Deterrence Failed, Sanctions Too?

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The world is watching the largest full-scale war between two nation-states in Europe since World War II: the Ukraine War. The war between Russia and Ukraine marks its first anniversary in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed or injured, and millions have been displaced. In addition, this war has had unfortunate political and economic consequences not only for Europe but for the whole world. The main question that this conflict has posed is why such a disastrous war happened in the age of diplomacy? Furthermore, how has Russia been able to hold the West hostage to the Ukraine War for so long?

Firstly, it can be argued that if the Western deterrence against Russia were active, this country could not embark upon such devastating adventure. Here, the concept of deterrence does not denote its traditional meaning, which is typically used in the field of defense and non-conventional weapons. Rather, it is meant to refer to the political deterrence power of the West, which failed to stop the Russian invasion. States may enjoy high-level military deterrence, but this deterrence does not always prevent an adversary from attacking. Perhaps this is one of the lessons that the Ukrainian War has taught Western countries and especially the NATO. In fact, the weakness of US diplomacy, inherited from Trump to Biden, led ambitious countries like Russia to wage the most dangerous war in the age of nuclear weapons. The disastrous withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s gaining power through force was one of the clear manifestations of US diplomatic failure in the international arena. Perhaps if the US did not withdraw from Afghanistan, Russia would not have dared to attack Ukraine. On the other hand, the structural differences in transatlantic relations and the fragility of relations among NATO members also encouraged Russia to go for war. With such a background that weakened the political image of the West in the eyes of Russia, the former’s strong military deterrence lost its credibility. In other words, the West’s weak political deterrence made its military deterrence ineffective.

Even after the war, the strategy adopted by the West could not affect Russia’s decision. The US and its European NATO allies were content with sending weapons, financial aid, and sanctioning Russia. This triple strategy, each of which has fundamental problems in its own position, has not been able to make Ukraine victorious on the battlefield against Russia. Within a few months after the start of the war, Russia was able to annex four strategic regions of Ukraine to its territory and advance on different fronts. In addition to that, Russia has taken over key points in Ukraine using Wagner’s forces. Apparently, the West’s sanction policy has not weakened Russia’s determination to completely invade Ukraine. A clear example can be seen in the words of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In an interview with Al-Arabiya, he said “Imagine Ukraine is Palestine; imagine Russia is the United States.” All this shows is that Western sanctions against Russia have not worked so far.

One of the main reasons for the ineffectiveness of sanctions is that Western policies are not jointly adopted and implemented. In the past year, while the United States insisted on imposing sanctions on Russian energy, Europe and especially the countries with more dependence on Russian energy have acted cautiously in imposing sanctions. On the other hand, the opposition of countries like Hungary to the EU’s strategies on the war in Ukraine has increased the fragility of the sanctions. Hungary has opposed the finalization of the 10th package of sanctions of this Union, arguing that the previous 9 sanctions have not yielded results. This country has stated that it does not accept the sanctions against Russia’s oil, gas and nuclear sectors.

It seems that just like the West’s weakness of deterrence, its strategy of imposing sanctions on Russia has also failed. In such circumstances, what is certain is that the end of the war in Ukraine is not feasible in the short run. In the most optimistic view, the Cold War German scenario’ will be applied to the country, in which Ukraine will be divided into eastern and western parts. While this situation will also be in Russia’s favor, the West will be in a disadvantageous position.

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