Has Ukraine already won?

Image: Ramy Kabalan


Comments on the article by Luiz Carlos Azedo in the newspaper “Correio Braziliense”

In general, I really like the articles by the competent journalist Luiz Carlos Azedo, who knows how to make refined analyzes of the backstage of politics in Brasília. Your article titled “Between the lines: There is no point in staying Putin, Ukraine has already won”, however, was not the case. Published on March 01, 2022, it is a classic example of the mistake that the character Don Victor Corleone in the movie “The Godfather 3” warned his nephew (who would succeed him as head of the family Corleone) should never commit: "don't hate your enemies, for it affects your judgment".

Regardless of the feelings each of us may have towards Putin and the clear violation of international law that Russia has committed by invading a sovereign country, violating the UN Charter and all international law, we need to analyze the facts with a brain and a heart. of ice, not with the liver.

The article begins with the phrase “politically and morally, the Russian president is already defeated; he may even occupy Kiev (…) but sooner or later he will have to retreat”. Here Azedo mixes garlic with bugs. The objective of a war is not (necessarily) to win points with world public opinion or to show moral superiority over the rest of the community of nations, but (i) to destroy the enemy's forces and (ii) to occupy the strategic objectives defined in the plans of war. military action. As far as the objectives of the war are concerned, not only is Ukraine very far from achieving them, but on the contrary, it is Russia that, after just 5 days of conflict, is at the gates of Kiev and Karkov, the most important cities in the world. country and has practically cut off Ukraine's access to the Sea of ​​Azov and is on the verge of conquering the entire coastline of Ukraine in the Black Sea, leaving the country with no outlet to the sea.

Unless NATO is willing to escalate the conflict by sending troops to fight in Ukraine, which would convert the conflict into World War III, it is a matter of time before Russia takes control of the regions that really matter in the Ukraine of the military point of view. Against this background, Russia, not Ukraine, has already won.

For an outside observer Russia's “delay” in taking Kiev and Kharkov is a clear sign that Ukrainian resistance is being stronger than expected by the Russians. This may be partly true, but the military history of World War II shows ad-nausean that the seizure of a large urban center requires street-to-street, house-to-house fighting which tends to exact a heavy toll on the invading forces. To reduce this cost, the attacking forces must initially launch a heavy artillery barrage on the city to be conquered in order to reduce the defensive infrastructure to dust.

This is exactly what the Soviet army did over Berlin in April 1945 (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bMjda0rCjY) and even then it took almost a month to conquer the capital of the Third Reich.

A plausible hypothesis is that Putin is not looking to launch an attack of this magnitude at this moment so as not to create incurable resentment among Ukrainians, whom he wants to return to be part of the “Great Russian Empire” that he has long planned to rebuild. .

But let's go back to Azedo's text. The second part of his argument is that “sooner or later” Russia will be forced to withdraw from Ukraine. Okay, that's a possible hypothesis. The question to ask is: why would this happen? Here Azedo makes two historical analogies devoid of any sense. The first is with Iraq in the first Gulf War. In fact, Iraq occupied Kuwait in 1991 and a few months later was forced to retreat. But this did not happen because of the uprising of the local population, but because of the military action coordinated by the United States, United Kingdom and France, which concentrated in Saudi Arabia a military force several times superior – in number and quality of military equipment – ​​to the forces of Iraq. It does not seem to me that NATO is, for the moment, willing to intervene militarily to save Ukraine, but only to send little more than “moral support” to the country.

The second meaningless analogy is with Napoleon Bonaparte's withdrawal from Russia in 1812. Here are some observations: (i) Le Gran Armee never managed to destroy the Russian army, which constantly refused to fight the French invader, aware that Russia was big enough to make tactical retreats without compromising the course of the war and (ii) France was not prepared for a long war and even less to face the general “Russian winter”. It doesn't seem to me that any of these situations are present in the war in Ukraine, because if there's one thing that Russians are quite used to, it's their own winter, which tends to be milder in Ukraine given its position further south.

Although Azedo did not address it in his article, one force that could push Putin to beat a retreat would be the cost of economic sanctions on Russia. The freezing of part of the international reserves of the Central Bank of Russia and the exclusion of some Russian banks from the Swift system led to a run on banks in Russia, a sharp devaluation of the ruble and an increase in the basic interest rate to 20% per annum, which which will certainly raise inflation in Russia and produce a contraction in the level of economic activity, affecting the Russian people in a very negative way.

But here are two observations. First, there is a lot of play in the West's economic sanctions on Russia. The exclusion of the Swift system did not affect payments by European countries for gas imported from Russia, which in itself guarantees the continuity of an important part of Russia's exports to Europe. In addition, the alleged asset freeze of the Russian oligarchs affects only the assets they have in banks in Europe and the US, not the bulk of their financial investments that are in tax havens such as the British Virgin Islands, where economy ministers from countries South Americans also tend to keep their money for retirement.

Secondly, contrary to Brazil, which tied the hands of policy makers with fiscal rules such as the Expenditure Ceiling and with the “autonomy of the Central Bank”, the Russian authorities can make use of various instruments of economic policy – ​​such as the adoption of capital outflow controls from the country on residents of Russia, adopted to cushion the effects of these sanctions on the Russian economy.

Finally, we must make it clear that these economic sanctions have a boomerang on the West: the increase in the prices of oil, gas, wheat, corn, sunflower oil and soybeans will produce an increase in inflation not only in Russia, but in the entire world, and could force the Central Banks of Europe, England and the United States to anticipate the increase in the interest rate expected only for the second semester. The increase in interest rates combined with the acceleration of inflation would be a bucket of cold water in the recovery of the economies of the United States and the European Union after the dramatic effects of the covid-19 crisis. In other words, the West's economic sanctions on Russia will also turn against Western countries.

The domestic side of this imbroglio is that Jair Messias Bolsonaro's re-election chances will turn to dust in the coming months as the economic effects of the war in Ukraine hit the Brazilian economy hard. The “Messias” had better get used to the idea of ​​having to pass the presidential sash to Luís Inácio Lula da Silva in January 2023.

*José Luis Oreiro is professor of economics at UnB. Author, among other books, of Development macroeconomics: a Keynesian perspective (LTC).

Originally published on author's blog.


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