern Ukraine and violations of international law.
In the Kremlin labyrinth, President Vladimir Putin desires to preserve his 19th century values in the 21st century, obsessed with erasing the collapse of the former Soviet Union and seeks to expand Russia’s sphere of influence and change the balance of power in Europe. This is the unacceptable basis of his ultimatum delivered in December 2021, confirming Russia as a security threat to Europe.
With this ultimatum and the following invasion in Ukraine President Putin made a strategic blunder of epic proportions, which ended the grudging acceptance of the impasse in Crimea and Ukraine and put Crimea back on the negotiant table.
With this unacceptable approach Vladimir Putin has limited the strategic alternatives for the Europe Union towards strategic autonomy and made the only logical and strategic choice unavoidable, to oppose Russian expansionism, with any and all means.
At the same time, this coin has two sides and we would be well served to look at history, culture, reasons and motivations on both side of the argument. During the last 200 years Russia has been invaded three times by European armies -by countries that were wealthier and more developed, which is also part of the national consciousness and the security equation. conscious and influences the security calculations.
This at a time the EU has reached the limits of expansion and ending NATO expansion would be an act of self-defense for the alliance itself, giving it the gifts that greater limitation and greater clarity confer.
History shows, the American–Russian antagonistic relationship has always been burdened by an inordinate fear of communism and since 1948 sanctions have been used on countless occasions, but always with minimal results. The present coercive sanctions in place since 2014, instead of engagement, have the objective of Russia’s subordination, excluding Russia from the global equilibrium and to facilitate regime change in the Kremlin.
Without question the sanctions against Russian interests are a two sided sword and Europe is paying the economic price with higher energy and food prices, rising inflation and possibly stagflation. The broad implications of this economic war against Russia will likely last longer than the conflict itself and will take us back to the 1973 oil crisis.
Beneficial for Europe is that this has resulted in the increased diversification and transformation away from fossil fuels towards alternative energy sources, that do not contribute to the greenhouse effect that causes climate change.
However, there should be no illusion, Russia will hardly change, not with or after Vladimir Putin as the same interests that parachuted Vladimir Putin into power will likely select his successor, which transition from Putin to his successor is unlikely to go very smoothly. But above all, with the regime change strategies the Obama and Biden administrations have ignored the evolution of Russia is a Russian issue .
With increasing instability in the Caucasus region and with the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in mind, a transition of a Russia in chaos is a nightmare. In 1991 the Government was bankrupt, the protection of the nuclear arsenal was inadequate, and the country was in turmoil, which leads to the conclusion a weak Russia poses a far greater danger.
In the words of the respected American diplomat Richard N Haas of April 26 2022, “US policy toward Russia continues to be plagued by lack of rhetorical discipline. First calling for regime change, now with the goal of weakening Russia. This only increases Putin’s case for escalating and shifts focus away from Russian actions in Ukraine and toward Russia-U.S./NATO showdown.”
There obviously has been a lack of foresight as to the political end-stand which comes after when the goal of regime-change is realized. It’s reasonable to conclude war is the raison d’être for the American state, which is supporting the permanent US war economy since the late 1940’s.
Today, the situation in Ukraine is that the status quo has not changed much and logic suggests, like Napoleon, and Hitler both sides will bid their time given winter has arrived and which will be difficult to cope with.
Ukraine lost territory and is fighting a defensive war, not an aggressive war which only would increase the unnecessary loss in human lives. Ukraine has regained some territory with the retreat by Russia from Kherson, while the situation in the Luhansk and Donetsk region remains unchanged.
With the war in Ukraine Russia and the leadership in the Kremlin fighting an aggressive, but botched war. In the jargon of geopolitics, Russia enjoyed “escalation dominance” in Ukraine, meaning whatever move Ukraine made, they could match this and go further. The partial mobilization is part of this, but this escalation dominance is due to its military dismal performance during the SMO neglectable.
