Fiona Hill: War won’t end until Russia abandons its imperial ambitions

By | February 22, 2023

Freddie Sayers, at Unherd, interviews Fiona Hill, former advisor to Presidents Bush, Obama and Trump:

FS: But how does this end? I understand that we must appear strong and united. But as the years pass, if proposing a settlement is seen as a sign of weakness, how will we ever reach one?

FH: That’s not the way to look at this. The way to look at this is to try to create the circumstances for a real negotiation, not a capitulation. I don’t think we’re going to have an absolute victory over Russia. But look, it only ends when Russians no longer want to extend territory in an imperial fashion. Leadership matters a lot here. Boris Yeltsin and Mikhail Gorbachev didn’t have this same way of thinking [as Putin]. Gorbachev himself made the decision to end the Cold War; Yeltsin did not want to reincorporate Ukraine or Belarus or any of the other countries. So you’ve got to find a formula where Russia no longer wants to expand.

FS: So what does victory actually look like? Does it mean that we’re not going to push Russia out of all of Ukraine, including Crimea?

FH: Probably not in the short-to-medium term on the battlefield, but one could imagine something different over the longer term. The Baltic states are no longer part of the Soviet Union; they are independent again, so that didn’t last forever. This was one of the points that Angela Merkel kept making: that things change over time.

FS: What should we be doing differently? If you were now the adviser to the US President or British Prime Minister or Nato more generally, what would you suggest?

FH: We basically have to think differently about this. It’s not going to be settled on the battlefield. This isn’t going to be like the First or Second World War, with some satisfying armistice peace treaty. We’re talking a few weeks after the anniversary of the Yalta Conference of 1945, in which Europe was divided up into two spheres. That’s what Putin wants. And that’s not what the rest of Europe wants, so we have to think about a larger framework, about the fact that Russia currently has a UN Security Council vet. We need to rethink these multinational approaches. People have said this is a great power competition. But the United States isn’t trying to expand its borders, or annex anywhere. It might have done in the past. But it isn’t doing this now.

FS: Sceptics might think differently about that.

FH: That’s exactly our problem: we’re justifying what Russia is doing to Ukraine because of our irritation with the United States. Yes, the United States shouldn’t have invaded Iraq. Yes, the United States shouldn’t have gone into Afghanistan. The United States does all kinds of things that the rest of the world doesn’t like — but does that justify Russia devastating Ukraine? No, it doesn’t. Unless, that is, the UK wants to live in a world that is only decided by clashes among China, the United States and Russia. That’s not the world I think the rest of the world wants to live in. That’s certainly not the world the Finns, the Swedes, the Danes, the Dutch, the Norwegians and others who are really supporting Ukraine want to live in. There has to be some kind of revitalisation of multilateral entities — whether that means the UN or part of it. [Continue reading…]

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