Johns Hopkins SAIS Faculty and Fellow Reflections: The War in Ukraine at One Year

One year after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) faculty and SAIS Foreign Policy Institute fellows explain the current state of the war, the varying international responses to it, and the complex global implications it holds for the future.

Hafed Al-Ghwell

Senior Fellow and Executive Director of the North Africa Initiative, SAIS Foreign Policy Institute

The impact of the war in Ukraine on North African countries remains palpable, uneven, and illustrative of the widespread ramifications of Europe’s political and economic dislocation amid accelerating global fragmentation. Not only has the war scuttled promising pandemic recoveries, it has also disrupted trade and shrunk already limited fiscal space. Aid flows and development finance have dwindled despite an ongoing food crisis, forcing governments to delay critical reforms including overdue green transitions.

The sub-region’s economies and societies now face an unprecedented convergence of troubles at home, inflamed by external shocks that have since tanked Tunisia’s democratic aspirations, spawned new maladies in a divided Libya, and forced Egypt to seek a fourth International Monetary Fund bailout in less than a decade.

Despite the litany of woes and the awkward geopolitical maneuvering by North African countries to avoid picking sides, the war in Ukraine also came with a few surprises. Algeria’s commercial savvy and knack for neutrality is reaping a windfall of economic, political, and diplomatic dividends, primarily from helping Europe fill gaps in its energy mix after the latter’s “conscious decoupling” from Russia. Even war-torn, politically mired Libya stands to benefit from this sudden “energy rush.” Its significant proven reserves, for instance, could help offset food inflation from grain/cereal import losses—provided it overcomes prevailing uncertainty and the risk of open conflict.

Meanwhile, Egypt finds itself treading a razor-thin wire, trying to stabilize its economy by seeking relief from the West, particularly the United States, without endangering its ties to Russia, which provides over a third of Egypt’s military hardware. Lastly, Tunisia’s political instability and descent into a “protest republic” are only worsening its socioeconomic challenges. Without additional external intervention or assistance, a collapse is imminent—potentially making Tunisia the first state casualty of the war in Ukraine.

Veronica Anghel

Lecturer of Risk in International Politics, SAIS Europe; Robert Elgie Editorial Fellow, Government & Opposition

The Russia-Ukraine war is pushing the European Union to strengthen its profile as a geopolitical actor; however, the European club is struggling to find innovative ways to deal with the growing security threats. Instead, the EU is relying on old strategies and expecting different results. First, it over-relies on the lure of enlargement’s supposed transformative effects to stabilize its eastern neighbors. Second, it continues its dependence on the United States for its defense goals. This is an incomplete foreign policy response to a long-term security threat.

 The European Union reactivated the enlargement process in response to the Russia-Ukraine war. In June 2022, Ukraine and Moldova were unanimously granted the status of EU candidate countries. Georgia also received a “European Perspective.” The speed with which the EU made these decisions was unprecedented. Yet, this does not mean that EU expansion is a preferred EU working agenda or a guaranteed end state. The EU is using the prospect of enlargement as a stabilization and security-building mechanism. It does so without considering the absence of this process’s credibility and the specific circumstances in Ukraine, Moldova, or the countries of the Western Balkans that make them different from the Central European countries for which this strategy worked in the past.

 The Russia-Ukraine war also triggered new concerted processes across the Atlantic. The activation of the battered transatlantic alliance came easily under the pressure of an external shock. But pulling together resources to react to Russia’s belligerence is not sufficient to announce a new era of transatlantic teamwork. Instead, the transatlantic response to the Russian invasion is reactive, and different interests continue to underpin American and European politics.

 The question remains whether European Union members are ready to be more flexible in creating “phasing-in” policies for candidates that do not meet strict membership criteria. Along the way, they will also have to decide if their own defense capabilities are worth investing in.

David Arase

Resident Professor of International Politics, Hopkins-Nanjing Center

After a year of war in Ukraine, transatlantic and Indo-Pacific security can no longer be discussed separately. The “limitless friendship” and “cooperation with no forbidden areas,” that Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin declared on February 4, 2022, constituted a united front strategy to overthrow the politico-strategic status quo in Europe and Asia. Their lengthy and detailed joint statement of shared grievances against the United States and the liberal rules-based order explains this solidarity and mutual support in blaming the United States and its allies for “provoking” both the war in Ukraine and the August 4-7, 2022, missile crisis in the Taiwan Strait that has ratcheted up Chinese military provocations to war-threatening levels.