With the Russian attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure it seeks to break the morale and endurance of an already resilient shattered population. Russia has mobilized troops, of which 50,000 are already at the front; the other 250,000 of those just mobilized troops are preparing for the spring.
Both side stand firm and use the pause to prepare for the Russian spring offensive, which will be key and might tell us how long and how this will end.
In all reality, the sanctions will not bring an end to this conflict and neither will there be an unconditional surrender from either side, which is historically extremely rare (Germany & Japan in 1945).
The world is not a gentlemen’s club and there is a undeniable truth all wars end and have been concluded by a negotiation, which are conducted on the balance of power on the battlefield. In a war, belligerents negotiate either when there is a winner and a loser or when both sides are exhausted. The conclusion of war has always been for thousands of years there is a loser and a winner.
There is this school of thought which suggest that Russia’s high troop losses will ensure Moscow’s defeat in Ukraine, and I wonder if they’ve ever read about Russian history, culture, resilience and how Russia lost and won its past wars.
Also there is the hope that the events may lead to a change in the public perception inside Russia and this might lead to a coup d’état in the Kremlin. This premise seems more based on wishful thinking than on the cold realities in Russia, although this possibility cannot be disregarded.
After eight years of sanctions and isolation, many of the voices of reason and compromise have left the country or have been silenced, and the country has moved towards the “Russian world,” a largely self-contained technological civilization, within its own eco system.
This war shows humanity a mirror and every war needs any form of negotiation to find its end. But for possible negotiations to take place, this would require the core demands of one side would need to change and there is no evidence that this will happen soon.
Ukraine has made this clear and is still fighting for its life and negotiations are unlikely given the core demands of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s 10 points ‘peace formula’ presented at the G20 meeting last November held in Bali, Indonesia on Nov. 15-16, which focuses on justice and retribution for Ukraine as a basis for negotiations.
Ukraine, which economy shrank by more than 30% in 2022 has next to its corruption issues a growing debt problem. The country economy ministry recorded a 30.4% decrease in gross domestic product (GDP), the worst result since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
For its survival the country is on economic and financial life support, in the amount of tens of billions of Dollars/Euro’s to plug its gaping deficit, mainly supplied by the US and the EU. According to the IMF’s April 2022 assessment, Ukraine requires $5 billion in monthly financial assistance from international partners to sustain government functions. For 2023 Ukraine expects to receive $38 billion in external financing to finance priority spending.
The financing needs of Ukraine are not limited to this. The comprehensive evaluation of September 9, 2022 by the Government of Ukraine, the European Commission, and the World Bank, in cooperation with partners, estimated the financing needs for recovery and reconstruction costs in amounts to $349 billion (€349 Billion).
This figure is expected to grow in the coming months as the war continues. Over the next 36 months the RDNA assesses that $105 billion is needed to address urgent needs.
Looking at the strategic options, logic dictates for Ukrainian leadership to accept a total victory is unrealistic and to start to negotiate a reasonable settlement will require compromises and land swaps in order to move forward.
This will not be based on the fantasies of President Zelensky, demanding the return to the 2014 borders, also given the historical and security significance Crimea has for Russia is this problematic. Despite all the rhetoric coming from Kiev, it should be obvious to President Zelenskyy the support of the west is neither unlimited or infinite.
In the present environment the prospects for negotiation are dismal, given the absence of compromise by the belligerents, with the human and economic costs far exceeding the benefits.
The war in Ukraine has wreaked enormous damage, not just in terms of the devastating human cost, but also the harm done to global stability, growth prospects and the chaos wrought on global energy markets.
With this in mind, the war will drag on, possibly for years, until the supporters and financiers of Ukraine in Europe start to consider the costs of this war and decide they have has had enough of this senseless war. Thereby is the challenge how to bring the war in Ukraine to a peaceful end.
Without reservation, there are moral and ethical reasons which justify our continued support to Ukraine, but this support must be strategic and have limits.
