“As long as it lasts”: This sentence has become a formula that plays a role in the Ukraine war in a variety of ways. Not only in terms of military power relations. Putin’s most recent push is also related to “while it lasts”.
“As long as it takes” – as long as it takes, that is the formula that the states supporting Ukraine have agreed on. As long as it is necessary, they want to support Ukraine, which is neither militarily nor economically able to withstand Russian aggression in the long term without massive help from outside.
The legitimate interest of the people in Ukraine not to have to live under Russian repression and to preserve the freedom of self-development coincides with the interest of the EU that Russia’s western border does not move towards Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. A little “what if…” thought game illustrates the dangers involved.
“What if…” Russia took Kyiv as planned in a few days after February 24th, the Ukrainian government left the country, the military surrendered and the Russian armed forces were reinforced from then on?
The pressure of military threats on the EU and especially its Eastern European states would be immense and no one can say for sure whether the EU, which of course would not have passed any sanctions packages, would be able to withstand this pressure for long. It turned out differently.
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“As long as it lasts” is also the guiding principle of Russia’s actions in Ukraine. The blitzkrieg to capture Kiev failed. The rapid capture of the Luhansk and Donetsk districts did not succeed. The Russian armed forces are fighting kilometer after kilometer in the Donbass and on Kharkiv. They destroy house after house.
They bomb village after village. A stone desert, where there used to be cities, they pull behind them. And they also bomb cities far away from military events with obvious terrorist intent. And the threat is that they will do it “while it lasts”. Until Ukraine is taken – if they can’t somehow stop the ruthless aggressor.
“As long as it lasts” has become the guiding principle of politics and strategic decisions in the West. This means that the measures taken by Ukraine’s supporters must also be able to be sustained. It is counterproductive to make decisions that cannot be sustained. The hesitant support of the Ukrainian armed forces with military equipment therefore does not open up any room for maneuver beyond the battlefield, but instead prolongs the war.
Because the Ukrainian armed forces currently have no choice but to delay the Russian advance with heavy casualties on both sides. Russia encounters resistance, which, however, can be overcome with tens of thousands of dead soldiers – and the Russian government is obviously less important than the number of dead soldiers from its own ranks than the territory gained.
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“As long as it lasts” has to do with the military balance of power. The sooner these get both sides to think about alternative courses of action, the shorter the fighting will last. As long as Russia sees its war goal of subduing all of Ukraine as achievable, it will stick to it, no matter what the cost in human suffering and destruction of infrastructure and cities.
This can only be doubted by those who do not take Putin’s statements seriously. Therefore, the support of Ukraine from the search for remnants and surplus military equipment must be replaced by systematic support based on battlefield-appropriate planning. This was started with the contact group between the supporters arranged in Ramstein, but has not yet been implemented in a division of labor.
“As long as it lasts” has to do with the economic dispute, which was announced before the war broke out, but which did not stop Putin from ordering aggression. Sanctions did not prevent the war. Whether they will be able to influence the course of the war because Russia is running out of military equipment, ammunition and spare parts is difficult to assess.
Imports of technical components to Russia fell sharply, but parallel markets still offer loopholes. In any case, the sanctions have a general effect: Russia’s imports from the sanctioned states fell by 60 percent and even from other states very significantly. Russia is becoming economically isolated.
At the same time, the sanctions have an impact on the European energy supply, global energy prices and the supply of food and fertilizer. Russia is not under pressure here because it was able to compensate for the fall in energy exports with higher prices in the short term. Whether this can still succeed over the next two or three years remains to be seen.
Until then, the EU countries are striving to have safe supply alternatives. “As long as it takes” means on the one hand maintaining the sanctions against Russia and on the other hand completely breaking away from energy imports from Russia.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Jäger has held the Chair for International Politics and Foreign Policy at the University of Cologne since 1999. His research focuses on international relations and American and German foreign policy.
The Russian economy will also experience “as long as it takes” because Putin issued a decree that allows the government to convert factories to armaments production. What is actually happening will give clear indications of how the supply of Russian society and the supplies of the troops in Ukraine can be secured.
The 2014 sanctions had the unintended effect of increasing Russia’s degree of self-sufficiency. However, this does not apply to technical components, which still have to be sourced from abroad.
“As long as it lasts” presents the EU with a difficult task. The German discussion shows that the war promoted national thinking. “Armistice now!” can only be demanded by those who accept the permanent damage to the European Union, because the Eastern European states would not support this policy of denying Ukraine self-defence.
The supply of energy in winter will present the EU states with the task of showing solidarity with one another. The deterrence in Eastern Europe organized by NATO must be carried out by the Western European states. The same applies here: “As long as it lasts”.
The war in Ukraine will end when both sides realize they can no longer make gains. Russia’s threat to EU countries will end when Russia abandons its imperialist policies aimed at dominating Europe.
Then there will again be a historic opportunity, as in the early 1990s, to reorganize the state order in Europe. The other states that used to cover Europe with imperialist wars are allied in the EU.
The EU offers the regulatory model for organizing security in Europe, in a security community in which nobody has to prepare for attacks from other EU states. This order must be maintained “as long as it lasts”.
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