Russia's goals and strategy

Image: Valeria Nikitina


The formulation chosen by Vladimir Putin to define the objectives in Ukraine was very poorly analyzed in the West

Throughout the Cold War, the Soviet Union considered itself the spearhead of a historic struggle that would lead to a confrontation between the “capitalist” system and “progressive forces”. This perception of a permanent and inevitable war led the Soviets to study war in an almost scientific way and to structure such reflection in an architecture of military thought incomparable to that which exists in the Western world.

The problem for the vast majority of those who call themselves “military experts” is their inability to understand the Russian approach to war. This attitude is the result of a type of apprehension already manifested during waves of terrorist attacks: the adversary is so stupidly demonized that we fail to understand his way of thinking. Consequently, we are unable to develop strategies, articulate our forces or even equip them for the realities of war. The corollary of this approach is that our frustrations are translated by the unscrupulous media into a narrative that fuels hatred and increases our vulnerability. We are therefore unable to find rational and effective solutions to the problem.

Russian military thought

The way Russians perceive the conflict is holistic. In other words, they see the processes that develop and lead to a situation at a given time. This explains why Vladimir Putin's speeches invariably include a return to history. In the West, we tend to focus on moment X, and try to see how it could evolve. We want an immediate response to the situation we face today.

The idea that “it is from understanding the origin of the crisis that the path to its resolution emerges” sounds almost completely foreign to the West. In September 2023, an English-speaking journalist even applied the “duck test” to me: “if something looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is probably a duck”. In other words, all the West needs to assess a situation is an image that matches its prejudices. The reality is much more subtle than the duck model.

The reason the Russians are doing better than the West in Ukraine is that they see the conflict as a process, while we see it as a series of singular actions. Russians see events like a movie. We see them as photographs. They see the forest, while we focus on the trees. That's why we like to place the start of the Ukrainian conflict on February 24, 2022, or the start of the Palestinian conflict on October 7, 2023, as if nothing had happened before. We ignore the contexts that disturb us and thus deal with conflicts that we do not understand. This is why we lose our wars.

In Russia, predictably, the principles of military art of the old Soviet forces inspired those that are now in force, namely: (i) readiness to carry out assigned missions; (ii) the concentration of efforts on solving a specific mission; (iii) the surprise (non-compliance) of military action against the enemy; (iv) the purpose as a determinant of a set of tasks and the level of resolution of each of them; the totality of available means as a determinant of the way to solve a mission and achieve the objective (correlation of forces); leadership coherence (unity of command); the saving of forces, resources, time and space; the support and restoration of combat capability; and freedom of maneuver.

It is worth noting that these principles do not only apply to the implementation of military action as such. They are equally applicable, as a system of thought, to other non-operational activities. An honest Western analysis of the conflict in Ukraine would have identified these different principles and drawn perhaps useful conclusions for Ukraine. But none of the self-proclaimed television experts are intellectually capable of this.

Thus, Westerners are systematically surprised by Russians in the domains of technology (e.g., hypersonic weapons), doctrine (e.g., operational art), and economics (e.g., resilience to sanctions). In a way, the Russians take advantage of our prejudices, to exploit the principle of surprise. We can see this in the course of the Ukrainian conflict, where Western discourse led Ukraine to completely underestimate Russian capabilities, which was a relevant factor in its defeat. This is why Russia did not actually try to counter this narrative and let it go forward: the conviction that we are superior makes us vulnerable.

Correlation of forces

Russian military thought, traditionally based on a holistic approach to war, involves the integration of a large number of factors in the development of a strategy. This approach is materialized by the notion of “correlation of forces” (Соотношение сил). Often translated as “balance of forces” or “relation of forces”, this concept is only understood by Westerners as a quantitative value, limited to the military scope. In Soviet thought, however, the correlation of forces rather reflected a more holistic reading of the conditions of war. Therefore, there would be several criteria for considering the correlation of forces.

In the economic domain, the factors usually compared are the gross national product per capita, labor productivity, the dynamics of economic growth, the level of industrial production, especially in high-technology sectors, the technical infrastructure of the production instrument, the resources and qualifications of the workforce, the number of specialists and the level development of theoretical and applied sciences.

In the military sphere, the factors compared are the quantity and quality of weapons, the firepower of the armed forces, the combative and moral qualities of soldiers, the level of training of the general staff, the organization of troops and their combat experience. , the character of military doctrine and the methods of strategic, operational and tactical thinking.