The question is after the stalemate of the last eight years what is the balance of power? What is the cost of the war? What are the likely outcomes? What is the best achievable goal at the minimum cost to Ukraine? What is the best achievable goal at the minimum cost to Ukraine? There is also the lesson of history, there are no unlimited resources in war. In the words of Thucydides
With this in mind the realism of General Mark Milley, a keen student of history and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the US highest-ranking military officer and the principal military advisor to the president, the secretary of defense and the National Security Council, was most welcome when he declared in November 2022, “the war in Ukraine is unwinnable by purely military means.“
Milley recalled WWI with the adversaries refusing to negotiate which led to millions of additional deaths, suggesting that failure to “seize” the moment could lead to greatly more human suffering. He noted this winter might be the moment to consider peace talks with Russia.
Although Russia is not known for its ability to compromise much during negotiations, the plain truth is such negotiations are purely theoretical at this point, given the absence of the willingness to compromise.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, for example, has called for a return to the pre-Feb. 24 status quo and has recently suggested the idea of a neutral Ukraine in these conditions is no longer meaningful and a Ukrainian membership in NATO would be an appropriate outcome. His statement reads as follows:
“Before this war I was opposed to membership of Ukraine in NATO because I feared it would start exactly the process we are seeing now. Now that the process has reached this level, the idea of a neutral Ukraine in these conditions is no longer meaningful. And at the end of the process that I described, it ought to be guaranteed by NATO in whatever forms NATO can develop, but I believe Ukrainian membership in NATO would be an appropriate outcome.”
Although a most reasonable approach by the éminence grise Henry Kissinger, a EU and NATO membership of Ukraine, a corrupt country with faulty institutions, would be most concerning for Europeans like me and will shift the fundamental reconfiguration of the power distribution in Europe. Like with the EU eastward expansion this would increase US influence within the European Union, which is most undesirable, also given the U.S. addiction for never ending wars.
It is thereby noteworthy, from a strategic perspective the balance of power is not threatened in Europe as modern states distil their military power from their economic base. By this measure Russia is a minor power, too weak to matter in the great power competition and far too weak to pose a serious challenge to the US or its NATO allies, which is confirmed by Russia battlefield performance.
Given the realities of this conflict, it’s time to look at the next phase and to seek and find a diplomatic solution to this conflict based on the balance of power in Europe, although this does not guarantee stability, but without balance of power, there cannot be stability.
This despite, the regime-change strategies from some of our American friends, with calls for “regime change” and “the weakening and total defeat of Russia.” Interventionists are having the illusion that by escalation Ukraine will win by restoring completely its territorial integrity by spring 2023 at the latest.
This stands in stark contrast with the prediction of General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the war will turn into a “protracted conflict … measured in years.”
With this strategy the US is sleepwalking into a larger conflict and risking military escalation with a nuclear power which approach does not enhance security in Europe. To the contrary, this will destabilize and endanger the world and will further alter the global balance of power.
For Europe the reality is different, historically and culturally Russia is part of our European house and live under the same roof. Despite our ideological and value differences we have no alternative but to coexist respecting the limits of this relationship. With understanding of Russia’s geopolitical goals and security interests, we need to seek and find common ground on issues which divide based on the concept of equality.
There are in Europe also serious and fundamental “differences of appreciation” between the Anglo Saxons and the Eastern Europeans on the one side and traditional Maastricht Europeans on the other side, with regard to the Ukraine and other issues. It would behove CEE members advocating escalation to think seriously about the risks they would be running.
The war in Ukraine is a tragedy for the citizen of Ukraine, but also for Russia and Europe, which suffering and economic consequences in the years to come could have been avoided by acknowledging and addressing the concerns on both sides.
Unfortunately, in any war the longer it lasts, more it is difficult to end it. The anger of each side is growing with the sufferings and makes the necessary concessions to an agreement more and more contested.
