Ukraine emerging as a new pillar of global order: All it needs is victory

Ukraine emerging as a new pillar of global order: All it needs is victory

CIUS report on media coverage of Ukrainian affairs, 11–17 April 2022

Seven North American online magazines (Foreign Affairs, Atlantic Council, The National Interest, The Economist, The Atlantic, Politico, and The New Yorker) were selected to prepare this report on how the situation in Ukraine has been portrayed in the media during the past week (11–17 April 2022). The sample was based on their impact on public opinion as well as their professional reputation, popularity among the readership, and topical relevance. Overall, the seven magazines may be said to represent the centrist, liberal, and conservative political spectrum. 

This report covers only the most-read weekly publications as ranked by the respective magazines themselves. Also, this report covers only texts from special sections on Ukraine; texts not belonging to Ukraine-specific sections or those with comparatively modest attention from readers were not considered.

  • Reactions of European and global actors to the Russo-Ukrainian war: anxiety, cautiousness, sympathy, support, exploitation
  • Change of the global order: updates to the US objectives, enlargement of NATO, and new Cold War
  • Russian crimes in Ukraine and their consequences: traumas of Ukrainian society and future affirmation of justice
  • Dynamics of war: growing initiative of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, Russian nuclear blackmail, drowning of the flagship missile cruiser Moskva
  • Regime change in Russia: Putin is not expected to resign any time soon
  • The economic cost of war: effectiveness of sanctions against Russia, Ukraine’s needs during and after the war, global repercussions of war.

The most common arguments:

The major European states sympathize with Ukraine but are providing limited support. At least three of last week’s Atlantic Council articles criticized the ambiguity of German and French stances against the Russian aggression.

Victor Pinchuk (Atlantic Council) encourages the government in Berlin to abandon its double standards in treating Ukraine. He compares Russian crimes in Ukraine to the Nazi Holocaust crimes and emphasizes the regular promises made by Germany to prevent such atrocities from reoccurring: “But ‘Never Again’ means not only speaking out against Swastikas. It means fighting with all of your strength against mass killings, war crimes, and genocide. I believe Germany must do everything it can and must be ready to take risks.”

In turn, Peter Dickinson (Atlantic Council) criticizes the refusal of President Macron of France to define Russian crimes in Ukraine as genocide. Moreover, Dickinson finds it inappropriate for Macron to call Ukrainians and Russians “brotherly nations.” He elaborates on the Russian historical campaign against Ukrainian national identity and regrets that “European perceptions of Ukraine are still often dangerously distorted by the lingering effects of Russian propaganda.”

Basil Kalymon (Atlantic Council) argues that European states should cease their energy trade with Russia regardless of the actual or potential economic losses to their side. Financial support going to “Putin’s war machine” in its destruction of Ukraine has become hard to justify: “The European Union’s refusal to ban Russian energy imports is the modern equivalent of trading with Nazi Germany while Hitler’s forces invade neighboring countries and commit genocide. It is both morally indefensible and strategically short-sighted.”

The Central European states are the only consistent supporters of Ukraine. The mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, writes for The Economist that by mid-April 2022 Poland accepted 2.5 million refugees. His city alone is hosting 300,000, which constitutes a 17% increase in the population of Warsaw in one month and is putting a considerable strain on local administrations. In this light, Trzaskowski argues that the EU should “phase out improvisation” and develop a common strategy to support the refugees.

Small post-Soviet states can benefit from the Russo-Ukrainian war. Stephen Jones (The National Interest) argues that the Caucasus state of Georgia should explore opportunities opened up by the recent developments in Ukraine. It appeared that “small states…situated in the post-Soviet space can mobilize larger democracies around international norms and treaties in their defense.” For this mobilization to happen, Western democracies should recognise the threatened post-Soviet state as a democracy, as the case of Ukraine has demonstrated.

The Russo-Ukrainian war may prompt a revision of the global order. This issue was discussed last week by many analysts from various perspectives.

The Economist argues that the outcome of the Russo-Ukrainian war will define a new global norm for decades: either this will be Putin’s belief in the right of “big countries…to dominate smaller ones” or the Western affirmation of the sovereignty of all countries, with their right to choose their own desired alliances. The Economist highlights that Western values are no longer universally admired, especially among emerging powers. They see the West as “a decadent, self-serving and hypocritical” actor, and its unconvincing engagement in Ukraine further strengthens this image. Therefore, only the victory of Russia will prompt a revision of the global order, for better or worse.

