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From Strategic Dilemma to Strategic Disaster (Parts 1-2, Full)


    Western officials and analysts are fond of noting that ‘Putin’s war on Ukraine’ has damaged rather than strengthened Russia’s strategic position. Rather than neutralizing the threat NATO poses, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has increased that threat, so the analysis goes. Putting aside the obvious contradiction with most of these observers’ position that neither NATO nor its expansion presented a security threat to Russia, one needs to look at the reverse side of all this. Have Western security, NATO countries’ security, American national security been enhanced by NATO expansion, the refusal to negotiate with Moscow a new security architecture for Europe, and the NATO-Russia Ukrainian War and its ongoing escalations? The fact is that the Russo-Western relationship proper as a security dilemma is now virtually a zero-sum game; when one side undertakes a measure to ensure its security vis-à-vis the other, the other responds with measures at least as deleterious to the former as the former’s were for the latter. This has proceeded now for decades, beginning with the first round of post-Cold War NATO expansion, though Russia originally was slow on the uptake in response to this challenge as a result of her temporary weakness.

In this mutual security dilemma’s most recent episode – the NATO-Russia Ukrainian war – the West’ security position also has been weakened, given the bolstering of the Russian military through increases in numbers, budget resources, battle experience, and mobilization of the Russia’s military-industrial complex. Far from being ‘isolated internationally’, Russia has been able in tandem with China to forge a new pole of power in the international system’s structure, dealing a perhaps deadly blow to Western, in particular American global hegemony. It is doubtful that enhances Western and American security, particularly as much of the alternative pole-formation is taking on an increasingly anti-American tone as opposed to one of creating a more or less neutral, simple alternative pole or center of global power. Moreover, NATO’s newest ally, prospective member, and bulwark against ‘Russian expansionism’ – Maidan Ukraine – is at high risk of being hollowed out to nearly nothing. Let us take a look at the larger Western, then the more local Ukrainian security decline being induced by the NATO-Russia Ukrainian war and the factors that generated it.

The Growing NATO Threat to Russia

         NATO and Russian officials agree now that the NATO threat to Russia has grown. As was highlighted by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in a Kommersant’s August 10th interview, the “collective West” now has deployed in direct proximity to Russia some 360,000 troops, 8,000 pieces of armor, and 650 planes and helicopters. Shoigu emphasized that since February 2022 Ukraine has received hundreds of tanks, more than 4,000 armored fighting vehicles, more than 1,100 pieces of field artillery, and tens of artillery and rocket systems—all amounting to more than $160 billion in military assistance. The US and Britain, Shoigu noted, are escalating in terms of the increasing the range and brutality of the weapons they supply, pointing to the British Storm Shadow missiles and US cluster munitions. All this “creates serious risks of further escalation of the conflict,” according to Shoigu. The Russian defense minister also called “a destabilizing factor” the entry of Sweden and Finland to NATO. Finland’s entry, he noted, nearly doubles Russia’s land border with NATO. On Finnish territory, he added, it can be expected that “additional military contingents and attack weapons of NATO will be depoloyed capable of destroying criticall important objects in significant depth in Russia’s northwestern regions.” Additional risks were posed by the “militarization of Poland” and its transformation into “the main instrument of the USA’s anti-Russian policy,” with Warsaw intent to create the most powerful army in Europe (the status Ukraine enjoyed before the war, one might add). Shoigu also noted Poland’s intent to merge with Ukraine and “in essence occupy” western Ukraine, about which I wrote many konths ago (Yurii Gavrilov, “Zapad vedet protiv Rossii oposredstvannuyu voinu,” Kommersant, 10 August 2023, p. 4). In an adjacent article, Vladislav Shurygin argued for a major Russian offensive in order to preempt the arrival of US ATACAMs and additional Haimars, which would allow mass strikes on targets on Russian territory of 30-50 missiles by September and 100 by November (Vladislav Shurygin, “Osen’ stanet reshayushchim spetsoperatsii,” Kommersant, 10 August 2023, p. 4). One can add in the F-16s that are being promised to Ukraine now and that Kiev with help from NATO has acquired 17,000 drones and 10-20,000 drone operators for use in its ths far failing counteroffensive ( Drone warfare is an additional destabilizing factor – as is any new military technology’s mass deployment, especially in war time – that deepens the security dilemma for both sides. What Shoigu did not discuss was that NATO has become a de facto participant in the war by supplying Kiev with military training, intelligence, including for targeting and hitting Russian arms and men, and tactical and strategic advice and planning.

