A webinar hosted by Al Jazeera Centre for Studies in collaboration with Al Jazeera Mubasher on Sunday, 27 February 2022, under the title, “The Russian-Ukrainian War: Context and Courses,” held that the Ukrainian army and people surprised observers with their steadfastness in the face of the Russian war machine, which – if the momentum of resistance persists – will exhaust Russia militarily and economically and perhaps even be a reason for the change of the current Russian regime in the medium or long term.
The webinar speakers indicated that Russian President Vladimir Putin was aware of the difficulties of Ukraine joining the NATO and Ukraine’s inability to meet the conditions and requirements for becoming a member, and that he nonetheless used Ukrainian calls and demands to join the alliance as a pretext for his military intervention in order to achieve a number of objectives. The most prominent of these is the restoration of Russian control over this resource-rich and geographically important country.
Regarding their expectations for the course of the current war, the speakers asserted that it is difficult to predict anything because things change and events follow but suggested the likelihood of the two parties eventually reaching a formula that saves face and allows each of them to claim victory even if symbolic. Ukraine would pledge to not join the NATO in the future and Russian forces would withdraw; and hence, Kiev would announce that it deterred the Russian invasion while Russia would insist that it achieved its objectives from the war by keeping the NATO away from its borders.
The webinar was aired on Al Jazeera Mubasher and live-streamed on AJCS’s social media platforms. Participating in it were: Safwan Julaq, editor-in-chief of UKR Press; Nikolay Kozhanov, Research Associate Professor at the Gulf Studies Center at Qatar University; Matt Dimmick, Former Director for Russia and Eastern Europe on the National Security Council Staff; and Justin Dargin, Senior Geopolitics and Middle East Energy Scholar at the University of Oxford; with Al Jazeera Mubasher presenter Waad Zakaria as moderator.
At the beginning of the webinar, the speakers clarified that Ukrainian officials’ assessments of the gravity of the Russian threats preceding the war varied between the presidency, the Ministry of Defence, the National Security Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, for example, downplayed the gravity of the threats to keep the economy from being affected, as that would affect his political future. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defence took the threats seriously and dealt with them through intensified training and requested arms from Western countries.
On his part, Putin – according to the speakers – had believed that the disputes among NATO member states will remain as they are and that that served as an additional motive for his decision to invade. However, he was visibly surprised by the unity in the NATO’s ranks as well as the Ukrainian people and armed forces’ absorption of the initial effects of the attack, organisation and willingness to withstand and resist. This, the speakers said, confused his calculations.
Speaking of the Ukrainian people’s steadfastness and resistance, Safwan Julaq revealed that he himself was surprised by the Ukrainian people’s reaction even though he has lived among them for the past 22 years. They overlooked their disputes and stood side-by-side in a single rank, protecting key and vital buildings in Kiev and forming popular committees whose tasks are to monitor, resist and provide services and support of various forms to the population. Julaq added that the Ukrainian people will continue to resist no matter what because they “refuse to return to the era of totalitarian rule, and aspire to connect with the civilized, free and democratic world,” denoting the European Union. Moreover, most Ukrainians, he said, had come to view Russia as an “aggressor” due to its occupation of Crimea in 2014 and its support for the separatist movement in eastern Ukraine.
The implications of war
Regarding the implications of the current war, the webinar speakers explained that they will be very costly for both parties regardless of who is victorious and who is defeated. Russia will face severe effects on its economy in both the medium and the long term given the sanctions imposed by the West. The West, however, will also be affected by these sanctions due to Russia’s importance to the global economy. Other regions in the world will also be affected negatively by the war and its aftermath, such as the Middle East and North Africa. This is particularly true for the countries that import wheat and other grains from Russia and Ukraine and who get 50% of their imports from these two countries alone; and consequently, the cost of supplying their needs will rise, causing further economic problems, which was one of the reasons for the eruption of the Arab Spring to begin with.
Nonetheless, the speakers maintained that there are regions in the world that would benefit from the implications of the war, especially as it pertains to investments in the search for and extraction and exportation of oil and gas to meet European needs for these vital commodities.
The courses and potential scenarios of the war
Finally, with regards to how and when this war could end, the assessments and analyses of the speakers differed, but they all agreed on the difficulty prediction due to the speed at which the conditions on the ground change and their state of fluidity. They also reasoned that the picture could perhaps become clearer during the following three days, and that the world will see whether Ukrainian steadfastness will continue and maintain its momentum or collapse, allowing the Russian army to impose its control over the country.
Notwithstanding, the speakers said that the war will eventually come to an end and that the parties could come to a solution that saves face and makes them appear victorious albeit symbolically. This would entail Ukraine announcing its commitment to neutrality and providing guarantees that it will not join the NATO in the future in return for the Russians’ withdrawal from its territories. Hence, Ukraine would appear as though it triumphed through its steadfastness and ability to force the Russian army to withdraw. Russia would accept the offer and therefore appear as though it achieved its objectives by keeping the NATO away from its borders. “But when will this happen?” the speakers asked. It is difficult to predict in the present.
Click here to watch the full webinar.