“Ukraine Again: From an Honorable Way Out to a Zero Sum Game”

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President Putin wanted to achieve two main objectives from his threat to invade Ukraine. First, to prevent NATO from expanding eastward; and second and more important, to prevent a colored revolution in Moscow and deter the West from interfering in his internal affairs. By his unprovoked war against Ukraine, it looks like he has achieved the complete opposite. NATO has positioned additional troops and equipment in its members along the borders of Russia. Finland and Sweden are considering joining NATO, and Ukraine has formally applied for EU membership. The U.S. and its European allies are already talking about regime change in Russia.

Last month I have written in the America-Times about a possible way out of the crisis in Ukraine. It included some simple but serious concessions from all sides, notably acknowledging the obvious and freezing Ukraine’s application to join NATO, especially that the latter was not ready to accept its membership. I was apparently wrong, or rather naïve, to believe that nobody wanted to go to war.

Unfortunately all parties chose to call the bluff of each other, and Russia decided to go for a zero sum game. Theoretically, Russia has the means to win it all against Ukraine in the short run. No matter how brave the Ukrainian resistance will prove to be, it is expected that Russia will be able to overcome in the coming weeks if not days. The problem for Russia is that the game is not limited to Ukraine. It includes other important players like NATO, the EU and the U.S., who have, theoretically as well, a combined military capability that exceeds Russian military might. Many other countries will be affected also due to the economic impact of the war. They would be reluctant to support Russia no matter how much they hate the West.

Compared to his adversaries, Putin has the advantage of a more flexible political regime. He can take crucial political and military decisions without having to take prior authorization and without significant pressure from public opinion at home. This has been proven in practice by the mise en scene of his decisions to recognize the separatist republics in Ukraine and then to launch his “special military operation” there. The U.S. and EU countries have a strong public opinion that is averse to war and to economic hardship. Yet, Putin’s decision to go for an all out invasion eroded this advantage in a way. Now every NATO member has reaffirmed its determination to defend every inch of NATO territory, and public opinion in most NATO members and other countries is pressing for a serious reaction to make Russia accountable for the invasion and prevent it from going further West. The decision by the U.S., Japan, Australia, the U.K., the EU -including Germany, Italy and France- and other European countries -including neutral countries like Finland, Sweden and Switzerland- to supply Ukraine with military equipment and/or impose harsh economic sanctions on Russia in spite of Russian threats of devastating consequences reflect this new reality.

The matter is even more complicated for Putin as his adversaries have the economic upper hand. Russia’s economy has been facing important challenges before the crisis broke out. It relies heavily on oil and gas exports, and is burdened by increasing military spending including for the interventions in Syria, Libya and other African countries. The war in Ukraine will constitute an additional economic burden to run the country after the invasion and/or support a client regime there, let alone the cost of the military campaign itself and the impact of the harsh economic sanctions imposed by the West. The question is not wether the weak Russian economy will be able to weather these formidable challenges, but for how long.

Putin’s calculation was probably based on the feeble, if not insignificant, reaction to his annexation of Crimea in 2014, and his campaigns in Chechnya, Georgia and Abkhazia before that. By going for a total invasion and regime change in Ukraine, he failed to catch a signal thrown out by the U.S. when president Biden implied in January that a limited incursion might not trigger a serious response. President Biden had the advantage of having advisers, a strong opposition and a public opinion that quickly made him correct this statement. President Putin does not have the benefits of an open political regime. His internally unchallenged move against Ukraine raises an important challenge to his own political future. The U.S. and Western European countries have begun to talk overtly about regime change in Russia. This is an important development compared to the pre-crisis mood of shyly encouraging liberal opposition in Russia.

President Putin probably believed that by invading Ukraine and/or installing a client regime in Kyiv, he would have halted NATO’s expansion to Russia’s backyard, deterred the West from interfering in Russian affairs and proven how determined he is to stay in control. He didn’t think the game wouldn’t stop there. The game has changed. He has managed to do the impossible: unite the West.

History may not necessarily repeat itself, but it keeps giving lessons that apply to different situations. Those who fail to learn from the lessons of history risk to become history lessons themselves.

 

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The America Times was re-born on September 11, 2021, with the goal to better inform our leaders and policymakers of nuances, beyond conventional wisdom, to successfully address present day “Gordion Knots,” sometimes as Alexander the Great did by cutting it and other times by tediously unraveling it. During January 2022, diplomacy is at a fever pitch in Washington D.C., Moscow, Kyiv, Vienna, Geneva and Brussels, as a 100,000 Russian troops are keeping Ukraine’s borders “warm” in the Russian Winter. And, starting January 1st, five days before our one-year anniversary of our January 6th, Kazakhstan experienced peaceful protects, taken over by organized violent, radical, terrorist insurrection, and President Tokayev sought CSTO Peacekeepers to come and leave, restored law & order, and is now causing major reforms to secular democratic Kazakhstan. Given the CSTO success in Kazakhstan, we can hope - updating James A. Baker's Dec 5, 1993 Op-Ed in LA Times - that NATO & CSTO can merge to achieve President Biden’s goal of a united, free and stable Europe.

We are honored and privileged to have H. E. Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil – a geopolitical and diplomatic star of Egypt, including, having served as Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2012 to 2014, when both Ambassador Susan Rice and Samantha Power represented the United States, his intimate knowledge of Climate Crisis and critical need for SDGs as a security threat – join the Honorary Board of Advisors & Columnists of The America Times in recognition of his excellence and record of contributions. Ambassador Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil’s life experiences and diplomatic helps him to better decipher the unshared motives of geopolitical leaders and unspoken goals of geopolitical events, which he will share from time to time on our pages. This will serve to form a more perfect nation, and world, and thereby enhance both regional and global peace and security.

Benjamin Franklin famously said in 1787: “It’s a republic madam, if you can keep it.” Ambassador Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil’s contributions in The America Times will help us keep our Republic. Please enjoy his accomplishments, along with a few pictures – with SG Ban Ki- moon and in UNSC with Palestine’s P.R. Riyad Mansour.

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H.E. Mootaz Ahmadein Khalil

He was the Permanent Representative of Egypt to the United Nations in New York from June 2012 to September 2014. During this time he chaired the Coordinating Bureau of the Non Aligned Movement at the Non Aligned Summit in Teheran in August 2012. He also chaired the Working Group on the Reform of the General Assembly at the 67th session.

Mr. Khalil held different positions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo including Acting Assistant Foreign Minister for Multilateral Economic Affairs and International Cooperation, Deputy Chief of Cabinet of the Foreign Minister, Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister for the Strategic and Security Organizations, Deputy Assistant Foreign Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, Director of Environment and Sustainable Development Affairs, and Acting Director of UN Affairs.

He was the senior Egyptian negotiator at the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen in 2009, Rio + 10 in Johannesburg in 2002, Rio + 20 in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, the Sustainable Developments Goals in New York, and the Group of 77 summit in Santa Cruz, Bolivia in 2014.

He served as the Deputy Chief of Mission and Deputy Permanent Representative to the IAEA  and other International Organizations in Vienna, Austria. He served as well in the embassy of Egypt in Rabat, Morocco.

He obtained his Masters Degree on the Politics of the Middle East from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London in 1988. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University.»

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