Jaak Aaviksoo: Three imperatives of the Russia-Ukraine war

Jaak Aaviksoo.
Jaak Aaviksoo. Source: Anna Aurelia Minev/ERR

While impatiently waiting for an end to the horrors of war and for justice to triumph, we need to admit that these expectations need to be placed in broader context. The latter is determined by Western allies' long-term national interests from the point of view of global stability, Jaak Aaviksoo writes.

Russia's full-blown and pronouncedly brutal military activity in Ukraine has altered the West's attitude toward it and the global lines of force probably for good. By now, it is also clear that the Kremlin's strategic goal – to execute the imperial vision of the Russkiy Mir in Ukraine and the rest of mainland Europe after that –has utterly failed.

The Kremlin's decision-makers proceeded from completely mistaken notions about Ukrainian self-awareness, Western unity and their own military capacity. However, this should not inspire haughtiness or superficial treatments of Russia's significance and the global security balance on our part.

Russia has been brutally honest about one thing. Namely, that it does not like the European security architecture and especially the nonexistent role therein of Russia as a nuclear superpower. This prompted it to treat the U.S. as the de facto hegemon in this situation to an ultimatum.

The latter's outright rejection left Russia's KGB-mafia-schooled leaders with little choice other than a show of force. Such a tour de force va banque is an inherent part of the culture, characteristic of suicide terrorists rather than states.

The Western powers faced a difficult choice. The provocative breach of international law against Ukraine as an open ally necessitated a reaction, while any U.S./NATO intervention without a UN mandate would have only confirmed Russia's claims of a campaign against it. This would also have seen plenty of sympathizers, giving the Kremlin the chance to "defend its independence" by all means necessary, including nuclear weapons. Something no one needs.

That could help answer the question why the West, at least ten times more powerful than Russia economically and many times militarily, has avoided direct military intervention and resolving the conflict through force.

Controlling the situation is the primary imperative in such a potentially apocalyptic situation. The other side must not be given cause for impulsive behavior, while consistent efforts need to be made to force it to acknowledge reality. That is precisely how we handle persons with suicidal tendencies and suicide terrorists. Because the alternative is beyond anyone's control and can have disastrous consequences for both sides.

So far, this strategy has justified itself. Ukraine's allied-sponsored capacity has been growing steadily and gradually led to a situation where they are taking the initiative while Russia is running out of tactical and strategic choices.

It is noteworthy that Russia seems to lack (even domestically) credible arguments for escalating the conflict, either vertically, by involving new military capacity, or horizontally, through attacks against other Western allies.

The same logic is reflected in ordering sanctions as packages and not as a single so-called lethal dose. The relatively high price [of this approach] is paid in Ukrainian casualties and the danger of its supporters growing weary. But what could be the alternative? Those wishing for NATO fighters in Ukrainian skies, boots on the ground and bombs on Russian cities would do well to consider what would come next.

The other aspect of handling this conflict has to do with global political balance. Deep economic and political shifts in the security situation following the Second World War – the emergence of China, India and Islamic states, growing demographic pressure from Africa and the economic ambitions of BRICS – have added to security tensions, whereas the majority of states is increasingly against the dominating role of the West and the U.S. especially.

Even though there was broad consensus for condemning Russia's aggression in the UN, we should be realistic in terms of what comes next. Most of the world's countries will assume opportunistic positions and prefer to see the West/USA weakened, provided there is no personal stake. Avoiding the strategic weakening of the West is the second imperative of the Ukraine war.

Recent strategic setbacks in Afghanistan and the Middle East, as well as Sahel, coupled with mounting energy and raw materials dependence are forcing us to pursue pragmatic cooperation and entertain the interests of third countries to a far greater extent than we would perhaps like in this conflict. On the backdrop is the knowing there are plenty of those just waiting to invoice the West for perceived historical injustice.

The third challenge concerns our understanding of the war's end, especially in terms of Russia's future. It has been almost consensually phrased that Ukraine should win this war in the key of restoring its sovereignty and territorial integrity, including Crimea. There are also those who, based on entirely justified moral condemnation, feel that the main aim should be making sure imperial Russia loses the war, complete with a regime change, prosecution of war criminals, extensive reparations and even the chopping up of the country.

Skepticism from past experience urges a more realistic view. Russia is an enduring reality and no victory flag will be hoisted on top of the Kremlin. This brings us to the third imperative. Russia reserving the right to peaceful self-organization.

How to return to peace is unclear, and yet, we must place our faith more in internal than external intervention. Should Ukraine and its allies make progress based on these principles, there will be a moment when the Kremlin cannot and the Russian people do not want to continue this war. We should have enough wisdom to support changing Russia as best we can.

While impatiently waiting for an end to the horrors of war and for justice to triumph, we need to admit that these expectations need to be placed in broader context. The latter is determined by Western allies', including Estonia, long-term national interests from the point of view of global stability.

The resulting imperatives are likely the reason for sometimes disappointing political decisions we have seen over the last six months.

Should that be the case, we can hope that U.S. President Joe Biden's at times less than confident statements, French President Emmanuel Macron's phone calls, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's mediation and even German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's controversial Ukraine policy share strategic common elements that will help ensure Ukraine's victory in this war for Western values.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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