This week in Say More, PS talks with Richard Haass, former Director of Policy Planning for the US State Department, President of the Council on Foreign Relations, and the author, most recently, of The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens.
Project Syndicate: You recently predicted that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s “unwarranted war of choice” will “not end anytime soon,” with the year ahead promising to be “more reminiscent of World War I than of World War II.” But, in considering how the war might end, it might be worth revisiting how the war started. The Kremlin and some in the West blame the United States and NATO for “provoking” Russia, and claim that Ukraine is being used – whether as a pawn or a battering ram – as a Western proxy. Could this narrative affect the war’s trajectory?
Richard Haass: This is not a war about NATO enlargement or a future expansion to include Ukraine (which was not about to happen). It is not about NATO at all, or the United States, for that matter. This is a war initiated by Russia to eradicate Ukraine as a sovereign entity. Ukraine represented an alternative path for a Slavic nation – one characterized by a democratic political system and deep ties to the West. This was and is unacceptable to Putin, lest it stoke demands at home to shift Russia onto a similar path.
That Putin’s goals are so existential makes it difficult to see the war ending any time soon with the two sides reaching some kind of territorial compromise. Putin’s belief that time will weaken Western resolve further reduces the likelihood that he will consider any kind of settlement to end the war. For Ukraine’s part, the desire to reclaim all of its lost territory, secure economic reparations from Russia, and ensure accountability for Russian war crimes similarly precludes compromise. Again, we need to gird ourselves for a protracted conflict.
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