The reality of a predatory authoritarian power in Europe launching a war of conquest against a weaker neighbor has shaken the United States and its Indo-Pacific friends and allies out of complacency. As a revanchist Putin, who dreams of reconstituting the Tsarist Russian Empire, started the Ukraine war, so could Xi, who has revanchist ambitions and dreams of reconstituting a neo-tianxia order in Asia, resort to force to put a democratically self-ruled Taiwan under Chinese Communist Party rule.

Following this realization, the Quadrilateral Strategic Dialogue and US alliances with South Korea, Japan, Australia, and the Philippines have been revitalized and inter-linked. NATO, Europe, and US Indo-Pacific allies and friends now see that transatlantic and Indo-Pacific security are interdependent and indivisible. Taiwan is now looking to how Ukraine stopped the Russian invasion to move toward an “overall defense concept” with renewed US support and assistance. This is a good start, but most of what must be done to ensure effective integrated deterrence still lies ahead. 

Mark Gilbert

C. Grove Haines Professor of History and International Studies, SAIS Europe; Associate Editor, Journal of Modern Italian Studies

Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine is a textbook case of an unjust war. Putin did not have a just cause for war and the conflict has been fought unjustly, with the deliberate targeting of civilians and widespread atrocities. Accordingly, it will be extremely difficult to end this war with any kind of enduring peace. Ukraine will rightly demand that its 2022 borders (at least) should be restored, reparations should be paid, and war criminals should be punished. But this peace is presumably a pipedream. Europe faces the prospect of a lengthy war or, at best, an uneasy truce on its long eastern frontier.

The war has also underlined the great weakness of the EU project: its attachment to its status as a “civilian power.” The EU has so far shown a commendable willingness to aid Ukraine, but what will it do if the war drags on? Or if Ukraine’s resistance begins to decline? The answer to these questions, despite the official pronouncements of unending support by the EU institutions and its major member states, is unclear. It is never a good idea to learn how to fly after you’ve taken off, but that is the EU’s current geopolitical course.

Melissa Griffith

Lecturer in Technology and National Security, Johns Hopkins SAIS Alperovitch Institute for Cybersecurity Studies

In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, significant public attention has focused on dissecting what we have not observed. Namely, the absence of extensive destructive or disruptive cyber operations alongside – either as a broadly effective complement to or a supplement for – conventional, kinetic warfare. Yet, despite falling short of some of the more seemingly awe-inspiring predictions, it would be inaccurate to describe the past year as “business as usual” in cyberspace. For example, Mandiant (a leading cybersecurity firm acquired by Google in fall of 2022), observed more destructive cyberattacks in Ukraine during the first four months of 2022 than they had in the previous eight years combined.

What has and has not transpired in and through cyberspace, and how do we know? Notably, understanding the unique role the private sector has played both in our visibility into and as defenders against malicious cyber activity is critical to all three of these questions. 

Private companies, including global technology companies, form the backbone of Ukraine’s digital landscape. As a result, the answer to “how do we know” lies largely in their remit. Why? Their infrastructure, products, and services are simultaneously (a) the terrain through which cyber operations traverse and (b) the targets of malicious cyber activity. This gives dominant industry players unparalleled telemetry and high-resolution visibility into cyber operations occurring across Ukraine and NATO countries. This visibility was on full and impressive display in recent big-picture reporting on the war in Ukraine from both Google and Microsoft. Moreover, the technical realities of Ukraine’s digital landscape enabled these same companies to invest an extraordinary amount of resources into defending Ukraine and placed them and their security teams on the “front lines” alongside cybersecurity companies and Ukrainian critical infrastructure and service providers 

The ongoing war in Ukraine serves as an important reminder that even in the context of armed conflict, cyber operations (and cybersecurity) are informed as much by the technical and operational realities of cyberspace as they are by geopolitics and adversaries’ preferences and capabilities.

Michael Haltzel

Senior Fellow, SAIS Foreign Policy Institute

How soon will promised Western weaponry arrive, especially battle tanks with trained Ukrainian crews? Will the US agree to provide Kyiv with fighter aircraft and long-range computer-guided rockets? Will Western publics’ “Ukraine fatigue” aid the Russian war effort? Will Russia’s offensive in the Donbas demonstrate that it has learned from its catastrophic mistakes, or will Moscow continue its Red Army strategy of pulverizing cities with artillery barrages followed by human wave charges? The answers to these and other questions will determine which, if either, of the two promised late winter/spring offensives will succeed.

