Ukraine has done well in response to the Russian invasion but will need more support from the West.
Updated: Oct 14, 2022
Interview with Dr Sergej Ljubownikow, Lecturer in Strategic Management at Management School, Sheffield University.
What is your view on the latest developments in Ukraine? What do you think is Russia's ultimate objective in Ukraine?
I think this is difficult to establish. It seems to me that the objects have been shifting due to the strong Ukrainian response in the field. Western sanctions will have contributed to some of this, but the Ukrainian army's response to the initial invasion in the field seemed to have demanded the adjustment of objectives on the Russian side. I am not a political scientist, so my comments are probably more speculation based on my insights about Russia rather than an understanding of the politics of the Putin regime. Someone who has studied the Russian political regime might be better placed to provide insights and comment on the ultimate objective. If we are to believe Russia's official line, it seems the total occupation and annexation of the Donbas are its ultimate objective. However, with a regime like the Putin regime, there are always multiple objectives, some of which can be quite long-term; clearly, maintaining control over the Donbas plays an important part in this, but I would also guess that part of the thinking here is that this will weaken Ukraine's economy making it (in the long-term) potential more susceptible to more Russian influence. But then there are probably also objectives internal to the regime, such as the potential appeasement of those considering Russia should control all of Ukraine. Clearly, internally, this war has also facilitated the further crackdown on dissent and opposition (something that was already near impossible). It is promising that the Ukrainian army has made quick advances recently. Although with the illegal referenda and coming annexations/integrations, Putin seems to want to put himself into a position where he can 'sell' create a discourse about Ukraine now invading Russian territory, which certainly will help him internal to potentially moving to change this 'special operation' to war, and portraying Ukraine as the aggressor on state-controlled media. This might or might not dampen down protest against mobilization or increase willingness to get drafted. It could also lead to further escalation in the field, but I hope it will not.
What can the West do more to help Ukraine? What can Ukrainian leadership do to secure more help?
I think the West should have done much more to help Ukraine after the 2014 annexation of Crimea, both in terms of direct support and reducing economic engagement/dependence on Russia. Say things with hindsight is always easy, but the West can learn from this. In terms of support help for Ukraine – more financial, economic, and military resource support would always be useful (just give Ukraine the tanks already). However, it can also support Ukraine more indirectly by really aiming to limit the ability of the Putin regime to monetize Russia's energy assets, as this is key to limiting the regime's income which it needs not only to fund the war but also as a way to limit the economic impact. Things such as not using Russian gas and oil, although it does create the issue that Ukraine would also no longer be paid for transit to Europe, directly would be useful. More could be done to limit Russia's ability to sell these resources to other non-western countries – maybe by sanctioning specific companies that use or buy these resources, although this is much more difficult to do. What the Ukrainian leadership can do to secure more help is by continuing to engage with the West, by doing the fighting according to the rules (Geneva convention) even if the Russians don't, and by trying to engage with non-western context to get their (even if only indirect) support.
What do you think are the highest risks for Ukraine right now, and how can Ukrainian leadership cope with them?
I think the most significant risk for Ukraine would be an escalation of the war as a result of the illegal referenda and annexations. As, even if we consider them illegal, it does provide the Putin regime in its alternative universe a ready-made reason/argument for escalation should the recent advances sweep into Luhansk, etc. Given the performance of the Russian army so far, this response would need to rely on other available responses. Yes, more mobilization and more troops are one option, but also the use of different weapons, which I hope does not happen. What the Ukrainian leadership can do, is challenging to say. I would say, on the one hand, it is the continuous focus on trying to drive the Russian army back and win back territory; on the other hand, it is to mobilize support, both in the West (for weapons) and East (China and India) to make very difficult for Putin to escalate this further (well beyond sending more troops).