Liana Fix, fellow for Europe at CFR, leads the conversation on the global ramifications of the war in Ukraine.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. Welcome to the first session of the Winter/Spring 2023 CFR Academic Webinar Series. I’m Irina Faskianos, vice president of the National Program and Outreach at CFR.
Today’s discussion is on the record and the video and transcript will be available on our website, CFR.org/academic. As always, CFR takes no institutional positions on matters of policy.
We’re delighted to have Liana Fix with us to talk about the global ramifications of the war in Ukraine. Dr. Fix is a fellow for Europe at CFR. She is a historian and political scientist, with expertise in German and European foreign and security policy, European security, transatlantic relations, Russia and Eastern Europe. Prior to joining CFR, Dr. Fix was program director for international affairs at Körber-Stiftung in Berlin. She has also served as a fellow at the German Marshall Fund, the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, and the Robert Bosch Foundation Multilateral Dialogues. And from 2014 to 2016, Dr. Fix was the a doctoral fellow at the German Institute for International Security Affairs and associate fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations. She is the author of A New German Power? Germany’s Role in European Russia Policy, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan.
So, Liana, thank you very much for being with us today. We are about a month shy of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Can you begin by giving us context on where things stand in Ukraine, and talk about the global ramifications of this war in Ukraine that Russia has mounted?
FIX: Thank you so much, Irina. Thank you for the opportunity to speak at this Academic Webinar and to lead this webinar just really at a very good time, just short of the one year—the tragic one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And what I would like to discuss today, and perhaps to offer also as some input for the discussion, three questions. First of all, looking back at the last year, at what have we actually learned from the last year and from the war in Ukraine, that we would not have known before, and a lesson that we should take with us for the future. The other second point is what can we actually expect for this year? What can we expect for the second year of the war? And then the third question, what are the global ramifications and how will they continue to affect beyond the war in Ukraine in this year?
So coming to the first point, and that is the lesson learned from the war so far, and from the last year. I have one lesson learned to offer, which seems to me to be the most important one because it summarizes many other surprises and lessons learned that we had throughout the last year. And this lesson is the fallacy of linear thinking. And what do I mean by that? I mean by that, that throughout the war we have continued to think in the moment from where we stood and where we were. So the first example is perhaps the most obvious one, the assumption that a Russian attack on Ukraine would immediately result in Moscow’s military victory. And even after Russia’s defeat in the Battle of Kyiv, it took months for policymakers and analysts to internalize that Russia’s initial failures in this war were not only a temporary setback, but that Russia is actually on the losing side in this war.
The second example that explains why we always continue to fall for this fallacy of linear thinking is the prediction of a stalemate that we hear again and again, and that we heard very often in the last year, often with a comparison of the First World War, the concern that we would end up in a trench warfare between Ukraine and Russia back in their relative positions. This prediction has, in the last year, repeatedly been refuted by Ukrainian counteroffensives. And it is also not what we should expect for the next year.
Just because we now have a period of one or two months when things seem to be a little bit slower, it would be a fallacy of linear thinking to assume that this is how the war will continue to take place in this year. So actually, right now, both sides are preparing for the spring counteroffensives. And those don’t have to be as successful as we have seen in the past, but we do see a very dynamic battlefield development, which suggests that this war is actually more likely to produce surprises instead of continuities.
And perhaps a third example of linear thinking, which I find particularly intriguing and interesting to think about, is that despite all kinds of speculations about domestic unrest in Russia, about regime destabilization, what kind of potential successes could we have to Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, we most often continue to think that someone or something, some system following Vladimir Putin in power would be bound by his legacy and somewhat molded in his image. So the question comes up, would it be worse? Would it be better than Vladimir Putin? But in reality, we really don’t know how different what after Vladimir Putin comes it will be. And it would be wise to prepare for exactly the opposite scenarios than the ones we consider now.
I have written three scenarios with my colleague Michael Kimmage for a piece in Foreign Affairs where we have offered a scenario of a Russian defeat after negotiations, a Russian defeat after escalation, and a Russian defeat after regime change. Those are only three options that we have analyzed, but they suggest that we should also not be overly optimistic for what comes afterwards. We will probably not see a golden age of stability and security just because Russia was defeated in Ukraine. But we can see, and we can expect in many regions of the world, especially in the South Caucasus and in Central Asia, a vacuum of power where other actors will move in and try to replace Russia’s role there, if Russia is defeated and its power and hold over its near neighborhood, as it’s often called, is crumbling.