In the political sphere, the factors that come into consideration are the extent of the social basis of the State's authority, its organization, the constitutional procedure governing relations between government and legislative bodies, the government's capacity to make operational decisions, as well as the degree and the nature of state authority, as well as popular support for domestic and foreign policy.

Finally, to assess the strength of the international context, the factors taken into consideration are its quantitative composition, its influence among the masses, its position in the political life of each country, the principles and norms of relations between its components and the degree of their cohesion.

In other words, the assessment of the situation is not limited to the balance of forces on the battlefield, but considers all the elements that impact the evolution of a conflict. Thus, for their special military operation, Russian authorities planned to support the war effort through the national economy without moving to a “war economy” regime. Unlike Ukraine, fiscal and social mechanisms have not been hampered.

This is why the sanctions applied to Russia in 2014 had a double positive effect. The first was the realization that it was not just a short-term problem, but above all a medium and long-term opportunity. Sanctions have encouraged Russia to produce goods it previously preferred to buy abroad. The second was a sign that the West would increasingly use economic weapons as a means of pressure in the future. It therefore became imperative, for reasons of national independence and sovereignty, to prepare for heavier sanctions that would affect the country's economy.

In reality, it has long been known that economic sanctions do not work. In logical terms, they had the opposite effect here, acting as protectionist measures for Russia to consolidate its domestic economy, as was the case after the 2014 sanctions. A sanctions strategy could have been effective if the Russian economy was equivalent to the Italian or Spanish economy, that is, with a high level of debt, and if the entire planet had acted uniformly to isolate Russia.

The inclusion of the correlation of forces in the decision-making process constitutes a fundamental difference compared to Western decision-making processes, linked, rather, to a communication policy than to a rational approach to problems. This explains, for example, Russia's limited objectives in Ukraine, where it does not seek to occupy the integrity of the territory, since the balance of forces in the western part of the country is recognized as unfavorable.

At each level of leadership, the correlation of forces is part of the assessment of the situation. At the operational level, it is defined as the result of comparing the quantitative and qualitative characteristics of the forces and resources (subunits, units, weapons, military equipment, etc.) of the troops themselves and those of the enemy. It is projected on the operational and tactical scale across the entire area of ​​operations, in the main and other directions, aiming to determine the degree of objective superiority of one of the opposing camps. The assessment of the correlation of forces is used both to make informed decisions regarding an operation and to establish and maintain the necessary superiority over the enemy for as long as possible, when decisions are redefined in the course of military operations.

This simple definition is why the Russians engaged in action with inferior forces to Ukraine in February 2022, or why they withdrew from Kiev, Kharkov and Kherson in March, September and October 2022.

The Russians have also always attached special importance to doctrine. More than the West, they understood that “a common way of seeing, thinking and acting” – as Marshal Foch said – provides coherence, while at the same time allowing infinite variations in the design of operations. Military doctrine constitutes a kind of “common core” that serves as a reference for the design of operations.

Russian military doctrine divides military art into three main components: strategy (стратегия), operational art (оперативное искусство) and tactics (тактика). Each of these components has its own characteristics, very close to those found in Western doctrines. Using the terminology of French doctrine on the use of forces, the strategic level is that of conception; The objective of strategic action is to lead the opponent to negotiation or defeat. The operational level is that of cooperation and coordination of interforce actions, with a view to achieving a specific military objective. And the tactical level, finally, is the execution of the maneuver at the weapons level, as an integral part of the operational maneuver.

These three components correspond to levels of leadership that translate into command structures and the space in which military operations take place. To simplify, I would say that the strategic level ensures the management of the theater of war (Театр Войны); a geographically large entity, with its own command and control structures, within which there are one or more strategic directions. The theater of war comprises a set of theaters of military operations (Театр Военных Действий), which represent a strategic direction and constitute the domain of operational action. These different theaters do not have a pre-determined structure and are defined according to the situations. For example, even if we usually talk about the “war in Afghanistan” (1979-1989) or the “war in Syria” (2015-), these countries are considered in Russian terminology as theaters of operations and not as theaters of war.

The same applies to Ukraine, which Russia considers a theater of military operations and not a theater of war, which explains why the action in Ukraine is described as a “special military operation” (Специальная Военая Операция – Spetsial'naya Voyennaya Operatsiya), and not as a “war”.