The disposition of forces after these offensives will be central to whatever negotiations follow. But no matter what the outcome, the long-term results of the war will be more negative for Russia than Ukraine. Rebuilding shattered Ukrainian infrastructure and reintegrating the more than one-quarter of the population currently refugees abroad or internally displaced will be monumental tasks requiring Marshall Plan-style Western assistance. But Ukraine will survive, united as never before, part of the West, and implacably opposed to Russia.

Russia, although mostly physically untouched by the fighting, will suffer from financial and technological isolation from the West. Geopolitically, Putin’s war has been an unmitigated disaster. His invasion has reinvigorated NATO. In northern Europe, previously non-aligned Finland and Sweden will soon join the Alliance, bringing with them their modern, formidable militaries. Meanwhile, Russia has lost nearly 1.5 million of its best and brightest to anti-war emigration. The pact with fellow authoritarian state China may help prop up Russia’s faltering army, but this will only make Moscow an even more reliant junior partner to Beijing. Such will be the fruits of Putin’s warped imperialistic dreams.

Dan Hamilton

Senior Fellow, SAIS Foreign Policy Institute; Non-resident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution

Failing on the battlefield, Putin has stepped up his assaults on Ukrainian society. In so doing, he has changed the very nature of the war. Russian forces are committing genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. They have killed thousands of civilians. They are trafficking in children. They are bombing hospitals, schools, homes, and factories. They have targeted subways, railways, and highways. Their hackers sow disinformation and have infiltrated government and financial institutions. Moscow is doing what it can to destroy, degrade, and disrupt the flows of energy, food, water, medicine, goods, services, data, and information that sustain Ukrainians’ lives. 

The Ukrainian people have won global admiration by refusing to back down in the face of Russia’s onslaughts. Nonetheless, challenges off the battlefield threaten to erase Ukraine’s frontline gains. The economy is fragile, inflation is spiking, and the country’s health and energy systems could fail. Millions of Ukrainians are displaced, both inside and outside the country.

As the war drags on, many pundits are fond of asking, “When will this end?” We will do better by asking ourselves, “How will this continue?” because it is likely to get worse before it gets better. Prospects for a near-term settlement, or even a patchy cease-fire, are dim. Putin is doubling down, not giving up. 

Ukraine needs both a sword and a shield. The sword must include Western military assistance to help Ukraine win, not leave it stuck in the mud. The shield must consist of integrated air and missile defenses that can thwart Putin’s assaults, as well as a comprehensive Western strategy to project resilience forward to help countries like Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia resist Russian destabilization and disruption. Ukraine must win, on and off the battlefield. Ukraine’s fight is our fight, too. 

Lisel Hintz

Assistant Professor of European and Eurasian Studies, Johns Hopkins SAIS; Author of Identity Politics Inside Out: National Identity Contestation and Foreign Policy in Turkey

One of the many sobering lessons we have learned from international responses to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the way in which leaders can take advantage of crisis situations to balance their portfolio of interests abroad while bolstering their own political position back home. Turkey has been able to position itself as a mediator in the conflict, as it is a provider of drones to Ukraine with contracts to manufacture further armaments there, as well as being an energy partner with Russia that has repeatedly sought access to Syrian airspace from Moscow. This enabled the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to avoid having to take sides. Turkey condemned Russia’s invasion but did not participate in sanctions. Thus, Ankara could continue to benefit from its lucrative partnership with Moscow at a time of economic crisis while also garnering international accolades for actions such as brokering a much-needed grain deal.

When Sweden and Finland took the historic decision to apply for NATO membership in the wake of Russia’s invasion, the AKP also used the veto power Turkey holds as a member of NATO to block their accession. The block gave the AKP the negotiating power to push demands on Sweden and Finland, including the lifting of their embargoes on Turkey’s domestic defense industry placed after Turkish military incursions in northern Syria and the tightening of legislation against supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) who had sought refuge there.

The AKP has also pressed its demands on the United States. The AKP used the United States’  interest in the Nordic countries’ NATO accession to pressure the Biden administration on the sale of F-16 jets and upgrade kits, items that are necessary to fill the defense gap created by Turkey’s expulsion from the F-35 program following its purchase of S-400 missile systems from Russia. Finally, the AKP used the international attention placed on it to push NATO actors to take Turkey’s security concerns about the PKK, and its Syrian affiliate the YPG, seriously. This may have been a step in laying the rhetorical groundwork for the latest ground incursion in northern Syria, which the AKP was pushing for in late 2022.