But in the arena of geo-politics the war in Ukraine is only a side show, and Ukraine is only a pawn on the global chessboard for US influence in the Eurasian Balkans. The main event is the struggle for global hegemony and this war is intended to divorce and isolate Russia in world affairs and from China and the new emerging international system.
The fact remains, the world order is changing and in the years to come this will request nimbleness, restraint and pragmatism from its actors so they adjust to its fundamental fluidity.
There are good reasons for what Publius Cornelius Scipio (216-183 BEC), more widely known as Scipio Africanus arguably history’s greatest general suggested, namely, that the best way to defeat an enemy army was to surround three sides but leave the fourth side open in order to create what he called a “golden bridge” for a possible retreat, much in the same way as Sun Tzu (544-496 BCE) did in his description of warfare in “The Art of War.”
This can happen once the leadership in the Kremlin has become more conscious to the realities of this conflict and is open to look at the next phase in order to find a diplomatic solution to this conflict.
The “golden bridge” approach can perhaps be taken as guidance, but this conflict cannot be solved, without considering Russian interests, and will require compromises and possibly land swaps.
In a short speech at the recent annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Dr Henry Kissinger proposed a two-step plan. First, establishing a ceasefire when Russia has retreated to the territory it had occupied before the February 2022 invasion. Then, beginning negotiations for a lasting peace:
A cease-fire along the lines of invasion is a reasonable outcome of the military actions and not necessarily the outcome of a later peace negotiation.
Dr Henry Kissinger also said that Russia needed to be allowed to re-establish its position in the international community to avoid making Russia feel that the defense of Ukraine had become a “war against Russia itself.
It is worth considering the effects and results of the words “submit or else,” which have been written in history from Thermopylae to Afghanistan, when attempting to impose one’s will on another.
Undoubtedly, others in US conservative and liberal interventionist circles who fueled 20 years of Middle East carnage, will fundamentally disagree with this argument and view offering Russia a roadmap out of the war as a counterproductive negotiation strategy and an injustice.
The solutions to conflicts by US interventionist are always militarily, demanding a total defeat and economic annihilation of Russia. This fits the common pattern of American maximalism leading to never-ending wars, whereby our Americans friends push for goals that are more ambitious and outside the boundaries of realism and our European thinking.
The interventionist feel moral outrage and see this as a sight of weakness, a validation of Vladimir Putin’s strategy – confirming the west does not have the patience for a prolonged conflict, and this will only embolden Vladimir Putin.
But they ignore, with the savage war in Ukraine Vladimir Putin, a skillful tactician, though scarcely a great strategist has made grave strategic mistakes, which will leave Russia diplomatically isolated, economically crippled and internally divided.
There is a questions what remains to be answered, what to do with a nation of 140 million people, with nuclear weapons, embittered by sanctions and rejecting the West, if this sanction and isolation program succeeds?
Today It’s time for basic realism and cold strategic logic, instead of framing this as a contest and we need to look at the reasons, values and security interests of both sides and to take initiatives leading to the next phase in this senseless conflict and to start building a “golden bridge” to end the human suffering and to create lasting stability and peace after hostilities have ceased, instead of this brutal fight to the death. When there are no options this is what remains, a fight with ferocity and fury to the end which makes the unimaginable possible.
In the labyrinth Vladimir Putin has created, with the intricate layout of its corridors in which most people get lost, the President has isolated himself and Russia more than ever before. In the vertical there are not many friends left who dare to tell the President the truth. In this world he has most likely distrust, resentment and fear as his main companions and everyone is either an enemy or a potential enemy.
In his ivory tower, President Putin may not realize or be willing to accept that he can no longer achieve his objectives in this war and may refuse the option to cross the bridge, but others may be more concerned about Russia’s stability and future and be inclined to enter the golden bridge.
Unless this happens, this fight for U.S. global hegemony and this gamble with the world economy, which has already created havoc in 2022, after the challenges caused by covid in 2021, continues, and this conflict will probably still be ongoing at the beginning of 2024.
This diatribe expresses my personal views and observation.