Russia’s Complete Defeat Is Not In US’ Interest – OpEd


The United States 2022 national security document shows that the United States is planning for a new era in the world order. Great war competition has replaced war against terrorism. Despite accepting the fact that currently strategic competition with other great powers is the main challenge of the foreign and defense policy of the United States, scholars do not agree on different aspects of this challenge. 

The recent global developments have been influential in US’s grand strategy. Russia is posing an immediate threat to the US in Ukraine.  However, Moscow should neither lose nor win the war. Furthermore, US-China competition is getting more intense and both sides have conflicts over the redefinition of the international order. Undoubtedly, the competition with Beijing and the containment of Moscow in the Ukraine war have military, economic, and geopolitical components. For the US, neither winning nor losing the war in Ukraine is too complicated, as Putin started the war for peace and the US is trying to impose peace to end the war.

In fact, Washington’s competition with Beijing also shows the US’s effort to shape the rules, norms, and dominant institutions in the international system under its own leadership. This emerging competition adds more complexity to the circumstances and leads to war as well. 

One of the important features of a bipolar Cold War competition was that any increase or decrease in the power of one side would be a relative loss or gain for the other side. These relative gains and losses led US and Soviet policymakers to view the Cold War rivalry as a relatively stable zero-sum game. Washington and Moscow could each take advantage of each other’s defeat and failure. The size and flexibility of the superpowers of the bipolar world were such that none of them had the fear of falling into the abyss of instability and chaos, or political collapse due to strategic mistakes such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yugoslavia. It can be said that the zero-sum power game was going on only between Moscow and Washington, and there was no other great power like China today, which would turn the loss of US or Soviet power into a gain for itself.

Today, the zero-sum game during the Cold War no longer exists. The great power rivalry today is similar to the one in late 19th century Europe. At that time, many great powers were fiercely competing with each other to improve their power and global status, which resulted in the First and Second World Wars.

Now in 2023, continued Russian strategic blunders will not necessarily be in the long-term strategic interests of the United States. Understanding the requirements of competing with great powers in a multipolar world, Washington has taken steps to destabilize Russia and hinder China’s increase of power as a result of probable Russia’s defeat.

In fact, in today’s multipolar world order, the zero-sum game of the Cold War era does not work out. If Russia takes the upper hand in the Ukraine war, it can help China’s relative power increase and harm the US’s short and long-term strategic interests. On the contrary, If Russia loses the war, the US might be able to better control China.   

While the relative reduction of Moscow’s power has occurred due to the gross mistake in the Ukraine war, the US is biding its time to increase its superiority over China and protect its vital interests in Eurasia without weakening Russia too much.

Russia is now in a strategic dilemma due to Putin’s self-inflicted war in Ukraine and has greatly weakened its position and global image. However, the relative reduction of power in the Kremlin, contrary to the opinion of many in Washington and NATO, may not end in favor of Europe and the United States due to Russia’s nuclear power. Therefore, modern geopolitical changes based on technology and artificial intelligence are still taking place within the framework of past competitions between great powers in a competitive environment similar to World War II, and if American policymakers do not manage Moscow’s strategic mistake, the use of nuclear weapons is not far from expected.

Therefore, Washington’s inability in containing Kremlin will have two indirect and very unfavorable consequences. Russia’s victory is China’s victory. The rapid collapse of Russia will pave the way for China to capture the main sources of Russian power, including military technologies and manpower. 

In fact, a sharp decline in Russia’s power or the collapse of Putin’s government will lead to instability and chaos throughout Eurasia and create a crisis that is not only very difficult to contain, but also imposes heavy obligations and responsibilities on the shoulders of the United States and European countries. It is not hard to imagine that Chechnya, Georgia, Dagestan, Kazakhstan, Belarus, or other restive regions of Russia would use this situation to declare autonomy or start a civil war. A civil war in these countries also increases the risk of irresponsible groups acquiring conventional and nuclear weapons. Instability and armed conflict along Russia’s eastern borders with Europe are also likely.

Russia has stabilized turbulent regions in the South Caucasus and Central Asia. With the decline of Russia’s power, we are currently witnessing the flare-up of armed conflicts between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, and the increasingly fragile status of the ceasefire between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Therefore, in the long run, an alert but intact Russia, rather than a completely defeated and fragmented Russia, would be a better outcome for the relative power situation of the United States vis-à-vis China, provided that Beijing does not upset this balance by attacking Taiwan. 

A China-dependent Russia is another strategic threat that will harm the relative power of the US in the long-term competition with China. As Putin is expected to lean increasingly toward Beijing in response to sanctions and pressure from the West, there are many potential ways for China to use Russian power resources to the detriment of the US’s long-term interests. 

A weak and isolated Russia will be a good opportunity for China to make good use of its economic and demographic advantages in the Far East and the Arctic. From this point of view, the relative reduction of Russia’s power due to the conflict in the Ukraine war, with the increase of China’s power, and the reduction of the United States competitive power can work to the benefit of China and to the detriment of the United States in the long run. Thus, American policymakers and Europeans should focus on mitigating the adverse effects of the Russo-Ukraine war on the long-term rivalry with China, and on keeping Russia from total chaos or the threat of becoming a Beijing colony.

In the era of intensifying competition between great powers, correct assessment of the dynamics of the international environment, and the relative strength of oneself and competitors is very important to ensure long-term success. Considering such requirements, if the policymakers of Washington and Europe cannot manage the decline of Moscow’s power with their coalition partners and prevent its complete failure, the world will be one step closer to World War III or a nuclear war.

Timothy Hopper

Timothy Hopper is an international relations graduate of American University.

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