Michael Kimmage

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In February, former U.S. President Donald Trump encouraged Russia’s leadership to do “whatever the hell they want” to any NATO member that does not spend two percent of its GDP on defense. Trump has made similar incendiary comments before. Europe should take his threats seriously. He is once again the presumptive Republican candidate for president of the United States, and he leads Joe Biden, the incumbent, in many recent polls.

Should he be elected to a second term, Trump’s attitudes toward Ukraine, Russia, and NATO—and his mercurial and self-interested mindset—will be pivotal for the war in Ukraine. Trump will likely disrupt the entire transatlantic relationship far more than he did during his first presidency.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman watching a broadcast of a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin, St. Petersburg, February 2024. Anton Vaganov / Reuters

In 2012, Vladimir Putin, after four years as prime minister, once again became Russia’s president. Many Russians resented his engineered return: before the 2012 presidential election, “Russia Without Putin” had been a popular sign at protest rallies. Their discontent had something to do with Putin himself and much to do with Russia’s evolving political system. There was no institution or clause in the Russian constitution that could constrain Putin. Nobody stood in his way.

Early-stage Putinism was marked by a mix of public complacency and indifference. Complacency flourished when the Russian economy expanded between 2000 and 2008, the first eight years of Putin’s presidency, enabling the rise of a Russian middle class.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian soldiers in Luhansk region, Ukraine, November 2023. Alina Smutko / Reuters.

On November 1, Ukraine’s top general, Valery Zaluzhny, changed the debate about his country’s war with Russia with a statement. “Just like in the first World War”, he said in an interview with The Economist, the Ukrainian and Russian militaries “have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate”. Unless a massive leap in military technology gives one side a decisive advantage, “there will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough”. These words prompted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to issue a rebuttal. The war “is not a stalemate, I emphasize this”, Zelensky argued. A deputy head of the office of the president noted that the comments stirred “panic” among Ukraine’s Western allies.…  Seguir leyendo »

A mural depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kashira, Russia, October 2022. Evgenia Novozhenina / Reuters

With the war in Ukraine heading into what will seemingly be a bloody winter for both Russia and Ukraine, there is one person who does not appear to have suffered on the home front: Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose approval rating has remained at a steady high even as casualties from the conflict continue to mount. Putin’s political resilience may come as a surprise to many who assumed that Western sanctions, alongside the human toll of war, would kindle societal opposition to the war and fragment Russian elites, eventually opening the door to Putin’s ouster. But these accounts focus overwhelmingly on the socioeconomic factors underpinning Putin’s grip on power and overlook another key factor that helps explain the Russian leader’s survival: ideology.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Gaza City seaport after Israeli airstrikes, Gaza, October 2023. Mohammed Salem / Reuters

Today’s great powers—China, Europe, Russia, and the United States—will undoubtedly have a role to play in the conflict between Israel and Hamas. Whether any of these powers will be able to resolve or contain that conflict is far less certain. The notion that great-power competition defines geopolitics has come back into vogue after it fell into obscurity at the close of the Cold War. Unspoken Cold-War-era assumptions, however, still shadow many contemporary claims about the nature of this competition. Great powers, analysts assume, will marshal immense resources to shape the international order. What they do will shape global affairs. Using their financial and military might for proxy wars, they will remain intensely focused on each other.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian military cadets in Kyiv, September 2023. Viacheslav Ratynskyi / Reuters

When Russia annexed Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine in 2014, Kyiv had many supporters. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States sought the restoration of Ukrainian sovereignty through sanctions on Russia and through diplomacy, but they refused direct military involvement. Only belatedly did they provide lethal military assistance—not until 2019, in Washington’s case.

By late February of 2022, however, as Russia amassed its forces on the Ukrainian border, that reluctance had mostly melted away. The brutal invasion that followed, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s charismatic leadership, generated a first round of Western military and financial aid. Ukraine’s stunning battlefield successes in September and October 2022 opened the door to even more ambitious support.…  Seguir leyendo »

A grain warehouse destroyed by a Russian missile strike in Pavlivka, Ukraine, July 2023. Nina Liashonok / Reuters

From the outset of his invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s vast ambitions for the war were obvious. He intended to topple the government in Kyiv and either partition or take control of Ukraine. But Putin’s aspirations extended beyond carving a sphere of influence in central and eastern Europe. By subjugating the Ukrainian polity, Putin hoped to initiate a new era of global politics, one detached from American leadership. He promised an international system that would be genuinely postcolonial, solicitous of conservative values, and robustly multipolar, with Russia serving as one of its central arbiters.

