'For as long as it takes': Can the West keep its promise to Ukraine?Play
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As the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nears, both sides are hoping for a decisive victory — but readying for a longer, grinding war.
"How long that war will be will precisely depend on the speed of the Western aid," Nataliya Bugayova, Russia fellow at the Institute for the Study of War, says.
"The best way to shorten the lines of this war is to actually give Ukraine the capability to liberate the territories faster."
Western leaders have vowed to continue supporting Ukraine. But in NATO capitals there’s growing concern about the burdens of a long war.
"Ukrainians are suffering, Russians are suffering, and people globally are suffering as food and energy prices rise," Miranda Priebe, director of the Center for Analysis of U.S. Grand Strategy at the RAND Corporation, says.
"The United States and its allies in Ukraine and Russia are all coming to a point where we're really going to have to reflect on hard choices that we need to make."
Today, On Point: Hard choices ahead on Ukraine.
Miranda Priebe, director of the Center for Analysis of U.S. Grand Strategy at the RAND Corporation. Co-author of the paper Avoiding a Long War. (@MirandaPriebe)
Nataliya Bugayova, Russia fellow at the Institute for the Study of War. (@nataliabugayova)
Alexandra Prokopenko, former officer at the Central Bank of Russia. (@amenka)
When the president says the U.S. will support Ukraine as long as it takes, is that a promise that he can keep if this war continues to go on with no end in sight?
Miranda Priebe: "I think it's important to break that question down into: Can he? And, should he? So the can is a question of domestic politics and, you know, the opinion of U.S. leaders about whether to keep fighting this war. And we know right now that polls are kind of trending against continued support to Ukraine, although they aren't particularly low either. But I think the bigger question that I like to see the country debating is, Should we? Does it make sense for the United States to help keep a conflict going that could last for years? And we haven't really had that debate because we've been just so focused on the immediate crisis before us."
On Russia's prospects in Ukraine
Nataliya Bugayova: "I think Ukraine, as we discussed, still is able to liberate critical terrain and it's in U.S. interest that it does. Why? Because whether Russia keeps or loses its gains in Ukraine is a key determinant not just for Russia's prospects in Ukraine, but for the future of Russia's power. And I think the arguments that because Russia's already weakened and thus additional damage to the U.S. will weaken Russia's marginal ... ignores this plurality.
"Because if Russia does keep Ukraine gains, it will give Kremlin a chance to reconstitute as we talk, launch future attacks, connect its military gains in Ukraine, Belarus, and likely Moldova at a time. The requirements that would impose on the U.S., on NATO ... and additional vulnerabilities that it will create, especially as U.S. is thinking about long term competition with China, will be enormous. And look, you also have the same obligation to support NATO allies in the future, Russian attacks on Ukraine, as Ukraine does now. Which means we're risking, U.S. risk in facing the same problem with the same escalation risk, but under worse conditions in the future if it does not help Ukraine's large-scale offensive now."
On U.S. support in Ukraine
Nataliya Bugayova: "I think there are two parts of this. The first, there are real challenges and then there are perceived challenges. There are certainly difference of opinions on the scale speed extent of the support to Ukraine. But there is unity on their underlying premise that the unprovoked invasion of Ukraine should not be rewarded. And it's the underlying national security interest of those states that's, I think, the fundamental driver of support for Ukraine and not just moral and humanitarian considerations.
"Second, on the point of the perceived divergences now, we've seen all throughout the past 12 months that one of the most important, the largest Russian investment in the information space has been to drive apart the unity between Ukraine and its Western partners. Originally, they manifested those information operations, manifested themselves as calls to not supply Ukraine with arms early in the war, and saying that essentially Russia is such a great power that it wouldn't matter whether Ukraine had any weapons. Then those information operations switched to trying to create essentially pessimism about any ability of Ukraine to regain terrain in the summer of last year.
"And I remember actually being asked by media the same question about the war of attrition. But then, of course, Ukraine went on a massive counter-offensive. Then those information operations shifted to the nuclear threats ... and later to essentially the calls for some sort of a ceasefire and peace deals. There were clearly intended to slow the provision of Western tanks to Ukraine. So I think we also should be very cognizant of there are real challenges, but they're also perception of disunity or a lack of unity that's driven by Russia."
On how the U.S. can bring an end to the war
Miranda Priebe: "I've already mentioned a couple of them, which is that, you know, one direction is to think about what commitments the United States is willing to make as part of a postwar settlement. And that probably includes something like the parties talked about in the Istanbul communique early in the war, which is a pairing, some kind of guarantee of support to Ukraine in the future with also a promise of Ukrainian neutrality. And that would make both sides more confident that, you know, peace could last and also give them both a reason to see peace as more beneficial.
"As we know that Putin has long hoped to keep Ukraine out of NATO's other kind of tough choices to think about offering Russia a path to sanctions relief. Although the sanctions have been slow to degrade the Russian economy, they are a long term challenge for Russia, as we know, and it has undermined growth to some degree. So as part of a negotiation process, the U.S. and its allies could consider offering Russia a pathway to getting those relieves relieved in exchange for concessions to Ukraine.
"And then finally, you know, this is probably the most difficult option to talk about, but the United States could begin to place more conditions or limits on its support to Ukraine, unless it engages really genuinely in negotiations with Russia. And that's a politically difficult, morally difficult thing to do when a country has been invaded. But at the same time, it's I think, you know, one of the options, one of the tools in the U.S. toolkit that we have to talk about and think about and consider whether it has a role to play in our next steps."
This program aired on February 20, 2023.