While the Russian-Ukrainian war continues unabated and without a clear goal at the end in exchange for continuous losses of lives and property, the question remains: How long can this war continue?
Over the past few days, there have been hints from both sides in the Russian-Ukrainian war that it might there would be reasons for a diplomatic solution. It explained that this path to peace is promising due to the massive military losses incurred by Russia, which have seriously weakened the state and will require years, if not decades, to compensate. Both sides also know that the coming winter months will make military operations more difficult and lead to more deaths on and off the battlefield. While the current atmosphere for a diplomatic solution looks dire, I would argue that this is an opportunity for an emerging power to step up on the international stage and broker peace between Russia and Ukraine to cement its status as a leading power, just as the United States did during the Russo-Japanese War (1905- 1904).
Many issues related to the Russian invasion of Ukraine remind us of the situation during the Russo-Japanese war. The war resulted from the competitive colonial expansion of Russia and Japan, both of which wanted control of the Far East. Moreover, the Czar of Russia saw the war as a means of boosting the popularity of his regime in a period of national decline and strengthening Russia’s standing among the great empires of Europe. Japan saw the war as an opportunity to become the superpower in Asia.
After a series of failed diplomatic missions to avert war, the Japanese navy launched a surprise attack on the Russian navy at Port Arthur. After this crushing attack, the Russians continued to suffer further defeats before finally agreeing to a negotiated peace in 1905, and the Japanese army was closer to collapse than it seemed, although it was not visible to the Japanese.
While the actual situation of what happened in 1905-1904 is not the same as the context of the current Russo-Ukrainian war (in 1904 Japan attacked Russia, in 2022 Russia attacked Ukraine), it offers many similarities that make the Russo-Japanese War is a useful example. Russian forces in Ukraine, as in 1905, suffered heavy losses to what was initially seen as an inferior enemy. The Russo-Japanese War was also one of the first conflicts to demonstrate the power of the Industrial Revolution in the mass production of weapons and equipment, just as the Russo-Ukrainian War demonstrated the effectiveness of drones and other technologies on the battlefield. In 1905-1904 the Russian Navy lost much of its fleet, which was the focus of the show of force at that time.
In Ukraine, Russia has lost many naval ships and more than 1,400 tanks and armored vehicles, the hallmark of modern land warfare. In the period 1905-1904 and today, the losses and defeats on the battlefield were painful for Russia both domestically and internationally.
With such catastrophic events happening in Russia and Ukraine, the question arises of how to end the war and negotiate peace. Once again, a look back in history offers one possible scenario. In the case of the Russo-Japanese war, it was the United States that emerged as the peace broker. The United States was an emerging world power after Spain’s defeat in the Spanish-American War. Some say the victory marked the beginning of it empire and a period of explosive economic growth.
However, the United States was not a traditional world power like Great Britain, France, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, because it was not involved in the treaties and diplomatic agreements that those countries were in, including the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902. Because of this web of alliances, Most European powers cannot be seen as sufficiently neutral to facilitate a treaty that will not be unilateral.
Today, the United States and Western European countries are so involved in supporting Ukraine that it cannot be considered a neutral arbiter of peace. Any negotiation by Russia would only be seen by hard-liners in Moscow as weakening their state (which the war does).
However, this is an opportunity for another emerging power to establish itself on the international stage by acting as a mediator in a peace conference. This country needs to possess diplomatic and military power, as the United States had in 1905, to be seen as a close counterpart to Russia, but not as an existential threat to Russia. Moreover, that country should have no direct interest in the region (say Turkey) but some economic interest at stake (such as Ukrainian food production). Finally, the country should have few formal ties with allies Russia or Ukraine. As the war progressed, the number of countries meeting these criteria decreased. And China, which many countries look up to as another leading player, is very supportive of Russia. Of course, even if an emerging power such as Brazil, Saudi Arabia, or India tries to broker a peace agreement, this does not guarantee that it will be accepted or that Russia will abide by the terms in the long term.
However, as more Russian troops are lost on the battlefield, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies begin to suspect him, Ukrainians suffer a harsh winter, and more international pressure will be put on Kyiv and Moscow to start peace talks. This represents an opportunity for another country to take its place on the world stage as a neutral arbiter. The United States and NATO need to understand this potential scenario and determine the best course of action to help broker peace, but also to understand the lasting consequences.