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How the post-war world could look like

The failures of the Russian army and the successful operations of the Ukrainian armed forces raise the question of the format of this war’s endgame. How will this new world look like?

March 10, 2023 - Valerii Pekar - Articles and Commentary

Photo: Africa Studio / Shutterstock

It is clear how the world could look like in the case of Russian victory, which thankfully is no longer possible. This is a world in which any dictator can easily break rules and agreements, where all small and medium-sized countries are under the threat of aggression, and where whole nations with long histories can be declared non-existent and just a part of an imperial population. This is a world where missile strikes on civilians and infrastructure is regular practice, where murder, rape, torture, looting, kidnapping and hostage-taking are part of an everyday way of life across huge territories. This is a world where authoritarian regimes are all-mighty and can kill any number of their own people and people of other countries, both adjacent and distant. This is a world where global trade is threatened, trade ships could be blocked, and food for hundreds of millions who need it could not be delivered. This is a world where, as Josep Borrell said, “everything has become a weapon.”

But how could the alternative to this world look like? How might the world look in the case of a Russian defeat?

This picture is not clear, and the end of the war and establishing peace, although desired by hundreds of millions all over the world, is not possible until the post-war picture appears. Continuing the war without an acceptable picture of the future means more victims, exhaustion on both sides and enormous expenses for post-war recovery, much greater than in the case of a quick war. Understanding that every day of the war is paid for in blood by servicemen, servicewomen and civilians creates a feeling of urgency.

That is why helping Ukraine to roll back the Russian army and restore territorial integrity is not enough. The leaders of the free world should understand and articulate a post-war vision of the future, otherwise the war cannot truly end.

The major question here is the future of Russia.

Unfortunately, the majority of Russian intellectuals, philosophers and writers for decades used to avoid thinking about the future of Russia. This was one of the early problems that allowed Putin to monopolise public discourse long before he monopolised the media. This Russian “escaping the future” is an interesting phenomenon, caused by the simultaneous fall of communist ideology, failure of liberal reforms, and shift in technological progress and global priorities. For instance, the pursuit of space exploration (in which the USSR felt itself a leader) was replaced by information technology and sustainability (in which the USSR obviously was behind). But remaining the sole holder of Russia’s future vision, Putin did not offer any idea of the future. Instead, he proposed the glory of the past: restoring the empire with all its military might and zones of influence in countries near and far.

Thus, thinking about the future of Russia is a common task. Here we need to answer several important questions.

1. Is it possible to make Russia a democracy?

This huge country never in its history has been a democracy longer than a couple of years. This is a country with a monopolised media, absent parties and an empty political life. It has also banned NGOs and prosecuted civil activism. The all-mighty secret service and gangs of former soldiers coming back home from the war will hardly arrange transparent and honest elections with equal access to media. Even if we could imagine that this was possible, the winner in these elections will only represent the dominant ideology of resentment and revenge.

The only way to move towards democracy is real federalism and decentralisation: to reject the idea that this huge country’s future can only be defined by Moscow and to empower local communities and ethnic groups to shape their own future.

2. Is it possible to keep Russia as an authoritarian but peaceful regime?

Indeed, for many business leaders in western countries a return to “business as usual” would be the best scenario. But this scenario is not possible: military clans (army generals, secret service generals, owners of private military companies, military industry leaders, etc.) are much stronger in influence than any opposing groups. To establish peace it is necessary to remove these warlords. There is no organised force in the country that can do this. Russian liberals cannot overcome warlords. You can read more about such issues in this article.

3. Is it possible to let Putin “save face”?

Putin does not need to save face. Having an absolute monopoly on information, he can show his people any picture of reality, and they will believe it. The smartest indeed will not believe but instead never acknowledge this even to close friends because of fear. Remember, North Korean media reported on their country’s FIFA victory and space exploration breakthroughs, and the people have no doubts as they do not have any alternative sources of information. Putin is more concerned about implementing his dreams than saving face. He will continue this until his death or resignation.

Sir Basil Liddell Hart argued that the purpose of war is to make a better peace. Restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity through the return of its internationally recognised borders is not a better peace, this is the same peace as before. Aggressive Russian imperial elites, even with Putin replaced by “Putin 2.0”, and the population poisoned by anti-Ukrainian, anti-European and anti-western propaganda, will simply hope to seek revenge. The history of the two Chechen Wars proves that the empire always strikes back. We need sustainable peace, not just a ceasefire for a few years.

A better peace would be a state of affairs in which Russia never threatens Ukraine, Europe and the world. For this purpose, irreversible changes must occur inside Russia.

Recently, a group of representatives from Ukrainian civil society, which includes famous philosophers, political scientists, former diplomats, and lawyers, published the Sustainable Peace Manifesto. This document proposes a vision of a post-war world. The authors believe that the implementation of the ideas described in the manifesto will prevent future aggression and ensure sustainable peace in the interests of all people — not only in Western Europe, but also in Central and Eastern Europe — through the motto “Never Again”. This short but comprehensive document, presented recently at the Munich Security Conference, is in fact not only an attempt to outline Ukraine’s position, but also an invitation to engage in dialogue regarding a common picture for the post-war world. I am proud to be a member of the authors’ team and invite you to review the manifesto.

To end the war we need a common picture of the post-war world. It is now time to discuss it.

Valerii Pekar is a co-founder of the Nova Kraina Civic Platform, the author of four books, an adjunct professor at the Kyiv-Mohyla Business School and a former member of the National Reform Council.

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