Ho-Fung Hung

Henry M. and Elizabeth P. Wiesenfeld Professor of Political Economy, Johns Hopkins SAIS; Author of The China Boom: Why China Will Not Rule the World

On February 4, 2022, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping issued the Russia-China Joint Statement, which pledged friendship that has “no limits” and “no forbidden areas of cooperation.” Rereading the statement today reminds us that Beijing and Moscow share a strong desire for a new world order. Any apparent ambivalence of Beijing over the war is a tactical cover for Beijing’s strategic interest in Putin’s success in Ukraine.

The statement endorses Russia’s designs on the former Soviet territory by denouncing NATO in these regions. It supports China’s ambition over Taiwan and their repugnance of US alliances in Asia. It is a manifesto for a de facto alliance grounded on a common resentment against the US’s denial of their “rightful” claims to spheres of influence and their shared commitment in expelling US influence in such spheres. We have seen this bitterness of rising (or reviving) powers against established ones before. In 1933, Richard von Kühlmann, a veteran German diplomat tasked with explaining German foreign policy to the US elite, emphasized the legitimate right of “newcomers” (Germany, Italy, and Japan) in their “struggle…for their place in the sun.” Assuring international audiences that “Chancellor Hitler… [is] passionately adhering to his program of promoting peace,” Kühlmann traced the heightening tension in the world to “the reluctance of old-established nations to share good things with newcomers.” We all know how this bitterness ended up.

 No matter how the Ukraine war will end in the short term, China and Russia have already come together with the shared long-term goal of rebuilding their irredentist empires at the expense of the United States and its democratic allies. A protracted and profound struggle between competing visions of the world order has started.

David Kanin

Adjunct Lecturer of European Studies, Johns Hopkins SAIS; Former Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Europe

The efficacy and credibility of the Western-dominated post-Cold War international order is fully at stake in Ukraine. Therefore, despite the magnitude of Putin’s blunder and the poor performance of his military, Russia still can come out of this with a strategic victory. Even assuming Russian forces are not capable of achieving a breakthrough on the battlefield, a prolonged stalemate eventually would widen cracks in US and European resolve. The longer the stalemate holds, the more likely there will be a bad peace, defined as one in which Moscow controls more Ukrainian territory than it did before the invasion and successfully includes newly conquered land in the “special status” ceded to Luhansk and Donetsk after 2014.

NATO faces at least two risks if it chooses to give Ukraine the wherewithal it needs to go on the offensive and avoid such an outcome. A counteroffensive by Ukrainian armed forces muscled up with ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) and other new equipment could fail to match the achievements of Kyiv’s stunning battlefield successes of 2022. This would accelerate the erosion of Western solidarity and precipitate the bad peace noted above. Or else this assault could work so well that Putin resorts to tactical nuclear weapons to avoid outright defeat.

Nevertheless, it is vital that NATO take this plunge to shore up the health (and teleology) of a global security arrangement that was already under strain on multiple fronts before February 24, 2022. Ukraine must have the military capability to launch what hopefully would resemble the Tet Offensive of 1968 in convincing a superpower it cannot win a war in the field. This would increase the likelihood that the endgame to the Crimean War could prove a closer analogue to the immediate future than Putin’s references to World War II. 

Cheng-Chwee Kuik

Non-resident Fellow, SAIS Foreign Policy Institute; Professor of International Relations, National University of Malaysia (UKM)

The ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member states’ perceptions of and responses to the war in Ukraine have been mixed and diverse. While most of them consider Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a blatant violation of sovereignty and international law, they do not always agree with how the West views the war.

First, they view the Russia-Ukraine conflict more as a “proxy war” between Russia and US-led NATO. Many in Southeast Asia deem NATO’s expansion to be one of the main causes of the war. As victims of centuries-long Western colonization and decades-long Cold War politics, Southeast Asian states are acutely sensitive about being entrapped by great power conflicts. While expressing sympathy to Ukraine, some ASEAN states also question why Western powers did not provide the same degree of support and assistance to weaker actors in earlier conflicts and refugee crises elsewhere, particularly ones involving Muslim-majority populations.

