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Western Interests and Ukrainian Interests in the Ukraine War
 Source:Politico  Views:116 Updated:2023-09-19

Note: the opinion article cited below was written by three Western scholars and initially published by Politico on 17 May 2022, with an original title “We’re not all Ukrainians now”. Today, this old article is worth re-reading, as the views expressed in it can still serve as a reference for decision makers to seriously deem the higher prices that relevant parties will have to bear tomorrow if without paying enough attention to the realities the concerned parties face today. Obviously, prolonging the war is not helping Ukraine; and it is detrimental to the interest of Ukraine (in particular, the Ukrainian people) and of Ukraine’s supporters.



Pretending Western interests are fully aligned with Kyivs risks further escalating the war.

Insisting that the United States and its NATO allies should want exactly what Ukraine does is understandable politics - but its also dangerous policy.

Such insistence not only risks dragging us potentially into a nuclear war, it also risks giving Ukraine false hope and delaying a settlement. And our natural sympathy for Ukraine shouldnt be confused for fully aligned interests.

Throughout the West, Russias invasion has prompted a widespread outpouring of support and solidarity. NATO members have helped frustrate Russia and have enabled Ukraine to mount an effective resistance with arms transfers, intelligence sharing and economic sanctions. And civil society has mobilized aid, making the Ukrainian flag a popular symbol of heroic defiance, internationalism and the survival of sovereign liberty.

For British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, one of the proudest boasts in the free world is, Ya Ukrainets’ - ‘I am a Ukrainian.According to U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, our job is to support the Ukrainians. Theyll set the military objectives, the objectives at the bargaining table . . . were not going to define the outcome of this for them. That is up for them to define and us to support them in.Even President Joe Biden argues Ukraine is not just a humanitarian cause for the U.S. but a frontline state in a global war between freedom and autocracy.

At the same time, however, the British and U.S. governments have also made it clear that they will not give Ukraine all the weapons it wants or directly enter the conflict by imposing a no-fly zone or deploying troops. That reluctance reflects an obvious divergence of interests between the Wests and Kyivs.

Ukraine, with its independence on the line, wants all the NATO help it can get - escalation serves its interests. NATO countries on the other hand, sensibly wary of Russia and its nuclear arsenal, rightly resist.

So, a gap has opened in Western capitals between deeds that suggest an outer limit of involvement and words that suggest a harmony of interests.

In large part, this is just politics. Leaders of democracies tend to oversell the stakes to promote policies that entail great risk. But such a gap is dangerous.

For one, it attracts domestic calls for escalation, including demands for maximal war aims, from the restoration of Crimea to direct military intervention. Secondly, the White Houses rhetoric also undermines its own refusal to comply with Ukraines demands for high-risk assistance in the form of no-fly zones, the complete economic shutdown of Russia or actual troop deployments, undercutting its own restraint.

But if Western stakes were indeed as dire as Ukraines, if the future of the world order hung on the course of this conflict and our democracy was at stake along with Ukraines, then why wouldnt NATO be willing to join the fight for it?

Crucially, this rhetoric-policy gap could also raise excessive Ukrainian expectations of support. But those insisting the West should give Ukraine whatever it wants ignore that what Ukraine wants partly depends on what the West will give them - or at least what it says it will. And claims of fully aligned interests may fuel Ukrainian dreams of total victory that are probably untenable and only conducive to prolonging war.

Though peace talks are now at a standstill, they may revive when Russias Donbas push either succeeds or ends in stalemate, and Ukraine may again be presented with an unpleasant peace offering - lose Crimea, accept more autonomy for much of the Donbas, commit to neutrality. If Kyiv thinks Western support is endless, or likely to grow more direct, it may end up rejecting a deal it should have taken and suffer for it when the help it banked on doesnt materialize.

The problem here isnt helping Ukraine, its pretending the help is unconditional.

This conflict itself was partly precipitated by a series of false but beguiling assurances from Washington to Kyiv, which gave the impression of an alignment of interests.

The fatal dalliance included promises of ironcladsupport, the hollow suggestion of eventual NATO membership and the establishment of a security partnership backed by increased material and military assistance that fell short of a guarantee. That all left Ukraine in a vulnerable no-mans land: without the shield of actual Western commitment yet emboldened to take measures that accelerated Russias determination to stop it from joining the West, like rejecting neutrality.

The idea that nations can heavily contribute to a war effort without any say in its execution is offensive. Those arming Ukraine may not be risking enough to suit Ukraine, but they arent risking nothing - the danger of Russian retaliation remains. And sanctions entail economic pain for those sanctioning as well as the sanctioned.

Moreover, the terms and timing of war-termination will affect NATO countries too, determining the extent and severity of economic blowback, as well as the likelihood of another invasion and resulting crisis. Surely Western leaders have a right - even a responsibility to their constituents - to determine how to use their military aid and economic sanctions in ways that also serve their interests, not just Ukraines.

The normally banal observation that Ukraine has different interests than the U.S. or U.K. has now become essential to sound policy choice, and pretending there is no difference risks war escalation with potentially horrific consequences.

Reasonable people can disagree about precisely where Western interests lie in the terms of the wars end. But they should not disagree that this interest is not identical to Ukraines.


Patrick Porter is professor of international security and strategy at the University of Birmingham;

Benjamin H. Friedman is policy director at Defense Priorities;

Justin Logan is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

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