May 20, 2023
Exclusively for The Geopost: Janusz Bugajski
Ukraine’s much anticipated counter-offensive will be a vital stage in expelling Russia’s invasion force from its territory. But it will not be sufficient in securing Ukraine’s long-term independence.
Such a solution rests on four pillars – Ukraine’s complete territorial control, Ukraine’s NATO membership, the positioning of NATO troops, particularly American, on Ukrainian territory, and the state rupture of the Russian Federation.
With a successful counter-offensive in the coming weeks, the momentum in the war will move massively in Kyiv’s favor, both militarily and politically. Militarily, the puncturing of Russia’s defenses and the capture of key strategic ground in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia regions would split captured territories, disrupt vital logistical supplies for Russian forces, and prepare the ground for the liberation of Crimea.
Politically, major Ukrainian advances will convince the Western allies that military assistance should not be reduced to Kyiv. It would be increasingly difficult for Moscow to hide its failures and to bank on divisions in NATO when Kyiv is victorious on the battlefield. And strategically, Ukrainian victories would demonstrate that Russia’s occupation is not sustainable and raise pressure on Moscow’s control over Crimea. The recapturing of the peninsula would ensure that Ukraine’s Black Sea ports are secure from blockades and disruption. This would also seriously damage Putin’s legitimacy as a successful imperial leader and accelerate power struggle within Moscow’s ruling elite.
The second pillar of Ukraine’s permanent security is NATO membership. Although NATO’s Vilnius summit in July is unlikely to issue an invitation for Kyiv to join, it must set out a clear timetable for membership. Ukraine has clearly qualified for NATO accession as a result of its direct combat experience against Russia, which no other NATO army can claim. Ukraine possesses the only combat force to have vanquished the Russian army since Moscow’s defeats in Afghanistan and Chechnya in the 1980s and 1990s. Ukraine’s army has also successfully integrated a large and diverse supply of NATO weapons and has gained invaluable experience both for future conventional and informational wars.
A third essential pillar to concretize Ukraine’s security is the stationing of NATO troops on its territory both before and after it achieves NATO membership. Poland, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have benefited from the presence of American, British, Canadian, German, and other troops over the last decade. They enable joint training and interoperability and act as a direct deterrent to any Russian intervention. The scale and location of this international NATO military presence would be decided by Kyiv and needs to be accompanied by the supply of modern and decisive weapons to fully discourage any future military incursions by Moscow.
The fourth and most important pillar of Ukraine’s security and a vital guarantee for the stability of the entire region between the Arctic Ocean and the Caspian Sea is Russia’s comprehensive rupture and the dismantling of the fake “federation.” Moscow cannot be allowed to rebuild its military and gain access to modern technology so it can again launch attacks on its neighbors. Russia’s demilitarization will be an essential element of the process of state dissolution. Moreover, international sanctions cannot be eased until the accused war criminals in the Kremlin are brought to justice and Moscow pays substantial war reparations to Ukraine for its murders of civilians and its extensive destruction of infrastructure and property.
Ukraine’s victory and liberation will accelerate the collapse of the Russian Federation, whose weak foundations have been exposed by its military failures and the Kremlin’s strategic incompetence. The emergence of new states will greatly weaken any rump Russian entity that maintains Moscow as its capital and will help disable it from waging any future imperial wars. Unfortunately, Western policy makers are unprepared for the consequences of Russia’s implosion and are failing to capitalize on Russia’s de-imperialization. They continue to exhibit wishful thinking about a return to the post-Cold War status quo in which cooperative relations can be established with a post-Putin regime that still controls an artificial empire.
Janusz Bugajski is a Senior Fellow at the Jamestown Foundation in DC. His recent book is Failed State: A Guide to Russia’s Rupture, and his next book is Pivotal Poland: Europe’s Rising Strategic Player. He has just toured Ukraine with the Ukrainian translation of his Russia Rupture book