So that’s what I think we have learnt from the last year. Looking ahead for this year, what is it that we can expect? And there are many indications that suggest that 2023 may be a year where we will see decisive action in the war in Ukraine. The first, that was a surprise to many who thought that the West had some kind of war fatigue, especially the Europeans, after this tough winter with high energy prices, that we would end up in a stalemate in this war, is that we have an announcement of new heavy weapon deliveries to Ukraine coming from the United States, France, and Germany.
And that is interesting, not only because for the first time we have light tanks that are sent to Ukraine, but it seems that there is a consensus in the West that decisive action is necessary to equip Ukraine with the material that it needs for a successful counteroffensive in the spring. And that prolongs, or can prolong, into an assumption that this war should not become a forever war, but that this war needs to end in 2023. Also, because 2024 will be a much more complicated year on a political level. We will have elections in the United States in 2024, which is perhaps the most important factor because the United States has been such a leader in this war so far. So elections and the instability that they might bring or, indeed, the uncertainty that elections in the United States might bring are a good reason why 2023 has to become a decisive year. We will also have elections in Ukraine in 2024, and some kind of elections, if they’re even worth calling it that way, in Russia in 2024. So again, 2023 really seems to be the year where decisive action should be taken.
Can it be taken, and can it be taken successfully? That very much depends on two factors. The first is the Western support that Ukraine gets. The light tanks, the dozens of light tanks that have been announced now, will not be enough. Ukraine’s asking for hundreds of those models. And the second is obviously how will Russia react, and what are Russia’s plans for 2023? And we’ve seen some interesting changes. We’ve seen that Russia has brought again a change in the leadership structure of this war. General Surovikin, who was actually quite successful in leading the war in the last three months, or at least he had narrowed the gap between reality and what Vladimir Putin looks how this war looks like, has been—has been demoted to a position under General Gerasimov.
So we do see that this—both the structures, but also the alliance of reporting on the Russian side have changed, which suggests that there’s just no plan that has worked so far, which explains why it is renewed again and again. And the other factor, from the Russian side, is the expectations that Russia will recruit another cohort of conscripts into this war. Three hundred thousand have been recruited in the first wave, and more are expected to come. So these two factors will impact what we will see in 2023 in this war.
And now let me move on how this war will have global ramifications beyond Europe also in 2023. What have we seen in global ramifications in 2022? It was very clear that this war is not just a European regional war, but truly a war with global effects very clearly, because of the energy shock that we have seen. So energy wholesale prices have, in some parts, increased fifteenfold in Europe. Because of the economic slowdown that this war has caused, we actually had quite an optimistic outlook for 2022 because many countries were coming out of the pandemic with a hope of economic recovery. And then the war started. And the energy price shock led to an incredible high inflation rate for many countries, which is double digit in Europe, for example, which, again, contributes to a cost of living crisis in many parts of the world.
And then, obviously, the impact of food shortages, the blockade of crucial Ukrainian grain transport, which has only been resolved through Turkish intervention, affects the Global South immensely. And we also see the role of China in this war, especially when it comes to the nuclear dimension, that the West felt compelled to ask China for some kind of help in deescalating Russia’s nuclear rhetoric. So while it is a war that is focused in Ukraine, we don’t see NATO involvement, it does have global impact and ramifications that extend beyond the war. So I think it’s very fair to argue that it is more than a regional European war, and it will remain more than a regional European war in this year. And I think I’ll leave it at that for the moment.
FASKIANOS: Liana, thank you very much. That was terrific. We’re going to turn to all of you now for your questions.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
OK, so now let’s go to the group. And let’s see. Oh, good, we have—already have three raised hands. I’m going to start with Hamza Siddiqui. And excuse my pronunciation. You can correct me. (Laughs.)
Q: Thank you. I’m Hamza Siddiqui. I’m a student at Minnesota State University in Mankato.
I actually have two somewhat related questions. The first was that—do you agree that, according to—do you agree with some reports that there is apparently an internal power struggle that has broken out in Russia with the security services and the military on one side and the Wagner Group and Ramzan Kadyrov on the other side? And, secondly, in a scenario in which Putin does end up getting removed from power, is there any one individual within Russia who has the same amount of influence and power that Putin had, who would be able to fill in that power vacuum? Thank you.
FIX: Thank you. I think those are two really excellent questions, and not that easy to answer. So the first, I think, you’ve described quite correctly the internal power struggle that we’ve seen. What is interesting is that the Russian president himself sort of knows about this power struggle. So we can only—we have no indication of what he thinks about the dispute between the traditional security forces, the defense ministry and the Russian Army, and this new not secret anymore group of Wagner and Prigozhin, who really have challenged the defense ministry and the Russian military leadership in the past. So they have allowed their soldiers to post videos basically insulting the leadership or the lack of success, criticizing them for their failures.
