The Return of Diplomacy?
Ukraine in the Hands of the United States: Tool, Asset or Mistake?

The structural problems of the United States in relations with Russia and other major countries are due to the fact that Americans cannot imagine that anyone else can have human dignity and self-respect, or that other countries can have their own point of view, separate from the United States, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

In the Valdai Club report titled “Maturity Certificate, or the Order That Never Was”, my colleagues and I concluded that the current international situation is a struggle for a new form of hierarchy, one more convenient for large centres of power, which we have described as Atlases holding their “fragments of the sky”. This is a temporary phenomenon, which will persist until a new balance of power is recognised by everyone. Until this point is reached, we will observe different countries engage in foreign policy experiments. The position of small and medium-sized states is receiving increased attention from the major powers, who are bargaining for the formation of a new balance. We are at a moment when a small country can demand significantly more for itself than it would receive in a system of rigid hierarchy.

In the struggle to improve its place in the world hierarchy, Russia feels quite organic, defending its national interests and restoring justice. During such a stress test, the realism of assessments, national qualities, the calculation of resources and the strategy which has been worked out acquire more strength. Essentially, this crisis is a test of the quality of the strategy of all participants: everyone entered this crisis with their initial understanding of what the world looks like, how it works and where history is going.

The United States truly believes that foreign policy is part of its domestic policy. Moreover, every American foreign policy strategy is one component of the country’s internal struggles; American self-absorption greatly unnerves their near and far allies and creates uncertainty in the development of the situation. I do not see any objective prerequisites for Washington to reduce its involvement in Ukrainian affairs. The decision to suspend funding is of a technical nature: most likely, the United States will find an opportunity to transfer the necessary resources to Ukraine from another source.

Ukraine is a convenient, rather cheap tool for weakening and containing Russia, as well as forcing the European allies to embrace discipline and obedience.

The US is eliminating any impulse for strategic autonomy on the European continent and, in essence, cutting Europe’s access to resources. The United States “sold” this conflict to the Europeans as a quick victory over Russia with the release of large amounts of resources and the opportunity to enrich themselves. The prolongation of the conflict has led to the fact that the relative gains of Americans and Europeans are beginning to decline. Resources that Europeans could allocate for their own development are now directed either to the purchase of energy resources, the main material base of any development, at inflated prices, or to the supply of weapons and military equipment to Ukraine. Therefore, I believe that we will not see anything new in American strategy, and since the newly proposed Russian budget assumes continued military conditions on the horizon for the next three years, I do not believe that the Americans will be ready to give up Ukraine as an asset.

There is another observation — Americans, like investors who understand that they need to quickly invest in something else, never hold a falling asset. Perhaps, at some point they will get the feeling that Ukraine is an asset that is falling in price too quickly, which constantly forces them to meet expenses, but no longer provides added value.

The Americans can only be pushed to abandon their support for Ukraine by an emergency in another part of the world that would require them to concentrate their efforts there, and the main ones that come to mind, of course, are Taiwan and a sudden crisis in the Western Hemisphere.

The suspension of funding to Ukraine would not have occurred if Kiev had shown signs of being a good investment; if the picture of “victorious Ukraine” and “doomed Russia” that the American media painted had corresponded to reality.

The problem for Ukraine and the West is that the constant production of illusory ideas is not supported by reality, and the greater this distance, the harder it becomes to hold this asset. Instead of positive images associated with victory, triumph and a good return on investment, new ones arrive: a stalled offensive, corruption scandals, an attempt by President Zelensky to put pressure on allies, scandals with Nazi collaborators in which he is directly involved. The shocking episode where the Canadian Parliament honoured a Nazi war criminal is symptomatic of a larger problem. For decades, a large Ukrainian diaspora has existed in Canada, and the United States turned a blind eye to the cult surrounding the OUN-UPA in the ranks of this diaspora, where it is customary to honour the Nazi collaborators and children are indoctrinated in schools. The Ukrainian government, realizing that this is already a completely legitimized phenomenon, is beginning to use it in its official propaganda.

Modern Diplomacy
The World in Search of a New Balance of Power
Andrey Sushentsov
The impossibility of achieving a strategic victory over the enemy through military means, the continuing interconnectedness of the world, the constant military conflict as one of the tools of grand strategy introduces us to the era of constant indirect war, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

However, some changes are still taking place: for the first time, Americans are correcting Ukrainians when they stage provocations, including informational ones, by trying to shift responsibility for their crimes to Russia. The missile strike on civilian targets in Konstantinovka, which coincided by a strange coincidence with Secretary of State Blinken’s visit to Kiev, was condemned by Ukrainian propaganda as a “Russian crime.” Washington carefully, and seemingly for the first time, corrected Kiev by pointing out that the missile was Ukrainian. The fact that such disagreements have emerged indicates that at some point, the interests of the United States and Ukraine may diverge. I believe that the elites in Kiev should think about what Plan B will look like for them, because now they are putting all of their eggs in one basket and thereby cutting off any path to negotiations, retreat, or some other scenario.

Is it possible that the American election campaign will influence the Ukrainian conflict? I would consider a scenario in which it would not affect this conflict for the better for Russia, and proceed without placing too much emphasis on who sits in the White House. Frankly, discussions with the Americans regarding regional crises are very repetitive. I remember them from the Syrian crisis, when American experts said that this would have a strong negative effect on Russian domestic politics, that we would quarrel with the Islamic world and it would unstoppably destroy our ties with Turkey, Iran and others. These were all unfounded speculations. Russia acted in its own interests and ultimately achieved an optimal outcome for itself.

It is necessary to understand that questions that were common 20 years ago are no longer being asked as frequently.

The United States is starting to work more cynically and does not shy away from using any tools at its disposal.

We see this in the series of Ukrainian terrorist attacks against Russian public figures inside our borders, which are not condemned by the United States. Thus, the topic of fighting terrorism was shared by Russia and the US for some time — in the early 2000s, we tested the possibility of in-depth work with each other. But this area is one of the markers that shows the unilateral approach of the United States to international cooperation with Russia. First, contacts with Russia in the fight against terrorism were interrupted, although this is an absolutely vital area of interest, cooperation in which is extremely important. Second, Americans quite often instrumentally use groups recognized as terrorist in Russia to pursue their goals.

Americans are absolutely blind to the steps of the Ukrainian armed forces, government and special services, which are terrorist in nature, openly attack civilian infrastructure, and resort to the intimidation of civilians. They seem to turn a blind eye to this, as well as to any manifestations of Nazi elements in Ukrainian politics.

The structural problems of the United States in relations with Russia and other major countries are due to the fact that Americans cannot imagine that anyone else can have human dignity and self-respect, or that other countries can have their own point of view, separate from the United States. What the United States does quite well in its domestic policies — listening to every voice, diverse communities, freedom of speech —cannot be tolerated in international affairs. The principle of sovereign equality of countries is very difficult for the US.

Maturity Certificate, or the Order That Never Was
Oleg Barabanov, Timofei Bordachev, Fyodor Lukyanov, Andrey Sushentsov, Ivan Timofeev
The “shape of the future” is perhaps the most sought-after concept in the world today. Everyone wants to see it, and international affairs experts are no exception. The more tangled the situation on the world stage, the more radical the changes; and the greater the impact of the factors that were once considered secondary (from technology to societal changes), the stronger the push to understand what lies beyond the bend.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.