Russia has been and will be responding to this intensifying threat environment as it mobilizes to meet the demands of winning the NATO-Russia Ukrainian war, and this cannot but lead to a deterioration of the Western security position.

The Growing Russian Threat to NATO: The Decline of Western Security since February 2022

In the most general terms, Russian military personnel strength has been increased five-fold: from 200,000 regular armed forces before the war to some 1.2 million as of today. This does not include such elements as RosGvardia, Wagner, Chechen, Ossetiyan, and other irregular state-organized military forces. With the near doubling of the Russian-NATO border with Helsinki’s accession to NATO and Sweden’s imminent accession to the Western military bloc, further mobilization is likely and could raise Russia’s military strength to over 1.5 million if not 2 million outright, with tens of thousands of troops bordering Finland and Baltic Sea Naval Fleet forces enhanced. This occurs, as the Russian military gains invaluable combat experience in advanced war-fighting under its previously never before combat-deployed integrated ‘intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance’ system. Neither the US and other NATO forces are able to gain such vast experience on the scale Russia is due to a mismatch between Ukrainian personnel and NATO techological capabilities.

Moreover, Russia is increasing massively the resources it devotes to military and intelligence development. For example, Russia has doubled its 2023 military budget to more than $100 billion – a third of all federal spending ( By contrast, Russia cut its defense budget in 2016 ( Research and production in the defense-industrial complex are expanding as a result. For example, Lobaev Arms doubled their production of sniper rifles in February 2023, and from April doubled it again ( US army colonel, Darin Gaub, says the US needs 10-15 years to revive its overall weapons production to reach necessary levels matching Russian production ( One need only to recall the NATO General Secretary’s admission several months ago that NATO countries could not keep up with Ukrainian use of artillery shells, which lags behind Russian use by a factor of ten. The lowest estimates for achieving some parity are three years, by which time Ukraine may no longer have an army to use the weapons being produced. Estimates indicate that “if the Pentagon achieves its stated goal of manufacturing 90,000 shells a month by FY 2025, it still is only half of Russia’s current production level. Other NATO members are in even worse shape” (

Also, actual, direct war-fighting is enhancing Russian weapons through trial and error experimentation in real combat conditions. This is driving adaptation and innovation in the use of existing weapons and the development of new military technologies, especially in the sphere of drones, multiple launch rocket systems, mortars with smart sights, upgraded Kalashnikovs, guided and long-range artillery, and new deployments of T-90M Proryv tanks, the Iskander operational-tactical missile systems, various multiple launch rocket systems, Ka-52 and Mi-28 helicopters, Su- 35S and Su-57 aircraft, and new Kub and Lancet drones (

More broadly in military-related technology, after February 2022 it became evident that a Russian industry for chips and semiconductors would have to be created from scratch, ending dependency on foreign manufacturers. The Russian government shifted its strategy and expanded support for the industry by cutting taxes, raising financing, and increasing subsidies. The updated plan seeks to reverse-engineer foreign technology captured on the battlefield, set up production in both Russia and China, and make every component currently being imported by 2024 ( Similar import substitution is occurring across Russian military and civilian industry. Thus, the government also plans to increase the number of Russian design centers by over 400 percent from 70 to 300 by 2030 and spend 2.7 trillion rubles to develop the electronics industry ( and

