Russia has a now or never dilemma in Ukraine

Kalev Stoicescu of ICDS has written a great commentary on Russia’s demands in relations to the saber rattling on the border to Ukraine. The piece is titled Russia’s President Demands Ukraine in Exchange for Peace, which seems to be a fair way to summarize Putin’s lates list of demands. Stoicescu’s basic argument is that Russia’s demands are horrendous and reflect a worldview that is reminiscent of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

But I do think he gets the Russian logic wrong on this point:

It is far from clear why Russia is in such a hurry. Putin and his closest associates cannot think that Ukraine will join NATO any time soon. NATO agreed at Bucharest in 2008 that Ukraine would become a member of NATO, but there is evidently no consensus in the Alliance to make this happen anytime soon. While Russia’s belligerence could speed up this process, instead of slowing or stopping it, the decisive fact will still be that Ukraine’s territories are annexed or controlled by Russia. A country that does not control its entire territory and borders and is in a state of (undeclared) war cannot join the Alliance. And Ukraine is unlikely to give up Crimea and the occupied areas of the Donbas.

For Russia it is not only about preventing Ukraine from joining NATO. It is about preventing Ukraine from becoming Western in a broader sense. Just six months ago, Vladimir Putin himself wrote a semi-intellectual article ”On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians“ where the central point is that the existence of Ukraine is a historical misunderstanding. If things were right, Ukraine would really be a part of Russia – or at least closely aligned.

But the leaders in the Kremlin have realized that time is not on their side when it comes to Ukraine. For every year since 2014, Ukraine is getting stronger. The nation is more united than ever, and the Ukrainian military is increasing its strength to a point where Russian dominance on the battlefield is no longer guaranteed.

It is dawning for Putin that he will go over in history as the Russian leader who lost Ukraine forever. And that realization is dangerous, because it leads to a mindset of now or never. The choice can easily be framed as either you do nothing and lose in the long run, or you do something bold and hope it can set a new direction. That’s why Russia is in a hurry, and it’s why there may come a war even though nobody really wants it.

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3 responses

  1. O. Jung Avatar
    O. Jung

    Really sound analysis, for sure Putin felt that if he didn’t take action, he would loose Ukraine forever… And, well, the analysis was right… Unfortunately….

  2. Sean Carsty Avatar
    Sean Carsty

    .In the early 2000’s there were Nato countries holding exercises in Ukraine, even in Crimea!, but the political tendencies in Ukraine that elected Yushchenko president twice were finding expression, although he was twice twice overthrown him by street demonstrations. The second time was particularly blatant and that was why Putin took Crimea. The rebellion in Donbass was a real indigenous one, although it received essential support from Russia. The election of Zelensky was due to a desire for peace but nationalist demonstrations made him do a U turn after initially agree to enact the provisions of the Minks accords that Ukraine had agreed to to end the Donbass low level conflict.

    “NATO agreed at Bucharest in 2008 that Ukraine would become a member of NATO, but there is evidently no consensus in the Alliance to make this happen anytime soon”. That was true but American gets what it wants , which is why since Biden came in Ukraine has been getting special favours Crucially, the 2008 declaration on membership ceased to be a dead letter (even though Georgia the other country announced to be joining by Nato in 2008 was attacked months later by Russia). In 2021 Nato officially reiterated that Ukraine would join at some point, and a menacing Russian build up started Later last year Ukraine used Turkish drones and Javelins in combat for the first time, and the the second build up began. So that 2021 announcement by Nato in combination with the use of drones and advanced anti tank shoulder weapons was the cause of Putin deciding Ukraine was now part of the Western military alliance against Russia and “that being the case, we’ll fight). It is not clear that another Russian leader would have decided differently. It may be mentioned that both Yeltsin and Putin asked if Russia could join Nato

    “For every year since 2014,” The Ukrainian armed forces got more professional, but did not get lethal weapons from America during the tenure of Obama (he vetoed Blinken’s wish to supply them). Trump reluctantly authorised some, but when Biden came in (with Blinken as his chief advisor on the issue) the tenor of American led support changed as evidenced by the US getting Nato to give the June 2021 public re-announcement of the 2008 declaration on Ukraine joining sometime in the future. And since late 2021 they started using US advanced weapons on the rebel Ukrainian ethnic Russians. So no, I do not think that it was a slow dawning on the Kremlin, i think it was unambiguous evidence furnished by the Biden administration that Ukraine was going to be part of what is an unambiguous anti Russian military alliance that made them decide war was necessary. They made a better job of it than the US did invading Cuba. .

  3. Stephen Kastl Avatar
    Stephen Kastl

    Have you ever been to Russia and who funds your “Royal Danish Defense Clown College?” Do you read history, such as wars occurring during 1812? 1941? Please educate yourself before writing anymore jingoistic articles justifying aggression leading to war, technically called a war crime. This is what NATO Is doing, as if you even care as long as you get a salary. Is $ more important to you than integrity.

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