In an essay for the Atlantic Council published in December 2021, I stated that the future of Europe will be decided in Ukraine. A year later, what may have seemed like a bold statement before is now a recognizable fact. Ukraine has become the shield of Europedefending the continent along a front line of 2,500 kilometers.
With each new success of the Ukrainian military, the threats to NATO and the European Union decrease. In the past ten months, Ukraine has destroyed a large number of Russian army units that have been training for decades to attack the West. Russia’s military potential will take years to recover. Ukraine’s heroism has bought Europe precious time to rethink its approach to security and defence.
This reassessment should begin with a candid reflection on the events of the past twelve months. Every single prewar Ukrainian warning about the likely consequences of a full-scale Russian invasion has come true, from the millions of refugees to the global energy and food crises. A year ago, German leaders still insisted that the pipeline Nord Stream II was a purely economic project. It is now painfully obvious that there is no going back to this kind of ‘business as usual’ with Putin’s Russia.
Since the Russian invasion started on February 24, the international community took a number of appropriate measures to sanction Russia and provided Ukraine with vital support that changed the course of the war. However, the fact remains that we requested most of these steps before the invasion, only to be told it was impossible. This caution proved extremely costly.
Nor is the danger limited to Russia itself. In recent months, Moscow has been trying to form criminal coalitions with other terrorist regimes. Russia and Iran are now testing technologies of drones cheap but lethal against Ukrainian civilian targets. It will come as no surprise if these weapons are soon deployed elsewhere. Russian military technologies offered to Iran in exchange for their support in Ukraine pose a further threat to international stability.
Both Russia and Iran have previously been afforded ample opportunity to pursue global integration policies on very generous terms. Instead, they consciously chose confrontation and tried to weaponize anything, from energy and food supplies to migrants and social media. This demonstrates the folly of previous efforts to appease Vladimir Putin and provides a strong indication of what we can expect if Western leaders do not adopt a more resolute stance. Today’s already alarming security situation will only get worse if Russia is not finally defeated in 2023.
The world has already paid a terrible price for handing over the geopolitical initiative to Russia. For Ukraine, this has included tens of thousands of lives and destruction on a scale not seen in Europe since World War II. For the wider international community, the economic costs can already be counted in the trillions of dollars. Clearly, it’s time to try a different formula.
The first step in addressing the current security crisis is to regain the initiative. This means taking tough preventative measures rather than just reacting to Russia. It is crucial to recognize the new security realities created by Russian aggression and to reject attempts to resurrect the failed and discredited policies of the past. There is no going back to the pre-war status quo. Above all, Western leaders must unequivocally identify Russia’s defeat as an achievable and desirable goal.
Next year will present the West with the perfect opportunity to get it right. We expect to face many of the same security challenges we encountered in 2022, including the possibility of major new Russian offensives against Kiev and other Ukrainian cities. When Putin’s invasion started on February 24, the world was initially stunned. There can be no such excuses this time.
Russia is currently trying to buy time to rearm. He’s bombing them energy infrastructure of Ukraine and creating a humanitarian catastrophe to force Ukraine back to the negotiating table. In parallel, all sorts of voices are calling for a return to diplomacy and advocating for a pro-Kremlin compromise peace that would only set the stage for more war. This is the most immediate challenge for the international community. Ukraine’s partners must reject these calls and stress that peace is impossible without Russia’s defeat.
Instead of looking for face-saving loopholes for Putin, Western policymakers should now be looking to capitalize on Russia’s weakness. This means providing Ukraine with the air defenses, long-range missiles, tanks and aircraft we need to end the war.
Otherwise, escalations will not be avoided, as some critics claim. Conversely, hesitation by Ukraine’s international partners only encourages the Kremlin to continue its aggression. Does anyone still seriously believe that not giving Ukraine Western fighter planes will make the world safe from Russia’s next invasion? Will the absence of adequate air defense systems prevent the Kremlin from acquiring Iranian ballistic missiles? It’s time to abandon such illusions.
In 2022, Ukraine has shown that it is more than capable of using Western arms supplies to great effect. With Russia now attempting to regroup and prepare for a new wave of attacks, it makes no sense to delay arms deliveries based on misplaced fears of escalation. This will only lead to more casualties and increase the price of Russia’s eventual defeat. Instead, the West must learn the lessons of the past year and act decisively.
From time to time, Ukraine’s battlefield successes have confirmed that the only negotiating language recognized by Russia is the language of force. Ukraine has forced Putin’s army to withdraw from across the north of the country and has routed Russian troops in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions. The sinking of the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and the destruction of strategic bombers at bases inside Russia have proven far more effective in attracting Russia’s attention than any diplomatic gestures.
If Ukraine does not receive the necessary support in 2023, today’s growing security challenges will multiply exponentially around the world. A wide range of authoritarian regimes are closely monitoring developments in Ukraine and will view any Russian success as a green light for their own acts of aggression. There is also the danger that other regions of the world will prove less able to defend themselves than Ukraine.
This grim scenario is both predictable and entirely avoidable. If the international community provides sufficient military supplies, there is every reason to believe that Ukraine will finish the task of defeating Russia in 2023. This would send a resounding message to any dictator and world conqueror that force is not a viable foreign policy tool.
A Ukrainian victory would bring with it the prospect of sustainable peace and the opportunity to exploit the country’s vast potential. The consequences would also be felt far beyond Ukraine’s borders, with the security situation likely to improve markedly in the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus and as far as Central Asia and Africa. On a global scale, Ukraine’s success would invigorate the entire democratic world, while demonstrating the renewed strength of the rules-based international order.
The world enters 2023 at a crossroads. Russia seeks to dismantle the progress of the past few decades and drag us all back into an era of imperial aggression, but the Kremlin must first overcome Ukrainian resistance. If Russia is decisively defeated in Ukraine, the way will be open to a safer and more prosperous planet. Securing this defeat must be the international community’s top priority in 2023.
The original version of this posting is here.
Ukraine: defeating Russia must be top global priority for 2023 — L’Indro