Consequences of the Ukraine-Conflict for Europe and the USA

by William Scott Ritter, USA*

It’s an honour and privilege to have the opportunity to speak with you today.
  The Prussian military strategist Clausewitz has said: “War is an extension of politics by other means.” And the reason why I bring that up is when we speak of the conflict that’s ongoing in Ukraine, I think we have to understand that this is much more than just a military conflict. This is much more than simply the Russian Army aligning itself up against the Ukrainian Military.

The consequences of this conflict to Europe and the United States hinge on the outcome of this war, this fighting. Let me just cut to the chase. Russia is winning and Russia will win the military conflict. There is nothing NATO or the United States can do to prevent this outcome. They can weaken the process; they can make the human cost to Ukraine and Russia higher but they will not change the outcome. And I think, the West is starting to wake up to this reality. We just recently had the French ambassador to the United Nations to acknowledge that it’s a pipedream to think of Ukraine liberating the Donbas, liberating Crimea. More and more Western politicians are waking up to the cost of this conflict on Europe, on the United States, on the world. And recognising that the outcome is not going to be what they had hoped for.

The USA and NATO did not believe
that the conflict would turn out this way

Let me start by saying I don’t believe that either United States, NATO or Ukraine believed that this conflict would turn out the way it has. I believe that NATO, Europe and Ukraine had been since 2015 preparing for a decisive conflict in the Donbass where the Ukrainian military built up by NATO, trained, equipped would be able to launch a decisive attack that would be able to overcome the Donetsk and Lugansk militias and whatever forces Russia could bring to bear on the problem. In terms of a larger conflict, I believe that the United States and Europe were firm in their belief that the threat of economic sanctions and the reality of economic sanctions would either deter Russia from engaging decisively with Ukraine over the Donbass or if Russia decided to do so would lead to the rapid collapse of the Russia economy, severe political consequences for the Russian leadership and a swift and decisive defeat of the Russian military in Ukraine.

No preparation, no realistic assessment of the consequences

Why do I believe this? As a military person myself who has gone to war and who has prepared to go to war, I know that if you are planning for decisive engagement with an enemy, it requires mobilisation. It requires the accumulation of military power; it requires logistical preparation. In short, it requires everything that NATO, Europe and the United States failed to do. There was no military preparation by NATO, by the United States, by Europe for this conflict. Which tells me that they didn’t believe that this conflict was going to be won on the battlefield but rather won in the banks, in the businesses, in the economy. I don’t mean to be too facetious here, but if you are going to belittle Russia as nothing more than a gas station disguised as a nation it’s best that you not be an automobile that’s out of gas, in need of refuelling. And that in short is what the Europeans and American economies are.

The arrogance of the West leads to economic chaos

There was literally no realistic appreciation of the energy aspects of sanctioning Russia. I think there was a level of arrogance on the part of the United States and Europe that they could control the energy security, they could control the energy supplies of the world and that they could shut down the Russian economy by sanctioning Russian energy. The exact opposite has happened. Russia has shown that it knows the global energy market far better than either the United States or Europe. And I don’t mean to laugh because this is not a funny situation but sometimes when you are confronted with absurdities and ridiculousness of such a magnitude, you have no choice but to chuckle in dismay. And that’s the situation that I’m facing when I take a look at Europe today.
  The arrogance of the G7, the arrogance of NATO, the arrogance of the European Union to believe that they could dictate a solution through economic means to Russia and not expect that having telegraphed this for more than a year that Russia would not be able to come up with a counter strategy. A plan to absorb the sanctions of the West and turn them against the West. And this is exactly what Russia has done and the West has shown that they don’t have a plan B. One of the first things you learn in the military profession is that no plan survives initial contact with the enemy; that the enemy always has a vote. And so, the arrogance to come in with one plan, one concept, one method of thinking, one method of operation and not be able to adapt to changing circumstances has led Europe to the situation they face today: total economic chaos and the potential for total economic collapse.

The idea of European unity exposed as a fraud

What are the consequences of this beyond the obvious, beyond the suffering that the European people will have this winter, beyond the damage done to European industry? The notion of European unity has been exposed as a fraud. We can hear NATO leaders and European Union leaders speak about how Europe has rallied.  Europe has not rallied. There are deep fractures in Europe as we speak, and the fractures are going to grow even more severe over time. You see, Europe I believe made a fatal mistake in embracing Ukrainian nationalism because by embracing Ukrainian nationalism, Europe has unleashed the forces that the European Union was designed to suppress and that is the forces of European nationalism, Polish nationalism, German nationalism, French nationalism. It’s all coming to the forefront.
  Nations, as Europe is impacted economically, instead of coming together in a unified fashion, Europe will fracture. We have seen this. Hungary already has separated itself engaging its own energy contract with Russia for survival and as the reality of the coming winter hits home, you are going to see more and more European countries compelled by the force of their populations, compelled to break away from the policies being promulgated by the European Union and NATO and pursue individual policies that are designed to preserve the lives and the infrastructure of their own nation. The war in Ukraine is going to transform the face of Europe in a manner that Europe sought to avoid since the end of the Second World War.

The map of Europe is being redrawn

You know one of the things that came out of the Second World War was a desire on the part of Europe that borders were permanent. There would be no more redrawing of the map of Europe. This was finished. It is not finished ladies and gentlemen one only has to take a look at Ukraine right now. It’s not just that Crimea will be forever Russia, it’s not just the Donbass will be forever Russia. I believe this war will not end until Novorossiya is forever Russia. The territory that extends from Transnistria and Moldovia across southern Ukraine but will become Novorossiya. Odessa, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Kharkov, Dnipropetrovsk. All of this will never again be Ukraine. They will be permanently forever Russia. The map of Europe is being redrawn as we speak and with it comes the allure of other nations saying maybe we can redraw the maps in our favour. Already there’s talk in Poland about redrawing the map of Ukraine so that Western Ukraine could become polish. That territory that was taken away from Poland end of the Second World War. And now you hear whispers in Germany that maybe the territories that were taken away from Germany at the end of the Second World War should once again become German. And on, and on it will go. The things that were supposed will never happen again we start seeing them brewing up.