In line with The Economist, Lorenzo Camel (The National Interest) puts forward two arguments. First, the Russo-Ukrainian war is nothing more than a clash of global and regional “spheres of influence.” Secondly, emerging powers perceive the war as a Western attempt to resolve regional security concerns. In other words, India, China, and Iran have not imposed sanctions on Russia exactly because the war is being managed by the West in the global interest of the West.

The Russo-Ukrainian war is not a harbinger of a new Cold War. Stephen Wertheim (Foreign Affairs) speaks against the revival of Cold War logic in US foreign policy. The Russo-Ukrainian war is not a call for a military build-up and containment of Russia, but only “a case for strategic discipline” and “a chance to encourage Europe to balance against Russia while the United States concentrates on security in Asia and renewal at home.” In this case, the new global order will remain Western, but with a fairer “division of labour” between the US and united Europe. Wertheim outlines steps that the Western powers should take to construct this order. One such step may be the accession of Finland and Sweden to NATO, as suggested by The Economist.

Russian war crimes in Ukraine are likely a genocide. Last week, President Biden set the tone for more probing discussions of Russian killings in Ukraine by using the term genocide (see Myah Ward, Politico).

Bohdan Vitvitsky (Atlantic Council) traces the evolution of rhetoric of the Russian elites from neutral to hostile with respect to Ukraine. On the eve of the invasion, Putin defined Ukraine as “an illegitimate state” whose “rightful place is as a part of Russia. Any Ukrainians who insist otherwise are traitors and enemies of Russia who should be dealt with appropriately.” This rhetoric resulted in persistent and large-scale killings of Ukraine’s civilian population with absolutely no military justification. Vitvitsky also declares that gaps in the UN definition of genocide allow interested actors to diminish the gravity of the Russian war crimes in Ukraine (see also Peter Dickinson, Atlantic Council).

However, Rich Lowry (Politico) argues that Biden became too emotional and needlessly accused the Russians of committing genocide. The viciousness of the campaign in Ukraine is similar to their preceding campaigns in Chechnya, Syria, and Afghanistan: “This is the Russian way of war.” Moreover, Lowry advocates that Russians are not making “cultural and ethnic distinctions in their brutality. The watchword for the scorched-earth nature of their tactics is Mauripol, a predominantly Russian-speaking city with a large Russian population.”

Anne Applebaum and Jeffrey Goldberg (The Atlantic) published an interview with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, where he speaks about the price that Ukraine paid and will have to pay to survive. 

Russian soldiers frequently resort to sexual violence. Lauren Wolfe (The Atlantic) writes that such type of violence is hard to document and prosecute, as “systems of justice may have broken down, weapons are plentiful, and giving evidence may be impossible” on the occupied territories. However, thanks to advancements in technology (satellites, smartphones), justice against perpetrators can actually be administered, unlike during the wars of the past.

The dynamics of the Russian invasion are changing, and Ukraine may win. Andriy Zagorodnyuk (The Economist) concludes that “a formidable advantage in capabilities is no guarantee of success.” Large armies under a rigid system of command may suffer significant losses against less numerous but more adaptive opponents: “Russia’s strategic mistake has been to overestimate its own capabilities and underestimate Ukrainian ones.” In this light, Eliot A. Cohen (The Atlantic) writes that Ukraine may turn the tide of this war. If Putin orders a wide-scale offensive on the Donbas and it is confronted by a motivated and well-equipped Ukrainian defence, it could effectively destroy the Russian army. According to Cohen, “The challenge for the West is to ensure that this is its fate.”

The drowning of the missile cruiser Moskva became a milestone of the war. Mark Episkopos (The National Interest) claims that Ukraine’s successful attack on the cruiser not only dealt a heavy blow to the morale of invading troops but also significantly diminished Russian operational capacities: “the Black Sea Fleet has been deprived of a key naval weapons platform that could be used to pressure the southern coastal city of Mykolaiv” and afterwards to “advance westward in the direction of Odessa.”

Analysts from The Economist also agree that Russia will face hurdles after the loss of the Moskva: it “was not just an offensive platform, but also provided command and control, and air-defence, for a number of other ships. They will now be more vulnerable to Ukrainian missiles or drones.” Apart from this, The Economist dedicates much space to discussing the lethality of Ukraine’s “Neptune” anti-ship missiles and trying to predict future developments in the naval war arena (see also Quint Forgey and Myah Ward, Politico).

Russia may resort to nuclear means to prevent its defeat in conventional warfare. Three analysts addressed this topic in The National Interest, Mark Episkopos, Jacob Hailbrunn, and Kapil Patil. All three argue that the Russian nuclear threat should not be underestimated. Episkopos and Hailbrunn advocate that a peace deal with Russia is always better than nuclear escalation, unless the West seeks to remove Putin from power and undermine his legacy. Both analysts also note that contemporary Russia put the whole world on alert and made the EU and US revise their security objectives. Patil is more focused on the safety of Ukraine’s nuclear installations, which could be used by Moscow to inflict unprecedented damage without even having to deploy their own nuclear weapons.

