Samuel Charap

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In this still from video footage on May 17, smoke rises from the Ukrainian boarder city of Vovchansk, which is bombarded daily by heavy artillery. (Libkos/Getty Images)

The Biden administration’s decision to approve Ukraine’s use of U.S. weapons to attack targets inside Russia is, as President Biden might say, a big deal. Ukrainians argue that this change will derail the Kremlin’s offensive in the Kharkiv region and perhaps even turn the tide of the war. Russian officials and propagandists claim it is a major escalation and have threatened to strike back directly at the United States or its allies.

Both claims are likely to prove hollow. But this decision is nevertheless consequential, if for a different reason: It marks another turn of a tit-for-tat spiral that has continuously raised the risks of a broader war without offering a path to ending this one.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian and Ukrainian negotiators meeting via videoconference in March 2022. Photo posted to Telegram on March 14, 2022 by Vladimir Medinsky / Illustration by Foreign Affairs

In the early hours of February 24, 2022, the Russian air force struck targets across Ukraine. At the same time, Moscow’s infantry and armor poured into the country from the north, east, and south. In the days that followed, the Russians attempted to encircle Kyiv.

These were the first days and weeks of an invasion that could well have resulted in Ukraine’s defeat and subjugation by Russia. In retrospect, it seems almost miraculous that it did not.

What happened on the battlefield is relatively well understood. What is less understood is the simultaneous intensive diplomacy involving Moscow, Kyiv, and a host of other actors, which could have resulted in a settlement just weeks after the war began.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian flags fly over Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine February 2024. Stringer / Reuters

Ukraine and its Western backers have precious little common ground with Russia. Yet all the key players seem to agree on one critical issue: the war in Ukraine will end in negotiations. As Russian President Vladimir Putin told the conservative broadcaster Tucker Carlson in a recent interview: “We are willing to negotiate”. A spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, while casting doubt on Putin’s sincerity, retorted in a statement that “both we and President Zelensky have said numerous times that we believe this war will end through negotiations”. The absence of decisive battlefield outcomes over the past two years have made the alternative to a negotiated end (one side’s absolute victory) seem like a fantasy.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian President Vladimir Putin near Svobodny, Russia, September 2023. Artem Geodakyan / Reuters.

Since Russia launched its full-scale war on Ukraine in February 2022, debates have raged in the West about how to properly respond to Moscow’s aggression. But those debates are limited by a lack of agreement about the goals of that aggression and, ultimately, what kind of threat Russia really represents. Arguably, understanding the Russia threat is a first-order priority: unless Western governments get that right, they risk either overreacting or underreacting.

Officials and scholars who have proffered their views of Russian goals tend to see them in quite stark terms. Many have made the case that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a maximalist whose ambitions go far beyond Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

An Unwinnable War

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 was a moment of clarity for the United States and its allies. An urgent mission was before them: to assist Ukraine as it countered Russian aggression and to punish Moscow for its transgressions. While the Western response was clear from the start, the objective—the endgame of this war—has been nebulous.

This ambiguity has been more a feature than a bug of U.S. policy. As National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan put it in June 2022, “We have in fact refrained from laying out what we see as an endgame. . . . We have been focused on what we can do today, tomorrow, next week to strengthen the Ukrainians’ hand to the maximum extent possible, first on the battlefield and then ultimately at the negotiating table”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Qais al-Khazali, leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, speaking in Baghdad, January 2022. Ahmed Saad / Reuters

On the surface, Iraq appears to have achieved a measure of stability. The country finally has a functioning government after a yearlong political vacuum. Terrorist violence has fallen to its lowest rate since the 2003 U.S. invasion. Even the country’s Iran-backed militias—long a source of tension with Washington—have significantly reduced their attacks on U.S. diplomatic and military sites. In a May 4 speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan credited a U.S strategy built on the “twin pillars of deterrence and diplomacy” for the decrease in attacks on U.S. interests.