Europe exposed as a paper tiger

Some other things.
  The militarisation of Europe. At the end of the Cold War, I think there was a recognition on the part of Europe that the likelihood of a large-scale ground war in Europe was slim to none. And that’s why Europe basically disarmed itself. They stopped building modern weapons. They stopped training; their military stayed in the barracks. When NATO a couple of years ago decided that they were going to create these battlegroups to send to the Baltic regions and to Poland to deter Russian aggression there was difficulty on the part of Europe to come up with the forces to man this reinforcement battalion sized battlegroups – we are talking about 1,500 men. Germany, which during the Cold War had a massive military, had this capability, had to cannibalise its armoured forces to bring one battalion to Lithuania.
  Now first of all, think about this. The Germans were sending an armoured battalion to Lithuania. That alone should cause the people to pull their hair out. That’s never a good thing. But the Germans sent an armoured battalion to Lithuania only because they cannibalised everything else. Now we have Jens Stoltenberg speaking of the need to create a 300,000 men force. And one of the parts of that force would be to reenforce these battalion sized battlegroups to brigade sized battlegroups. Where are they going to get the men? Where are they going to get the material? How are they going to do this? The short answer is: they can’t. Europe has been exposed as a paper tiger. That’s one of the consequences of this conflict.

NATO failed

Except, Europe is not only a failed economic union, NATO is a failed military alliance with no capacity to engage in meaningful military conflict with an enemy or a potential foe of the capabilities of Russia. The other thing that’s happening here, the United States have yet again shown it is perhaps the worst ally Europe could ever have. At one time the United States was a good ally, at the one time the United States was the heart and soul of the NATO defensive alliance but once the Cold War ended and NATO lost its reason to exist, instead of the United States looking for a way to dismember this relic of the Cold War, United States took the lead in turning NATO into an offensive alliance.
  One only has to take a look at the War in Kosovo to understand that NATO was not a defensive alliance. There, there was an offense of action, one only has to take a look at the intervention in Libya to know the same. And what was NATO a transatlantic security organisation doing in Afghanistan for nearly two decades? So – you know – NATO lost its reason to exist. The United States abandoned NATO in Afghanistan. I don’t know if Europe has woken up to that fact, but we abandoned NATO, we abandoned Europe, we left NATO in Europe to its own devices, and it prompted many in NATO to question: what is the relevance, what is our mission? Why are we here?

USA has abandoned NATO

Then the United States turned around because we had a change in leadership and we said “no, now you’re relevant, but we need you now to focus on Russia.” And NATO did, but not militarily, NATO never built the military capacity to confront Russia. So, the United States has led NATO down this path toward a decisive proxy war with Russia in Ukraine where NATO is further depleting its military resources transferring equipment money material to Ukraine only to watch it be destroyed ground up on the battle field by Russia with no industrial capacity to replace it. The United States abandoned NATO.

Collapse of the US Empire

Now for the United States the consequences of this conflict are that we are hastening the demise of the rules based international order, that is that club that the United States put together at the end of the Second World War. It is collapsing. It is collapsing in a phase of growing recognition in the world that there is a need for multipolarity, that other nations matter. That the world cannot revolve solely around the United States. And this charge against multipolarity is being led by Russia and China, with India, Brazil, South Africa and other nations coming to the forefront.
  This was going to happen no matter what; the history of the world shows that there is an evolutionary process and empires fade. But what we are seeing here is not the fading of the American empire but the collapse of the American empire. And one of the consequences of this conflict is that the United States are finding that its role in the world is collapsing as we speak. How do we get out of this, as we are looking at the situation – both the United States and Europe have failed strategically on every level, politically, economically, militarily. The winner is Russia.

What is possible: Peaceful coexistence between Europe and Russia

Fortunately for the United States and Europe, Russia does not have the kind of global dominance desires that the United States and NATO do. Russia is simply seeking a new European security framework that respects what Russia deems to be its legitimate national security interests. And this is going to be the future. A decisive Russian victory will ultimately compel Europe to forego its suicidal embrace of NATO and its perpetual role as an extension of American national security policy, and instead seek a responsible realistic understanding with Russia about how Europe and Russia can peacefully coexist, not as friends. Europe, I believe has forever, at least for the foreseeable future, lost the opportunity to be the friend of Russia. Russia will never again trust Europe – nor should Russia ever trust Europe. Europe will never again be partner with Russia. You don’t become a partner with nations that stab you in the back like Europe has stabbed Russia in the back. But you can peacefully coexist.

Rule of law instead of Rules-based international order

And I believe that is the goal of Russia, and I believe this is going to be the goal of Europe. The loser in all of this in the long term will be the United States, the winner of all of this in the long term will be the rest of the world. Because the sooner the United States can be compelled to step down from its role, self-selected role as global hegemon, the sooner the world will be able to rise up invite the United States to the table of a multipolarity where the rule of law supersedes the rules based international order.
  Thank you very much, it was a pleasure talking to you.  •

* Presentation at the annual conference of the working group “Mut zur Ethik” (“Europe – what future do we want?”) from 2–4 September 2022

Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer whose career spans more than 20 years and includes positions in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control agreements, on US General Norman Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War, and later as the UN Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq from 1991–1998.

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