Even after setback after setback on the battlefield in Ukraine, Putin remains committed to a brutal, immiserating war effort.…  Seguir leyendo »

Wagner private mercenary company fighters in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, June 2023. Alexander Ermochenko / Reuters

Russia’s war against Ukraine has destroyed Putin’s mystique as an untouchable autocrat. Before February 24, 2022, Putin may have looked unscrupulous and aggressive, but through his military moves in Syria, Crimea, and beyond, he could seem like a capable strategist. Then, in one stroke, Putin showed his ineptitude by invading a country that posed no threat to Russia and by witnessing failure after failure in his military enterprise—the latest of is the short-lived armed rebellion the mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin carried out this weekend, which has just undermined Putin’s mystique autocrat.

Putin abetted the rise of Prigozhin and ignored the warning signs about the Wagner Group, Prigozhin’s out-of-control private military company.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Russian embassy in Washington, D.C., July 2018. Yuri Gripas / Reuters

The war that is currently raging between Russia and Ukraine began in 2014. It started with a clash between Russia and Ukraine over Ukraine’s orientation, so important to Moscow that it risked its working relationship with the West by annexing Crimea and invading eastern Ukraine—and so important to the West that it levied sanctions on Russia and made efforts to isolate Russia diplomatically. In 2022, Russia widened the war. The tremor of conflict in 2014 turned into an earthquake as far as Russia and the West were concerned. The Kremlin now presents itself as at war with the “collective West”, and in support of Ukraine, the West is eager to isolate Russia as much as it can.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu in Moscow, April 2023. Russian Defense Ministry / Reuters

Over the past year, China has made the best of Russia’s war against Ukraine, emerging as one of the conflict’s few beneficiaries. It has styled itself as a measured peacemaker while gaining substantial leverage over Russia. Beijing has been Moscow’s most conspicuous and consequential backer in the war, pledging a “no limits” partnership with Russia shortly before the February 2022 invasion and helping keep Russia’s wartime economy afloat. Moscow’s growing reliance on China has been lucrative and useful for Beijing—and this economic dependence will likely continue and deepen. China’s rhetorical commitment to “multipolarity” in geopolitics has encouraged many countries in the global South to remain aloof from the war, unwilling to rally to Ukraine’s cause.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian President Vladimir Putin at the headquarters of the Southern Military District, Rostov-on-Don, Russia, December 2022. Mikhail Klimentyev / Sputnik / Kremlin / Reuters

Winning a long war requires a mobilization of troops and supplies that can outlast the other side. Positive objectives and clearly defined goals are the path to victory. After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was able to mobilize American society around the imperative of Japan’s unconditional surrender. After a shocking attack on U.S. soil, Americans rallied around the objectives of defeating Japan, avenging the assault on Pearl Harbor, and eliminating the threat posed by imperial Japan. Those goals would have been sufficient to sustain the U.S. war effort, but Americans had an additional aim: to strike a blow for democracy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Putin’s Last Stand

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine was meant to be his crowning achievement, a demonstration of how far Russia had come since the collapse of the Soviet empire in 1991. Annexing Ukraine was supposed to be a first step in reconstructing a Russian empire. Putin intended to expose the United States as a paper tiger outside Western Europe and to demonstrate that Russia, along with China, was destined for a leadership role in a new, multipolar international order.

It hasn’t turned out that way. Kyiv held strong, and the Ukrainian military has been transformed into a juggernaut, thanks in part to a close partnership with the United States and Western allies.…  Seguir leyendo »

People watching smoke rising from damaged sections of the bridge over the Kerch Strait, Crimea, October 2022. Stringer / Reuters

Ukraine’s liberation of the city of Kherson at the beginning of November was more than just a dramatic military victory. In its battlefield win, Ukraine called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s bluff. Just two months earlier, Putin had publicly declared Kherson and other Ukrainian territories to be a part of Russia, implicitly placing them under Russia’s nuclear protection. Putin had hoped that the fear of nuclear attack would compel Ukraine to tread lightly and make its supporters back off. His plan did not work.