And what the head of the Wagner Group has been doing very successfully is to be the one who has the pictures and the videos of himself in the trenches with the soldiers. That’s something that we don’t see from Vladimir Putin. He’s always detached in his—in his office in the Kremlin, or wherever he might be. So we do see that there was a fight to—for this role of the leader of this war in military affairs. It could be an indication that General Gerasimov has been put back in charge of the whole operation. That this is a weakening of the Wagner Group and Prigozhin, and of those paramilitary groups. But I think this is a dynamic that will go back and forth.
What if Putin is removed from power? So what Putin has done very successfully in the years of his term is to replace any candidates that might be potential successors to himself. So the last wave of big changes that we’ve seen in the Russian administration were the introduction of so-called technocrats. So Putin has surrounded himself with technocrats that are successful, or meant to be successful, managers around him, but that don’t have the kind of political standing that would question his position. Dimitry Medvedev, who has already replaced Vladimir Putin once, has become a war hawk, sometimes with absurd commentaries on the war which might rule him out as a successor. But, again, the reasoning that Vladimir Putin has changed the constitution and allowed himself to stay in power until 2036 is, and he said that, because he does not want his elites to be distracted by these power struggles. So it’s really very difficult to see where this successor can come from and who it can be.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much. I’m going to take the next question, written question, from Lucas McMillan from Lander University.
How would you describe the ramifications for the European Union (EU) as an institutional body and in its future goals?
FIX: I think that’s a multilayered question. So, for one, the European Union has become more geopolitical in its outlook. So when we see what the European Commission under the leadership of von der Leyen has done, it has been quite significant. And so the sanctions packages that have been agreed upon, the support for Ukrainian refugees. For the first time we have a peace facility, some kind of defense fund that European member states have set up to refund member states for the arms payments—the arms deliveries that they have given to Ukraine. So we do see that the European Union has become more geopolitical, has sort of pooled its power together in this war, and the instruments that it has available. But—and we also have to say that it has been relatively successful in managing the energy crisis so far.
But what we don’t yet see is that the European Union really has stepped up in terms of defense policy. So when it comes to a new defense policy, it is very much NATO that has benefitted from this war, benefitted from increases in defense spending, and not the EU, which also tried to set up defense structures in the past. I mean, there’s always the question of, you know, how can this relationship between EU defense structures and NATO work at all? And it’s a difficult relationship. But we see that the EU as a geopolitical actor has been strengthened. But as a military actor, it is very much NATO that has been strengthened.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Pam Chasek.
Q: Hi. I hope you can hear me OK. I’m Pam Chasek. I’m a professor at Manhattan College in New York.
FASKIANOS: Pam, you’re a little bit—can you get closer to the mic? You’re a little hard to hear.
Q: Yeah. Sorry, I forgot my headphones today. (Laughs.) Can you hear me better now?
FASKIANOS: Yes. And if you can repeat your affiliation, that would be fantastic.
Q: Yes. Pam Chasek, Manhattan College in New York.
While this may not be on everyone’s radar screens, the United Nations has become another front in this war. Not just the Security Council, but the Eastern European Regional Group has been unable to nominate members to leadership of various treaty bodies and other organizations within the UN. Russia has also rejected consensus on other members. And this is really hamstringing the work of these bodies. And I’m wondering if you’ve seen other diplomatic side effects of this war.
FIX: Well, that’s a very interesting point that you mention. I think the UN has struggled in multiple dimensions when it comes to this war. I think one of the interesting diplomatic side effects is what we’ve seen in part in the voting results in the UN. So there’s really this struggle to isolate Russia as much as possible, but then on the other side this—the refusal of many countries in the Global South, like India, to outrightly condemn Russia as a sole instigator of this war, with the argument, well, this war is taking place in Europe. There were so many other wars that Europe was not paying attention to. So why should we now pay so much attention to this war?
And I think this has resulted in an interesting—there’s been an interesting new category of in-between states that are sort of in-between this new competition, this new rivalry, between the West and Russia, but also somewhere between the West, Russia, and China. And these in-between states not only include India. We also see Serbia as some kind of in-between state. And to some extent within the European Union we also see Hungary as some kind of in-between state, that really is taking the EU hostage in many regards. And that is something which reminds of Cold War times, but has a different dynamic right now. And I do think we see this also in the voting behavior of the UN. So I think next to what you mentioned, as a very interesting development, that’s also something to look out for in the future.
FASKIANOS: Great. I’m going to next to William Weeks, who wrote his question. Why don’t you just ask it and identify yourself please.
Q: Sorry. My name is Will. I am from ASU in the History Department.
And my question is—to Liana, it’s what do you believe is the level of cooperation and coordination between China and Russia?