Russia’s enhanced, more powerful military is, moreover, being more forward-deployed to the detriment of NATO countries’ national security. This is a result in part of present war and in part of the response to the mobilization of NATO and incessant NATO expansion during the war, (Finland, Sweden, and continued intent to bring Ukraine into the alliance as revealed by incessant Western statements to this effect). In conventional and the most obvious terms, regular forces deployed in Ukraine are located that much closer to NATO than when they were located with in pre-2014 Russia’s borders. In October 2022, Putin and Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko agreed to form a joint group of forces in response to NATO “provocations” on Belarus’s border, Ukraine’s formation of sabotage units of Belarusian opposition émigrés, and alleged Ukrainian plans to attack Belarus. Left on paper since the early 2000s, the unit’s core will be Belarusian soldiers, with Russian troops reinforcing them. The same month 9,000 Russian troops, equipment, and MIG-31 fighter jets began deploying in Belarus on October 15 ( In addition, some 20-30,000 Russian troops have been deployed to Belarus. Moreover, some 10,000 infamous Wagner PMC fighters were transferred to Belarus after Wagner chief Yevgenii Prigozhin’s failed revolt in June. In this way, it is especially Russia-antagonistic NATO member Poland’s security matrix that has deteriorated most substantially from the war, and recently Warsaw moved several thousand additional military and police forces nearer to the Belarus border, marking another counter-escalation that damages strategic stability and thus each side’s security. NATO members Lithuania and Latvia, which have substantial borders with Belarus, also find themselves in a far less secure position. In terms of air power, in August 2022 Moscow deployed three MiG-31 heavy interceptors to Russia’s Kaliningrad region, an exclave west of Lithuania as part of what Russia’s defense Ministry as a part of ‘additional strategic deterrence.’

Russia’s territorial gains in southern Ukraine open up the possibility of forming a land bridge to Moldova’s breakaway region of Transdnistria, populated by ethnic Russian, Ukrainians, and pro-Moscow Turkic Gagauz. On the background of the war and conflicting views regarding it, tensions are growing between the Russian-dominated Transdnistria and the Gagauz autonomy, on the one hand, and Moldova. The West has responded by urging Kishinev to make itself more EU and NATO compatible, introducing programs to accomplish those objectives, and thus further polarizing an already explosive domestic political dynamic. Ukraine has also exacerbated tensions by attempting to institute a blockade against Transnistria and carrying out an attack on a Russian army military depot in Moldova. There have been occasional reports of Ukrainian forces building up near the Transdnistria-Ukrainian border with the aim of driving into the breakaway republic in order to seize the Russian arms stores. In addition, the movement to unite Moldova with Romania has been reenergized, further aggravating Russian and Gaguzian angst.

In terms of nuclear arms, the general nuclear balance and control is collapsing, which is likely to prompt escalatory steps by both sides. Indeed, the present NATO-Russia Ukrainian war is the product not just of NATO expansion but of the nuclear imbalance with Moscow expansion facilitated. In 2014, after the Maidan putsch that is the main cause of the Ukrainian war, the Obama administration approved deployment to NATO members Romania and Poland of US intermediate-range anti-ballistic missiles capable of being converted to offensive weapons and hitting Moscow in 5-7 minutes. The ‘Aegis Ashore’ air defense and anti-rocket ballistic missiles can be fitted with both offensive conventional or nuclear explosives as well as with anti-missile defense missiles. Thus, in July 2020 Commander of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Philip Davidson, stated that he supported funding to construct an Aegis Ashore system in Guam by 2026 both to defend existing U.S. military facilities on Guam and to provide offensive “long-range precision strike capability into the First Island Chain controlled by China ( An Aegis Ashore site became operational in Deveselu, Romania in 2016, and a Polish site in Redzikowo did so months after the Ukraine invasion in 2022 (

These deployments created an existential security threat for Russia on its very border and therefore a threat not unlike the one posed when the US placed nuclear missiles in Turkey to target the USSR or when in response the USSR placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. This dangerous dynamic in US-Russian, NATO-Russian relations is another driver of the present war. The issue of INF and short-range missiles was a key point (Article 6) in Putin’s December 2021 proposals on security talks at the time ( The posing of this destabilizing threat to Moscow would have been impossible without NATO expansion. The prospect of NATO expansion to Ukraine opened the possibility of such missiles being deployed in Ukraine, and this is precisely why Russians have repeatedly opposed NATO expansion, especially to Ukraine, over the years and proposed a new European security architecture to NATO and Washington both in 2008 and in December 2021 in an attempt at coercive diplomacy on the eve of the 24 February 2022 invasion. This threat remains on the background of the current war, days before which Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy threatened to abrogate Ukraine’s adherence to the Budapest Memorandum, which denuclearized Ukraine’s armed forces in 1994.