Second, while ASEAN states are apprehensive about the tensions over South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, they do not share the prevailing Western assumption that Europe’s present will be Asia’s future. While they are concerned about Beijing’s assertiveness, they do not view China as acting the same way as Russia. Their perception of China contains shades of grey: They see China as both a source of regional problems (maritime tensions, influence operations, economic coercion) and a part of regional solutions (post-pandemic economic recovery, its role as an indispensable partner for ASEAN-led multilateralism.)

Third, ASEAN states disagree with the discourse common in the US and among its allies that the emerging contest over the world order is about “democracy versus autocracy.” They view this framing as a simplistic dichotomy that unnecessarily risks polarization and a self-fulfilling prophecy that will turn security concerns into immediate threats. While supporting the rules-based order, ASEAN states also ask: whose rules, and why are some rules emphasized but others exempted? For ASEAN states, the rules-based order does not mean privileging the existing dominant power over others; it means continuing peace and cooperation, so that states can continue to trade and engage each other, while concentrating on the more important challenges at home.

Marsha McGraw Olive

Adjunct Professor, Johns Hopkins SAIS; Global Fellow, The Wilson Center

Commentary on the countries of Central Asia—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—has traditionally cast the region as peripheral to geopolitics. That changed in February 2022. Central Asia has come out of the shadows.   

Several high-level visits signal the region’s new-found popularity. Topping the list is President Putin, who visited all five capitals in one year for the first time since 2012. President Xi Jinping made his first trip outside China since the pandemic to Kazakhstan in September 2022, where, in a swipe at Russia, he declared support for the country’s territorial integrity, according to an official Kazakh press release. The first meeting of security advisors from Central Asia took place in New Delhi in December 2022. And on February 28, Antony Blinken will be only the third Secretary of State to participate in the C5+1 cooperation format in the region. The announcement of his trip emphasized independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, a long-standing goal but timely code for defense against copycat criminal invasions.

This diplomatic charm offensive goes beyond recognition of Central Asia’s strategic location as a north-south, east-west crossroads. It underscores the converging interest of Central Asian states, the “collective West,” and China to break Russia’s geographic lock on routes and pipelines to Europe. The preferred option is to divert freight traffic and energy exports across the Caspian Sea and onwards to Turkey along the Middle Corridor. However, significant investments in hard and soft infrastructure are needed to realize this redirection, requiring leadership by development banks and the private sector alike.

Central Asians also deserve credit for recasting their dominant, post-colonial relationship with Russia to a more balanced multi-vector foreign policy. No Central Asian state supported Russia on multiple UN votes against the Ukraine invasion, and each is careful to abide by US sanctions. At the same time, the region is reaping an unexpected economic dividend from the surge of educated migrants and capital fleeing Russia, contributing to one of the fastest projected growth rates on the continent. 

While the US cannot supplant Russia or China as primary regional actors, it should take advantage of Central Asians’ greater interest in an American presence. The population is young, upwardly mobile, and searching for global connections. The Biden administration’s smart move to bring high-level attention to the region should be the beginning of a more long-term, consistent engagement with Central Asian states and societies.  

Amir Pasic

Senior Fellow, SAIS Foreign Policy Institute; Dean, IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Indiana University

As Russia rolled into Ukraine, the focus was on the clash of armed forces and the relative economic capacities of the belligerents to sustain intense hostilities. Few predicted the surge of voluntarism and civic innovation, both in Ukraine and beyond, to support and sustain an uprising against Russia’s indiscriminate terror. Others appropriately worried that the invasion would intensify Putin’s decimation of what was left of civil society in Russia. Those who came to Putin’s side share his antipathy toward independent civic spaces.

As an organizational force, Ukrainian civil society self-mobilized to fight and to support its warriors. Civilians drove refugees to private homes that welcomed them in neighboring countries. Philanthropy flowed in as Airbnb customers sent funds for apartments they would never occupy, and crowdfunding provided material support from private parties in other countries where blue and yellow flags became ubiquitous. 

As a font of expressive power, civil society generated a clearer articulation of Ukrainian identity than it has before, rooted much more strongly in liberal values. This was in part to appeal to support from abroad, but it also reflected the self-organized solidarities that imbued the Ukrainians with the will to fight, a will that is lacking in the invading forces. 

Finally, an open civic life is animated by a moral imagination that values pluralism. It wilts under capricious authority and the totalitarian tendencies of strongmen. It is hard not to see the battle for Ukraine evolving into a battle for the open civic spaces that we need to pursue knowledge and recognize a diversity of dignified expressions of humanity. That such fundamental values would be at stake was not on the radar a year ago. 