The use of the term “war” would imply a different structure of conduct than that envisaged by the Russians in Ukraine, and would have other institutional implications within Russia itself. Furthermore – and this is a central point – as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg himself acknowledged, “the war started in 2014” and should have been ended with the Minsk agreements. The Russian operation is, therefore, a “military operation” and not a new “war”, as many Western “experts” claim.

Westerners, on the other hand, and as we have seen in Ukraine and elsewhere, have a much more political reading of the war, and end up mixing the two things. That is why, for them, communication plays such an essential role in the conduct of war: the perception of the conflict plays an equally or more important role than its reality. That's why, in Iraq, the Americans literally invented episodes to glorify their troops.

Russia's analysis of the situation in February 2022 was undoubtedly much more consistent than that of the West. She knew that a Ukrainian offensive was underway against Donbass, and that this could put the government in danger. In 2014-2015, after the massacres in Odessa and Mariupol, the Russian population came out very strongly in favor of intervention. Vladimir Putin's stubbornness in respecting the Minsk agreements was poorly digested in Russia.

The factors contributing to Russia's decision to intervene were twofold: expected support from Ukraine's ethnic Russian population (whom we will call, for convenience, “Russophone”) and an economy robust enough to withstand sanctions.

The Russian-speaking Ukrainian population rose up massively against the new authorities after the February 2014 coup d'état, whose first decision was to deprive the Russian language of its official status. Kiev tried to backtrack, but in April 2019 the 2014 decision was definitively confirmed.

Since the adoption of the Law on Local Peoples of July 1, 2021, Russophones (or ethnic Russians) are no longer considered normal Ukrainian citizens and no longer enjoy the same rights as ethnic Ukrainians. Therefore, they cannot be expected to offer any resistance to a coalition with the Russians, specifically, in the east of the country.

Since March 24, 2021, Ukrainian forces have reinforced their presence around Donbass and increased pressure against the autonomists with their shelling. Zelensky's decree of March 24, 2021, for the reconquest of Crimea and Donbass was the real trigger for the Special Military Operation. From that moment on, the Russians understood that if there was military action against the Russophones, they would have to intervene. But they also knew that the reason for the Ukrainian operation was NATO membership, as Oleksei Arestovich had explained. That is why, in mid-December 2021, the Russians presented demands to the United States and NATO regarding the expansion of the Alliance: their objective was then to eliminate Ukraine's motive for an offensive in the Donbass.

The reason for the Russian Special Military Operation (OME) is indeed the protection of the populations of Donbass. But this protection was necessary due to Kiev's desire to go through the confrontation in order to join NATO. NATO expansion is therefore only the indirect cause of the conflict in Ukraine. The latter could have spared itself this ordeal by implementing the Minsk agreements, but what the Westerners wanted was a defeat for Russia.

In 2008, Russia intervened in Georgia to protect the Russian minority that was then bombed by its government, as confirmed by the Swiss ambassador, Heidi Tagliavini, responsible for investigating this event. In 2014, many voices were raised in Russia demanding intervention when the new Kiev regime mobilized its army against the civilian population of the five oblasts autonomists (Odessa, Dnyepropetrovsk, Kharkov, Lugansk and Donyetsk), applying fierce repression to them. In 2022, it would be expected that the Russian population would not swallow the government's inaction, after no efforts were made by the Ukrainians and Westerners to enforce the Minsk agreements. The Russians knew they did not have the means to launch economic retaliation. But they also knew that an economic war against Russia would inevitably turn against Western countries.

Russian legalism

An important element of Russian military and political thought is its legalistic dimension. The way our journalistic media present events with the necessary systematic omission of facts that could explain, justify, legitimize or even legalize Russia's actions tends to convey the image that Russia always acts outside of any legal framework. For example, our corporate media outlets present the Russian intervention in Syria as having been decided unilaterally by Moscow, even though it was only carried out at the request of the Syrian government, after the West allowed the Islamic State to approach Damascus, as admitted even John Kerry, then US Secretary of State. On the other hand, there is no mention of the occupation of eastern Syria by US troops, who were never even invited to be there.

We could multiply the examples by which our journalists will respond by attributing war crimes to Russian forces. This could be true, but the simple fact that these accusations are not based on any impartial and neutral investigation (as required by humanitarian doctrine), nor on any international investigation, with Russian participation in them being systematically vetoed, casts a definitely compromising shadow about the honesty of these accusations. For example, the sabotage of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines was immediately blamed on Russia itself, accused of violating international law.

