It seems that every Western government supports Ukraine in its quest for total victory over Russia. The NATO alliance and other states have remained remarkably united and steadfast in their beliefs that Ukraine is the victim. Kyiv should be spared no expense in defeating the occupiers and ejecting Russian forces from all territories.
But what would happen after a win? Russia would be humiliated and could even resort to the nuclear weapons option. There could be a dangerous power vacuum in Moscow if Russia endures a messy period of regime change. What is the West trying to accomplish? What is the endgame for this war that would win the peace?
Germany and France Are Less Enthusiastic
Some countries, such as Germany and France, have been less resolute in their support of Ukraine. They are not gung ho like Poland and the Baltic states, who are supporting Ukraine with words and deeds until total victory is achieved.
How to Win the Peace?
What if a final peace deal after Russian capitulation would create a Treaty of Versailles type of accord that would humiliate Moscow and create even more contempt for the West in Russia? French President Emmanuel Macron has been in favor of negotiations and giving Russia “security guarantees,” but it is not clear what he would include in an armistice or peace deal. France has also not specified the type of and number of air defense systems that Macron has discussed with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The Germans have only said Russia “cannot win” without going into details of Berlin’s strategy toward Russia.
Limitation of Military Support for Kyiv
Germany has also resisted providing military aid consisting of its best weapons systems such as the Leopard 2 tank that Ukraine could use to blast their Russian trenches this winter. The United States has not allowed the Ukrainians to have fighter planes or longer-range ballistic missiles called ATACMS for the HIMARS rocket launchers.
Fears of Escalation
The United States, Germany, and France fear escalating the war by arming Ukraine with their best military hardware, while Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, plus Poland are worried that Russia could invade and occupy them again. The Baltic countries and Poland are spending a higher percentage of their Gross Domestic Product on Ukrainian aid.
Will Diplomacy Even Work?
Diplomatic options are limited between Ukraine and Russia. A ceasefire would allow Russia to rest, recuperate, and re-arm. An armistice without a formal peace treaty could create a frozen conflict with a demilitarized zone similar to the situation on the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile, Ukraine would hold out for a complete capitulation from Moscow that includes Russian payment of reparations for death and damages, acquiescence to war crimes tribunals, and reversion to the borders before the annexation of Crimea. All provisions that would be a non-starter for Vladimir Putin. Russia could use nuclear blackmail to create a crisis of confidence in the West, so it is important not to push Putin to the brink.
Post War Outcomes Are Messy
Even if Russia loses the war, the rules-based liberal order could be finished in Eastern Europe. Russia could always bide its time and invade another country after it licks its wounds. Ukraine would likely join NATO and the European Union, further making the case that Russia will be a permanent villain that is surrounded by alliance members and torn apart by countries that wish it harm.
Time for the West to Huddle Up for the Next Play
Due to these problems with the outcome of a Russian loss, the West will likely need a major summit to figure out the path forward post-war. Ukraine will have to be re-built and de-mined – requirements that will require a 21st century Marshall Plan-like type of monetary investment. There will need to be a plan to ensure that Russia does not take the nuclear option – probably a re-birth of New START talks that have languished during the war. And Russia will have to understand that its brand of imperialism will not be allowed in the future.
As Estonian international relations expert Kristi Raik wrote for a recent piece in Foreign Policy magazine, “Eventually, a free and democratic Ukraine, secure in its borders and fully integrated into the trans-Atlantic community, will be the best possible chance for a deep transformation within Russia.” Let’s hope Kyiv and the West can achieve that end state and Russia will allow it to happen.
Expert Biography: Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.