If you, like Elon Musk, believe that Ukraine and Russia “should agree to a ceasefire” instead of fighting, the recent interview with General Andrei Mordvichev, one of Russia’s top commanders in Ukraine, should give you pause.
When asked about the likely duration of the war, he said the quiet part out loud: There is still “a lot of time.”
According to him: “If we talk about Eastern Europe, which of course we have to, then it will take longer.”
In other words, the Kremlin is in conflict for the long term.
Not only is it committed to destroying Ukraine’s statehood, as Russian President Vladimir Putin himself has repeatedly stated, but its ambitions extend beyond Ukraine to include Moldova and Georgia, as well as our NATO allies in the Baltics and Poland.
This is nothing new for Eastern Europeans.
As the late former Polish President Lech Kaczynski noted in 2008 after the Russian attack on Georgia: “Today Georgia, tomorrow Ukraine, the day after tomorrow the Baltic states, and then perhaps the time will come for my country, Poland.”
America’s self-proclaimed realists, who believe that a compromise can be reached with Putin – perhaps peace in exchange for a piece of territory and the promise of Ukraine’s neutrality – have a hopelessly unrealistic, naive understanding of the Kremlin’s thinking.
Putin’s vision is to restore Russia’s greatness. This is not just a nostalgia for the Soviet era, but an illusion that dates back to the time when Imperial Russia bordered Germany and Austria and a half dozen currently existing states – including Belarus, Poland, Finland and the Baltics – effectively denied nationality.
True realism cannot escape the fact that Russian officials do not recognize the nations around them as sovereign. As a result, any agreement that some would like to impose on Ukraine would be short-lived as long as the Kremlin remains faithful to this vision.
Ukrainians know this and would resist any attempt by the current or future US administration or the European Union to make a deal with Putin.
Of course, both the United States and Europe have great influence on Kiev. The EU’s total military and financial commitments to Ukraine exceed $90 billion. The United States comes in second with almost $75 billion.
But while withdrawing these lifelines would certainly anger Ukraine, it would not necessarily end the fight. More likely, it would force Ukrainians to seek help elsewhere — and wage war by means we may not approve of.
Critics are right. Our help to Ukraine does not come cheap – something that Ukrainians and our allies in Poland (where I write this column) greatly appreciate. But it is much cheaper than the alternatives.
Consider, for example, the signal that a deal with Putin behind Ukraine’s back would send to our partners and adversaries around the world. In Europe, our NATO allies would have good reasons to doubt our commitment to the alliance.
If we wanted to keep NATO alive, we would have to take increasingly costly steps to demonstrate our willingness to defend “every inch of NATO territory,” as President Biden puts it.
Furthermore, had the Russian invasion been successful, a destabilized or Russian-controlled Ukraine would objectively make NATO’s task in the region many times more difficult, at a high cost to the U.S. taxpayer.
For Taiwan, Japan, Australia and South Korea, the message would be that the United States is a fair-weather friend who will not sacrifice for their security.
Beijing would also understand this message and act accordingly, expecting that the Americans will not have the courage to confront China in the Indo-Pacific.
And what one might ask: Can’t we just live and let live?
It’s simple: our global role is a two-way street. In a world where no one can rely on the United States, we will no longer be able to rely on anyone. In this world, we will not be able to complain if other countries side with China, Iran or Russia against us – be it on security or trade issues.
In its splendid isolation, the United States may still be protected by two oceans, but it takes a great deal of imagination to believe that its interests would be served by neglecting its most important source of influence on the global stage: its credibility. This is exactly what has been at stake in Ukraine since Putin hatched his insane plan, which is now being revealed.
Dalibor Rohac is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Twitter: @DaliborRohac