In fact, unlike the West, which advocates a “rules-based international order,” the Russians insist on a “law-based international order.” Unlike the West, they will apply the law to the letter. Neither more nor less. The legal framework for Russian intervention in Ukraine was meticulously planned.

Russia's goals and strategy

On February 23, 2023, Swiss military “expert” Alexandre Vautravers commented on Russia’s objectives in Ukraine: “the aim of the special military operation was to decapitate Ukrainian political and military governance within five, ten or even two weeks. The Russians then changed their plan and goals, faced with several other failures; That’s why they change their objectives and strategic directions almost every week or month.” The problem is that our own “experts” define Russia's objectives according to what they imagine, and then they can say that it has not achieved them. So, let's get back to the facts.

On February 24, 2022, Russia launched its “special military operation” in Ukraine “in a short space of time”. In his televised speech, Vladimir Putin explained that his strategic objective was to protect the population of Donbass. This objective can be divided into two parts: (a) “demilitarize” the Ukrainian armed forces grouped in the Donbass and prepared for the offensive against the then republics of Donyetsk and Lugansk; and (b) “denazify” (i.e. “neutralize”) ultranationalist and neo-Nazi paramilitary militias in the Mariupol region.

The formulation chosen by Vladimir Putin was very poorly analyzed in the West. It is inspired by the Potsdam Declaration of 1945, which considered the development of defeated Germany based on four principles: demilitarization, denazification, democratization and decentralization.

Russians understand war from a Clausewitzian perspective: war is the achievement of politics by other means. This then means that they seek to transform operational successes into strategic successes and military successes into political objectives. Thus, the demilitarization mentioned by Putin is clearly linked to the military threat to the populations of Donbass through the application of the Decree of March 24, 2021, signed by Volodymyr Zelensky.

But this objective hides a second one: the neutralization of Ukraine as a future member of NATO. This is what Volodymyr Zelensky understood when he proposed a resolution to the conflict in March 2022. At first, his proposal was supported by Western countries, probably because at that stage they believed that Russia had failed in its attempt to take Ukraine in three days, and that it would not be able to sustain its war effort due to the massive sanctions that were imposed on it. But at the March 24, 2022 NATO meeting, the Allies decided not to support Volodymyr Zelensky's proposal.

However, on March 27, Volodymyr Zelensky publicly defended his proposal, and on March 28, in a gesture of support for this effort, Vladimir Putin eased pressure on the capital and withdrew his troops from the region. Volodymyr Zelensky's proposal served as the basis for the Istanbul communiqué of March 29, 2022, a ceasefire agreement as a prelude to a peace agreement. This is the document that Vladimir Putin presented in June 2023, during the visit of an African delegation to Moscow. It was Boris Johnson's intervention that led Volodymyr Zelensky to withdraw his proposal, exchanging peace and the lives of his fellow citizens for Western support “for as long as necessary”.

This version of events was finally confirmed in early November 2023 by David Arakhamia, then Ukraine's chief negotiator. He added that Russia never intended to take Kiev.

In essence, Russia agreed to withdraw to its borders on February 23, 2022, in exchange for a cap on Ukrainian forces and a commitment not to become a member of NATO, along with security guarantees from several countries.

Two conclusions can be drawn: (1) Russia's objective was not to conquer territory; and if the West had not intervened to pressure Volodymyr Zelensky to withdraw his offer, Ukraine would probably still have its army; (2) while the Russians intervened to ensure the safety and security of the population of Donbass, their special military operation allowed them to achieve an even broader objective, which involved the security of Russia.

This means that, even if this objective is not formulated, the demilitarization of Ukraine could open the doors to its neutralization. This is not surprising because, on the contrary, in an interview with the Ukrainian channel Apostrof' On March 18, 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky's advisor Oleksei Arestovich cynically explains that once Ukraine wanted to join NATO, it would have to create the conditions for Russia to attack it and be definitively defeated.

The problem is that Ukrainian and Western analyzes are fueled by their own narratives. The conviction that Russia would lose meant that no alternative contingency was prepared. In September 2023, the West, beginning to see the collapse of this narrative and its implementation, tried to move towards a “freeze” of the conflict, without taking into account the opinion of the Russians, who dominate the field.

Nevertheless, Russia would have been satisfied with a situation like the one proposed by Volodymyr Zelensky in March 2022. What the West wants in September 2023 is simply a pause, until an even more violent conflict breaks out, after the forces Ukrainian forces have been rearmed and reconstituted.

