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Analysis by Andreas Umland: Regardless of the war’s outcome – in four areas, Putin has already triumphed

Today, the main objective of Kiev and its allies vis-à-vis Russia is to fully restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine. However, even such a complete Ukrainian victory on the battlefield cannot be a cause for celebration for the world. It is unlikely to fill Western and other politicians with pride.

1. Sanctions as an ineffective tool

Firstly, a satisfactory end to the war will mainly be the result of Kiev’s military efforts. Such a Ukrainian victory will not undo the embarrassing history of Western sanctions against Russia and their meager impact. While the sanctions are unprecedented, they are already affecting the Russian economy and have hindered the Kremlin’s aggression. However, the economic sanctions only marginally altered the overall course of the war.

Oddly enough, in the same year 2022 when most Western sanctions were imposed, Moscow celebrated an economic triumph. For the first time in history, Russia’s economy, in terms of its gross domestic product at purchasing power parity, surpassed that of Germany. Despite extensive and concerted economic measures by the entire West against the Russian Federation, it moved up to fifth place in the world rankings for GDP at purchasing power parity, according to calculations by the World Bank, after China, the USA, India, and Japan.

The economic sanctions, once considered the West’s most important global whip, have proven to be ineffective. In the struggle for the sovereignty of international law, historical justice, and human rights, sanctions – when used alone and not in combination with other means – are a blatantly inadequate instrument. Worse still, many Western companies have continued to import from and export to Russia through various shady intermediaries.

2. Peculiar compromises on self-security

Secondly, Europe has refrained from securing its own vital interests on Ukrainian territory since the beginning of the war. Since February 24, 2022, NATO, the EU, and their member states have remained reticent, even though the war affects their own security interests and they have the means to mitigate these risks.

For over 600 days, Russia has been regularly launching unmanned aerial vehicles with warheads near Ukrainian nuclear power plants, and sometimes above them. Yet, no European country, apart from Ukraine, has attempted to halt this dangerous practice. The damage to a nuclear power plant would not only be a problem for Ukraine, as the Chernobyl incident in 1986 demonstrated.

Since October 2022, the city of Kiev, with its dozens of foreign embassies and other international offices, has been under weekly attack by Russia – sometimes with many missiles simultaneously. But European and other governments seem unconcerned about this. Western and other governments leave it to the Ukrainian army – which is, of course, also engaged in other tasks – to protect the lives and health of thousands of Western diplomats, businessmen, journalists, aid workers, cultural managers, etc. on their way to or in Kiev.

European decision-makers meticulously adhere to Moscow’s message

In recent months, Ukrainian grain warehouses and-terminals specifically targeted by Russian drones and missiles and partially destroyed. These acts of terror have economic and humanitarian repercussions far beyond the borders of Ukraine. So far, however, no Western or other powerful country has deployed its air defense capabilities to shoot down Russian unmanned aerial vehicles heading towards Ukrainian food infrastructure.

Increased food prices in global markets are fueling migration flows from the Middle East and Africa into the European Union. The arrival of new hunger migrants in the EU, in turn, boosts the electoral support for far-right parties in Europe. Most of them are either lenient towards Russian authoritarianism or even support it. Many far-right groups are apologetic regarding Putin’s foreign policy, albeit (or because?) they are partly responsible for new waves of migration into the EU.

Out of fear of retaliation with Russian weapons of mass destruction, the international community has accepted Putin’s definition of Ukraine as Russia’s backyard. According to Moscow, no foreign troops except their own soldiers are allowed to operate on Ukrainian territory. Even foreign missile defense units in the hinterland of Ukraine to protect nuclear power plants, foreign embassies, or grain silos would be a casus belli for Moscow to start a Third World War. At least, this seems to be the message that the Kremlin has conveyed to European decision-makers, who meticulously adhere to it.

3. Undermined international organizations

Thirdly, Russia has been excluded from the G8, which has now reverted to being the G7. It has also withdrawn from the Council of Europe and some other international structures. However, the Russian Federation continues to be a participant in the UN, OSCE, G20, BRICS, etc.

What’s worse, Russia is still a permanent member of the UN Security Council, where it inherited a veto power from the USSR. Moscow is also one of the founders and depositaries of the 1968 Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). In this treaty, Russia is one of the five officially recognized nuclear-weapon states. Moscow has actively used these two privileges to achieve its expansionist and murderous goals in Ukraine.

Even if Ukraine ultimately does not lose any of its territory and sovereignty, this would hardly be sufficient. Russia might only be partially punished for its misconduct and retain its privileged position in the international system. This does not bode well for the future of the world order.

4. Unaddressed and unpunished crimes

Lastly, the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity alone would not be a real victory, as it would not fully serve the interests of Ukraine or international law. Various Russian injustices and crimes might go unpunished.

One of Russia’s most heinous offenses is the mass abduction and deportation of Ukrainian children. There is a concerted campaign by Moscow to bring hundreds of thousands of minors from Ukraine – with or without their legal guardians – under constant Russian control, guardianship, and indoctrination.

Other long-term problems that cannot be solved by a mere victory of Ukraine on the battlefield include the return of Ukrainian prisoners of war and deported civilians from Russia to Ukraine, as well as the criminal prosecution of thousands of war criminals. It is unclear how extensive reparations from Russia to Ukraine should be made.

Conclusions: The victory of Ukraine on

Ein unvollständiger Sieg auf dem Schlachtfeld

Der Sieg der Ukraine auf dem Gefechtsfeld wird lediglich als ein partieller Erfolg betrachtet. Auch nach der vollständigen Wiederherstellung der ukrainischen Grenzen werden die Risse im internationalen System bestehen bleiben. Angesichts dieser Herausforderung ist das Zögern der westlichen Länder, der Ukraine militärische Unterstützung zu gewähren, überraschend. Die fortschreitenden politischen, rechtlichen und humanitären Probleme, die nicht durch Kriegsgeschehnisse gelöst werden können, unterstreichen die Dringlichkeit einer uneingeschränkten militärischen Unterstützung.

Mit seinem rücksichtslosen Verhalten hat Russland die Stabilität der europäischen Sicherheitsordnung gefährdet, die Kohärenz des internationalen Staatswesens beeinträchtigt und die Macht der westlichen Staatengemeinschaft geschwächt. Je länger der Krieg anhält, desto größer wird der entstehende Schaden sein.

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