As Sullivan’s speech illustrates, President Joe Biden’s national security team sees a quiet Middle East as an end unto itself—including in Iraq.…  Seguir leyendo »

Putting out a fire after a Russian drone attack in Kyiv, October 2022. Gleb Garanich / Reuters

U.S. President Joe Biden has said that the United States is committed to a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine. But his administration has taken few, if any, steps to create a diplomatic process that could produce such an outcome. Buoyed by Ukrainian battlefield successes and horrified by Russian atrocities, the United States seems committed to continuing its current approach of helping Ukraine recapture as much territory as possible without provoking a wider war. The mantra in Washington is to support Kyiv “for as long it takes” and to rule out, at least for now, practical steps toward diplomacy. That message was reinforced this week when 30 Democrats in the U.S.…  Seguir leyendo »

Llegó la hora del diálogo entre Rusia y EE. UU.

En los cinco meses que han pasado desde que Rusia inició su guerra en Ucrania, Estados Unidos ha prometido ayuda militar a Ucrania con un valor de alrededor de 24.000 millones de dólares. Esa cifra es más de cuatro veces el presupuesto de defensa de Ucrania para 2021. Los socios de Estados Unidos en Europa y más allá han prometido 12.000 millones de dólares adicionales, según el Instituto Kiel para la Economía Mundial.

Y, sin embargo, esa suma de decenas de miles de millones de dólares no es suficiente para cumplir la lista de peticiones de Ucrania de armamento, que el gobierno del presidente Volodimir Zelenski anunció el mes pasado.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Ukrainian soldier manning a defensive trench, Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 23, 2022. Serhii Nuzhnenko / Reuters

At this stage of the war in Ukraine, as Russia steps up its offensive in the Donbas and more revelations of the atrocities committed by its forces emerge, the prospect of any kind of negotiated peace between Moscow and Kyiv seems remote. Even earlier this spring, when delegations from the two sides were meeting, the talks had little impact on either Russia’s or Ukraine’s determination to keep fighting. And at times, both Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been dismissive of the negotiations. Today, the sides have effectively suspended their diplomatic efforts.

Amid the gloom, it would be easy to forget the real progress that negotiators have already made.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Ukrainian soldier near Demydiv, Ukraine, March 2022. Maksim Levin / Reuters

Before February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin announced his fateful decision to attack Ukraine, the core objective of U.S. policy on the brewing crisis was clear. Washington sought to deter an invasion by raising the costs of any military operation that Putin launched and by issuing threats of punishment—largely economic—if Moscow were to proceed. But deterrence clearly failed. Russia rolled into Ukraine and its forces have since killed thousands of civilians and devastated several cities. The United States, together with its allies and partners, took sweeping action in response to Russia’s aggression, imposing unprecedented sanctions, including freezing central bank reserves, and delivering hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of materiel to support the Ukrainian military.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russia’s attack on Ukraine—horrific as it is in itself—has raised concerns in many Western capitals of an even-worse outcome: escalation to a broader war with NATO allies which could involve nuclear weapons. While such a war is far from inevitable, the possibility of the current conflict spiralling beyond the immediate theatre of hostilities is real. Understanding how that could happen is essential to minimising the risk that it does.

Escalation—an increase in the intensity or scope of conflict—can occur because of a deliberate decision to up the ante, or because of a step or accident that unintentionally produces the same effect.…  Seguir leyendo »

The American government tends to see sanctions against Russia as a low-cost policy that will eventually force Vladimir Putin to change course in Ukraine.

But this conventional wisdom obscures significant costs. Just as using drones to target suspected terrorists in Pakistan may have created more converts to Islamic militancy than it has eliminated, sanctions advocates haven’t reckoned with the unintended consequences of the policy — consequences that could prove far more damaging to American interests than the Kremlin’s aggression in Ukraine.

First, by employing commercial and financial sanctions on Russia for its actions in Ukraine, the United States — the architect and largest beneficiary of the globalized system of trade and finance — is exploiting post-Soviet Russia’s integration into that system.…  Seguir leyendo »

As the polls closed during last month’s snap presidential elections in Ukraine, violence broke out in the east of the country. Insurgents took over Donetsk airport and the government responded with airstrikes.