Kherson is unlikely to be the end of Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive. The greatest prize lies farther to the south: the Crimean Peninsula, where the war began in 2014.…  Seguir leyendo »

A woman says goodbye to a recently drafted man in Bataysk, Russia, September 2022. Sergey Pivovarov / Reuters

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a “partial mobilization” intended to shore up his faltering war against Ukraine. The pretense that there is anything partial about this move, however, is about as convincing as Putin’s claim that Russia is merely carrying out a “special military operation” in Ukraine. After Putin’s announcement, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said that 300,000 men with military backgrounds would be drafted. But some reports indicate that is not the number stated in official documents authorizing the mobilization, and the parts of Putin’s decree that were made public do not include any restrictions on the Defense Ministry’s authorization to draft people.…  Seguir leyendo »

For the first time in the war in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin must contend with the serious prospect of losing it. Early setbacks around Kyiv and Chernigov had been balanced by Russian gains in the south and the east; they could be justified as tactical retreats and thus as Russian choices, regardless of whether they truly were. By contrast, the near rout of Russian soldiers in the Kharkiv region on September 10—and the rapid reconquest by Ukrainian forces of territory spanning some 2,000 square miles in the east and south—clearly showed that Ukraine was on top and that Russian troops may continue to fall to future such offensives.…  Seguir leyendo »

On patrol near Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, July 2022. Dmytro Smolienko / Reuters

The war in Ukraine will soon enter its sixth month. For all the talk of Russia crossing the West’s red lines with its conduct in the war and of the West crossing Russia’s red lines with its military assistance to Ukraine, the true red lines have not yet been breached. At the outset of the war, both sides hashed out a set of invisible rules—unspoken but nonetheless real. They include Russia’s acceptance of allied heavy-weapons deliveries and intelligence support for Ukraine, but not the use of Western troops. And they include Western states’ grudging acceptance of Russian conventional warfare within Ukraine’s borders (eager as these countries are to see Moscow defeated), as long as the conflict does not lead to the use of weapons of mass destruction.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Zaporizhzhia region, Ukraine, June 2022. Handout / Reuters

In recent days, many Western observers of the war in Ukraine have begun to worry that the tide is turning in Russia’s favor. Massive artillery fire is yielding incremental Russian gains in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, and Russia is bringing in new forces. Ukrainian troops are drained and exhausted. Russia is trying to create a fait accompli and to make reality conform to its imperial ambitions through “passportization”—the quick provision of Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens in Russian-occupied areas—and the forced introduction of Russian administrative structures in Ukrainian territory. The Kremlin likely intends to occupy eastern and southern Ukraine indefinitely and to eventually move on Odessa, a major port city in southern Ukraine and a hub of commerce that connects Ukraine to the outside world.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian President Vladimir Putin has landed in an unenviable position. His country has the resources to inflict damage on Ukraine in perpetuity. But because the first phase of the war has been so costly for Russia and because Ukraine’s military is mounting such stiff resistance, Russia faces serious difficulty achieving anything meaningful on the battlefield without committing much more manpower than it currently has available.

Calling up large numbers of reservists while putting Russian society openly on a war footing solves the problem in theory. But it is something for which the Russian public is fundamentally unprepared. To date, Putin has referred to the war in Ukraine as a “special military operation” and held only one mass rally in support of the war.…  Seguir leyendo »

Mourning at a cemetery in Bucha, Ukraine, April 2022. Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

All wars end, and their closing moments are often vivid and memorable. Take, for instance, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s surrender to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865, which brought an end to the U.S. Civil War. Or the armistice that terminated World War I, signed by Germany and the Allies in a train car near Paris in November 1918. Or the end of the Cold War, symbolized by the toppling of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and, later, the lowering of the Soviet flag from the Kremlin on Christmas Day of 1991. These scenes loom large in the cultural imagination as decisive moments that provided the sense of a definitive ending.…  Seguir leyendo »

The twentieth century’s two world wars are an endless source of precedents and analogies. The lead-up to World War II produced the Munich analogy, an allusion to the 1938 British and French decision to permit Nazi Germany to annex part of Czechoslovakia. “Munich” has become shorthand for “appeasement”. The aftermath of the war produced the Nuremberg analogy, a reference to the public trials of the surviving leaders of the utterly defeated Nazi regime. “Nuremberg” now stands for “unconditional surrender”.

By contrast, the conclusion of World War I had been unclear and incomplete. Berlin did not fall in November 1918. Instead, the government waging the war dissolved; Kaiser Wilhelm went into exile.…  Seguir leyendo »