The Significance of the Ukraine War, so Far

The Significance of the Ukraine War, so Far. By Greg Sheridan.

Every war is a tragedy; most wars are also a mistake. But wars do have results. Some nations prevail, some nations fail. Some are dismembered, never to recover. Some ideologies – such as Nazism in World War II – are defeated forever.

The Ukraine outcome will be fateful for the entire world. …

In domestic violence, “I was forced to hit her” is not an adequate defense:

The idea, more popular now on the faux-realist isolationist right than anywhere else, that Western aid to Ukraine is provocative to Russia demonstrates how a stream of the “know-nothing” far right has become as ­unmoored and confused about fundamental questions of values, just as postmodern and detached from reality as the far left. …

Putin’s mind and soul were formed in the KGB, where he was a successful career officer, and in the bloody politics of St Petersburg. At home, he has trashed democracy and instituted a vicious dictatorship. He and his cronies are fabulously wealthy while the Russian economy shrinks. He has shut down free media and imprisons anyone brave enough to oppose him politically, even those who only participate in demonstrations.

Anti-western values

His regime assassinates dissidents abroad and he has grabbed territory not only from Ukraine, but from Georgia and Moldova. He has run savage military campaigns in Syria and Chechnya. His own writings show he is propelled ideologically by a version of the deepest, most paranoid Russian ultra-nationalism, the dream of a Russian-dominated Eurasian empire, with its mystical elements and long tradition of hatred of the West. This ideology finds its most complete expression in the works of Aleksandr Dugin.

The idea that all of this came about because Putin had a well-grounded fear of being invaded by coffee-loving Prague intellectuals, or the brave but tiny armed forces of Lithuania, is insane.

What seems to have happened to a small but significant minority on the far right is a form of cultural despair and domestic hyper-partisanism leading to irrational, often absurd and incoherent policy positions. …

A culture war ally is not necessarily a friend:

Conservatives are deeply concerned, rightly in my view, at the direction of cultural change in the West. Western societies are losing existential purpose. They are drifting too far into atomised ennui and destructive identity politics. Some of their elites have come to hate all aspects of Western history, and the US and other Western societies are deeply polarised politically. This analysis recognises geo­strategic threats from China and Islamist terror.

They then look out on the world and see Putin rejecting all aspects of woke ideology and rejecting gender ideology, but in fact ­rejecting human rights for gay ­people. They see him notionally supporting the Christian religion through the Russian Orthodox Church, which in truth he has ­traduced and subverted and robbed of religious integrity.

They ignore his hatred of the West and come to the bizarre conclusion that Putin is a natural ally. …

The Putin constituency in parts of the Western right once seemed as though it might be important. But the Ukraine war has blown it away. Putin won occasional favourable remarks from France’s Marine Le Pen, Italy’s Matteo Salvini and various fruitcake Republicans in the US.

But the striking thing about ­European politics is how strongly the pro-Ukraine position has held together. During the European summer, it was thought that the ­reality of a winter with much-­reduced Russian energy supplies would cause a great falling away of support for solidarity with Ukraine. Instead, that solidarity, and the military and economic aid, has grown. Putin’s political efforts in the West after all have yielded him almost nothing in Ukraine. …

How will this end?

In some ways, the Ukraine war has conformed to past Russian campaigns. It started disastrously for the Russians, and all the weaknesses of corruption, lack of initiative, appalling logistics, confusion at manoeuvre, were exposed. But then the Russians became less ambitious and tried to turn it into a long war of attrition. Their vastly superior numbers compared to Ukraine now have a chance to come into play. They now understand it’s a long war.

They even seem to be on the brink of a new conquest in the southern city of Bakhmut. Putin still probably dreams that he can occupy all of eastern and southern Ukraine, though if he ever gets that far he may once more think he can rule all Ukraine.

Where will it end? Henry Kissinger has suggested an ultimate deal in which Russia keeps the territory it took 10 years ago, that is, Crimea and part of Donbas; Ukraine keeps all the rest and gets NATO membership. Any deal that does not give Ukraine NATO membership would see Ukraine ­relying only on Putin’s word, and that is clearly worthless.

Ukraine is not ready to concede any territory yet and Moscow is not ready to accept Ukraine in NATO. So that deal is not possible today, but Kissinger may well have forecast the ultimate outcome. …

The changes brought about by the war so far:

The US has three important international adversaries: China, Russia and Iran. The second most important of these, Russia, has been gravely damaged by its invasion attempt. Its military is degraded and three-quarters used up, its influence is vastly reduced, its energy dominance has declined, its hi-tech industries are in the process of being crippled.

Meanwhile, the West has demonstrated coherence and consequence. NATO’s strength is confirmed, and enhanced. Nothing is more truly provocative than weakness. The Russians were influenced to invade Ukraine by drawing the wrong lessons from the messy US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The world, perhaps even its own citizens, will have to rethink the narrative of terminal Western decline.

Nowhere will these lessons be more closely studied than in Beijing. Western success in Ukraine makes war in east Asia significantly less likely. Ukrainians are fighting, magnificently, for their own freedom and country. They are also fighting for the West.

Brave Ukrainians fighting for their freedom and superior weapons from clever western weapons engineers have saved the Ukrainians so far. The moral and institutional rot of western society — the incompetence, the diversity, and the degeneracy — has not yet become relevant to western performance in this war.