Michael G. Plummer

Director, SAIS Europe; Eni Professor of International Economics

NATO and its allies’ sanctions against Russia in response to its invasion of Ukraine are creating serious challenges for the Russian economy, with the Organization for Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicting that it probably shrank by 5.5 percent in 2022 and will contract by 4.5 percent in 2023. However, the overall effect has been hitherto less than NATO and its allies had hoped. The global economy is also paying a price through, for example, higher energy bills and supply-chain disruptions, and President Vladimir Putin is ostensibly counting on the associated economic costs to help erode popular support for Ukraine.

Indeed, while Russia is a relatively small economy—about 80 percent the size of the Italian economy—its exports are important in certain key sectors. Prior to the war, Russia and Ukraine together constituted one-third of global exports of wheat and corn, one-fifth of mineral fertilizers and natural gas, and 11 percent of the world’s global oil exports. The direct effects of the war and heightened uncertainty are contributing to somewhat lower global growth forecasts: the IMF estimates that global growth dropped from 6 percent in 2021 to 3.2 percent in 2022 and predicts it will fall to 2.9 percent this year.

Nevertheless, support for Ukraine continues to be strong in NATO countries, with governments considerably ratcheting up their military support and adding additional economic sanctions, such as new restrictions targeting the oil sector, as the second year of the war begins. Moreover, finding short-run alternatives to Russian supplies will get easier over time; elasticities of substitution are lower in the short-run than in the medium and long term. While “war fatigue” in the West is always a risk, the potential economic costs of isolating Russia should be less of a factor over time.

Joe Renouard

Resident Professor of History and American Studies, Hopkins-Nanjing Center; Author of Human Rights in American Foreign Policy: From the 1960s to the Soviet Collapse

On this first anniversary of the invasion, three key developments from the conflict’s early days are still holding firm. First, the Western camp is still largely unified. The invasion prompted governments across Europe and North America to sanction Russian leaders, ban Russian oil imports, and pledge substantial aid and weaponry to Kyiv. One year later, these governments still agree that a victorious Vladimir Putin would pose a profound threat to NATO. 

Second, US political elites are still all in on Ukraine. Washington’s commitment was clear and unequivocal from the start, and in the last twelve months Congress has set aside over $100 billion for Ukraine in the form of cash, Javelin and Stinger missiles, HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems), a Patriot air-defense system, M1 Abrams tanks, and Bradley fighting vehicles. President Biden signaled his resolve this week with a risky visit to Kyiv and later proclaimed to a Polish audience in Warsaw that “Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never.” 

Third, China is still exercising restraint. True, China and Russia share an interest in undermining the liberal world order, and Beijing has supported Moscow by, among other things, purchasing the lion’s share of Russia’s surplus energy and export goods. Yet, a high degree of ambiguity is baked into the Russia-China relationship. Beijing is naturally reluctant to get mired in a proxy war, and it fears alienating its European trade partners. It has neither endorsed the Ukraine invasion nor recognized Russia’s territorial claims. 

However, these are not permanent conditions. Western unity may already be foundering on the shoals of national economic interests, electoral constraints, the European cost of living crisis, and transatlantic strategic disagreements. In the United States, skeptical Republicans are bound to grow more vocal as the war drags on and the election season approaches. And China’s leaders could provide Moscow with lethal assistance if they conclude that the benefits of Putin’s success outweigh the costs of China’s involvement.

Andreas Rödder

Helmut Schmidt Distinguished Visiting Professor, Johns Hopkins SAIS; Board Member, Konrad Adenauer Foundation

Ukraine has been attacked by Putin’s Russia as brutally as Poland was attacked by Hitler’s Germany in 1939. This is the historical benchmark, and its lessons couldn’t be more obvious. Neville Chamberlain had honorable reasons to prevent another barbarism like the trenches of the Great War. However, nothing is more futile than trying to appease a dictator determined to use violence for territorial expansion. In the end, Chamberlain failed dishonorably. As Winston Churchill understood, the clearest lesson of history in such times is that appeasement to preserve “peace in our time” inevitably gives way to “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” Or to quote the Estonian Prime Minister addressing the Western Europeans on Russia’s aggression: “For a long time we listened to you, now it’s up to you to listen to us.”

In Ukraine in February 2022, the spirit of Churchill’s “we shall never surrender” resurged in Volodymyr Zelensky’s “I need ammunition, not a ride.” Close to the frontline, the writing on the wall is clear. Even if it comes for the price of blood, toil, tears, and sweat, it is again up to the West to stand the test of history.