The Ukrainian strategy

The strategic objective of Volodymyr Zelensky and his team is to join NATO, as a prelude to a presumed better future in the European Union. It complements that of Americans (and therefore Europeans). The problem is that tensions with Russia, especially regarding Crimea, have led NATO members to postpone Ukraine's participation. In March 2022, Volodymyr Zelensky revealed to the television network CNN which is exactly what the Americans told him.

Before coming to power in April 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky's speech was divided between two antagonistic policies: reconciliation with Russia, promised during his presidential campaign, and his goal of joining NATO. He knows that these two policies are mutually exclusive, because Russia does not want to see NATO and its nuclear weapons installed in Ukraine, and expects neutrality or non-alignment from Ukraine.

Furthermore, Volodymyr Zelensky knows that his ultranationalist allies will refuse to negotiate with Russia. This was confirmed by the leader of Praviy Sektor, Dmitro Yarosh, who openly threatened Volodymyr Zelensky with death, a month after his election, as reported in the Ukrainian press. Volodymyr Zelensky knew, therefore, from the beginning of the election campaign, that he would not be able to fulfill his promise of reconciliation, and that he would only have one solution left: confrontation with Russia.

But this confrontation could not be led by Ukraine alone, and would require material support from the West. The strategy devised by Volodymyr Zelensky and his team was revealed before his election in March 2019 by Oleksei Arestovich, his personal advisor, in the Ukrainian newspaper Apostrof'. Arestovich explained that a Russian attack would be needed to provoke an international mobilization that would allow Ukraine to defeat Russia once and for all, with the help of Western countries and NATO. With surprising accuracy, he describes the course of the Russian attack as it would occur three years later. He not only explains that this conflict was inevitable if Ukraine wanted to join NATO, but also locates such a confrontation in 2021-2022.

He would then describe the main areas of Western assistance: “in this conflict, we will be supported very actively by the West, in weapons, equipment, assistance, new sanctions against Russia; most likely, the introduction of a NATO contingent; a no-fly zone etc; in other words, we won’t lose it.”

As we can see, this strategy has many points in common with the one described at the same time by RAND Corporation. So much so, in fact, that it is difficult not to see it as a strategy strongly inspired by the United States. In his interview, Arestovich distinguished four elements that would become the pillars of Ukrainian strategy against Russia, and to which Volodymyr Zelensky would regularly return: (i) international aid and arms supplies; (ii) international sanctions; (iii) NATO intervention; and (iv) creation of a no-fly zone.

It is worth noting that these four pillars are understood by Volodymyr Zelensky as promises whose fulfillment is essential for the success of his strategy. In February 2023, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Defense and Security Council of Ukraine, told the The Kyiv Independent that Ukraine's goal is the disintegration of Russia. The mobilization of Western countries to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine then appears to give substance to this objective, which is in line with what Oleksiy Arestovich declared in March 2019.

However, a few months later it became clear that the equipment supplied to Ukraine was not sufficient to guarantee the success of its counteroffensive, and Volodymyr Zelensky requested additional and better adapted equipment. At this point, there was some Western irritation with these repeated demands. Former British Defense Minister Ben Wallace said that Westerners are “not Amazon”. In reality, it is the West that does not respect its commitments.

Contrary to what journalistic corporations and pseudo-military experts tell us, since February 2022 it has been clear that Ukraine cannot defeat Russia alone. As Obama said, “Russia [there] will still be able to maintain its sustained dominance.” In other words, Ukraine will only be able to achieve its objectives with the participation of NATO countries. This means that its fate will depend on the goodwill of Western countries. Hence the West needs to maintain a discourse that encourages it to continue its efforts. This narrative will then become what we call, in strategic terms, your “center of gravity”.

As the months passed, the development of operations showed that the prospect of a Ukrainian victory seemed more and more distant, in the face of a Russia that, far from being weakened, was strengthening militarily and economically. Even General Christopher Cavoli, supreme commander of American forces in Europe (SACEUR), declared to a US Congressional committee that “Russia’s air, naval, space, digital and strategic capabilities have not suffered significant degradation throughout this war.” .

The West, expecting a short-term conflict, is no longer able to maintain the effort promised to Ukraine. The NATO summit in Vilnius (July 11 and 12, 2023) ended in partial success for Ukraine. His accession is assumed, but postponed indefinitely. Their situation, in reality, is even worse than at the beginning of 2022, as there is no more justification for their entry into NATO than there was before the Russian special military operation.

