A surprising sort of success

According to a new report by Princeton University’s Andrew Moravcsik, ‘Western policy to block Russian assertiveness in Ukraine has been surprisingly successful.’

The report, entitled Lessons from Ukraine: Why a Europe-led Economic Strategy is Succeeding, is published by the Transatlantic Academy, which describes itself as ‘a research institution devoted to creating common approaches to the long-term challenges facing Europe and North America.’ In a chapter entitled ‘Ukraine as a Western Policy Success’, the report says that ‘the current outcome in Ukraine, a “frozen conflict”, is in many respects a failure rather than a victory for Moscow, and a positive outcome for the West. … It is essential to remember that just two years ago, most observers … expected Russia to prevail easily.’ But, ‘Putin did not succeed’, and Russia ‘reversed its military advances, trimmed its ambitions, and eventually reverted to economic and diplomatic haggling with the West.’

‘Western policy success’ is thus measured not in terms of any positive gains by the West, but in terms of alleged ‘Russian failure’. This takes three forms, Moravcsik writes: 1) ‘Russia’s military was stalemated in the eastern Ukraine’; 2) ‘the Kremlin achieved few major political objectives in eastern Ukraine’; and 3) ‘with the insurgency in eastern Ukraine essentially over … Moscow’s only remaining alternative has been to negotiate with Ukraine and Europe using energy, trade, finance, domestic political influence, propaganda, and diplomacy.’

I can agree with number 2 of these: Russia certainly hasn’t gained anything out of the war in Donbass. But the other two propositions don’t match the facts. Russia’s military wasn’t stalemated – Ukraine’s was. It began the war against the insurgency in Donbass with a massive military advantage over its opponents, but in the end it failed to defeat them. Direct Russian military intervention in Donbass was brief, and was certainly not halted because of the efforts of the Ukrainian military. The Russians halted because they chose to halt, a fact which demonstrates the very limited nature of Russian objectives.

As I pointed out in an article in the journal European Politics and Society, ‘Moscow has largely been reacting to events and trying to gain some control of a process which was originally almost entirely outside of its control. Its primary aim has been to get the Ukrainian government to negotiate directly with the rebels, in order to produce a permanent peace settlement’. In that, the Kremlin has not succeeded. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense to talk about Moscow’s failure to ‘prevail’, when it wasn’t ever actually pursuing some broader objective of destroying Ukraine or the like. Moreover, since what Russia did want was precisely a return to negotiation, Moravcsik’s point 3 can hardly be said to constitute a failure.

In any case, it isn’t sensible to define Western ‘success’ purely in terms of Russian ‘failure’, as if international politics is entirely a zero-sum game. We must define success instead in terms of achieving some positive results for Western countries. It is hard to see what those might be. Moravcsik says that, ‘For Western governments, the ideal outcome would be for states of the former Soviet Union to evolve into prosperous market-oriented, democratic regimes able to control their own territorial sovereignty and cooperate with the West.’ In those terms, European policy towards Ukraine, from the time it pressed an EU association agreement on Ukraine, through its support of the Maidan revolution to today, has been entirely unsuccessful. Ukraine is now less prosperous, not obviously any more democratic, certainly not able to control its territory, and still divided about its relationship with the West, as shown by recent opinion polls indicating that support for NATO membership among Ukrainians has once again fallen below 50%.

The only real success Moravcsik can point to is that the Ukrainian economy has not completely collapsed because of the financial aid European countries have given, and indeed it is true that the provision of financial aid has had a more positive effect on the situation in Ukraine than anything else Western states have done. The one strong point of this report is that it makes this clear. Moravcsik pours some welcome cold water on NATO hawks who see Russia as a military threat which requires a firm military response. Commenting on the very limited extent of Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine, he writes:

The obvious lesson from Ukraine is that Putin lacks the political will to fight a major war even under the most propitious of circumstances. … If the Kremlin was unwilling to tolerate even modest expenditures of blood, treasure, and prestige to sustain a modest military advance in support of a majority Russian-speaking population in a small corner of Ukraine for a few weeks, why should we expect that it would attack even a weak NATO ally like Latvia or Estonia, let alone a heavily armed, strongly anti-Russian country without a substantial Russian minority, such as Poland?

Given that the answer to this question is that Russia wouldn’t do such a thing, Moravcsik concludes that Europe should focus on supporting Ukraine economically, rather than on resisting or deterring Russia militarily. This is a sound conclusion – a flourishing Ukrainian economy is in everybody’s interests (including Russia’s), and helping that economy would be far more productive than wasting yet more money on defence. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that Ukraine, whose GDP per capita is a third of that of Gabon, is suddenly going to turn into Switzerland. Nor we should kid ourselves that Western policy in Ukraine has been anything other than a failure.

