One year after the 2022 launch of the Russian Federation’s full-scale assault on Ukraine, how has support for Ukraine by the United States and Western Europe evolved, and what are the prospects for peace?
A panel of experts took the stage at Perry World House (PWH) to address these questions and more in an insightful discussion about the war so far and what the future holds for both Russia and Ukraine in the conflict.
Moderated by Philadelphia Inquirer columnist and PWH Visiting Fellow Trudy Rubin, the panel included Robin Dunnigan, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for Central and Eastern Europe in the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs; Maria Snegovaya, a senior fellow with the Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; and PWH Visiting Fellow Brigadier Gen. (Ret.) Peter B. Zwack, who served as the U.S. senior defense official and attaché to the Russian Federation from 2012 to 2014, a period which included Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine.
Dunnigan started off by noting that the Ukrainian army is holding strong against Russia and the U.S. and a coalition of world partners are playing a key role in bolstering that strength.
“Russia is paying the price and has lost key battles,” she said.
The assumptions that the world had about the Russian military before its attack on Ukraine were proved inaccurate, Zwack said, and it’s obvious their war machine wasn’t as dangerous as feared and cracks in the Kremlin are apparent. He also noted how Volodymyr Zelensky and the determination of the Ukrainian people to fight back have inspired people around the globe.
“You have an unproven leader of almost Churchillian effect,” he said of Zelensky. “We’ve seen NATO not reborn but reaffirmed. Yes, this is a war between Russia and Ukraine, but this is a global issue now.”
Snegovaya said that, despite Western and Ukrainian unity, things aren’t as “bright” as she’d like them to be at this point in the war.
She said that recent studies have shown that it will be harder for Putin to fight this war socially, economically, and militarily, but he still will be able to continue on this path for a while, despite this pressure that has been put on him. Similarly, Russian society has shown a remarkable degree of complacency and conformism which could give him the green light. Despite problems within the Russian military and its overall weakness, it still can fight and cause losses for Ukraine.
A key question for her is how the West envisions a victory for Ukraine.
“And, unfortunately, when I talk to the U.S. policymakers, the answer I always get is, ‘Ukraine has to decide.’ But Ukraine has already decided: Ukraine wants its territory back. The question is, Will the West sustain its support needed for Ukraine to be able to do so?” Snegovaya said. “I’m really hoping that the answer is positive. So far, unfortunately, I’m not convinced.”
Rubin went on to ask the other panelists how victory in Ukraine is defined from the U.S. point of view.
Ukrainians are the ones to decide what victory looks like, Dunnigan replied, and a key question is how to get Putin to the negotiating table. Ukraine has to have leverage on the battlefield, and Russia needs to feel the pain of sanctions to get there.
There’s global agreement on some core elements of a just and durable peace in Ukraine, she said.
“In this case, a just peace means that Russia does not get to keep the territory that it has taken by force, that goes against the principles that Russia itself has signed on to as a member of UN Security Council,” she said. “And durable means that Russia can’t come back and do it again in three months or six months or two years. Because that isn’t only not good for Ukraine—it’s not good for any of us. So, our strategy is that we continue to give Ukraine leverage by helping it win on the battlefield. And keeping the pressure on Putin: economic pressure and international global pressure.”
The panel went on to discuss what the U.S. saw as Putin’s goal in 2014 when he invaded Crimea, what is his goal now, and what “winning” looks like for Putin.
Snegovaya noted that Putin hasn’t won in Ukraine, but he hasn’t lost either. Russia has too few resources to be able to inflict consistent damage on Ukraine. Yet Russian officials and citizens are far from believing that they are failing, largely because their economy hasn’t collapsed.
They then turned to questions from the audience, which addressed accurate casualty numbers, whether the U.S. is actually at war with Russia in this conflict, and if Putin were to fall out a window would the war end?
To the last question, Rubin asked each panelist to answer with a yes or a no.
“That’s not a yes or no question,” Snegovaya replied, saying there’s a possibility the next leader would try to reset relations with the U.S. because this is Putin’s war. “Even if that second person tries to reset the relationship, we need to be thinking of the strings attached to Russia in the future if ever the possibility of relaunching the relationship with the West opens up again.”
Zwack said he’d like to reply that it depends, “but I won’t waffle out and so I will say, with some time, yes.”
Dunnigan said that if Russia had a democratically elected leader, “this war would end immediately. Putin started this war; he could stop this war.”