Daniel Serwer

Senior Fellow, SAIS Foreign Policy Institute; Former Vice President of the Centers of Innovation, United States Institute of Peace

Much of what we have learned from a year of Russian aggression against Ukraine is well known. Russia has a weaker military, and Ukraine a stronger one, than had been previously thought. NATO solidarity, especially among its easternmost members, has been more committed than anticipated. Ukrainian identity and spirit are inspiring and growing. A year ago, it was hard to imagine Ukraine winning this war. Today it is hard to imagine Russia winning it.

The Ukraine war also echoes loudly in two regions that lie close by: the Balkans and the Middle East.

In the Balkans, Serbia mouths support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity but has stood by Russia when it comes to sanctions and military cooperation. In most of the rest of the Balkans, Russia’s effort to grab territory in Ukraine has aroused opposition among those who support the territorial integrity of their own sovereign states. But in Kosovo, Montenegro, and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serb separatists hope the Russian seizure of territory in Ukraine may presage the rearrangement of borders in the Balkans. With NATO distracted, they have amplified their challenges with Russian encouragement, causing political instability, hindering economic progress, and generating social tension.

In the Middle East, there is precious little support for Ukraine. “Not our fight” is the common watchword. The Gulf states, Israel, and Turkey have tried to stay more or less neutral, in order to protect their growing equities with Moscow. Israel and Turkey need Russian cooperation in Syria. The Gulf states appreciate Moscow’s OPEC+ assistance in maintaining relatively high oil prices. Iran, like Serbia, mouths support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity but is sending drones and possibly missiles to Russia for use in Ukraine.

An unequivocal Ukrainian victory will quiet separatist movements in the Balkans and end equivocating in the Middle East. Anything less will leave open the possibility of Russian troublemaking in both regions. What happens in Ukraine won’t stay in Ukraine.

Sasha Stone

Johns Hopkins SAIS Graduate, Class of 2022; Senior Program Officer, Center for European Policy Analysis; Penn Kemble Fellow, National Endowment for Democracy

The Western response to Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine has been the exact opposite of what Putin hoped or expected. The transatlantic alliance is more united than ever. Member states quickly rallied around Ukraine, providing military supplies, humanitarian support and financial assistance. President Biden’s recent visit to Kyiv, a historic moment in US-Ukraine relations, is indicative of the now widely understood strategic importance that the US and NATO place on Ukraine as the vanguard of liberal democracy against belligerent authoritarian states.

Despite the newfound unity and support for Ukraine, there remains a lack of urgency to provide Ukraine with the full extent of strategic weaponry needed to win. The piecemeal approach to weapons deliveries, for fear of provoking the Russian bear, has proven to be an unnecessary measure of self-deterrence. As we approach the second year of this conflict, the alliance must accelerate Ukraine’s path to victory and ensure that Ukraine wins the war in 2023. Time is not on Ukraine’s side. Putin is eager to turn this war into a frozen conflict, which would allow him to build up capabilities and launch another full-scale attack in a few years. Additionally, while the alliance is firmly in support of Ukraine now, public opinion is beginning to drop in both the United States and Europe, and upcoming elections threaten to unseat pro-Ukraine leaders. Finally, and most importantly, for every day that Ukraine remains under attack, more Ukrainian civilians and soldiers are needlessly slaughtered.

This war has already gone on for far too long. As we pass the one-year mark, and Ukraine continues to valiantly defend its territory, Western allies will need to enact a comprehensive, unified strategy to ensure a Ukrainian victory this year.

Niklas Swanström

Fellow, SAIS Foreign Policy Institute; Director and Co-Founder, Institute for Security and Development Policy

It has come as a surprise for Russia, the world, and maybe even for Ukraine how successfully Kyiv has stood up to Russian aggression. But many difficult issues remain, including much of the world’s economic dependency on Russia and the failure to isolate the Russian war economy.

Since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, both China and India have increased their trade with Russia. India has increased its imports from Russia by a staggering 400 percent, and Beijing’s trade with Moscow has increased by 35 percent. This ongoing trade has been a lifeline to the Russian war machine. The West has firmly supported Ukraine, and Western trade with Russia has decreased. But this reduction is not enough, especially in the energy sector. The sanctions against Russia need to be strengthened further, but the West also needs to implement measures against secondary trade originating from Russia.