FIX: Yeah. That’s an excellent question. Well, there is this—there was this hope throughout this war that there might be a way to bring China on the Western side, and to really bring China to put pressure on Russia. And especially on this issue of the nuclear statement and sort of decreasing the nuclear tensions. There was a lot of hope in Europe, I would say, that China’s intervention, saying that, you know, nuclear threats are unacceptable, somehow signaled that China is trying to distance itself from Russia. And, I mean, it’s fair to say that the war definitely has not gone according to plan also from a Chinese perspective. And it’s fair to say that the war brings Russia in a position of even more dependence on China than Russia has been before.
But I would be cautious this narrative of China is really distancing itself from Russia, and sort of the partnership—limitless partnership has been—has been damaged by this war. Because I do think Beijing is very skillful at analyzing what is needed in its specific relationships at the moment. And I think the analysis is that in its specific relationship with Europe, it is good to present yourself as distancing yourself from Russia, trying to use your leverage with Russia, because that’s what has upset the United States and Europe at the beginning of this war, that China seemed to be on Russia’s side.
What happens behind the scenes on Russian-Chinese dialogue and interaction is on a completely different page. So we have not seen obvious weapons deliveries from China to Russia. I mean, there are rumors that those might have taken place, but not in any kind that have been obvious so far. And I think China is very careful with – if it supports Russia with weaponry, it’s very careful to probably not leave traces, to not impact the relationship with the West and with Europe. And that, again, the economic dependency. And that, Russia is definitely only sliding deeper into the dependence on China that was there in the past.
And so I would say it is—it continues to be a close partnership. There continues to be a lot of exchanges between Russia and China. And I would not sort of too quickly buy this argument that China is trying to distance itself from Russia, that this is a genuine argument. I do think at the moment it’s a diplomacy from China towards Europe and the West.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Michael Oppenheimer, who has a raised hand.
Q: I teach at NYU.
I’m in complete agreement with you about the implausibility of stalemate. It surprises me how people that should know better, you know, continue to insist that there’s something inherently stalemated about this conflict. My question really relates to the longer term, beyond next year, and whether there’s sort of at the root of policy disagreements about how much we should support Ukraine, and how much risk we should take in providing offensive weapons. There’s a difference of opinion about the stakes in Ukraine.
And that’s a question that’s not often made explicit, but I think there are some people who think that this is another local conflict, that we can survive without long-lasting damage to the international system. As against those who kind of see this as a 1930s-like, you know, kind of pivotal moment in international politics. What are your views on that? And what kind of policy consequences ensue if you take one or the other of those positions?
FIX: Thank you. I think that’s a very correct analysis here. And I think the further away you move from Europe the more opinions do you get that this is, you know, just a regional war in Europe that, you know, just has to end, as far as possible. The closer you’re sort of—the nearer you are in Europe, the more it feels like a system-transforming war, which really changes the international order. And I think that two sort of consequences of both pathways going—(inaudible). If it’s a system-transforming war, then really Russia’s defeat is sort of a priority not only for Ukraine, but for the whole Western—for the whole international order. Which is fine to assume as an assumption, but the question then is what happens after Russia is defeated?
Because the analogy that many draw to 1939 doesn’t work in 2022, because there’s just no way that Russia can be—or, Russian leadership can be changed in a way that German leadership was changed in 1945—“changed,” in quotation marks. So the question then becomes, even if Russia is defeated in Ukraine, how do we deal with the Russia that we have identified as a threat to our system? And how do we construct a future within Russia? Do we go back to containment? I think that’s the crucial question where there are no answers for. So there’s a lot of tactical thinking right now about the war, and how far to go, but less of a strategic thinking about what is Russia to us after this war, and how do we want to deal with it?
And the other line of argument to take is, well, if it’s just a regional war, it sort of implicitly and—you know, we can survive this one—it implicitly assumes that there is some—or, there is no danger to the system as it is if Russia sort of retakes its old form as a Soviet—as a Soviet hegemon. It might affect Ukraine. It might affect Moldova at some point. It might affect Georgia. But it sort of assumes that after that, there would be a wall and Russia’s imperial expansionist drive would not expand further and would not dare to expand in any kind of NATO territory, even if Russia would then have moved closed to NATO territory.
And that is a line that one can argue. But certainly the security—the military threat that a Russia poses that is closer to NATO’s borders, which has Ukraine under its control, which is threatening Moldova, would require in any way a rearmament of Europe not seen since Cold War times. So it might actually be the cheaper option to defeat Russia in Ukraine than to have Russia move closer to NATO, because then it really comes back to Cold War times defense spending and defense of Europe. And I think that’s why, apart from all the other normative reasons, that is just, for me, a logical consequence why giving Ukraine the opportunity to win against Russia is the cheaper and the better option for the West.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next written question from Rob Warren from the Anglo-American University in Prague.
