Realpolitik in Ukraine

Realpolitik in Ukraine

The Western objectives in the Ukraine war are far from clear. This is perhaps because there are significant disagreements between the United States and Europe. American officials have been extremely vague in a manner than leaves plenty of room for interpretation. US President Joe Biden has previously called for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be removed from power, although the statement was not backed up by his officials. US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said after a visit to Kyiv that he wanted to see Russia’s military capability weakened.

This practically means that the US is not seeking an immediate end to hostilities. The Americans want to see Ukraine turn into a new Afghanistan for the Russians; a military adventure that will weaken Moscow and ultimately bring about the undoing of the political status quo. A long-lasting war would serve these objectives.

This is not what the Europeans would like to see. They have many reasons to want this war to end as soon as possible. The economic fallout of the conflict has already hit Europe, which risks falling into recession if it drags on.

It is clear that a tug of war is at play behind the scenes. The Americans make no secret of their intention to help the Ukrainians win the war against Russia. They are not pressing President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for a compromise solution, nor are they in a hurry. At the same time, they are pressing Germany to send military aid to Ukraine. As Washington sees it, the Ukraine crisis will decide whether Russia retains its status as a strong military power that can inflict damage or not. Their aim is Moscow’s defeat at any cost.

The differences between the US and Europe are important because, at some point, Putin and Zelenskyy will both need an exit strategy from the crisis. For Putin, a compromise will become increasingly difficult given that, in his eyes, the sole objective of the West is his political extermination and the weakening of Moscow’s strategic capability. For Zelenskyy, the uninterrupted supply of military aid combined with the American push to defeat Russia also make it difficult for him to enter a compromise and slip into a different role.

At the end of the day, the difference is that Washington has arrived at the conclusion that it can no longer tolerate Putin and Putin’s Russia, whereas the Europeans believe that the Russian president must be given an exit strategy to avoid a further escalation of the conflict. For now, the Europeans are dancing to the Americans’ tune.

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