Last week, the Financial Times reported that, “Bank of America cut short an online client conference on geopolitics and apologised to attendees after some balked at what they saw as pro-Russian comments about the war in Ukraine, according to three people who attended the event.
I should add that I received no remuneration for my efforts. I was sufficiently intrigued by the invitation letter, which said, in part, “We all understand complications behind any political forecasting, especially under current challenging conditions. However, I do think that in your research you take a view on the conflict from a very interesting angle, which could be interesting to discuss.”
Apparently, not everyone thought so.
- The war continues for more than year by now with no sign of stopping and there is absolutely no clarity on how it may end and when. However, can I please ask you what is your opinion on how this conflict will end? Why and when? I understand that probably nobody is capable of answering this question with certainty, but hence you are from academia we thought could try to take a “birds eye view” on the issue.
This conflict will most likely end in the same way that most conflicts end, which is when both sides concur that the military outcome is inevitable. The actually achievable objectives then become clear, which is why, after that point, the emphasis will shift from achieving military objectives, to achieving political objectives. Sporadic fighting will continue, but mostly to force a quicker end to the negotiations, rather than to set new goals.
We are not there yet because Ukrainian, Russian, and Western elites are still convinced that victory is achievable.
For Russia such a victory would relaunch Russia as a power with the ability to shape the world order, since it withstood the combined assault of the West. Defeat would be, by contrast, an existential catastrophe for Russia.
For Ukraine, victory must lead to EU and NATO membership, or it would have been a failure. Defeat would also be an existential catastrophe.
The West’s current political leaders see a Russian victory as a catastrophe for the rules based order, and therefore are willing to “pay any price” for victory. So far, however, this price does not include advanced weapons and soldiers, since the consensus objective seems to be to humiliate Russia, but not to see it disintegrate, which would risk even greater global instability. This is a major point of disagreement between the West and the Ukrainian political elite, which seeks the dismemberment of Russia.
There is, however, an alternative group of European leaders, waiting in the wings, who believe that Russian interests must be accommodated for the sake of peace and prosperity in Europe, and to prevent Russia from turning its back on Europe entirely, in favor of China. Historically, this group has seen the EU as an autonomous pole in global affairs. Today it is worried about excessive American dominance leading to a unipolar world, and their voices grow louder every time that Russia seems to be succeeding militarily.
- How do you think resolution can be achieved, what are the key conditions for it and who are the key players to actually deliver it?
The USG is, at this point, opposed even to a ceasefire, not to mention peace between Ukraine and Russia. That is logical because the USA has the most to gain from a prolonged, but controlled conflict: 1) the dramatic increase in EU energy and military dependence on the US means, effectively, an easy and profitable way for the US to reassert its dominance over EU foreign and domestic policy, and to later leverage this dominance in its conflicts elsewhere in the world.
The EU leadership has so far been surprisingly compliant with this strategy, presumably, feeling that the Old Continent has too much invested in the transatlantic relationship to venture out with its own, distinct foreign policy and economic agenda into a multipolar world.
Among other actors close to the United States, only Israel has shown any ability to act on its own. This is no doubt why Naftali Bennett’s’ peace initiative in April 2022 came so close to success, before it was torpedoed by the West.
China is a significant international actor, but from my perspective, it lacks the global military network of the United States. It can therefore play an important role in supporting Russia’s efforts to jumpstart a new multipolar global order, but in Eastern Europe it cannot realize these independently of Russia.
The bottom line, therefore, is that peace will require direct negotiations between the political leadership in Russia and Ukraine, conducted against the wishes of Ukraine’s strongest Western supporters.
Whether or not the Ukrainian leadership under Zelensky can do so is a moot point, since leaders on all sides are seeking to avoid such negotiations, awaiting clarity on the field of battle. They will most likely continue to do so until they can no longer avoid negotiating because the immediate political consequences to themselves would be too dire.
- Can you may be discuss broadly how you see the post-war geopolitical setupin Eastern Europe? May be under various scenarios or may be a more longer term
I think the most likely scenario for the next 3-5 years is an armistice that results in a de facto partition of Ukraine between the regions that Ukraine and Russia currently occupy.
This armistice will not bring peace. Indeed, it may lead to a renewal of large-scale fighting a few more times before the actual line of partition is settled. The examples of Cyprus and Korea are already being mentioned.
If this is the case, then military expenditures in the West would rise, as would American suzerainty over Europe. America could sell this outcome as a victory to domestic audiences.
The EU, on the other hand, would lose even more political and economic autonomy, since the rest of the world would assume, as Russia already does, that all important decision are made in Washington. Despite periodic grumblings about this in France, Italy, Germany, and Bulgaria, I do not see the opposition in those countries mounting a successful challenge to the status quo, since the US would respond by simply shifting its privileged relationship from the Old Europe to the New Europe, and countries like Poland, Lithuania, and Rumania.
Russia will remain a pariah for Europe and the US for a decade or more, enough time to establish a new network of trade relations not just China, but Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and many African and Latin American countries. The Sino-Soviet relationship, if it continues to thrive, will be a model that other nations will seek to emulate, giving Russia greater foreign policy and economic flexibility.
Under any scenario, Ukraine would be the overwhelming loser. Its economy and military capacity eroded, and its industrial capacity devastated even earlier by President Poroshenko’s economic policy of transforming Ukraine into an “agricultural superpower,” as recommended by the EU and the United States.
Its population, now close to 20 million, will continue to be largely motivated, as they have been for the past five years, to search for gainful employment abroad so that they can then invite their families to join them.
If this is what Russia meant by removing Ukraine’s capacity to wage war against Russia, then it will arguably have won.