The probability of regime change in Russia remains comparatively low. Douglas London, as well as Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan (all three from Foreign Affairs), analyze the anti-Putin protest potential inside and outside Russia. London argues that the best way “for the West to build leverage to use against Putin would be to foment unrest in his own house and weaken his regime from within.” In particular, he says, the West needs to grow anti-Russian sentiments and discredit the Kremlin’s reputation in Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Chechnia. This is challenging, considering the strength of Russian security forces in those territories.

In turn, Soldatov and Borogan recommend making use of the backstage clashes between the heads of the secret service, military command, and Putin himself. While the army men are very unlikely to threaten the stability of the regime, “the officers at Lubyanka” may take the chance. For this to happen, they need to suffer economic hardship and “conclude that the Kremlin is losing control of the country and that their own future is threatened.” However, at this moment the loyalty of the secret service to Putin is beyond doubt.

Timothy Frye (Politico) also argues that Putin’s removal from power is easier said than done. Contemporary Russia is “a classic personalist autocracy” where “a single individual…dominates policy and personnel decisions.” In such political systems, autocrats are removed only by other autocrats. Considering Putin’s deliberate and consistent prosecutions of the opposition, there likely is no figure in Russia to challenge his domination today. This said, the removal of autocrats often comes unexpectedly, provokes massive disarray, and remains hard to predict by external observers.

Ukraine requires Western economic support and solidarity in order to survive. Economic issues were discussed in-depth in five out of the seven magazines analyzed last week.

Peter Dickinson (Atlantic Council) claims that Russia’s bombardment of Ukraine’s strategic enterprises, a naval blockade of its ports, destruction of its critical infrastructure, and looting local businesses are “a central element of the Kremlin plan to weaken Ukrainian statehood and force the country back into the Russian orbit.” In this light, the West should not allow bankrupt Ukraine to surrender.

David Frum (The Atlantic) claims that the Western economic support to Ukraine falls short of the needs. Ukraine requires two things: an immediate influx of funds to mitigate current humanitarian disasters and a promise of abundant investments after the war: “Rebuilding Ukraine is likely to be the biggest European project since the absorption of East Germany by the West in the 1990s.” This rebuilding will include institutional reforms, restoration of residential and industrial infrastructure, a reorientation toward Europe, and modernization of the economy.

Analysts from The Economist refer to data of the Centre for Economic Policy Research and estimate “the overall cost of what will have to be done to rehabilitate the country after the war at €200bn–500bn ($220bn–540bn). The upper bound is over three times Ukraine’s pre-war gdp; the lower number is roughly four times the eu’s foreign-aid budget.” To this, The Economist analysts suggest adding expenditures for mitigating corruption and inefficient governance.

Basyl Kalimon (Atlantic Council) argues that a functional way to support Ukraine is to halt European energy imports from Russia, thereby discouraging the Kremlin from destroying Ukrainian economic facilities. This comes at a cost: “A complete ban on Russian gas imports to the European Union for the rest of 2022 would result in a 2.2% slowdown in economic growth across the Euro zone.” The cost is high but seems to be a sensible wartime measure, with long-term potential returns. Instead, as John Cassidy (The New Yorker) highlights, “far from cutting off their imports of Russian energy products, some European countries are, in fact, buying more gas and oil than before the war.”

The Russo-Ukrainian war has accelerated the economic meltdown of Sri Lanka. Sanctions on Russia triggered a shock wave in international energy markets and, in turn, aggravated the currency crisis in Sri Lanka. Additionally, the plummeting numbers of Russian, Belarus, and Ukrainian tourists further bled the state’s economy out (for more details see Dushni Weerakoon, Foreign Affairs).

Worth Your Attention

Only the victory of Russia in the Russo-Ukrainian war will change the global order. This misconception is upheld by the fact that during the UN vote on condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 40 countries voted against or abstained. In other words, representatives of one-third of the world’s population did not concur with the Western diplomatic pressure and sympathized with Russia—which, in their opinion, might shift the global leadership onto major Asian or Arabic powers (for more detail, see The Economist).

Indeed, Russian victory in the war will likely weaken the West and lead to a realignment of global political and economic dependencies. The architecture based on “spheres of influence” may replace the current architecture, which is based on sovereignty. This said, a victory by Ukraine also has all chances to redesign the global order.

