What Ukraine’s defeat would mean for the US, Europe and the World

Given the difficulties facing the US and EU in securing buy-in for the latest round of assistance to Ukraine, it is worth considering the consequences that a Russian victory would entail.

Given the difficulties facing the US and EU in securing buy-in for the latest round of assistance to Ukraine, it is worth considering the consequences that a Russian victory would entail, writes at its report The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the world’s oldest and the UK’s leading defence and security think tank….

In the West both public attitudes and the attitudes of ruling elites are showing signs of fatigue, putting at risk the volume of military-technical assistance to Ukraine. The failure of the US government to secure approval from Congress to finance aid to Ukraine for 2024 is an example of the success of Russian efforts, albeit indirect. Clearly, if the level of support for Ukraine in US society remained at the level of an absolute majority, as it was in 2022, refusing to vote for the allocation of aid would be tantamount to political suicide. Yet at the end of 2023, despite the fact that 50% of Republican Party voters still support sending weapons and military equipment to Ukraine, such a refusal has become a political reality.

Given that the threat of ending or at least reducing the amount of aid to Ukraine will only grow in the future, it is worth assessing the consequences of a complete or even partial victory for Russia. Despite the obvious tragedy of this situation for Ukraine, the consequences of its defeat for the West and especially for the US as the leader of the free world would be no less catastrophic.

Despite the fact that the West prefers to consider this war as a bilateral conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Russian leadership perceives and positions it as a one-on-one confrontation with the US and NATO, where Ukraine serves only as a proxy. This perception is widespread not only in Russia itself, but also in other autocratic states and countries across the Global South. Thus, any situation that can be passed off by Russia as a victory – that is, any achievements resulting from its aggression – will be perceived by these countries as a direct defeat of the West and the US in particular. At the same time, such a defeat would be perceived as a military one, where the West – led by the US – did not have sufficient military means to support the operations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, even though it did not have to participate with its own troops.

This would undoubtedly have a very negative impact on the perception of the US as the world’s leading military power; it would encourage countries such as China, Iran and North Korea to continue their own military expansion; and it would also force the countries of the Global South to seek special relationships with these countries, displacing the US as an international security broker. This would further undermine the US position in the Global South, which is already at its weakest since the end of the Cold War. Not only would this lead to a weakening of the West’s ability to use the military infrastructure of these countries, but it would also limit access to their markets, as well as the ability to obtain strategic materials from them.

A Russian victory in Ukraine is highly likely to destroy NATO, at least in its current form. From its creation, the Alliance was an agreement between the US and Europe, according to which the US undertook to protect Europe from the Soviet threat. In exchange for this, among other things, European countries made their military infrastructure available to the US, undertook to develop their own defence capabilities, and recognised the undisputed military leadership of the US in the event of a war with the USSR.

The unwillingness of the US to provide Ukraine with enough weapons to win a war with Russia, where the US is not required to send its own troops, calls into question the US’s readiness to protect individual NATO countries from Russian aggression, where sending US troops would be the only option. Moreover, given the trends in US policy towards abandoning the Eisenhower Doctrine in favour of isolationism, there is a real threat that in the foreseeable future the US government may even reconsider its commitments to providing military aid to European countries.

It is obvious that without US troops, and especially without the US nuclear umbrella, European countries will not be able to defend themselves in the event of a full-scale war with a nuclear state. Awareness of the high risk of losing US protection may force the leaders of European states to start looking for bilateral security arrangements with Russia or China, either of which may offer to step in as a security broker, as has already happened in the Middle East.

Undoubtedly, the withdrawal of the US from Europe – which was and remains the principal goal of first Soviet and now Russian active measures – would be immediately capitalised upon by filling the resultant vacuum with Russian and Chinese influence. For the US, the loss of Europe would be equivalent to losing the status of leader of the free world, and together with the loss of European markets, it would mean the inevitable end of the era of US political, military and economic dominance.

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