International Center for Ukrainian Victory (ICUV) has published a report on endgame scenarios for Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The report will be presented in Washington DC on 28 June. Along with a number of other experts, SCEEUS analyst Johan Engvall has provided input to this report. His commentary can be read below.
The role of Western agency toward an endgame in Russia’s war in Ukraine
The future is inherently unknown. Therefore, scenarios cannot be predictions of future developments. The uncertainties are magnified during a watershed period such as Russia’s war against Ukraine. No one knows how the war is going to end. However, exploring different scenarios helps policymakers and policy shapers better understand not only what the future might bring, but also the ramifications of current and future policy options and of actions taken and, as importantly, NOT taken.
Western countries are not mere bystanders: Western action – or lack of action – has consequences and will influence the outcome. Western agency may not be the only force that shapes the future, but its role should not be underestimated. Both the potential and the limitations of Western agency must be assessed realistically. This is especially important in a context where the Kremlin is actively working to limit options for Western action by deliberately spreading narratives intended to limit the mental scope of policymakers.
In their meticulous report “Endgame Scenarios of Russia’s War in Ukraine,” the ICUV has collected a wealth of data to demonstrate the impact Western policy choices could have on holding the Russian military to a battlefield defeat. The report also suggests that western inaction would lead to costly security and economic consequences. It is essential to understand and take into consideration these opportunity costs.
In other words, different endgames of the war, and how we got there, would inevitably raise different policy dilemmas for Western leaders to grapple with. Therefore, Western policymakers must already now think hard about which policies are needed between now and the coming year in order to get to an endgame scenario that is desirable and manageable.
There are several key takeaways regarding Western agency:
- Western policymakers must make choices today that put them in the best position to shape and be ready for the challenges presented by the future. What we do today will determine our options for tomorrow. Inaction today will lead to far greater long-term costs.
- A strong Western hand can play a role in constraining Moscow. Sanctions, legal accountability efforts and political isolation are the tools needed to set up conditionalities for the benefit of both Ukraine and European security.
- The Russia problem is structural, systemic and long term. For the foreseeable future, the focus should be on building and maintaining barriers to the threats emanating from Russia, through joint and integrated deterrence, securing Russia’s neighbours and weakening Russia’s global leverage.
- Western unity is power. A defeatist, disunited and demoralized West could hardly exercise joint and integrated deterrence in the long run. While European policymakers are unable to influence the outcome of the US elections, they can show political leadership, work to overcome EU weak links and build resilience to Russian threats. Transatlantic cooperation on raising the bar for China’s negative actions is key.
- Upholding international law is not just in the interest of the West. Working to ensure a broader coalition by listening to and addressing the genuine concerns of those on the fence will be an investment in the future, and helpful also in maintaining Western unity. Efforts to work with global partners are of key importance not only to ensuring the credibility of accountability mechanisms, but also to reducing Russia’s global leverage more broadly.
- There is no inevitability in history: a Russian military defeat in Ukraine does not necessarily equal the end of the Putin system and the end of the Putin system does not automatically lead to disintegration or collapse of Russian statehood or a helpless world in the face of a nuclear arsenal on the loose. Such defeatist thoughts are often deliberately cultivated with the aim of limiting Western understanding of its agency (self-deterrence) and should not be allowed to guide policy. Putin’s demise from power, however, should be understood as a necessary, if not sufficient, precondition for a less aggressive and antagonistic Russia not as a challenge or threat.