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19 thoughts on “A surprising sort of success”

  1. To the contrary the whole Maidan project has been a resounding success (in terms of real parameters of success, under the guiding assumption that Russia is an enemy of the West; even if the rhetoric is otherwise overblown).

    At the cost of $5 billion worth of NGO/influence spending over the past two decades, Nuland’s cookies, some bits and pieces of outdated military hardware, and IMF-channeled sums that are a fraction of those spent on Greece, they have not only for all intents and purposes torpedoed the Eurasian Union project but have successfully deorbited Ukraine from Russia’s sphere of influence (at least for the time being).

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    1. As a result of this ” success ” – Russia has indeed become the enemy of the “West” . For the US military industry – indeed a huge success .

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    2. Anatoly has it exactly right. The Anglosphere Foreign Policy Elite & Punditocracy (AFPE&P) care not that the West have gained nothing from the Ukraine crisis, or even that Ukrainians have suffered grave harm. It suffices for the AFPE&P that Russian interests have been harmed.

      This is most clearly demonstrated in the Baltic States. When Soviet Genocide ended there, the Baltic States had a combined population of over 8 million people, and rising. There are now 6.3 million, and in 2015 deaths there exceeded births by about 1.35:1. That’s a 22% population loss in 25 years. But there’s more…

      After 25 years of Free Market Reform in the Baltic States, there are now half as many children there age 14 and under as there were in 1989.

      But, their government are uniformly, vituperatively hostile to Russia, and have been for well over a decade.

      All win from the perspective of the AFPE&P!

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    3. It is far more than 5 billions.
      As the article stated, the Ukrainian economy did not collapse because of European “aid”.
      How much “aid” will be needed to counteract the effects of Ukraine’s decay in the future?

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    4. Yes, point made. BUT. No US Navy base in Sevastopol; no Russian invasion of Ukraine. Then the downstream effects — nazis spreading out, lots and lots of Ukrainian refugees heading west. China-Russia growing alliance and all that. So a short term victory that will be seen as a defeat in a while. Rather like all the other US wars since the end of the USSR.

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  2. “In any case, it isn’t sensible to define Western ‘success’ purely in terms of Russian ‘failure’, as if international politics is entirely a zero-sum game.”

    Ah! But the West likes to accuse Russia of this philosophy in the international dealings!

    From the day one of the so-called “Russian Aggression” overhyped by the Free and Independent Western Media ™ it reminded me of the old “The Simpsons” episod – Much Apu about Nothing. After a single incident with a bear, mayor Quimby launches expensive and very loud and flashy “Bear Patrol” to prevent further attacks. And indeed – after its creation, bear sightings decrease to zero, so Homer concludes that the Bear Patrol must be working. Lisa attempts to demonstrate Homer’s logical fallacy by the example of a “tiger-repellent rock” lying nearby. After all – do you see any around? Homer offers his daughter $5 for the rock.

    Homer is then shocked to see taxes have been raised five dollars to maintain the patrol, and this warrants another visit by the entire town to the Mayor’s office. To appease them, Mayor Quimby blames the high taxes on illegal immigrants. He then creates Proposition 24, which will require all illegal immigrants in Springfield to be deported.

    Yes, this is just animation series and a satire. But still relevant.

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  3. Just to be precise: Ukraine’s military operation against the insurgency started after a group of 50 armed men led by Girkin crossed from Russia. “Massive miltary advantage” could have been maybe for a few initial days, but you apparently forgot that shortly after Russia has formally threatened with open invasion into Ukraine by authorising use of military forces and it became obvious it’s not a spontaneous initiative by Girkin and his men. It is als when Putin started to say his fables about “sacred lands of Novorossiya” and generally prepare the population for the war.

    Saying that events in Donbass are “out of control” of Kremlin is quite naive as well taking into account constant stream of weapons, military vehicles and supplies flowing into Donbass from Russia. Just to clarify: I don’t know how it looks in Canada but in Russia you cannot openly buy tanks and ammunition and take it into neighoring country without approval of Russian government. The borders are generally pretty well guarded and the border with Donbass is 100% controlled – by Russia.

    Also Kremlin’s objective could never be to make Ukraine “negotiate directly with the rebels” because it over the last year it has effectively physically removed any actual “rebels” (remember Utkin, Bednov, Mozgovoy, Dryomov?). Also such talks would make absolutely no sense whatsoever with Zakharchenko announcing that Donbass will “never be part of Ukraine”.

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    1. ” I don’t know how it looks in Canada but in Russia you cannot openly buy tanks and ammunition”

      And fittingly, Donbass rebels were severely lacking armor and equipment in spring 2014.