As by far the largest military donor in the conflict, what do you see as being the United States’ long-term goals? Is this simply an issue of Ukrainian sovereignty and European security?
FIX: I think that’s an important part of the equation, containing Russia in Europe, containing the Russian threat in Europe. But I do think another dimension is also the signaling towards China. So for the United States not letting Russia win in Ukraine is an important signal towards China to suggest, well, this is not the pathway for authoritarian countries to go, and for just easily and quickly occupy another country. So I think for the U.S. it has this dual dimension, which it doesn’t necessarily have for Europeans. Europeans don’t really care about the signal that this war sends to China, because they don’t perceive China as the same kind of competitor as the United States perceives China. But for the United States, it’s a credibility question towards Russia, but also towards China.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question, a raised hand, from Autumn Hauge.
Q: Hi. I’m Autumn Hauge, and I’m a student at Mankato State in Minnesota.
And the question that I have—so, throughout history and today Russia has been known for their very large and strong military. But there has been evidence of Russia losing in this war against Ukraine. So my question is, what are some factors or reasons that you could elaborate that are causing the military—the Russian military to perform so poorly? Especially with Russia being one of the global superpowers today.
FIX: Thank you. That’s a big question actually many had at the outbreak of the war, when they expected that Russia would just roll through Ukraine. And it’s a question very many military analysts ask themselves. So what did they—what did we get wrong? I think the first answer to that lies with the Russian military. So after the war in Georgia in 2008, Vladimir Putin started a military modernization of the Russian forces, which looked very good on paper but, as we know now, has changed less in the structures of the Russian Army than one would have thought. So in Georgia in 2008, the Russian Army was in a terrible state. But the modernization processes were also, because of corruption, not as successful as they were expected to be.
The second argument which explains this is that the Russian Army just has never fought this kind of adversary that it now has in Ukraine. It was in Syria. It captured Crimea. But those were all operations on a different level. So in Crimea, there was almost no resistance. In Syria, it was mostly an air campaign not an occupation campaign. And then, I mean, Ukraine is a huge country. I mean, it’s incredibly big. And obviously the third element to that was wrong intelligence, which led to incredible losses of the Russian Army at the beginning. So this war was prepared like a black op—like black op intelligence operations, where mostly the intelligence services were providing the information, and not as a war which is conducted as—by the military leadership and by the defense ministry as the land war that it turned out to be. So I think these are the three elements that explain why Russia’s military is just not up to the task, and it never was, to occupy Ukraine in full.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next written question from Asher Cohen, who’s a master’s candidate at American University.
If there is any negotiated cessation to the war, do you think Putin would look to frame this as a victory for Russia? If so, how?
FIX: He will definitely try to do this. I mean, there’s just no other way how he could frame it. And I think what he hopes to do, and that’s what he has signaled in the past, is that he can tell the Russian people, look, historical Russia has expanded. We have these new Ukrainian regions as our part of Russia. So this war was a historical victory for us. So basically, make people forget that the initial objective of this war was to get Kyiv and to change the Ukrainian leadership. So make this more about territory and about the historic lands that Russia has regained.
Then again, another narrative that has been used in the past is that if Russia would have fought this war just against Ukraine it would have won, but it’s fighting this war against NATO. And that’s why it is unfair, because NATO is sort of not coming in itself but it’s sending its own weaponries. And that’s why sort of Russia would have won a war against Ukraine proper, but cannot win a war against NATO, which is obviously not half true because it’s Ukrainians that are fighting there and have fought there at the beginning of the war, in the first weeks, when there was not a lot of NATO weaponry.
But the other question for him, or the most important question in this negotiation solution for Ukraine is, is a negotiated solution for Russia just a break to buy time? Because where will this imperialist drive go? Why should it disappear? Why should Russia not try to, after a humiliating defeat, try to attack Ukraine again? So the question for Russia is how would a negotiated solution threaten regime stability? So Russia might lose this war, but Vladimir Putin might not be able to lose this war. And I think that’s a very crucial difference we should keep in mind.
FASKIANOS: And just to follow on that, there’s a written question from Jill Dougherty of Georgetown University.
Zelensky today at Davos said that Russia’s role in the world will be as a terrorist nation. Is that just a figure of speech? Or could it be true? You know, should there be war crimes tribunals, reparations, all of—all of that at the end of this?