The war also is threatening to put to an end strategic nuclear arms control between the world’s two greatest nuclear powers. New START is now slated to expire in February 2026 and cannot be extended. In June 2021, Biden and Putin initiated for their two countries a “strategic stability dialogue” to lay the groundwork for further talks and a new START the agreement ( But after three meetings, the above-mentioned Putin-Biden phone calls, and start of a broader Ukrainian war, the dialogue ended and New START began its march to extinction. In August 2022, Russia refused a U.S. on-site inspection at one of its bases, as permitted under the treaty, and five months later the U.S. State Department notified Congress that it could no longer discern Russia’s compliance with the treaty ( One year after the Ukraine invasion, Moscow suspended its participation in New START, saying it would no longer provide Washington with information on its nuclear forces. At the same time, it announced Russia would put on combat duty new strategic nuclear systems and accelerate deployment of its nuclear Sarmat missiles, rolled out hypersonic missiles and new nuclear submarines, and warned that it might resume nuclear tests ( and ( The Sarmat is 35-meter missile with a range of 18,000 km and can carry at least 10 multiple targetable re-entry vehicles, each of which has a nuclear warhead and attack a different target. It can also deliver hypersonic Avangard glide vehicles. Russia also began mass producing air-based hypersonic Kinzhal systems and sea-based Zircon hypersonic missiles (

Prior to arrival in Kaliningrad the above-mentioned MiG-31s were adapted for launching Kh-47M2 Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, a short-range ballistic missile, reportedly developed from the 9K720 Iskander being heavily used in Ukraine. The Kinzhal has the top speed of either Mach 10 or 12 – 10 or 12 times the speed of sound, can carry up to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of payload, and deliver either conventional or nuclear warheads. The MiG-31 can deliver the Kinzhal from up to 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) and also supposedly can launch small payloads to low Earth orbit, making it one of just a few anti-satellite fighter jets in existence (,and%20will%20be%20placed%20on%20round-the-clock%20combat%20duty). In March 2023, Russia announced that it would be deploying short-range tactical weapons in Belarus, and by July deployment had begun and continues as you read (

But the strategic tensions and the West’s new vulnerabilities are best represented by the fact that Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are already openly entering into military cooperation and arming each other and doing so to bolster their individual and perhaps collective capacities to challenge Western interests. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization became the nucleus for this cooperation between the ‘rogue states’ and the Ukrainian war and Biden administration’s clumsy provocations around Taiwan have helped its development.

In terms of the economic balance between the two sides, the West and Russia, despite Western expectations of a collapsing Russian economy and financial system, economic losses in Russia have been limited and manageable, while consequences of is own sanctions and Russian counter-sanctions have driven many of the West’s economies towards recession. The West has shot itself in the foot by refusing oil and gas imports and destroying the North Stream pipelines, depriving its economies of significant growth potential. Western sanctions have had an especially negative effect on trade for states dependent on Russia. Thus, NATO member and Europe’s leader Germany that has fallen into recession; Russia has not.

German Industrial Decline Approaching COVID Period Level

SOURCE: Financial Times

But current economics are only part of a broader international and international trade and financial matrix formed in response to the war that does not augur well for the the West. Indeed, the global ripples from the war are reconfiguring global politics, economics, and finances.

