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Thursday, May 19, 2022

The Ukraine war towards a dangerous impasse

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Eric Levits in an article for “New York Magazine” believes that most of the scenarios that could emerge from an invasion of Ukraine are bleak. In less than two weeks, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has transformed from a regional conflagration into an international crisis. The imperialist intransigence of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the heroic resistance of the Ukrainian people, and the moral zeal of the Western public have brought humanity to the brink of economic disaster, if not the brink of World War III.

Other traditional goals of economic warfare are to force the aggressor to accept a peace agreement or to undermine his military ability to wage war. But there are reasons to doubt the effectiveness of these sanctions on both fronts.

By mobilizing their defense of their nascent democracy, the Ukrainians dashed Moscow’s hopes of a quick victory and a tacit Western plan for half-hearted protest against Russian aggression.

Essentially, Joe Biden and his European counterparts have tried to strike a balance between punishing the Kremlin’s crimes and protecting commodity markets. But Zelensky’s refusal to put his own safety above solidarity with his beleaguered nation and the millions of ordinary Ukrainians who took up guns and Molotov cocktails to defend Western ideals soon created a similarly untenable balance.

starvation deaths
On Tuesday, the United States blocked imports of Russian oil, closing one of the few remaining loopholes in its economic blockade on a country that exports much of the minerals, wheat and energy the world needs.

On Friday, the United States signaled that it would join the European Union and the Group of Seven in suspending trade ties with Russia, and the impact of these unprecedented sanctions would be felt beyond Russia’s borders.

The withdrawal of huge amounts of Russian hydrocarbons and agricultural products from world markets is already pushing up global food prices, which hit an all-time high last month.

Even before the current crisis, millions of Afghans were at risk of starvation. Now the death toll from starvation is poised to rise as more material hardship spreads across the Global North.

The economic outlook is likely to worsen with the Kremlin’s announcement that it will soon impose retaliatory sanctions.

a fine line
Calls for the imposition of a no-fly zone, that is, shooting down any Russian aircraft entering Ukrainian airspace, spread from leaders in Kiev, via Western activists, to US foreign policy elites.

So far, the White House has remained stubborn in its opposition to direct military conflict between NATO and Russia, a confrontation that would amount to a global war between nuclear powers.

But there is a fine line between helping Ukraine in its military efforts and joining the war, according to Levitz.

Therefore, the current trajectory of the conflict takes the world to a win-lose scenario with an international recession and an increased risk of nuclear war. It is unclear how each side intends to avert disaster or ensure victory.

two options
Russia largely lost the war. The invasion was based on a perception of Ukraine that Zelensky and his voters proved to be incorrect. Putin and his intelligence officials saw Ukrainian nationalism in general, and its liberal-democratic variant in particular, as Western exports foisted on an indifferent market.

They considered that the West is very dependent on Russian energy and appreciates local investors and therefore will not fight much, but they were wrong on all counts.

These calculations leave Putin with two unpleasant options. He could either give up his main war goals and make compromises that don’t come close to offsetting the costs of his adventures, or turn Ukraine into rubble, set up a hated government on its ruins, and waste Russia’s dwindling resources fighting an endless bloody insurgency. .

Putin would do well to choose a strategic retreat rather than seek a costly “victory.” But the writer wonders who will bet today on the intuition of the Russian president.

The mysterious politics of the West
Levitz finds that the Western perception of the end of the war is on a par with the ambiguity of the Russian perception. In the past two weeks, the United States and Europe have rapidly escalated their economic war against Russia, crossing borders that they probably would not have crossed at the start of the war.

The strategic rationale behind these steps, namely how impoverishing Russia will contribute to maintaining an independent Ukraine, remains largely unclear.

There are reasons to fear that the Western escalation reflects more internal political pressures than cold diplomatic calculations.

The White House is eager to show US leadership on the world stage while refusing to engage US forces in another wide-ranging conflict, so increased sanctions may be the way to go. easier no matter where it seems to lead.

Why question the effectiveness of sanctions?

This is not to say that the Western approach lacks a reasonable basis. There is no doubt that the current sanctions are a deterrent against future invasions. But if that is your only goal, it can probably be achieved at a lower cost to global prosperity.

Other traditional goals of economic warfare are to force the aggressor to accept a peace agreement or to undermine his military ability to wage war. But there are reasons to doubt the effectiveness of these sanctions on both fronts.

In her testimony before the House of Representatives last Tuesday, Director of National Intelligence Avril Hines said that the speed and severity of the Western sanctions surprised Moscow, but that “our analysts estimate that it is unlikely that Putin will allow intimidated by these setbacks and instead can climb. ”

This did not please the legislators. Asked about his vision for a way out of this crisis, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said, “I think what we can do is just continue to raise the price that Putin and Russia have to to pay”.

He added that it is difficult to see the Russian regime looking for a way out as long as it does not feel that it is in danger.

unsatisfactory analysis
The writer saw Schiff’s analysis as unsatisfactory on several levels: First, if US sanctions don’t bear fruit until they destabilize the Putin regime, they may never do so. Historically, economic wars have often led targeted communities to shift their anger from local leaders to those who imposed the sanctions.

58% of Russians expressed support for the war in Ukraine, according to a recent poll by independent researchers. That’s partly because the Kremlin has tightened its control over information.

Critics of the war could not express their dissent without risking imprisonment, while the independent press was banned within the country.

The Russian oligarchs depend more on Putin than the other way around. For many, monetizing their personal relationships with Putin is a vital source of income. For these reasons, Schiff’s strategy is likely to fail. However, this may be less of a concern than the second possibility.

Do you use nuclear weapons?
According to a recent report by former US National Intelligence Europe officer Chris Chavis, the US government ran dozens of war games after Putin’s 2014 invasion of Crimea to illustrate the likely ramifications of the different forms of escalation based on the best available intelligence.

Among the more concrete conclusions is that “Putin will most likely use a nuclear weapon if he concludes that his regime is threatened,” according to Chavis.

The strongest justification for Western sanctions is that they will limit the resources available to the Russian war industry. But you also risk unintended consequences.

Naval War College professor Eric Sands and political scientist Susan Freeman have noted that “economic isolation rarely causes its targets to surrender completely” and often leads “states involved in war to adopt strategies more dangerous.”

In this context, military leaders find themselves facing a “closing window to prevent a catastrophe they see coming,” often with escalating violence.

The least bad option

According to Levitz, harsh sanctions are probably the least bad option for the West. Allowing an imperialist aggressor to subjugate a liberal democracy without paying a heavy price carries its own set of risks.

However, it is worrying that the West is so unclear about how the economic war is contributing to peace in Ukraine.

A high risk of famine, international deflation and nuclear catastrophe may be a necessary cost to thwart Russia’s aggression. “But it is good to have a fuller description of the West’s strategy, before we and the world pay the price,” the writer concludes.

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