GAR PARDY: The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the way forward
Gar Pardy is retired from the foreign service and a former ambassador. He comments on public policy issues from Ottawa. Her latest book, “China in a Changing World,” is available online and from Books on Beechwood in Ottawa.
By Gar Pardy
The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 was the greatest event of the second half of the 20th century. It destroyed the long-ruling Communist Party of the Soviet Union, created political confusion, as well as the collapse of an economic system created in 1917.
It also led to the emergence of 15 independent states, the former “republics” of the Soviet Union, and political freedom for seven of its “satellites” in Eastern Europe. Eleven of these countries became members of NATO, all determined to have a security guarantee for their liberation from Russia. Overnight, it was a unipolar world.
Russia’s recovery from these cataclysmic events was well underway at the end of last year. So, the unanswered question today is why President Vladimir Putin decided on February 24 to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, risking everything he had achieved. To a large extent, this uncertainty can be explained by his statements and actions since becoming the leader of the newly created Russia in the late 1990s.
It was during this period that Putin emerged from being a minor player in the Russian political system, evolving to become its constitutional leader and, today, an autocrat with a self-proclaimed responsibility for “all” Russians and the recreation of ancient Russia.
The Ukrainian invasion was to be the crowning achievement of Putin’s policy.
In the late 90s, the two brutal civil wars with the Chechen Republic were the start. Then, in 2008, he began Russia’s expansion with a second war in Georgia, creating South Ossetia and Abkhazia as self-proclaimed Russian-backed “republics”.
Six years later, Putin annexed Crimea and started a war with Ukraine over its two eastern provinces of Donbass and Luhansk. Additionally, Russian military interventions in Belarus (2020/21) and Kazakhstan (2022) were elements of Putin’s broader policy,
In addition to his total political domination at home and territorial acquisitions, Putin has recreated a new capitalist economic system. Based on the export of Russian energy – oil, gas and coal – Russia is now the largest source of energy for most of Western Europe, especially Germany. The large-scale privatization of state-owned assets and the creation of many business leaders largely beholden to Putin have been associated with economic changes.
Everywhere, Germany, with Chancellor Angela Merkel, more than most countries, has been cooperative in Russia’s political and economic re-emergence. Merkel’s decision to phase out nuclear power and the subsequent expansion of Russian energy imports created, in the eyes of many, a willingness to see Putin’s policies as acceptable and a country with which Germany should cooperate. . Likewise, its rigidity against EU debt relief for its southern members, resulting from the profusion of loans from German banks, has created considerable tension within the European Union.
EU tensions have been heightened by NATO’s ‘out-of-region’ activities, and both have given Putin confidence in his policy of ‘making Russia great again’. In this, the arrival of NATO forces on Russia’s western borders provided justification and became the litany associated with all policies. The expansion of Russian control and power in Finland, the Baltic States, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia and Kazakhstan is still underway, but there are few signs that the expectation has died down.
Part of Putin’s plan
The Ukrainian invasion was to be the crowning achievement of Putin’s policy. It was the first significant test of the Russian military since World War II, and today’s military stalemate surprised Moscow as much as it surprised Washington.
The surprise for the Russians was not long in coming. Certainly faster than it was for the United States when it assumed that the purity of its motives in Vietnam, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya would be an element of its success. No success is in sight for Russia, even in the predominantly Russian-speaking regions on the shores of the Azov and Black Seas.
Unfortunately, there is no victory in sight for Ukraine either, and the associated problems will dominate Europe and the Western world for years to come. The military standoff will be a time of dangerous instability and will require greater NATO involvement in maintaining it.
For the rest of Europe, NATO, Canada and the Americans, what is now needed is the emergence of a new paradigm to manage the resulting global geopolitical and economic world. At the heart of these new policies will be the refurbishment of the post-war policy of effective geo-containment for Russia, the improvement of the military protection of the frontline countries and the strengthening of the central policies of order. Western liberal politics in Europe. Likewise, the new paradigm must include efforts to ensure the containment of China as a former ally of Russia as it deals with the results of its failure in Ukraine.
Fortunately, the organizations created to manage a more complex world in the aftermath of World War II are still in fairly good shape. These include the United Nations, NATO, the European Union, various detente and disarmament treaties with the Soviet Union, the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Helsinki Accords and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe associated with it. There are also a variety of mechanisms facilitating acceptable global involvement by China, although a new paradigm is needed there as well.
Canada has actively participated in the creation of these mechanisms and institutions. They give us the opportunity to reconnect with the world with the thought and energy needed after the failed invasion of Ukraine. Failure to engage will increase our own dangers at a time when there is opportunity for improvement.