All parties, including President Vladimir Putin most likely, were surprised by Russia’s defeat in Ukraine. With Russian forces now retreating from the Ukrainian region of Kharkiv, this is undoubtedly not how he had intended for his invasion to proceed. Even if it is difficult to foresee a power like Russia losing the war completely, it is now conceivable. This leads to a few deductions and conclusions.
Traditional conflict, unorthodox resolution.
First off, it would be an unusual development in world affairs if Russia lost, either by being forced off all of Ukrainian land or by a peace deal that benefits Ukraine. Even though these conflicts were typically guerrilla battles, great countries have repeatedly lost wars against smaller foes. In such conflicts, irregular troops employ hit-and-run strategies to wear down the deploying major powers by frustrating and thwarting considerably more potent conventional forces.
But in a conventional conflict, smaller, weaker nations have only sometimes defeated more powerful ones. Such feats become legendary when they occur, as in the Six Day War, when Israel defeated the united Arab troops. This is one of the reasons why state power in international politics is gauged by basic metrics such as military resources (equipment and troops) and wealth.
Such indications are anticipated to at least offer us a decent idea of what may happen in a direct test of arms, even though they are not always helpful in predicting results, especially in the day-to-day operations of international politics. With the exception of guerrilla warfare, they typically do, which is one of the reasons why such measurements of strength are employed despite their limits.
The US and Europe have sent Ukraine a large number of weapons. Without them, Ukrainian successes might not have been feasible. But equally, despite Russian incompetence, Ukrainian tenacity, talent, and sacrifice were required for its outstanding success. Western weapons are not the only factor in this. Therefore, even if Ukraine triumphs, it will still be an unexpected result in world politics.
Russian power is slightly diminished.
Second, Moscow’s setback is likely to be only temporary, regardless of the kind or scope of the Russian defeat. If Russia loses in Ukraine, it can bounce back. If a huge nation has the leadership necessary to turn this potential into reality, it is a logical candidate for great power, given its size, population, and natural resources. Another constant in world politics is that potential power does not equate to real power.
For instance, Indian leaders have had trouble turning their country’s potential into actual power since independence. Brazil has a longer history of being a potential great power, which shows that it is more difficult to turn potential into power. With the apparent exception of China, Russia might join its fellow BRICS allies in wallowing as a potential power for a very long time. A weaker Russia is a mixed bag for Indian foreign policy: it is likely to be more subservient to Beijing, but its assistance to China in the Indo-Pacific and on other issues would be less significant.
Domestic ideology is pipped by power disparity.
A third implication relates to the protracted discussion of American “liberal hegemony,” in which some American “realists” criticize the country for its assertive foreign policy. They are correct in claiming that Washington promotes liberal principles and defines its self-interest broadly and globally. Realists should know that big powers strive to dominate and that they advance their own ideology in order to facilitate hegemony, so it is perplexing that they are perplexed by this.
The fact that they would characterise liberalism as particularly hostile is similarly perplexing. Although aggressive behaviour is not unheard of in liberal democracies, it is also not unique to them. Stronger states aim to rule over weaker ones, especially in their neighbourhood, as Russian behaviour shows. The issue is a power mismatch, not the domestic regime’s philosophy. The consequences for Asia ought to be obvious.
Aggression feeds on it. Putin misread it.
A fourth thing to remember is that people who feel frightened by aggressive behavior will probably react and reply in kind. Other powers will only be interested in the results and not the reasons behind the actions or the justice system. They will work to prevent the expansion of any other power, unless it is for their own benefit. Therefore, it seems logical that the US reacted negatively to both China’s aggression and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It is foolhardy not to anticipate that the US will respond and counter both when Moscow and Beijing unite to resist it, particularly when they commit such glaring errors and expose themselves to such vulnerability as Putin did. Although Joe Biden would have been equally foolish to not take advantage of the chance, Putin’s invasion was foolish. While aiding Ukraine and degrading Russia won’t necessarily remove Moscow from the equation, it will hurt it enough for the US to pay more attention to China.
The logic of power also argues that collaboration between China and Russia was unavoidable. What possible justification could they possibly have for staying apart given the current power dynamics? Yes, they pose a threat to one another as neighbors, but their priorities are different and they work together to combat the bigger, more immediate threat. New Delhi must expect that this will be a strong alliance for the foreseeable future. However, this may change in the future.
However, India appears to be betting that any cooperation between Russia and China will be restricted to opposing the US and won’t have a negative impact on India. This consolation comes neither from logic nor from history. It stands to reason that opposing the US would be a more urgent objective, one that Moscow wouldn’t give up to aid India. Consider the India-China War of 1962, when Moscow forsook India in favor of China’s assistance during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was Jawaharlal Nehru’s policy, not Moscow’s logical self-interested behavior, that erroneously anticipated Russian help.
Although the outcomes on the battlefield are indeed unexpected, the situation as a whole underscores a fundamental tenet of world politics. States must recognize the importance of power imbalances or face the consequences. In believing that the West would not retaliate against his aggressiveness, Putin made a false assumption. Now, Russia will pay a high price for its error. Putin is the only one to blame for the error in interpreting the balance of power.
edited and proofread by nikita sharma