Dominique Moïsi is a founding member of Ifrii. This geopolitical scientist, published in 26 languages, has taught at Harvard, King’s College London and Ena.
How do you analyze the situation in Ukraine after a month of war?
Not to win the war, for Russia, is to lose it. And not to lose the war for Ukraine is to win it. Nothing is decided, but the Russian strategy has failed, kyiv is still in the hands of the Ukrainians and the Russians have switched to a strategy of massive bombardments and encirclement of the cities, a little out of frustration and a lot to save losses already very high (about 10,000 soldiers killed, editor’s note).
Zelensky has just addressed the French parliament, has he won the image battle?
Yes, there is emotion in the Western world, it is perhaps the most Manichean conflict we have witnessed since the end of the Second World War. There is an identification between Zelensky and Churchill and another between Putin and Hitler. Russia has become a pariah state, with attacks on civilian populations increasingly denounced as war crimes, if not against humanity.
Putin, so quick to summon the memory of the USSR, has he really learned the lessons of its history?
The answer is clearly no, because the collapse of the USSR was largely explained by the contrast between its military power and the weakness of its economy. However, Russia always appears as the poor power. It has roughly the gross national product of a country like Spain with geopolitical ambitions closer to those of the United States and China. Couldn’t Putin have learned anything by thinking that military power could be enough? This seems, moreover, less considerable than one might think. Tolstoy is right when he makes Prince Andrew say on the eve of the Battle of Borodino, “what counts in a war is not the quality of the armament, it is not the number of soldiers, it is is their motivation”. Obviously, the Ukrainians are ready to die for their country, the Russians a little less to invade what Russian propaganda described as a brother country.
Putin has become the best promoter of the EU and NATO, more attractive and essential than ever. Their members are even closing ranks…
Absolutely, I don’t know who created Putin, but Putin certainly recreated the EU, NATO, the transatlantic relationship and maybe even temporarily reunited America. Today the Americans are united behind their President to resist Russia and the Republicans would even tend to find that Biden does not do enough to help Ukraine. It is a new fact. On the European level, there are also plenty of surprises, with the Copernican revolution in Germany which is ready to rearm and the fact that traditionally neutral countries such as Finland and Sweden want to join NATO. Erdogan has chosen his side. He is not the intermediary between Russia and NATO, but is clearly on the side of the Alliance. And it provides a number of drones which are very effective in the fight against the Russians.
Can defense Europe be accelerated?
The Europeans are afraid that Russia will go further, there is indeed a consensus to make Europe a power in its own right, that is to say civil, economic, but also military. America has become European and is no longer exclusively focused on Asia. The Europeans were not ready to follow America in all its retaliatory measures against China. We are all united now. Putin has remade us into a club of democratic values.
“Putin encourages us to be more virtuous”
Western sanctions deal a severe blow to Russia, what will be the economic consequences, beyond that?
A fundamental question arises: does the return of war in Europe not call into question the very process of globalization, that is to say the growth of the economy based on the multiplication of international trade? The reduction in growth, the continuation of price inflation is a very real risk, the French must be aware of the fact that it will be necessary to continue to make sacrifices. It’s not obvious, but the alternative is worse. Russian gas is a polluting energy for us, it is also a polluted energy because we were dependent on a despotic state. We will still remain so in the short term. Renewable energies will only produce their effects much later. And that also means exchanging dependence on Moscow for a little more dependence on Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, so countries that are not particularly democratic as well…
Environmentally, could this encourage powerful Westerners to become virtuous more quickly?
Absolutely, Putin encourages us to be more virtuous in terms of energy and more realistic in terms of defense. We were neither.
How does this war reshuffle the cards beyond?
There’s a lot going on that doesn’t show up in the news because Ukraine takes center stage. It was held Tuesday in Sharm el-Sheikh, a meeting between the leaders of Egypt, Israel and the United Arab Emirates to make a common front against Iran. The rest of the world is therefore organizing itself by saying “we have to do it ourselves”, because Russia will play a less important role tomorrow. In Mali, all those who had chosen Russia over France, welcoming the Wagner commandos with open arms wonder if they made the right choices. Some of these mercenaries left Africa to join the fighting in Ukraine.
India has chosen not to choose between the United States and Russia. It needs both countries for its defense policy and its economy. The Indian Prime Minister has remained very silent on the Chinese model, but one can think that in the long term the first democracy in the world on the demographic level will find it difficult to appear passive.
You also recently mentioned in Les Échos the repercussions of the war on the fate of Taiwan…
This is a fundamental point: haven’t the Taiwanese won several years of respite from the Chinese threat because of the Russian invasion which is beginning to appear as a counter-model? In the aftermath of German reunification, the South Koreans felt that it was very expensive for West Germany to reintegrate the East Germans and did not consider it urgent to think about reunification with North Korea.
Is Putin scuttling the populism of which he was until now one of the figures?
Absolutely, one of the collateral victims is populism. In France, the candidate who seems to have suffered the most is Éric Zemmour, he was the most committed. Marine Le Pen suffered less. Its more popular electorate is less interested in foreign policy. But, beyond that, the big question is America, won’t Trump also be discredited, including in his electorate? Not so long ago he declared his admiration for Putin by praising his virility.
“We must seek an honorable compromise”
What can be the outcome of such a war?
An honorable compromise must be sought. Today, there are three possible scenarios. The first is the long war scenario, with more and more deaths and ever greater economic consequences. No one can trump the other, but no one can agree to the other’s terms.
The second is the worst-case scenario, in the face of blockages on the ground, Russia escalates by bombing key cities like kyiv and Odessa, promising them the fate of Mariupol, or going so far as to use weapons of massive destruction. It’s not the most likely, but it’s not completely ruled out.
The third scenario is that of diplomatic negotiation with a compromise that could be summarized as follows: Russia has lost Ukraine, Ukraine has lost Crimea and the eastern part of the Donbass. Ukraine is renouncing to enter NATO, but it is entering the club of values which is opening up to it, that of the European Union. Ukraine chooses an armed neutrality on the model of Switzerland. Russian troops therefore remain in Crimea and in eastern Donbass which were occupied before February 24, but are withdrawing from towns such as Mariupol. Ukraine retains access to the Black Sea. Crimea remains Russian, but Odessa remains Ukrainian.
For the time being, this compromise is unacceptable to both parties. We can think that this is the way of reason and we must encourage Russia to accept this and the mounting pressure, Western sanctions play a role, the heroic resistance of Ukraine too. But we are not there yet and Putin absolutely does not appear ready to make concessions which could call into question his power in Russia in the more or less long term.