Interview with Christopher Fettweis, an American political scientist and Professor of Political Science at Tulane University. He is known for his expertise on American foreign relations.
What do you think about the latest developments in Ukraine?
We may be getting to the point where everybody acknowledges how this war will end. It has been clear how it will end for quite some time. Ukraine, unfortunately, will have to give up some territories in exchange for peace. The counteroffensive didn’t win back significant territories, and Russians could rearm faster. It will be challenging for the Ukrainian military to push Russians out of Ukrainian territories. In turn, Russians must conclude that they won’t be able to defeat the Ukrainian army and take over Odesa and Kyiv. Russia’s invasion was a colossal failure. We are getting closer to that point when both sides, out of exhaustion, will conclude it is not worth fighting anymore. I thought it’d come to this situation back in May 2022.
Don’t you think Russia, based on its recent rhetoric, wants to fight until they capture the remaining Ukrainian territories?
It will be tough for Putin to withdraw. He can make a case back home that they got Crimea and parts of Ukraine, and Russian-speaking people are protected now. But it will be hard for the Kremlin to withdraw and for Putin to stay in power. He hopes that Trump wins and the West abandons Ukraine so that he can achieve some of his initial objectives. If it doesn’t happen, he will be ready to declare victory and go home, and Ukrainians may be at the point where they realize it is hard to eject Russians from Russian-held parts of Ukraine. They will be ready to sue for peace as well.
So, will they seek a truce and make a deal?
It is not easy to kick Russians out, and if they kick them out, they can be back someday, and it may not be worth it. At some point, they can look at Donbas and see it is an integral part of Ukraine, but they can still preserve most of the country and be a much more independent country without Russian-speaking Ukrainians. It may be worth trading some land like Crimea in exchange for peace.
Will it be sufficient for Russia to agree to take what it has right now, considering its appetite for the south and east of Ukraine?
They will have to make the same assessment that they won’t be able to take over more Ukrainian territories. It is important to keep sending the message that the war was a disaster. Russians will come to the same conclusion that because of Western support and Ukrainian bravery, they will not take over more territories. Discussion should focus on new borders between the two countries. It is terrible that it happened, but at some point, people have to conclude that it is enough. The war can’t last forever, and both parties should come to the table sooner or later.
Do you feel the West is pushing Ukraine to seek peace with Russia?
The conversations behind the scenes are starting to move in that direction. The Biden administration realized that there was no appetite for negotiation in the first couple of years of this conflict until Ukrainians tried their best to kick Russians out. Even with the US and Western support of the counteroffensive in the summer, it didn’t gain much ground, and Russians have become much more substantial. The Biden administration can slowly start pushing Ukrainians toward the negotiation table. Many people in Ukraine won’t like it, but peace is still a much more attractive proposal.
During the Cold War, people used a term for Finland called Finlandization, with Finland being a neutral country not dominated by NATO or the Soviets. It was a way to keep peace in Nordic countries. I think the “Finlandization” model offers a solution for Ukraine. When the war is over, this model can provide neutrality status and respect for the new borders of Ukraine. But if Ukraine is pushed towards NATO, it would lead to escalation in the near future. Finlandized Ukraine can help secure peace and recovery for the Ukrainian people and the region in the future.
What do you think about the potential perspective of large-scale war in Europe?
I don’t see many European countries increasing their defense spending. It reminds me a bit of 1980 when the Soviets attacked Afghanistan. The US leadership considered this attack as the next step towards attacking the Persian Gulf. It was concerned whether it was a first step or a localized issue. The same applies to Ukraine. We know, based on the Kremlin meeting minutes, that Afghanistan was a localized issue, and they wanted to get rid of Afghan leadership as it was a US puppet. I don’t think they want to attack Poland or other European countries because things have gone poorly in Ukraine. I don’t think they will attack other European states; it is a localized Ukrainian issue, and Europeans have nothing to worry about.