Primarily, the impact of the Russo-Ukrainian war on the global order is yet to be ascertained. The global wars of the last decades were often waged between developed (former colonial/imperial) and developing (former colonized) powers. These types of wars led to the erosion of Western legitimacy and discreditation of universal values. Instead, the Russo-Ukrainian war is the first global war between post-Soviet states. Therefore, the “traditional” logic of conflicts between Western developed and non-Western developing states should not be applied here. This war has no precedents.

Secondly, the victory of Ukraine against Russia may be symbolic and inspiring for developing states: the former part of the empire (colonized nation) will defeat the core of the empire (colonists). With its victory, Ukraine will acquire a chance to become a global representative of the developing world and its spokesperson with the West. Ukraine may also gain legitimacy as a negotiating power in post-colonial conflicts. The voice of Ukraine in shaping global order will become more articulate.

Russian crimes in Ukraine cannot be classified as genocide. Rich Lowry (Politico) argues that “the Russians are guilty of great savagery in Ukraine, but there is no evidence that they intend to exterminate the Ukrainians.”

The fact is that there exists a plethora of evidence disregarded by Lowry: public addresses of the Kremlin’s authorities, articles in media affiliated with the Kremlin, even Putin’s essay on the unity of Russian and Ukrainian nations.

The whole idea of “de-nazification” (that provided one of the casus belli for the Russian invasion) anticipates dehumanisation and, afterwards, physical extermination of the “imaginary Nazi” regardless of their language, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

The paradox is that even the Russian-speaking people with Ukrainian passports are indiscriminately killed, regardless of the fact that the Russian invasion advocated the protection of Russian-speakers against “the Nazis.”

Furthermore, Ukrainian children are forcefully taken from their homes to mainland Russia for illegal adoption or re-education. In occupied territories Russians segregate Ukrainians in filtration camps.

The West is treacherously pushing Ukraine into an escalation of the war for its own sake. Mark Episkopos (The National Interest) writes that Ukraine “is being encouraged by its Western benefactors not to consider pragmatic, creative solutions aimed at swiftly ending the bloodshed, but to pursue a maximalist agenda on the battlefield and the negotiating table … The intention among many Western lawmakers is to back Moscow into a corner … [however] there is no indication that the Kremlin, which is convinced its existential interests are at stake in the ongoing conflict, has any intention of backing off in the face of the West’s maximum pressure campaign. To the contrary, all current signs point to further escalation.”

Episkopos regards Ukraine as a pawn in the Western geopolitical game. However, Ukrainians have demonstrated a willingness to fight: 82% of them believe in their country’s victory and are ready to endure all the calamities of war. In this light, it could be said that the West is not pushing but is being pushed into a military solution to the conflict, especially by the energetic appeals of President Zelensky.

The military solution remains the only, yet painful option as the Russian side is not willing to negotiate. The Kremlin authorities require Ukraine to agree to their demands without objections. They also deny the existence of Ukraine’s statehood and identity. Not to mention that it was Russia who initiated a full-scale invasion: it attacked Ukraine under a very dubious pretext of “denazification,” “demilitarization,” and protection of Russian-speakers. Accepting Russian demands today will lead to a very temporary solution as new pretexts may be easily invented by the Kremlin to continue expansion in the future.

The claim that Russia invaded Ukraine to pursue its existential interests sounds dubious. Neither NATO nor the EU has ever posed a threat to Russia (for more details see Hans Petter Midttun, Euromaidan Press). Instead, the Russian post-Cold War cooperation with the West developed in a constructive manner. A more plausible reason for the Russian invasion is that the post-communist states decided to integrate into the Western community thus rendering Russian values and governance unattractive or inefficient (for more details see Robert Kagan, Foreign Affairs).

Russian potential for further escalation of the war is limited. Russia is not the Soviet Union, its economy is not as militarized, and its interdependency on external actors is pivotal for the state to function. This means that the economic burden of sanctions, accompanied by large-scale destruction of Russian forces on the battlefield, will gradually take their toll and prod the Kremlin into withdrawing from Ukraine. 

Ostap Kushnir

Ostap Kushnir is an assistant professor at Lazarski University in Warsaw. He holds an MA in Journalism from Odesa Mechnikov National University, an MA in International Relations from the University of Wales, and a PhD from Nicolaus Copernicus University (Toruń, Poland). His academic interests include geopolitical and boundary-forming processes in Central and Eastern Europe, specifically in the Black Sea region. Dr. Kushnir is the author of the book Ukraine and Russian Neo-Imperialism: The Divergent Break (2018). He is also a member of the editorial board of the Central European Journal of International and Security Studies (Czechia).

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