Trading Losses in Ukraine

There are no winners in war. War is the abandonment of reason, the abandonment of dialogue, the abandonment of compassion and hope. It is the abandonment of everything that makes us human.

In the war in Ukraine, there will be no winners. Everyone will lose.

The biggest burden of loss will be on the people of Ukraine. People who have been used and who have been caught in a struggle between great powers. It is the people of Ukraine who are terrified and dying.

But everyone else will lose too. The US will lose, Russia will lose and NATO will lose. The geopolitical battlefield will look very different when this war is over.

The US Will Lose

What will happen and how this will end still belongs to an unknown future. Ukraine and Russia have both expressed a willingness to talk. The details are developing and fuzzy. Ukraine seems to be willing to discuss neutrality; Russia seems to be willing to negotiate prior to surrender. Russia’s conditions seem to be an agreement by Ukraine to be neutral, to abandon NATO membership and to reject US and NATO weapons in their territory. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has reportedly replied that "We are not afraid to talk to Russia. We are not afraid to say everything about security guarantees for our state. We are not afraid to talk about neutral status. We are not in NATO now … We need to talk about the end of this invasion. We need to talk about a ceasefire."

Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak has reportedly said that "Ukraine wants peace and is ready for talks with Russia, including on neutral status regarding NATO." He told Reuters on February 25 that, “If talks are possible, they should be held. If in Moscow they say they want to hold talks, including on neutral status, we are not afraid of this. We can talk about that as well” he said. According to the Kremlin, Russia has also told Chinese President Xi Jinping that they are ready to negotiate with Ukraine.

On February 27, Ukraine agreed to "meet with the Russian delegation without preconditions" but made it clear that they will "not give up a single inch of … territory."

Russia has long said that two of its main concerns and security demands are that NATO not expand to Ukraine nor use Ukraine as a host or launching base for US and NATO troops and missiles. The US and NATO were unwilling to guarantee that they would not offer membership to Ukraine. But Ukraine can guarantee that they won’t seek it. If Ukraine were to renounce desires to ascend to NATO and promise not to host NATO troops or weapons, that would seem to satisfy a significant part of Russia’s demand and represent a loss for the US.

How badly the US does not want this settlement is suggested by comments by State Department spokesperson Ned Price that seem to suggest that Ukraine continue to fight and Ukrainians continue to die rather than ending the war by accepting these terms: "Now we see Moscow suggesting that diplomacy take place at the barrel of a gun or as Moscow’s rockets, mortars, artillery target the Ukrainian people. This is not real diplomacy. Those are not the conditions for real diplomacy."

Russia Will Lose

Russia may win the battle in Ukraine, and they may win the battle to push NATO one country west of their border, but Russia may suffer losses in their larger war against the US hegemony in a unipolar world.

In that larger war, Russia and China have stressed the need to balance the US led unipolar world by creating a multipolar world in which other nations have a voice. In that multipolar world, the American hegemon would not have the power to supplant the Security Council and render decisions that are in its own self-interest and that pose a threat to peace and international law. That threat has been evidenced overtly in Kosovo, Libya, Iraq and Syria and covertly in the US coups in Ukraine and Latin America.

The new multipolar world would not be against the US but would balance the US. It would not be a world of multiple blocs but a world that transcends blocs.

At the close of the 1970’s, the US hastened the end of the Soviet Union by deliberately drawing them into the quagmire of Afghanistan. National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski told President Carter that "induc[ing] a Soviet military invasion . . . was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap….” When the Soviets fell into the trap, Brzezinski told Carter that “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war."

More than four decades later, the US blundered into drawing Russia into an analogous mistake. After decades of NATO expansion right up to Russia’s borders and housing of NATO troops and missiles on Russian borders, Putin lost his patience and defended Russia’s long proclaimed red line of NATO expansion to Ukraine. Authoritative US ambassadors from George Kennan to Jack Matlock had warned against that NATO mistake. In 1997, Kennan, the architect of the US policy of containment and rollback of the Soviet Union, said that NATO expansion east "would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-cold-war era." NATO made a very big mistake in pushing its alliance right to Russia’s borders; Putin made a very big mistake in losing his patience and illegally and brutally invading Ukraine.

And with that invasion, Russia and China lost the message. It will be very difficult for Russia and China to issue a joint statement like their last one in which they said they opposed side stepping the Security Council, invading other countries and not respecting the sovereignty of other nations and in which they called for a multipolar world in which Russia and China would help stop such illegal actions by balancing the US hegemon. Instead, Russia’s actions have led much of the world to see it as the aggressor, recasting the US as the world’s protector.

Though it is not clear that the message has been completely muted yet with some major powers of concern to Russia, like China and India, as well as Pakistan and the Middle East not abandoning Russia, the message certainly is struggling with static and will likely be harder to sell.

It would seem that with this invasion, the Russian-Chinese dream of a multipolar world is on life support and a return to a bipolar world of blocs is being reborn.

NATO Will Lose

NATO may also win a battle with the tightening of the alliance and increased NATO contributions. But NATO may also lose.

On February 25, Zelensky mourned of his abandonment by NATO: "I asked them – are you with us? They answered that they are with us, but they don’t want to take us into the alliance. I’ve asked 27 leaders of Europe, if Ukraine will be in NATO, I’ve asked them directly – all are afraid and did not respond. We were left by ourselves. Who is ready to go to war for us? Honestly, I don’t see anybody. Who is ready to give Ukraine guarantees of NATO membership?" "We are not in NATO now," he would say, "We need to talk about the end of this invasion. We need to talk about a ceasefire."

NATO loses because they were not willing to tell Russia that Ukraine would not be a NATO member and they were not willing to tell Ukraine that it would.

That ironic stance revealed Russia’s willingness to violate international norms. But it also revealed the West’s insincerity and that Ukraine cannot count on or trust NATO or the West. And with that, Russia, the US, NATO and Ukraine all lost.

Ted Snider has a graduate degree in philosophy and writes on analyzing patterns in US foreign policy and history.