Russia’s War On Ukraine in 2023

It’s hard to see how Russia’s war on Ukraine ends. It could end today, with an edict from Vladimir Putin that the Russian military stand down and begin a withdrawal from all Ukrainian territories. Negotiation would be needed to assure safe passage back to Russia, but the shelling could end today.

It’s hard to see how the war ends because it has reversed so many of our expectations. That we had come to the end of imperial wars. That Russia was a competent military power. It would be good to make 2023 the year we recognize that much we believed no longer holds. That goes beyond the war.

Ruth Deyermond, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of War Studies in King’s College London, specializes in Russian foreign and security policy, US-Russia relations, and European security. She wrote an outstanding Twitter thread that I mostly agree with, so I’ll use it as the framework for a turn-of-the-year post on Russia’s war.

Pre-24 Feb, it was just about possible for NATO/EU states to think that the political and security order that emerged from the end of the Cold War was still in place. That’s gone, however uncomfortable that fact may be.

Just as importantly, recognise that whatever replaces it will be a product of the way Russia’s war against Ukraine ends. That has implications for how much/what kind of assistance Western states give Ukraine and what kind of diplomatic engagement they have with Russia.

Western politicians inevitably shape policy in the context of electoral cycles, which increases pressure to be able to present a timely win and to keep down costs.

These are not pressures that improve thinking on security and foreign policy problems (e.g. the US’s 1990s Russia policy). Pushing for everything to be wrapped up before the 2024 US election cycle needs to be resisted won’t give you what you want. This is one of many reasons to…

There may be a point at which the war can be ended by talks and compromise (though not all wars are and there are good reasons to think this one may not) but this is not that point.

Recognise that it’s possible for Russia to be militarily defeated in Ukraine – which involves recognising that pre-war assumptions about Russian military might were deeply flawed.

Recognise, too, that Russian influence on, eg, CSTO states and Russia’s position in relation to powerful partners like China is much weaker now. All these things have important consequences for how you think about the war and the future shape of international security.

[My comment] This admonition is mainly for the media, but it’s easy to slip into a view of an ongoing war in which both sides are shooting at each other and thus bear some responsibility. From all the reporting so for, though, Ukraine has been adhering to the laws of war, by direction from the top down. Russia has not. The war started in the crime of aggression by Russia.

[My comment] Russia isn’t going away. Its leadership has made stunningly bad decisions over the past year. It will continue to be a part of the world, and we need to think about how to deal with that. It will depend on how the war ends, and there are numerous possibilities. We should be thinking about them now, not simply wishing that Vladimir Putin will depart the scene or that Russia will break up or withdraw into itself. Those futures are of low probability.

[My comment]  The Silicon Valley vulture capital set has weighed in on the war, leaning toward the Russian side. A small subset of Republican politicians share their views. They clearly have no expertise in Russia, Ukraine, or warfighting, but they are eager to make their views public. We need to understand why that is.

Above all, listen to experts from the region. If you’re organising a seminar on Ukraine and you haven’t invited any Ukrainian academics, think again. If you’re trying to book experts for media interviews on Ukraine, talk to Ukrainian scholars and journalists.

Continuing to help Ukraine resist invasion involves the risk of escalation. But not helping Ukraine would confirm Russian govt ideas about Western weakness, which also risks escalation.

Ukraine expelling Russia from Crimea is dangerous. But Russia continuing to occupy Crimea is also dangerous for the whole Black Sea region, and thus the whole of NATO, as well as for Ukraine.

[My comment] The takeaway from this thread should be that nothing in our relations with Russia will be the same as it’s been, and it’s not possible now to envision what those relations will be like. But we need to think about the possibilities.

Cross-posted to Lawyers, Guns & Money

2 comments

  1. The Blog Fodder · 27 Days Ago

    And just what will Russia escalate with? People act like they have some secret military stashed away, hidden in the trees. The west by not giving Ukraine the weapons it needs to finish the war are guaranteeing that in spring, or before, Russia will launch another major offensive against Ukraine. They have nothing with which to escalate against NATO, though they might trigger Article 5 just to force NATO’s hand and give them an excuse for losing.

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    • Cheryl Rofer · 25 Days Ago

      In terms of conventional forces, this is a really good question. The problem comes when Putin feels he must escalate and nukes are all he has left.

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