FIX: Yeah, this is a Ukrainian advocacy campaign to have Russia—to make Russia—to make Russia designated as a terrorist state. It’s a campaign that so far has not been successful in the United States and with the White House. It’s in Europe, in some corners, it has been picked up. If I’m not mistaken, the European Parliament has submitted a resolution on that question, should Russia be designated a terrorist state? I think what is more important is the question of what can be the right framework to prosecute Russian war crimes. And there, the German prime minister, for instance, has come out in favor of a tribunal of—an international tribunal, because the question really is where can this take place without a Russian veto right? And who should be—who should be represented there?
And I think this aspect of accountability in the end, I mean, regardless of how it works out, is so important, just for the discussion, because it gives—it sends a signal that there is no impunity to other actors. That regardless of how this tribunal might look like, who might be in front of there, that it’s not outside of legal accountability, the kinds of war crimes that Russia has conducted. So I think discussing this at a high level is, for me, more important than designating Russia as a terrorist state.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take the next question from Clemente Abrokwaa. You need to unmute yourself. There you go.
Q: Thank you. Thank you very much. My name is Clemente Abrokwaa, Penn State University.
And the—one question I wanted to ask has already been asked. (Laughs.) But the other question that I have is we’ve been hearing about Putin’s health. Today you read that, you know, he’s very sick. Tomorrow nobody talks about that. And I’m just wondering where the truth lies. And then a second question is, what if—this was at the beginning of your discussion—hoping that the war ends in this year. What if it doesn’t? What will be the scenario, especially for U.S. and NATO? What are they going to—what will they do? And what will be the impact on the rest of the world?
FIX: Yeah. I think the health question I can easily answer it with what William Burns, CIA director, said. He’s probably too healthy for the world’s—good for the world’s sake. (Laughs.) So there’s little evidence that suggests anything to—one side or another. Which makes sense, that any health data of the Russian president are kept—are kept secret.
What if the war doesn’t end in this year? I think it will be much more challenging to the domestic publics of both the United States and Europe to continue the kind of support for Ukraine that it now gets in that year. And I mean, just because of elections in the United States, which will make the United States very domestically focused. And in Europe, because at some point the costs of this war are also piling up. And so I think Ukraine’s very aware of that. And in the—what we might see if the war continues, if we see even Russian advances heading into next year, is that probably the calls for a negotiated solution, which might be a negotiated solution on Russian terms, will become louder. And that is something that I think Ukraine is very well aware of, and tries to prevent exactly with this kind of support, a new push that it now tries to give to the dynamic on the battlefield.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to take a written question from Kazi Sazid at Hunter College.
So while most of the conversation is on military aid, et cetera, something that’s of particular interest is rebuilding Ukraine. What issues, both policy and financial, do you see arise in rebuilding Ukrainian infrastructure? And he contrasts this to the Middle East, which that is still laying in tatters after the disastrous interventions there—Western interventions.
FIX: Yes. It’s a very fair question. And I think rebuilding Ukraine is an opportunity, one has to say. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it will probably be a higher priority than rebuilding parts of the Middle East, just because it’s closer to Europe. And having a failed state which doesn’t work, which doesn’t have infrastructure, just next to its borders, next to the border of Poland, is just not—is difficult to accept both for economic reasons but also for normative reasons, for an entity like the European Union. So the question of rebuilding really is what kind of framework will guide the reconstruction efforts.
So will it be a leadership effort by Europeans, by the United States? Will it be the G7 framework? What institution will take the leadership there? And the other question is who will pay most of the rebuilding costs? And there, we do see that the discussion, also here in Washington, DC, tends towards arguing that rebuilding Ukraine is really a European task, because the U.S. is contributing so much military aid to Ukraine that rebuilding it should be a task for the wealthy Europeans. And to some extent, it also makes sense because rebuilding Ukraine could be fit into the EU accession process for Ukraine, which is ongoing since Ukraine has been accepted as a candidate—as a candidate member for the European Union.
So framing it in the context of the EU accession process also helps to add conditionality on certain elements of reconstruction and rebuilding that will help to support the rule of law and that will help to prevent corruption becoming an issue there.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’ll take the next raised hand from Michael Leong.
Q: Hi, there. I’m a grad student at the University of Arizona.
And I just have a question pertaining to China, because you touched on that earlier. I guess, how—what lengths do you think China will go to keep up this relationship it has with Russia, given Russia’s heavy economic dependency on it? And what would basically Russia turn to, should China decide not to support Russia? And, sorry, the other question I have—these are probably not related, or very distantly—with all the military support that the West has been providing Ukraine, you also mentioned the potential rearmament of Western Europe and NATO. How difficult would that be, given the amount of ordnance being sent to the front line?
