It is still a little early to predict when Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine will end, but it is becoming increasingly evident that Russia will not succeed in subjugating its fiercely independent neighbour. Further, its ill-conceived and incompetently executed assault has resulted in its becoming a pariah state to most of the world, and its economy is collapsing faster than one of those apartment buildings hit by Russian missiles in Mariupol.
When the bullets stop flying and the missiles stop exploding, both Ukraine and Russia will face some major challenges in returning to normal life. Ukraine will obviously have an enormous rebuilding task. A significant proportion of the basic infrastructure in central, eastern and southern Ukraine has been destroyed by the Russians. We are talking of hundreds of billions of dollars in damages. Presumably, all those Russian assets frozen by western countries will be redirected towards Ukraine’s rebuilding, but that is by no means certain, as the legalities involved in doing so would undoubtedly be somewhat complex.
There is also the question of how many of the five and a half million Ukrainians that have left the country will return. No doubt many if not most will, but I am sure that there will be a significant number who might choose to stay as far away as possible from a predatory Russia, particularly if Putin and the current regime continue to survive after the war ends. There are hopes that a Russian defeat would also spell the end of Putin’s autocratic rule, but we can’t take that for granted, nor discount the possibility that the successors to Putin may prove to be as bad or worse.
One thing is for certain, and that is that Ukraine will come out of this more strongly unified politically than ever before. The fact that most of the death and destruction is happening in areas where a significant proportion of the population is either Russian speaking or of Russian ethnicity, puts to bed the Russian lie that they attacked Ukraine to protect its “persecuted” Russian minority. The Russians have proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that they are not Ukraine’s fraternal friend and protector, nor do they care a whit about Russians or Russian speakers living in Ukraine.
Perhaps even more significant is the fact that the rest of the free world has finally come to realize that Russia is an unrepentant and recidivist imperialistic aggressor that must be curbed and restrained from making war on its neighbours. It has also been conclusively demonstrated that you cannot negotiate or hold any kind of rational dialogue with Putin and the Russian leadership. They cannot be trusted. They lie, cheat, steal and kill with impunity. The only realistic option for the free world is to do everything they can to destroy Russia’s ability to make war.
It is the Russians that face the most important challenge, and that is to decide what kind of country they want to be and what kind of leadership they need to put in place. Continuing on the existing track would mean the virtual isolation of Russia from most international economic, political, cultural and scientific relationships. This isolation would be highly destabilizing for Russian society and would likely eventually lead to the country’s disintegration. As it is, many of Russia’s brightest and most educated are leaving the country, convinced that the current government is leading the country into a black hole. The kleptocracy and corruption that dominate Russia have severely compromised Russia’s ability to compete globally in any sphere of activity, and the war has irreparably damaged Russia’s credibility and standing in the world.
The war has also brought to light the need for the rest of the world to change the way its international relations are managed. It has conclusively shown the impotency of the United Nations’ ability to insure world peace and co-operation. The UN’s Security Council has been effectively exposed as being completely incapable of ensuring any kind of international security. The time has come for a serious reform of the way the UN works, or it might as well close its doors.
The NATO alliance also needs to seriously re-examine its policies, mandate and operational structure. The war in Ukraine exposed its lack of preparedness, slow reaction time and lack of a coherent approach towards an existential threat to the security of Europe. It eventually managed to get its act together in support of Ukraine, but that support still falls far short of what is needed to deter bully states like Russia.
The war in Ukraine came as a major shock and wake-up call to the free world, and the reverberations of that war will persist for a long time to come. Let’s hope that the lessons learned will be more effective than the lessons that were missed or ignored when the Soviet Union broke up.