What if Ukraine Wins—Or Loses?

Part One of Four. This is a series of pieces talking about the implications of a Ukrainian victory or a Russian victory on situations around the world. Heads up—each Part will be a long-ish read.

There is a great deal of angst over the possibility of the US getting too far involved in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We already have enough domestic problems, from high inflation; oil/gas dependency on others; immigration, particularly illegal; the isolationist’s question of why we should get involved at all with Russia’s war on Ukraine. There also is considerable concern about overprovoking Russian President Vladimir Putin, to the point he initiates a nuclear war.

What, though, happens after the war is concluded, one way or the other? The answers here inform why we should care about Russia’s war against Ukraine. I’ll elide the false-choice premise underlying the angst that we must choose between domestic matters and Ukraine.

First some background: how we got to this remove, where Putin’s armies are solidly inside Ukraine and actively destroying cities. My original impression of this was that Putin was carrying out the Mongolian model for handling cities and their populations when the cities refuse meekly to surrender. However, given the evidence of deliberate and broad-scale rape, murder, pillage being revealed as Ukrainian forces reenter cities occupied by Putin’s armies after the latter began withdrawing, I’m driven to conclude that this is being executed as a matter of Russian state policy of terrorism.

The beginning goes back to the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but I’ll pick up the tale[1] with the Barack Obama (D) administration’s actions in Syria. Obama’s performance there is the US’ first signal to Putin. Obama made clear in 2012 that Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his Syrian people would be a red line necessitating a hard response. Al Assad used the chemicals, and Obama chose not to respond beyond working with Russia to get al Assad to claim to agree to destroy his remaining chemicals.

The US’ second signal centers on the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances[2] in which the US, UK, and Russia guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty in return for surrendering the nuclear weapons it had retained when it became independent of the dissolving USSR. In early 2014, Russia, in support of Ukrainian dissidents, invaded the Donbas region of Ukraine, and it expanded out of its naval base in Crimea’s Sevastopol to seize Ukraine’s entire peninsular Autonomous Republic of Crimea (so named by the Ukrainian legislature in 1994). Ultimately, Russia retained its presence in a significant fraction of the Donbas and absorbed Crimea into the Russian body. The Obama administration acquiesced to this abrogation of the Memorandum.

The third US signal occurred during the Donald Trump (R) administration. In 2018, al Assad again used chemical weapons against his Syrian population, and in support of his own red line and French President Emmanuel Macron’s 2017 red line, the US launched cruise missile strikes against a number of Syrian military facilities. The UK and France participated in the retaliatory strikes. When al Assad used chemical weapons against his people again later in 2018 and yet again in 2019, the Trump administration did not respond.

The fourth signal was a combined US-NATO one. Trump bluntly hectored European NATO members to step up their contributions to NATO by increasing their military spending to their 2014-agreed 2% of GDP[3], or else the US would need to reconsider its own commitment to NATO. The desired result was only partly achieved: the number of member nations that increased their spending to the committed levels rose to 11 of the 30 members[4].

The fifth signal was a German one. Then-Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed to raise German spending to the agreed level under pressure from Trump, but only by the “2030s”[5] instead of the 2025 deadline agreed in that NATO-wide 2014 commitment.

The current signals are combined US-NATO, again, and they’re occurring during the current Russian invasion. President Joe Biden (D) is centering the level and type of military weapons transferred to Ukraine on what will provoke Putin the least, rather than what will help the Ukrainian military the most, and what will help Ukraine actually win the war inflicted on it. This is illustrated by Biden’s decision to block the offered transfer of a squadron’s worth of Polish MiG-29s to Ukraine[6] and Poland’s insistence that the MiGs be transferred via the US’ Ramstein AB[7], rather than letting Ukrainian pilots fly them directly to Ukraine. It’s further illustrated by the US’ and NATO’s reluctance to transfer to Ukraine anti-aircraft missile systems capable of reaching high-flying Russian combat aircraft[8]. It’s also illustrated by Ukraine’s current request for tanks[9] and other armored weapons so that it can drive the Russian armies back out of Ukraine and US’ and NATO’s reluctance because those weapons would be too provocative[10]. It’s also signaled by Biden’s repeated refusal, along with his advisors’ repeated refusals, to say that Ukraine can, and must, win its war against Russia; they’re only willing to say that we must support Ukraine in its fight.

All of that signaling added up, in Putin’s mind, to the capacity of Russia to invade and seize Ukraine with no serious Western response, and so in he went and on he presses his assault.

Now to the victory conditions. These are my definitions, done for the sake of this essay; they’re starkly set out solely for clarity of the differences of two possible sets of outcomes.

Russia wins: Russia controls Kyiv, Odessa, the “southern land corridor” through Mariupol; Ukraine agrees to “neutrality;” small, police force oriented military; accepts the independence of “Donetsk People’s Republic” and “Luhansk People’s Republic;” and accepts Crimea as part of Russia. In the extreme, Russia occupies all of Ukraine.

Ukraine wins: Russia is driven completely out of Ukraine, including from Crimea and Sevastopol, and the Donbas. (Note that this condition currently is somewhat countered by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his chief negotiator Davyd Arakhamia insisting that no agreement can be signed until all Russian forces are returned to their 23 Feb 2022 positions—the status quo ante bellum—which would leave Russia occupying Crimea and much of the Donbas.)

There are a couple of factors that underlie any post-Russia-Ukraine war environment; both of them center on the People’s Republic of China. One is the PRC’s 2017 National Intelligence Law[11]. This law requires that [a]ny organization or citizen shall support, assist and cooperate with the state intelligence work…. It goes on to authorize “state intelligence” to require relevant organs, organizations and citizens to provide necessary support, assistance and cooperation. That’s a theme of the Law: any citizen, any business operating within the PRC can be required to provide to the PRC’s intelligence community any information that community demands. In keeping with PRC law generally, this applies as well to foreign businesses operating in any fashion within the PRC and any PRC-domiciled business operating in, or with affiliates operating in, foreign nations.

The other underlying factor is a collection of economic agreements[12],[13],[14] between the PRC and Russia covering the joint exploitation of Russia’s Siberian resources and the construction of PRC enterprise-owned factories in Siberia. These agreements are associated with large in-migrations of PRC citizens into Siberia, all to the consternation of the relatively few Russians (only 38 million in all of Siberia, from the Bering and Chukchi Seas to the Ural Mountains) sparsely populating the land.

[1] Except where otherwise noted, the dates of the events in this section are from Wikipedia

[2] https://bit.ly/38pkWxc

[3] https://bit.ly/3DvEbR7

[4] https://bloom.bg/3tTI7YX

[5] https://bit.ly/3ND1ZHp

[6] https://nbcnews.to/35re6WS

[7] https://reut.rs/3tSy0DI

[8] https://bit.ly/3LxQTSw

[9] https://tgam.ca/3DsHb0I

[10] Czech Republic has since been transferring T-72 tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and howitzers to Ukraine, which is a tremendous move, but wholly inadequate by itself.

[11] https://bit.ly/3IXrLTh

[12] https://nyti.ms/3Nwv33o

[13] https://bit.ly/3Dxd9sW

[14] https://bit.ly/3LsM4K4

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