FIX: Yeah. On China, I think if China turns away from Russia, well, Russia has really little left, little political support, little economic support. So it would be a worst-case scenario. But I do think it’s very unlikely that China will do that because, from a Chinese perspective, having a dependent Russia on its side is just perfect. You know, you have another UN Security Council member, you have Russia with nuclear powers, which are actually matching those of the United States.
So in sort of the greater picture of anti-Westernism that both Russia and China share, it absolutely makes sense, from a Chinese perspective, to have Russia close at its side, and to have Russia as a disruptive power in—sort of acting, ideally, in lockstep with China. And we’ve seen that before the outbreak of the war we had this meeting between Putin and Xi Jinping, where for the first time China adopted NATO talking points that Russia had in the past, and was criticizing NATO for its role in Europe, which was not happening before. And the trade of that for China is obviously Russia’s position on the Taiwan question, and in case of an escalation over Taiwan.
On the question of rearmament and how is that possible, well, it’s a good question, especially as I’m looking at Germany, my home country. Because Germany right now realizes how difficult it is, actually, to spend the money. So it’s not only finding the money. I mean, there’s a real military threat perception right now in Europe, so not many citizens complain if defense spending goes up. But how do you quickly enough spend the money? So Germany, for instance, was promising that from this year on it would spend every year more than 2 percent on defense. It turns out, it has provided the money but the whole structures and processes to order new military equipment and to get it just takes so long that it will only spend 2025, probably, 2 percent on defense.
So it’s not only the question of money, but it’s also the question of how do the industrial defense structures and the bureaucratic structures in NATO countries that were focused on peacetimes for so long work? And how can they be sped up to become perhaps not a war economy but at least more generic and flexible to react to the situation. For instance, the discussion about NATO battle tanks for Ukraine right now. The Germany industry said that they will need a year to get those battle tanks that they have right now in shape, and to send them to Ukraine. I mean, that’s way too long. And it’s a question that also the United States sees, with how to replenish its stockpiles with a production rate that is a peacetime production rate.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next to Tomas Castillo Bukakis. Oh, I think he might have lowered his hand. OK, so never mind. We’ve got so many questions.
I’m going to go to Wim Weiwel of Lewis & Clark College: Is it realistic to think Ukraine can drive Russia out of eastern Ukraine? If not, under what conditions will Ukraine agree to negotiate and what would a resolution look like?
FIX: Mmm hmm. If it’s realistic to drive Russia out of Ukraine? I mean, I think it very much depends on the—on the means that Ukraine is provided with. I mean, if Ukraine gets the means and the equipment that it needs, it’s definitely possible. There’s nothing that suggest it’s impossible, or that Russian troops are so good or so dominant that they cannot be driven out. I think the question of Crimea is a different question.
Ukraine will certainly put pressure on Crimea, but Crimea has a different standing in Russia than the eastern parts of Ukraine that Russia tried to annex. Under which conditions—so, President Zelensky has laid out his conditions. And the main condition is that Russia has to withdraw from Ukrainian territory. Those conditions have changed throughout the war because there was a realization that this war is far from the Russian side not as a war with a negotiated outcome, but as a war of occupation and subjugation.
I think we will come to the point where we can talk about conditions and negotiations once Ukraine has further advanced closer to the February lines, to the war—when the war started. And then, I think it really is a question of—the most difficult question will be the question of what kind of solution can be found for Crimea. Will Ukraine has to retake Crimea militarily? What kind of escalation concerns are coming with that? Or is there any kind of negotiated solution to be found over Crimea? I think this will be the main—can be the main stumbling block.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next—oops, sorry—to Karen Sokol.
Q: Hi. Thanks so much. Karen Sokol. I’m a visiting fellow at Princeton this year. And thanks so much. I’m really learning a lot from this, and appreciate your insights.
A lot of particularly international legal scholars are calling for the establishment of a court to try Putin, other Russian officials, for the crime of aggression, because of the loopholes that exist in the current Rome Statute. And this call is backed by the argument that this is basically essential—a necessary, but perhaps not sufficient, condition for restoring the global legal order. And I just wondered if you had thoughts about that position.
FIX: I think it may—sort of the idea to call for a separate court instead of the International Criminal Court, I mean, is understandable because exactly of the limitations that Russian’s leader options there gives the International Criminal Court, and because of the—yeah, of just the—how blatantly and war of aggression this war has been. I think it’s a good question what the court at the end sort of—what is the main goal that it should have? Is it to strengthen the international legal order? Yes, this makes sense as an argument. From a Ukrainian perspective, it is certainly also to talk about reparations. I mean, this war and the destruction have just been immensely, immensely costly.