Eastern Ukraine has become a breeding ground for an armed insurgency. And if a comprehensive political settlement isn’t reached soon, Ukraine could descend into outright civil conflict. Western governments should make working with the Ukrainian authorities to pursue such an arrangement their top priority.

Until now, the West has prioritized holding a free and fair presidential election and is now celebrating a mission accomplished. As a senior American official put it, “It was a spectacular day for the people of Ukraine who went out in force to choose a new president and to say to their government and to the world that they want a future that is unified, that is democratic, that is prosperous and that is rooted in Europe.”…  Seguir leyendo »

The outcome of Viktor F. Yanukovich’s trip to Moscow on Tuesday was sobering for Western officials.

After backing away at the last minute from a major trade and integration accord with the European Union, Mr. Yanukovich, Ukraine’s president, signed a wide range of economic agreements during a meeting with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

The European and American policy toward Ukraine — urging it to pursue the path of reform that proved so successful in Central Europe — has reached an impasse. This failure stems from a consistent misreading of Ukraine by the West.

Listening to recent commentary from Western officials, you would think that a new nation has been born on the Maidan in Kiev, that Ukrainians are united in their desire to divorce themselves from Russia and return to the fold of Europe, and that it is only their current leaders — bolstered and bullied by their patrons in the Kremlin — who stand in the way of a “Europe whole and free.”…  Seguir leyendo »

With all the high-level diplomatic visits to Moscow and accompanying news headlines, a casual observer might easily conclude that Russia holds the key to resolving the Syrian crisis. But as the latest round of failed talks this weekend — this time between Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League envoy on Syria — conclusively demonstrate, Russia will not be part of the solution on Syria.

Senior Russian officials have made that clear for months, but some members of the international community, perhaps until recently, just didn’t believe them.

This confusion could stem from the frequent reporting on the ties that bound Russia to President Bashar al-Assad’s Syria — military, religious, intelligence-sharing and so on.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Saturday, the world learned that Vladimir V. Putin, Russia’s current prime minister and former president, will return to the Kremlin in May 2012.

When Mr. Putin stepped down as president in 2008, handing the responsibilities of head of state to the newly elected Dmitri A. Medvedev, it did not diminish Mr. Putin’s personal authority. But it did increase the chances that Russia would evolve into a stable democracy over time. His return in 2012 will drastically reduce those chances.

Mr. Medvedev’s presidency, which began in May 2008, in many ways pushed the boundaries of Russia’s political system, which maintains democratic procedures without true democratic practices and allows its citizens free exercise of some human rights while severely limiting others.…  Seguir leyendo »

Despite the improvement in U.S.-Russia relations over the last two years, the belief that the “reset” is doomed remains widespread in both countries.

According to the naysayers, Russia and the United States are fundamentally and inexorably at odds on many issues, in particular their approaches to the countries neighboring Russia.

This view is based on flawed, dated assumptions. A closer look at the facts tells a very different story.

“Reset” skeptics in the two countries have little in common with one another — as they will be the first to tell you. Yet, paradoxically, they are united in their fervent belief that the only way for Russia and the United States to avoid confrontation in the former-Soviet region is through a Yalta-style “grand bargain”: a delimitation of spheres of responsibility and a pledge of mutual noninterference in each other’s sphere.…  Seguir leyendo »

The bill on President Dmitry Medvedev's desk that expands the powers of the KGB's domestic successor would seem to confirm our worst fears about Russia's political development. But the story of how it got there shows that Russia's political transformation is still unfolding and reminds us that the United States has a role to play in shaping it.

The proposed law would give the Federal Security Service (FSB) authority to issue warnings to individuals whose actions, though not illegal, "create the conditions for a crime."

Human rights activists and opposition groups have condemned the legislation, citing fears that the powers will be used to preemptively silence the government's political opponents.…  Seguir leyendo »