      “The borders are generally pretty well guarded and the border with Donbass is 100% controlled – by Russia”

      Neither was true.
      The border between Ukraine and Russia was mostly not even noticeable on the ground.

      I don’t get your last argument.
      Zakharchenko was as much a rebel as the others.

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    2. So what you are saying, Caldera, is that the Ukrainian Armed Forces were incapable of defeating a retiree infantry platoon.

      It sounds to me as if the Eastern Ukrainian uprising actually had extensive popular support, among people furious about being disenfranchised a second time by snarling Banderastanis.

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    3. ““Massive miltary advantage” could have been maybe for a few initial days”

      I’m reminded of the iconic photos and videos of unarmed citizens of Donbass confronting Ukrian military on APCs and making them stop. So much Girkin was there!

      “…Russia has formally threatened with open invasion into Ukraine by authorising use of military forces…”

      Authorising the potential deployment of troops =/= “threatening smb”. That’s a fine destinction here obvious to anyone.

      “It is als when Putin started to say his fables about “sacred lands of Novorossiya””

      Can you remind us of when Putin said anything about “sacred” lands of Novorossiya? I already smell BS coming from you.

      “Saying that events in Donbass are “out of control” of Kremlin is quite naive as well taking into account constant stream of weapons, military vehicles and supplies flowing into Donbass from Russia. “

      Saying that events in the Ukraine are “out of control” of the State Dept/CIA is quite naive as well taking in account the constant stream of “non-lethal” aid, “medicine supplies” from Ukrainian diaspora abroad, and a constant stream of “advisers” and “aids” from all walks of the Beltway making their new home awayy from home in Kiev.

      “Just to clarify: I don’t know how it looks in Canada but in Russia you cannot openly buy tanks and ammunition and take it into neighoring country without approval of Russian government.”

      Good thing that Ukrainian military is willing to sell their arms, ammo and hardvare! 😉

      “Also such talks would make absolutely no sense whatsoever with Zakharchenko announcing that Donbass will “never be part of Ukraine”.”

      So the Ukrs will just continue to shell civilians in Donetsk – gotcha!

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    4. If you have evidence that there was a constant stream of military materiel flowing into Donbass from Russia and that Russia controls the Donbass-Russia border, you should put this evidence forward so we can view it for ourselves.

      If you don’t or if your sources turn out to be the usual dubious ones like Bellingcat, we have no reason to take your arguments seriously.

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  4. “Russia’s military was stalemated in the eastern Ukraine”

    No wonder: maidaun heroes defeated countless Russian hordes in eastern Ukraine, killing in the process millions of Russians, saving European civilization, and making the world safe for gays and lesbians…

    “The obvious lesson from Ukraine is that Putin lacks the political will”

    I think this is true. As always, the contrary opinion is that he’s playing 50-dimensional chess and (of course) winning… I dunno…

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  5. Reading this I’m reminded of Rep. Aiken’s famous advice during the Vietnam War, “Declare victory and get out.” I’ve seen a few articles lately with this general theme (despite all appearances, Western policy in Ukraine has been a success) lately, and it seems like that’s what’s happening now. The interest of both the general public and elite circles has moved on to other issues and other parts of the world, so all that’s left now is to find a face-saving formula to cover the withdrawal. I think as we see more and more articles like this, it’s a sign not of confidence, but rather of resignation. No one thinks the West is going to achieve any more than it already has, so all that’s left is to put the best spin possible on the current situation.

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  6. So the fact that a thing has not occurred – Russia militarily subjugating Ukraine – is evidence that there was intent, but a clever western policy prevented that thing from happening! Remarkable! Success or failure, then, is entirely determined by the metric you use to quantify it.

    Russia’s policies of preventing Ukraine from integrating into the European Union as a prosperous market democracy have been surprisingly successful.

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  7. Sir,

    I abhor conspiracy theories, but found myself concocting one myself on the Ukraine situation and have been unable to shake it. Any help would be appreciated…

    The big banks loaned a lot of money to the Ukraine and they were on the pre-revolution Ukraine was on verge defaulting on much of it. Suddenly it became necessary to have Nuland strive for a color revolution at about that time. Could they have used their political influence to create the current situation, which, for them, has resulted in the Western countries effectively using public money to bail the Ukraine out? Aid packages started almost immediately, and a lot of it went to preventing default on loans.

    I can understand the vested interests in NATO spending wishing a permanent hostility with Russia, but they have always wanted that and have been unable to achieve it, largely. However the banks and business interests have always imagined fertile ground in there and did not. Their imaginations led them into some very questionable large investments in what we now call the Russian Federation. It is only very recently that the business interests and banks have supported anything anti-Russian/ex-Soviet. Or so is my current understanding of the history.

    Like I said before…any help in puncturing this would be appreciated. I do not wish to visit Roswell…

    Like

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