Ukraine then turns its attention to a more concrete objective: regaining sovereignty over its entire 1991 territory. The Ukrainian notion of “victory” appears to be evolving rapidly. The idea of ​​a “collapse of Russia” soon disappeared, as did that of its dismemberment. There was talk of “regime change”, taken as an objective by Volodymyr Zelensky, who prohibited any negotiations while Vladimir Putin was in power. Then came the reconquest of lost territories, thanks to the 2023 counteroffensive. But here too, hopes quickly faded. The plan was simply to cut the Russian forces in two with an advance towards the Sea of ​​Azov. But by September 2023, that goal had been reduced to “liberating” three cities.

In the absence of concrete successes, the narrative remains the only element that Ukraine can rely on to maintain Western attention and the willingness to sponsor it, because, as Ben Wallace, former defense minister, said in The Telegraph, on October 1, 2023: “the most precious asset is hope”. And truth. But the Western assessment of the situation must be based on realistic analyzes of the adversary. However, since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, Western analyzes have been based on prejudice.

The concept of victory

Operating within the framework of Clausewitzian thinking, Russia assumes that operational successes must be exploited for strategic purposes. Operational strategy (or, in Russian terms, “operational art”) thus plays an essential role in defining what is considered a victory.

As we saw in the Battle of Bakhmut, the Russians adapted perfectly to the strategy imposed on Ukraine by the West, which prioritizes the defense of every square meter. The Ukrainians thus fell into the game of attrition strategy, which was officially announced by Russia. On the other hand, in Kharkov and Kherson, the Russians preferred to cede territories in exchange for the lives of their men. In the context of a war of attrition, sacrificing your potential in exchange for territory, as Ukraine does, is the worst strategy of all.

This is why General Zaluzhny, commander of the Ukrainian forces, tried to oppose Volodymyr Zelensky and proposed withdrawing his forces from Bakhmut. But in Ukraine, it is the Western narrative that guides military decisions. Volodymyr Zelensky preferred to follow the path set by (or for) our media, in order to maintain the support of Western opinion. In November 2023, General Zaluzhny had to openly admit that this decision was a mistake, because prolonging certain fighting would only favor Russia.

The Ukrainian conflict has always been inherently asymmetric. The West wanted to make it symmetrical, proclaiming Ukraine's capabilities as sufficient to overthrow Russia. But, from the beginning, this was nothing more than an illusion, whose sole purpose was to justify non-compliance with the Minsk agreements. Russian strategists ended up consecrating it as an asymmetric conflict.

Ukraine's problem in this conflict is that it has no rational relationship to a notion of victory. In comparison, the Palestinians, aware of their quantitative inferiority, adopted a way of thinking that gives the mere act of resistance a sign of victory. It is the asymmetrical nature of the conflict, which Israel has never managed to understand for 75 years, and which is reduced to overcoming, through tactical superiority, what should be grasped through its strategic subtlety. In Ukraine, it is the same phenomenon. By clinging to a notion of victory subordinated to the recovery of territory, for example, Ukraine has locked itself into a logic that can only lead it to defeat.

On November 20, 2023, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, painted a bleak picture of Ukraine's prospects for 2024. His speech showed that Ukraine had neither an exit plan nor an approach that associated a feeling of victory and this eventuality: all of it was reduced to linking Ukraine's victory to that of the West. In the West, however, the end of the conflict in Ukraine is increasingly perceived as a military, political, human and economic disaster.

In an asymmetrical situation, each protagonist is free to define their own victory criteria, and to choose from a range of criteria under their control. This is why Egypt (1973), Hezbollah (2006), the Islamic State (2017), the Palestinian resistance (since 1948) and Hamas (in 2023) are victorious despite massive losses. This seems counterintuitive to Western minds, but it explains why Westerners are unable to actually “win” their wars.

In Ukraine, political leaders have closed themselves off in a speech that excludes a way out of the crisis without loss of prestige. The asymmetrical situation, currently playing out against Ukraine, stems from a narrative confused with reality, which, in turn, has led to an inadequate response to the nature of the Russian operation.

*Jacques Baud is a former colonel in the General Staff and a former member of Swiss Strategic Intelligence.

Translation: Ricardo Cavalcanti-Schiel.

Originally published on the portal Now Vox.

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