Michael McFaul, a former U.S. Ambassador to Russia and a leading expert on Russia, U.S. foreign policy, and global democratic development, shared his thoughts on the current state of the Russo-Ukrainian war as well as its future course at the EBA meeting on "Future Scenarios for Ukraine."
According to Mr. McFaul, Russia is experiencing a strategic defeat in Ukraine, as none of its initial war objectives have been achieved. Russia has failed to destroy Ukrainian sovereignty, subject Ukrainian territories to Russian influence, and contain NATO expansion.
This war is not just about Ukraine's territorial integrity; it is a broader struggle between democracy and autocracy. The stakes are high, and the outcome of the war will significantly impact European security and support for democracy worldwide.
When asked whether this war could have been avoided, Mr. McFaul referenced the times of the Soviet Union collapse. He argued that back then, the United States and its allies made two critical mistakes, and if these mistakes were to be avoided, Russian future aggression could have been deterred more effectively. First, the U.S. and its allies should have more actively helped Ukraine and other post-Soviet republics recover from the consequences of the fall of the Soviet Union, strengthening their economies and security considerations. Second, the U.S. should have armed Ukraine better, and NATO countries should have invited Ukraine to join the Alliance when Russia was weak. As a result, countries like Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine were left in a “gray zone” and became vulnerable to Russian attacks. Meanwhile, Russia has never attacked or attempted to invade NATO members.
The former ambassador considers granting Ukraine the candidate status for EU membership a significant breakthrough, as it provides Ukrainian leadership and society with a clear plan of action for reform. Mr. McFaul believes a similar approach should be used regarding NATO membership. By the next NATO summit in Washington, Ukraine could receive a formal invitation and a clear action plan outlining conditions for joining the alliance. Ukraine is unlikely to receive any bypasses, as Mr. McFaul asserts, but they won't be needed. Ukrainians have already demonstrated extraordinary capabilities, determination, and speed of action.
NATO membership is not a gift to Ukraine, Mr. McFaul emphasizes. It is an enhancement of the alliance's military power. After the war, Ukraine will emerge as one of the strongest and most combat-capable armies in Europe. However, currently, there is no consensus among U.S. policymakers regarding Ukraine's membership in NATO before the end of hostilities. This is primarily due to concerns that it could draw Americans into a war with Russia.
As for the timeline of the war’s ending, Mr. McFaul states that he falls into the optimistic camp. However, as he often suggests to U.S. government officials, Ukraine needs more weapons and better sanctions to win faster. The war will continue for as long as Russia believes it can fight. Some in Russia hope that Donald Trump's victory in the 2024 U.S. presidential election can change something. But Mr. McFaul does not believe that it will.
The former ambassador also does not see the possibility of the war spilling beyond Ukraine's borders. He monitors the partnership between Russia and China with caution, as autocratic regimes tend to move closer together to defend their ideologies in the long run.
No one knows exactly when the war will end or how many more challenges Ukraine will have to withstand in the short term, but Mr. McFaul is confident that Ukraine will have a brilliant future after its victory. Ukraine will have one of the strongest armies and, within 5 to 10 years, will be able to develop its military tech industry and become one of the largest producers of military equipment, including for NATO countries. Mr. McFaul also believes in the future boom of the Ukrainian economy.
We sincerely thank Michael McFaul for his time, engaging discussion, inspiring words of support, and efforts in mobilizing international partners and allies to help Ukraine!