 The war in Ukraine has highlighted the need to decrease future reliance on all authoritarian states or at least reduce US economic ties in sensitive and critical areas with such actors. There is also a need for greater cooperation among like-minded democratic states, not least among the transatlantic partnership, to reduce economic dependency on authoritarian powers, thus making democracies more independent and secure. This will require improving free trade among democracies and creating more effective economic deregulation among allies to improve economic growth in a world of increased tension, as well as closer military cooperation to secure the future. Only together can we meet future challenges posed by authoritarian states, and only together with Ukraine can we face today’s aggressions.

Sinisa Vukovic

Senior Lecturer of Conflict Management and Director of the Global Policy Program, Johns Hopkins SAIS; Co-author of Rethinking Conflict Resolution and Management

From a conflict management perspective, the war in Ukraine is far from ripe for resolution. Both sides display an unwavering intention to endure and prevail. Their escalatory moves are not intended to push the other side to negotiate. Instead, they escalate to consolidate current gains and exhaust the other side into retreat. An important caveat rests in the fact that this is a war of invasion. Ukraine wins if it does not lose, while Russia loses if it does not win. Under this dynamic, a meaningful peacemaking process would have to start with a specific set of pre-conditions.

First, a sustainable solution would require a Russian withdrawal from all occupied territories, including Crimea. Otherwise, the norm prohibiting territorial conquest is nullified, setting a dangerous global precedent. Second, negotiations would have to incorporate transitional justice, which would entail prosecuting all perpetrators of genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Third, in the absence of a complete Russian military defeat, outside parties would need to commit to security guarantees for Ukraine to prevent a relapse into violence. Finally, there would need to be a complete “de-Putinization” of Russia that removes the current leader’s expansionist, neo-imperial ideology from mainstream Russian political life.

While a process with these pre-conditions would make way for a durable peace, such a process is far from being seen as a suitable way out for Moscow. More importantly, it is hard to think of a third party that is able and willing to motivate the two sides to come to negotiate from this pretext. Consequently, for as long as Ukraine continues to view this as an existential struggle, and unless something radically changes on the supply side of conflict, in the months and years ahead we may witness a protracted war, one with occasional dramatic moves on the frontlines, but that is far from ripe for resolution. On the other hand, a suboptimal solution, like the 1953 Korean armistice, may cease hostilities. But it would be a negative peace, where aggression and animosities are just beneath the surface ready to be exploited at another opportune moment. To resolve this conflict, conditions need to be created so that no future elite in Moscow would even consider invasion as an option in the pursuit of their political aspirations.  

Stephanie Williams

Senior Fellow, SAIS Foreign Policy Institute; former Special Adviser to UN Secretary General on Libya

While Libya is a continent removed from the grueling conflict in Europe’s heartland, Libyans are carefully watching the trajectory of Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine and, in particular, the fate of the Wagner group. Libyans are no strangers to the ruthless tactics inflicted by these Russian mercenaries, thousands of whom are still occupying a half-dozen bases in eastern, central, and southern Libya. Wagner mercenaries were contracted by eastern-based Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar beginning in the summer of 2019 to shore up his unprovoked attack on Libya’s capital, Tripoli, which is home to one-third of the Libyan population. In late 2020, Pentagon officials assessed that Wagner’s bills in Libya were initially paid by the United Arab Emirates, a close US ally, though the Emiratis subsequently withdrew their funding, perhaps recognizing the risk of reputational damage. 

Like in Ukraine, the insertion into the Libyan conflict of the Wagner guns for hire—who tactically coordinated with Emirati drones—materially changed the tempo and lethality of the battle for Tripoli. Projections at the time that Tripoli would fall within weeks in the fall of 2019 compelled the UN-recognized government to seek assistance from the Turks. The Turks helped the Tripoli forces to push Haftar out of western Libya but not before the Wagner thugs—as a “parting gift”—laid hundreds of landmines and booby-trapped the homes of innocent civilians. Hundreds have been killed and maimed, including women and children. While they are no longer threatening Tripoli, Wagner forces have created facts on the ground elsewhere in Libya, and there’s no indication that Haftar, a putative counterterrorism partner for Washington who enjoys a legacy relationship with the CIA, is ready to let them go. The fate of the Wagner group in Ukraine, therefore, will have profound implications for Haftar, and for Libya.

Johns Hopkins SAIS Faculty and SAIS FPI Fellows
Johns Hopkins SAIS Faculty and SAIS FPI Fellows