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Early Calculations of the Russian Losses in the Ukraine War

Early Calculations of the Russian Losses in the Ukraine War

Monday, 7 March, 2022 - 17:45
Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy
Former Egyptian Ambassador and Senior UN official.

The dust has yet to settle on the crisis in Ukraine. How and when it will come to an end is a matter of conjecture: ranging from Moscow succeeding in achieving its objectives in neutralizing Ukraine in one form or the other, restructuring the European security architecture and accelerating the movement towards a multipolar international system, to a total failure that would bring about a change in Russian leadership.

The fact is that it was a crisis in the making did not come as a surprise. There was mounting expectation that Russia would use all the instruments of pressure it possesses, primarily energy and cyber-war, to prevent the Ukraine from joining NATO. What caught the world off guard was Russia’s resort to a "special operation" that included military action.

Russia has legitimate security concerns on its periphery, especially in Ukraine. It has made that abundantly clear since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. It did not content itself with rhetoric, but took action in Georgia in 2008, Crimea and Ukraine in 2014. It also made it abundantly clear that the status quo in Europe, particularly in the former Soviet republics was not acceptable.

The West on the other hand, appeared to be perfectly willing to live with the present situation in spite of the repeated warnings of Moscow. Probably it’s hope was to allow local dynamics to create a fait accompli down the road whereby Ukraine would be part of the West, at least politically and economically and quite possibly militarily. This of course would produce a European security architecture skewed in the West’s favor.

Moscow could not risk such an eventuality. Its patience had run its course. Moreover, it could wait no longer to redesign the European security architecture. It calculated that the time was opportune to force the issue. And Ukraine was the trigger. So much was predicable. What was not foreseen was the resort to force. Until the eleventh hour, there was hope that differences would be settled around the conference table.

Let me be clear , both Russia and before that the Soviet Union and the United States share a similar record when it comes to upholding the principles of the UN Charter, primarily to solve differences by peaceful means and not to use force against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of member states. When it came to securing their national and strategic interests, there was always a pretext for resorting to force, whether it was the invitation by the government (the US in South Vietnam and the Soviet Union in Afghanistan) or combatting terrorism (the US in Afghanistan) or getting rid of weapons of mass destruction (the US in Iraq) or protecting one’s nationals (Russia in Transnistria, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Ukraine).

None of these military interventions produced the desired result. They produced either a failed or broken state or a frozen conflict. Although some argue that a frozen conflict produced the desired result for Russia, namely putting a break on the expansion of NATO.

The crisis in the Ukraine could not have come at a more sensitive time. The international system has been is in transition since the abrupt fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. We have been experiencing periods of turmoil, anxiety, stress and, above all, uncertainty about the future. During this period, we have witnessed conflicting trends: globalization and insular nationalism; liberal economic policies and increased state intervention; open and free trade and increased protectionism; increased movement of peoples across international borders and erection of barriers, both physical and institutional, to stop the flow; free flow of information and the malicious manipulation of such information; unprecedented wealth coupled with what could possibly be the most skewed income distribution in history. During this process the international system shifted from a bipolar, to a unipolar and, now, it appears inching towards a multipolar one.

Meanwhile, the world is still coping with effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it is early to determine its effects, it appears, at this stage, that it has not generated structural changes in the international system, but has merely accelerated already existing trends in the political, economic and social spheres. The most obvious casualty appears to be globalization as countries, or group of countries, strive for a higher degree of self-sufficiency. This will impact financial flows and trade patterns.

During this transition, the Chinese and Russian economic and political models ( political autocracy coupled with a market economy in which the state plays a prominent role) were gradually gaining international currency, particularly amongst developing countries. This was because the perception was the liberal democratic model of the West fell short of effectively addressing the challenges faced by the developing countries and, the Chinese-Russian model appeared to be more adaptable to local economic and political conditions.

What may have added to the appeal of the Chinese-Russian model is the recent agreement of Beijing and Moscow to cooperate - as witnessed by their joint statement on February 4 - in breaking US hegemony and reshaping the international system in a way that better suits their interests. It was also presented as more attuned to the interests of developing countries.

Ironically, although one of the reasons why Russia intervened in the Ukraine may have been to influence the transition to a multipolar world, Russia’s action may cause many developing countries to reconsider their affinity to the Russian model given what appears to be Moscow’s limited ability to confront - in a very wide and diverse theater - the United States and its allies. If anything, the vote on the United Nations General Assembly resolution on March 2, with only five votes in support of Russia (including its own vote) and 141 against with 35 abstentions, including China, should make Moscow take a step back and contemplate.

In conclusion, Russia may have undertaken its military intervention in the Ukraine to address its short and medium term security concerns, to reshape the European security architecture and to accelerate the creation of a multipolar international system, but it may have in the process committed a strategic error in weakening its hand at reshaping the international system.

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