What kind of peace could Russia afford?
What about using the seized Russian foreign currency reserves for Ukraine reconstruction costs?
This is definitely the best analysis I've seen - so glad I subscribed. (Disclaimer - I did a War Studies BA in the 1990s under Sir Lawrence Freedman).
The key point that many other people seem to miss is that events on the physical battlefield are important, but not necessarily decisive. The initial Russian military failure was absolutely critical in avoiding the kind of short, fait d'accompli for which the Russian Armed Forces and economy are optimized, and on which they're effectively dependent. Since that initial failure, I would argue that events beyond that physical battlefield have assumed greater importance: widespread political support, Chinese caution, economic and financial factors, and Ukrainian success in the infowar/global PR battle have greater significance, precisely because these factors are the opposite of those which Russia needs to work in its favour.
Even though the sanctions aren't watertight, they're causing sufficient damage to the Russian economy that it's status as a 'great power' has been completely undermined in the eyes of the world, and particularly China. While a China-Russia axis remains possible, I would assume that Chinese caution, pragmatism and long-term thinking make it significantly less likely given the dual irresponsibility and failure of the Putin regime to achieve its objectives. In thinking about post-war costs, would it be in Chinese interests to participate in a globally-funded reconstruction programme for Ukraine? This would be a clear benefit to China in improving its relations with the West, and would in essence be storing up both a 'favour' and a financial precedent for when Chinese sovereign debt becomes a regime-threatening issue. This would be even more the case if China has either participated in, or even led, international efforts to end the war or even have the Putin regime replaced (latter less likely but not impossible, depending on Putin's escalatory actions). In summary, will China's self-interest become a significant determining factor in both the current war and what comes after it?
Yes, the frozen Russian reserves should go towards rebuilding Ukraine. As for the Russian sanctions, keep them on to keep Russia weak. A weak Russia has little way to invade other countries or even help out other despots around the world much. It's OK if Russia turns in to another Iran. We really should be encouraging brain drain from all these places as well.
Reference to Chechnya and Syria is very relevant. Perhaps the Chinese will be making these connections too, in determining their position towards the conflict?
A central problem and issue in any negotiated peace has to be the status of Crimea. A militarized Crimea will always pose a threat to Ukraine--and to the very existence of the Crimean Tatars.
I think Putin only cares about economics in so far as it strengthens/weakens his political and geo-political agendas. I can’t see him caring unduly about a costly, bleeding economic sore of an annexed and ungrateful part of East Ukraine as long as he remains in power and his Russian Empire looks bigger.
I think Europe’s mind is quite made up and they’ll want the sanctions to go for years the better to starve and enfeeble his war machine. Weakening it via money, looks much safer than spending blood and treasure shooting it up in Poland or the Baltic states (to say nothing of nuclear risks). Europe, Russia’s closest and biggest market, seems to have decided it’s prepared to suffer economic pain to harm Russia and it clearly means business. I doubt its governments would listen to their business lobbies which probably won’t clamor to return to an impoverished country that stinks of sovereign risk.
Putin will have got what he wants - a return to the good old days of the USSR. They’ll be no political freedom, a decrepit economy but he’ll find it rather harder to find allies. No one will trust him, let alone look upon his country as one to emulate. He’ll be sorely disappointed if he hopes anyone will give him or his beloved Russia much respect.
This might be a foolish question, but at this stage of the war what are they paying mercenaries with? I’m not trying to be facetious, but if you are dependent on additional hired labour, but your economy is undergoing a sharp contraction, where do your additional resources come from?
Outstanding analysis. What Mr. Freedman has pointed out and must be stressed is that Putin has never had an economic agenda. And I think this is precisely the point we have never fully understood in the West. His mind is set for political control in the way Soviet apparatchiks used to be. Don't ever forget whose school he went to (KGB) He does not share the same set of values we have in the Western democracies and thereby his mindset and political resolve is not affected by economics. We saw that already many years ago when Soviet leaders did not care about their own population welfare. IMHO economic sanctions will not affect his resolve although will erode his base of power. This doesn't mean we should discontinue the economic pressure but we should not place too much faith on them.