And then the other question is it is also—and many people have this concern, comparison in mind—something that would sort of help to move on after this war, to have sort of the legal closing chapter to that. Many think of Milosevic and how he has been tried back then. I think it’s—from my perspective, I do think it’s an important pathway to go down and not to, as has been the case in Syria with so many activists, have gathered evidence, and where it has become so difficult to put this on trial, sometimes with courts in, for instance, Germany doing these prosecutions. I think it’s useful to have a central—a central mission and a place for that.
FASKIANOS: Thank you. I’m going to go next, try again with Tomas Castillo Bukakis.
Q: Hello. Can you hear me?
FASKIANOS: Yes. Thank you.
Q: Hi. Sorry. I had technical difficulties. Hi. I’m from USC.
As more weaponry is being delivered to Ukraine, alongside with economic aid, and given the history of the U.S. and these European powers of being responsible when they’re engaging in proxy wars or supporting wars, what processes or regulations are being set in place so the weaponry don’t fall in the wrong hands currently or after the war ends, and to make sure the aid is delivered to the sectors that are required.
FIX: I would perhaps not necessarily classify this war as a proxy war, because there was no interest whatsoever from the Western side to conduct this war at the beginning, to have Ukraine—a war in Ukraine as some kind of weakening of Russia. So I think it’s fair and it reflects Ukraine’s agency in this war to say that it’s not only about, you know, United States and Russia global supremacy, but this is really a war about Ukraine itself as a nation. And I think the question that you raised about what happens to the weaponry is very important.
So due to the huge amount of weaponry that is sent, it’s obviously difficult to track everything. Ukrainians are quite aware of that, and they’re doing many efforts to give back to both the U.S. side and the European side as many information as possible about where the weapons are and where they continue to be sent. So there is a system in place from the Ukrainian side to track these weapons. And when it comes to the aid—sort of the financial aid that’s given to Ukraine, the concern there of corruption is something which has been—has been there. But what Ukraine has is a very active civil society, which also in the past has been very active on battling corruption. So that is one mechanism which helps. And so far we have not had any major cases of where we would have heard from Ukrainian civil society of embezzlement of corruption of funds.
The other question really is what happens to these weapons after the war ends at some point. And Ukraine will continue to need weapons. So if this war ends, this will not be the end of Russia’s threat to Ukraine. So I do think these weapons will have to stay in Ukraine. And probably what is needed is an even closer system of tracking and following up on the weapons that we have now, once the immediate fighting has receded.
FASKIANOS: I think—we have so many questions, I’m sorry that we can’t get to them all. But I want to end with a question—written question from William Harbert of the University of Pittsburgh.
History doesn’t repeat but sometimes it echoes. What do you feel is the closest historical analogy to this war and its possible outcome? I appreciate none may exist, but I’m curious of your response.
FIX: Yes, it’s always a difficulty with historical comparisons. I’m a historian myself, but I think so. (Laughs.) As I said before, I think the 1939 comparison to some extent holds true, in terms of, you know, how sudden it was of an attack and of an invasion. But then it becomes very difficult to continue this analogy for the ending of this war. What I think is another useful historical comparison is the Finnish-Soviet Winter War. So the war when Finland was attacked by the Soviet Union and bravely fought back this attack. It has a similar dynamic of this kind of David against Goliath that we’re seeing right now in Ukraine.
No one expected Finland at the time to be successful. They were, because they were using such innovative methods. I mean, there are great pictures of the Winter War where you see Finns on skis and then white clothes sort of hiding in the woods among the snow to attack Soviet tanks back then. What happened in the first Winter War was that Finnish forces were able to push Soviet forces back, but then had to agree to a negotiated outcome where they lost 11 percent of their territory, because there was not enough international support coming out for Finland at that point. And that would obviously be a sad comparison to Ukraine, which I hope will not take place. But it’s certainly a possible comparison.
FASKIANOS: Thank you very much, Liana Fix.
FIX: Thank you!
FASKIANOS: I hope—this has really been great. And just as a reminder, we did send out in advance of this discussion Dr. Fix’s Foreign Affairs article. It was in the January/February 2023 issue that she co-authored with Michael Kimmage. So if you haven’t had a chance to read it, I commend it to you all. So thank you, again, for being with us. And the next Academic Webinar will be on Wednesday, February 1, at 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time. And the conversation will be on energy, environment, and water. In the meantime, I encourage you to check out CFR fellowships for educators at CFR.org/fellowships. This is, of course, for your professors. Follow at @CFR_Academic on Twitter. And visit CFR.org, ForeignAffairs.com, and ThinkGlobalHealth.org for research and analysis on global issues.
Thank you again to all of you for being with us and to Dr. Fix for her time today. We appreciate it.
FIX: Thank you so much. Thank you, everyone.
FASKIANOS: Take care.