The war of two powers in Ukraine

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By GILBERTO LOPES*

We are watching the United States trying to postpone its gradual loss of hegemonic power, with the world watching the death throes of Pax Americana

This is not a war between Russia and Ukraine, but a war on Ukrainian territory between two nuclear powers that believe they are defending essential strategic interests. This is the opinion of a veteran and renowned Brazilian diplomat, Jorio Dauster, currently a business consultant.

Or, in the words of Luis Cebrián, former director of the Spanish daily El País, this is not a war between Russia and Ukraine, but a proxy war between NATO and Russia. A war from which neither of the two can emerge absolutely defeated “if we want a lasting peace in Europe”, or avoid the outbreak of a third world war.

For Jorio Dauster, what we are seeing “is the tragic evolution of a conflict for power that has little or nothing to do with the enjoyment of democracy by the Ukrainian people”. It is the impossibility for Russia to accept the expansion of NATO to its surroundings. No Russian, we are reminded, forgets that Napoleon and Hitler reached Moscow across the vast Ukrainian plains.

Luis Cebrián, in an article published in El País, on August 13th, calls for an analysis not only of the proximate causes of this war, but also of the distant causes. He cites Washington's sponsorship of the 2014 coup d'état in Ukraine, Russia's invasion of Crimea, and the election of Jens Stoltenberg as NATO Secretary General, "who adopted an opportunistic policy of declaring cooperation with Russia and sending of forces for the countries of Central Europe”. The immediate consequence of this war, said Luis Cebrián, was the absorption of the European Union into a military alliance.

What is at stake

What we are seeing in Ukraine, summarized Jorio Dauster, “is an attempt by the United States, using NATO as a mass of maneuver, to postpone its gradual loss of hegemonic power, threatened by the impetuous rise of China”.

The United States was determined to prevent Germany and much of Europe from becoming an “energy colony” of Russia. This explains the destruction of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines, which supplied Germany with cheap Russian gas, in attacks whose perpetrators remained in well-lit shadow.

The nature and importance of what was at stake for Washington in the Ukraine conflict was evident from the outset, with the rapid mobilization of NATO and the amount of resources allocated to this war, which now amount to almost 100 billion dollars. Added to this is Joe Biden's August 10 request to Congress for an additional $40 billion in emergency spending, $24 billion of which is earmarked for Ukraine, including $9,5 billion to replenish Ukrainian artillery ammunition and other equipment and $3,6 billion for military intelligence support. A package to meet the needs of this war during the next US fiscal quarter, which begins in October.

The budget requested by Joe Biden also includes $12 billion to replenish reserves for natural disasters, following the fire that destroyed an island in Hawaii.

But it's not just the US. Germany announced in mid-August that it would provide $5,5 billion in annual military aid to Ukraine over the next three years. To measure these expenses, several comparisons can be used. It might be useful, for example, to compare them with the amount of 33,2 billion dollars managed by the BRICS Development Bank (the coalition that brings together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, in whose capital they will meet in August) for infrastructure and sustainable development projects. When it was created, in 2015, the bank created a contingent reserve fund of US$100 billion to face possible balance of payments problems in member countries.

The death rattles of the Pax Americana

For Jorio Dauster, we are watching, “in real time, the death throes of the Pax Americana”, established with the end of socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union itself. If Jorio Dauster is right (and it seems to me that he is), there are two scenarios to consider if we want to understand the state of a game – like chess – that is in the middle of the game.

One, more immediate, is the development of the war, the scene of the conflict. The other requires higher headlights and a look at different horizons, which we'll come back to in another article. On the development of the war, there is no other resource than to resort to available public information, very abundant and diversified. Samuel Charap, senior political scientist at Rand Co. titled a controversial article, published in Foreign Affairs of June 5th,An Unwinnable War”. The idea of ​​an “unwinnable” war does not appeal to Ukraine's rulers or allies. her own Foreign Affairs promoted a discussion on Samuel Charap's proposal and referred us to three texts that could serve as a basis for the debate.

One of them, published in October last year, was written by Andriy Zagorodnyuk, Ukraine's defense minister between 2019 and 2020, in which he pointed the way to victory for his country. To win, he said, “Ukraine doesn't need a miracle; it only needs the West to increase the supply of sophisticated weaponry”. It was clear to him that Vladimir Putin, in desperation, was losing on the battlefield, that he would not prevail against Ukraine and that he had no chance against NATO. Only Russia's defeat, he added, could put an end to Vladimir Putin's growing ambitions which, in case of victory, would extend to Europe, beyond Ukraine.

