One of the core characteristics of Essydo Magazine is that topics are viewed from all the different perspectives possible in an unbiased way. Since no underlying agenda is pursued or any interest groups influence this magazine, the analyses represent the highest technical standard of political analysis – at least this is our goal. Leaning on the article from December 3, 2022, this article here analyses what Ukraine can do not only to end this ongoing conflict but also to prevent future acts of aggression by Russia. Since this war is the second grave breach of Ukrainian sovereignty, it is only natural that Russia must be regarded as a long-term threat to the Ukrainian nation. Accordingly, the creation of a sustainably secure environment shares the same importance as the end of this conflict.

Entering the war as the defending party, Ukraine’s goals are significantly easier to define. While the act of aggression by Russia must be put in the context of their interest, their official justification and potential underlying factors, Ukraine did not initiate the conflict, meaning that whatever national interests they pursued did not require military action at that time. It does not follow that Ukraine, and potentially also their allies, did not create a situation that was threatening to Russia – this cannot be fully excluded. Just because a nation did not initiate conflict it does not mean that it did not create a situation that made conflict unavoidable for the aggressor. Nonetheless, the primary goal of any defending nation in a conflict seeks the submission of the attacking military force with the lowest possible harm to and loss of its population and land. Also, reducing the financial burden of the war to a minimum has a high priority. There are different means to do that, but here it is only focused on the tactics weaker nations apply to fend off aggressors as Russia is more powerful than Ukraine in all relevant metrics related to warfare.

Gaining Advantages Over Stronger Nations

On the most basic level, meaning within the 1-vs-1-constellation of aggressor and defender, the weaker defending nation usually tends to prolong the conflict. Since the attacking nation is aware of its superiority, it not only aims to gain the psychological advantages of a quick victory but is also harmed psychologically effects when the expected superiority is not quickly translated onto the battlefield. Needless to say that the material burdens mount the more prolonged the invasion. The opposite of the aim of the attacker is the aim of the defender. Hence, the weaker nation’s first goal is to prolong the conflict. This can be done by tactical retreats, mass-hiding of people, abandoning cities and applying guerrilla tactics. Interestingly, Russia applied some of these tactics in 1812 when Russians abandoned the capital Moscow before the arrival of the French troops of Napoleon – and it worked. For Ukraine, every day of this war without a decision is a small victory. At some point, the costs associated with the victory become unbearable for the attacker, when compared to the predicted benefit. Recent historic examples are the Russian (1979 – 1989) and North American (2001 – 2021) campaigns in Afghanistan, as well as the Vietnam War (1955 – 1975). Eventually, the much weaker nations survived and successfully defended their nations mostly by prolonging the conflict.

Another tactic, that almost all weaker nations applied throughout a vast list of conflicts was to form alliances with stronger nations that either had an interest in the survival of the defending state or in the defeat of the attacker. While the former can be born out of a positive normative relationship between two nations, economic relations, structural or political reasons, the latter is usually motivated by negative motives related to diplomacy, economy or politics. In most cases, other nations can and also will be found that are willing to support the defender with arms, goods, troops, financing or with diplomatic and economic coercion means against the attacker. During Napoleon’s campaign against Russia, the Russians received help from the British. Vietnam was supported by Russia. Türkiye supported South Korea during the Korean War – the examples are countless. But looking for a reliable alliance is not that easy – there are some points to keep in mind. First, the helping nation’s stake or expected return in such a conflict must be solid enough to support the weaker nation throughout the whole conflict. Second, the support must be substantial enough to harm the attacker, significantly increase the power of the defender or at least considerably prolong the conflict. Third, the supporting nations will ask for something in return for the favour of putting man and material at risk for another nation. If they are no so-called brother nations, where a normative obligation to help is present, the alliance will expect favourable treatment in some form – it is important that these are acceptable expectations.

Long-Lasting Peace

Ukraine was, so far, very successful in reaching out for help and also getting this help from very powerful actors. The European Union and the United States of America have supported Ukraine with heavy financing, modern arms, tactical support, intelligence and also widespread economic and financial warfare against Russia, the attacker. However, the biggest problem is that this help was never normatively motivated through a very deep bond with the Ukrainian people, but rather by antagonistic stances against Russia. In fact, one of the potential war causes was produced by those very same alliances that provoked Russia through heavy armament of Ukraine. This means that the interest of Ukraine is rather secondary in this constellation. As mentioned above, however, it is important that alliances are reliable. In the Ukraine situation, the containment of Russian influence, in a region that is more naturally subject to Russian influence than western influence, is not too strong of a motive to uphold a long and resources-draining, as well as potentially over-spilling, conflict. The risk of a sudden stop, or significant reduction, of support to Ukraine, is imminent and needs to be considered by Ukraine. Seeking additional support elsewhere is important in such a situation because right now there is a one-sided reliance on western support and when this is not upheld, defeat is the consequence.

For the west, the best scenario would be to defeat Russia and bring them into a long-term submissive position, hampering its development potential and gaining strength in East Europe. In the worst scenario, the west completely retreats from this conflict, leaving Russia weakened, but without incurring any loss or disadvantage of its own. Somewhere in the middle of the best and the worst scenario, there are many situations where Ukraine could be coerced to accept unfavourable peace terms that serve western and Russian interests. Also, even if Ukraine manages to bring a swift end to this conflict, the lopsided support by the west will bring Ukraine into a situation that forces it to adopt policies that serve the western interest and potentially also fall into economic dependency. Such a situation is very dangerous for Ukraine for which its survival is in danger anyways.

Summarising, Ukraine needs to prolong the conflict as much as it reasonably can – not at all costs. By doing so, they will let Russia drain its resources and force them into retreat at some point. However, looking for additional allies that provide more direct support in the forms of arms and financing is very important in light of the unstable stake and interest of the west in this very cost-intensive conflict. But as history has shown, many defending weaker nations were able to gain victory over the stronger attacker.