Ukraine and the Art of Strategy | Lawrence Freedman

Summary of: Ukraine and the Art of Strategy
By: Lawrence Freedman


Dive into the complexities of modern warfare with ‘Ukraine and the Art of Strategy’ by Lawrence Freedman. This book intricately explores Vladimir Putin’s aggressive moves in Crimea and the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Discover Putin’s motives, strategic decisions, and the world’s perception about his leadership, while understanding critical concepts from the Cold War and how it influenced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Get ready to become familiar with innovative tactics that were used, the mobilization of public opinion, and the global implications of limited warfare.

Putin’s Crimea Power Play

In 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin caught the world off guard by seizing Crimea from Ukraine, sparking concerns of a potential Russian threat to Europe’s peace. As a result, nations like Finland and Sweden contemplated NATO membership while the former Soviet satellites braced for possible attacks. Putin’s move was seen as brilliant political strategy, showcasing his power and geopolitical ingenuity, but it ultimately led to targeted sanctions aimed at the elite, unlike past broad punishments. Although Putin proved his military might, it’s unclear whether his annexation has provided any lasting advantage, with some viewing it as an impulsive move rather than a strategic one. The conflict between Ukraine and Russia provides an insightful case study in post-modern warfare, with Putin’s actions serving as a master class in blending covert and overt tactics and public manipulation.

Crisis Management in a Post-Cold War World

The end of the Cold War marked a significant shift in military strategy, but the concept of crisis management remained relevant during the Ukraine conflict. Putin’s desire for a Eurasian Customs Union and Ukraine’s desire to join the EU led to a clash of interests, which resulted in Yanukovych’s ouster and tensions between Russia and the West. Putin ultimately annexed Crimea, revealing the lasting importance of hard power in setting borders and changing regimes.

Military strategy during the Cold War era was dominated by concepts such as deterrence, worst-case scenarios, and damage limitation. One crucial idea that emerged from this period was that of crisis management, which aimed to contain conflagrations before they could lead to the destruction of humanity. The Cuban Missile Crisis illustrated the effectiveness of giving one’s opponent a way to back down without losing face.

However, the end of the Cold War marked a significant shift in military strategy. Russia’s eventual invasion of Ukraine demonstrated that crisis management remained relevant even in a post-Cold War world. Ukraine, with a population of 45 million, bordering Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova, and Belarus, had shifted geopolitical alliances throughout the 20th century. Relations between Moscow and Kiev were partly shaped by the Stalin-era “great famine,” which resulted in nearly four million deaths. During World War II, Ukraine suffered 8 million casualties, mostly civilians. Ukraine achieved independence in 1991, but corruption marred its post-Soviet years. Viktor Yanukovych, who became prime minister in 2002 and later president, was embroiled in corruption scandals.

Many Ukrainians believed that liberalizing and joining the European Union would bring success and prosperity. However, Putin desired a return to the glory days of the Soviet Union. He pushed for the establishment of a Eurasian Customs Union that could rival the EU, the United States, and China. Ukraine represented an essential prize in this context. While Putin valued Ukraine highly, the West was largely indifferent. When Ukraine faced a financial crisis in 2011, the EU and the International Monetary Fund responded with a collective shrug. The crisis led to public protests against Yanukovych’s regime, and after his departure in early 2014, Putin faced a dilemma: should he recognize the legitimacy of the new regime in Kiev? Putin took the stance that Yanukovych was the victim of an illegitimate coup, leading to tensions between Russia and the West.

Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russian leaders have dreamed of returning Crimea to Russian control. When an administration unfriendly to Moscow was in control in Kiev, talk of annexing Crimea intensified. Putin ultimately announced on March 18, 2014, that Russia had annexed Crimea. Little green men—professional soldiers wearing unmarked uniforms—were involved in Russia’s operations in Crimea. Putin denied deploying troops but later acknowledged their presence, arguing that they acted responsibly in their “defense” of the Crimean people. The conflict over Ukraine demonstrated that hard power remains a formidable force in setting borders and changing regimes.

Crimea Annexation: Putin’s Aggressive Stance

In 2014, Putin’s willingness to annex Crimea from Ukraine put the world on edge. Pro-Russian forces generated public support for annexation by organizing demonstrations and trumpeting them on Russian television. NATO’s weak Ukrainian Government could mount little defense against Russia’s bullying. Ultimately Putin’s hopes that the agitators would generate a larger popular movement fizzled out. As a result, Putin’s annexation of Crimea announced Russia’s more aggressive stance in the world. Though Russia’s willingness to agree to a cease-fire was strangely timed as it was winning militarily, the collapse of oil prices was putting strain on Russia’s oil-dependent economy.

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