An opinion that Steven Myers, a US Air Force veteran and member of the State Department's Advisory Committee on International Economic Policy during two administrations, does not share. In statements to USA Today, last July, Steven Myers claimed that Russian military tactics were “absolutely inconsistent” with the conquest of Ukraine and other territories. In his opinion, “the agenda was, is and will always be to keep Ukraine out of NATO at any cost”.

with high beams

It might be worth looking back a little further. Andrei V. Kozyrev, Russia's foreign minister from October 1990 to January 1996 under Boris Yeltsin, now a US resident and a strong critic of Vladimir Putin, predicted a regime change in Russia in an article published at the New York Times on July 20, 2015. A year earlier, after the coup d'état in Ukraine, Russia had annexed Crimea, following a largely majority referendum in favor of the measure.

Andrei V. Kozyrev analyzed the situation and concluded that “regime change in Russia is inevitable, perhaps imminent”. “The Russian government,” he added, “is simply incompatible with the reforms needed for sustainable economic development, which requires liberalization and competitiveness.” This was said in July 2015!

Eight years later, in July 2023, the Foreign Affairs again discussed whether or not Ukraine should negotiate with Russia. “The debate on how to end the war” was the subtitle of the text. Aliba Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis, and Daniel Fried, former US ambassador to Poland, defended the idea that “Ukraine should look for victory and not compromise”.

If the goal is to stop Russia from threatening democracies around the world, says Dmytro Nattalukha, chairman of the Ukrainian parliament's Economic Affairs Committee, an armistice in Ukraine would not help. The goal would be a less anti-Western Russia and, for that, “Vladimir Putin cannot remain in power”.

A ceasefire under current conditions would mean "a victory for Russia and a personal triumph for Vladimir Putin," said Volodymyr Zelensky's adviser, Mikhail Podoliak, shortly after the "peace conference" held in early August in Saudi Arabia. A few days later, Stian Jenssen, chief of staff to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, said at a forum in the Norwegian city of Arendal that one possibility to end the conflict would be for Ukraine to agree to cede territory to Russia in exchange for joining NATO. . The proposal was rejected by Ukraine. Mikhail Podoliak himself classified it as “ridiculous”, forcing Stian Jenssen to explain himself.

Mikhail Podoliak returned to the debate, rejecting former French President Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal to hold referendums "under strict international control" in the four regions claimed by Russia and Crimea, as a way to resolve the conflict. Mikhail Podoliak called it "fantastic" and "criminal" and reiterated that the only way to end the conflict is with Russia's defeat.

A view similar to that of Lawrence Freedman, Professor Emeritus of War Studies at the King’s College from London. For Lawrence Freedman, Vladimir Putin is running out of options in Ukraine, where in all scenarios – military, economic and diplomatic – the results are negative for Moscow.

A Russian victory "would be a catastrophe" for NATO, said Lawrence Freedman, who thinks it best to drive Russia out of Ukraine and degrade its military in the process. But the still very optimistic assessments of Ukraine's prospects published as late as June or July have faced a different reality.

For Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, a close ally of Moscow, the goals of Russia's "special military operation" have already been achieved. When this war ends, Ukraine will never again be as aggressive against Russia as it was before, it will be different, he said. He added: "Ukraine must stop the war and start rebuilding its state on healthier foundations, before it completely ceases to exist." It is the same tone as in Moscow, which he proposed to the Ukrainian military, last Friday, August 18th, that they either overthrow the Kiev regime or lay down their arms.

A negotiated deal?

There is no doubt that Ukraine faces an existential threat, in the opinion of John Mearsheimer, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and one of “the most famous critics of US foreign policy since the end of the Cold War,” according to the magazine The Atlantic.

John Mearsheimer does not believe in a negotiated solution. Each party sees the other as an existential threat, which must be defeated on the battlefield. Under these conditions, there is little room for compromise. “Russians will conquer more than the 23% of Ukrainian territory they already conquered”, which will leave Ukraine as a dysfunctional state, incapable of waging a major war against Russia. “The best solution, for now, is a frozen conflict,” he said.

But Podoliak asked himself: “Why propose a freeze on the conflict, as Russia wants, instead of accelerating the supply of weapons to Ukraine?” At this point, it doesn't seem like an option capable of changing the course of the war. On the battlefront, Moscow's assessment in mid-August was that Ukraine's military efforts to break through its lines had failed. According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, since June, the Ukrainian army has lost more than 43 men and about XNUMX pieces of heavy equipment, including dozens of Western, US and German tanks.

Reflections on the forms of peace, including Europe's relations with Russia, are beginning to emerge, albeit in an incipient form. But, above all, its effects in an international scenario such as the one that Jorio Dauster envisages, with the United States trying to postpone its gradual loss of hegemonic power, with the world watching the death throes of the Pax Americana, established with the end of socialism in Eastern Europe and of the Soviet Union itself. In this scenario, building peace will require more wisdom than the decision to go to war.

*Gilberto Lopes is a journalist, PhD in Society and Cultural Studies from the Universidad de Costa Rica (UCR). Author, among other books, of Political crisis of the modern world (Uruk).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.


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