Consideration of economic consequences is an important element in the search of a peace settlement.
Putin's assumtion was that the gains of the invasion, economic and political, would outweight the costs and sanctions.
His calculation was wrong, and we should now present him with a scenario where he benefits from ending the war - and where the costs become much more daunting if he decides to continue.
The incentive for the Russians to leave should be the lifting of all sanctions and amnesty for all war crimes, as well as a sum of reparations acceptable to Russia. In addition, Ukraine should accept a neutral status with security guaranteed by Western countries.
On the other hand, NATO should set an ultimatum from which it will intervene in the war if the Russians do not disengage. Russia can not have any interest in provoking this scenario since they already have no superiority only against the Ukrainian army.
There is a way to avert disaster and every one "wins". 1. Offer made to Russian oligarchs: depose Putin, commit large portion of wealth to rebuilding Ukraine. Allow for internationally observed democratic election. All protestors/political prisoners released. During the process, Russia loses veto in Sec Council (reinstated afterwards). 2. Wealthy get to keep most wealth. Sanctions dropped, businesses will be able to go back into Russia - revitalizing the economy. Ukraine gets rebuilt. Russia can freely trade. China maintains bulk of investment in Russia and privileged trading partner status - without ever having had to commit to one side and losing nothing. Alternatively, we all descend into hell for the next 20 years of China vs the West in which no one really wins and there is constant insecurity.
I am very happy I have found this blog, initially via a link from the FT. I find both Sam and Lawrence's articles incisive, balanced, detailed and interesting, and follow the links when new articles are emailed through to me. I also like the links in the articles which open up new interesting and credible sources (in this case to the article in Kommersant). Can anyone recommend any similar writers to follow elsewhere? Thanks for your efforts, Sam and Lawrence.
This was a great in-depth article, unfettered by the self serving and self propagating bias of the mainstream media.
Excellent insightful analysis. Thank you.
How much of this systemically looted money is now out of the reach of embezzlers lower down the food chain? And what effect will this have if combat gets dragged out?
I remain seriously concerned that Putin may try WMD blackmail: capitulate or face chemical attacks. Would Zelensky refuse and see 100,000 dead Ukrainians? 200,000? 1,000,000? 4,000,000? The USSR lost between 20 million to 26 million in WWII - yet they fought on.
At what point is the loss of large portion of Ukraine's population not worth continued fighting? What would we do in response to chemical attacks?
I think you make Putin's prospects seem worse than they actually are by substituting your ideas of what he should want for what he tells us he wants, in word and more importantly in deed.
He wants all of Ukraine. However much Ukraine itself has stymied him so far, Ukraine cannot keep him from taking all of the country without direct NATO intervention in combat. It may take weeks or even months instead of the matter of days that the Russians would have preferred, but Russia can take all of Ukraine unless NATO armed forces join the fight.
You make an excellent case for how bad a bargain it would be for Russia to stop now, to seek a ceasefire now, on the basis of the uti possidetis as of 3/15/22. There is little good he could make of that patchwork, though even here I would think that we should understand that this patchwork would be even more untenable for Ukraine to live with.
You could imagine that Putin would accept a ceasefire now, but only if he calculates that accepting the ceasefire lines would destroy Ukraine fairly quickly. He seems to have imagined that what he did in 2014 would lead to the political destabilization of Ukraine sufficient to allow the country to be occupied without much armed violence. That didn't turn out according to plan, so Putin will probably not be willing to give this new hoped-for destabilization of Ukraine anything like eight years. He's not signing a ceasefire until and unless what remains of Ukraine is clearly no longer viable for more than weeks or months after the deal is signed by Ukraine.
Putin wouldn't want to stop now because anything less than destroying Ukraine as an independent state will not meet his war aims. He can't stop now because the lines now occupied are so unfavorable to those aims, and to Russia's interests in general. The only thing that will make him want peace, and want it badly enough that he will accept Ukrainian independence, would be defeat on the battlefield. That's not happening without NATO forces.