The Sino-Russian Global Realignment

Globally, the correlation of forces is shifting and, as I have written numerous times, not in the West’s favor. This is a result of NATO expansion but more so of the ensuing NATO-Russia Ukrainian war, attendant Western sanctions and secondary sanction threats, as well as the long, unfortunate history of Western political, economic and financial hegemony and exploitation. The most damaging result of the NATO-Russia Ukrainian war for Western interests is the solidification of the Sino-Russian ‘near alliance’ and that alliance’s invigoration of efforts to build an alternative global system to the Western-dominated one. This was underscored by PRC Chairman Jinping Xi’s trip to Moscow in the spring. Putin characterized the near alliance or ‘strategic partnership’ on the summit’s eve in an article printed in all of China’s newspapers. Among much else, the Russian president noted: “Russia-China relations have reached the highest level in their history and are gaining even more strength; they surpass Cold War-time military-political alliances in their quality” ( The Moscow summit led to even greater military, political, and economic integration between the two countries, but the most important diplomatic consequence was China’s de facto support for Russia’s resistance to NATO expansion in Ukraine underscored by Xi’s and other Chinese officials’ condemnation of NATO expansion and designation of it as the cause of the Ukrainian war. Moreover, tens of documents on all forms of cooperation were signed between the two leaders in response to Western sanctions on Russia and the threat of secondary sanctions on Beijing.

Indeed, Western sanctions have pushed Russia’s military-industrial complex to sell new technology to the People’s Liberation Army, and Moscow’s reliance on rapidly developing Chinese technology accelerated nascent joint technology developmen and implementation of projects with military applications. For example, Russia and China subsequently established a joint project to design a new generation of non-nuclear submarines, which are cheaper to produce and have advantages in terms of access to shallow waters near shores ( Also, China has sent uniforms, other basic supplies, and perhaps ammunition and communications equipment. Technology development for more advanced drones is likely just over the horizon,

The war has also invigorated the Sino-Russian pursuit of an alternative global community to counter Western hegemony in all spheres. While Western sanctions have had limited impact on Russia and damaged Western economies, Western pressure on other states to join its sanctions regime further energized the South’s search for an alternative order, which married simultaneous efforts by Russia and China to build a network of anti-Western trade, finance, transport, and even semi-military international blocs. Most notably are the two powers’ stepped-up efforts to construct an alternative non-Western, if not anti-Western global structures for circumventing the American world. Expanding BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), constructing China’s Great Eurasian ‘One Belt One Road’ transport and infrastructure network (OBOR), and de-dollarization are the leading mechanisms for accomplishing this, and all have accelerated since the start of the NATO-Russia Ukrainian war.

BRICS expansion is becoming the most central element to this networking strategy. Its advantage is its global reach, whereas OBOR is confined to Great Eurasia writ large. Twenty-three countries have expressed a desire to join BRICS, and six were approved at the Johannesburg summit last month for accession in 2024: Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, and Ethiopia. In addition, BRICS decided to expand its alternative to the World Bank, the BRICS Bank (lender of $33 billion for 96 infrastructure projects worldwide as of May 2023), by adding Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bangladesh, and Uruguay. The cooptation of traditionally Western-allied Egypt and Saudi Arabia is a major coup for BRICS, China and Russia and brings Saudi oil power and OPEC closer to the east. In terms of de-dollarization, Russia, China, and India have terminated or reduced dollar use in trade with numerous countries, including in Saudi Arabian oil purchases, and between themselves since the war began.

Russia’s globalization of national security policy goes beyond the growing securitization of Shanghai Cooperation Oorganization (SCO). This will now accelerate with the NATO-Russia Ukrainian war and expansion of BRICS, both of which in turn should increase the number of countries seeking membership in SCO. Also in Asia, NATO’s decisions to form AUKUS and open a NATO office in Japan have prompted Moscow to upgrade strategic cooperation with North Korea, and the latter has reciprocated. There are suspicions Moscow sold either the technology for or an actual Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile to Pyongyang, given its sudden production of the Hwasong-18 ICBM, which can hit the mainland U.S. ( The Biden administration imposed sanctions in August on three companies it accused of being tied to arms deals between North Korea and Russia and claimed Kim Jong Il’s purported impending trip to Moscow will include discussions on arms sales to Moscow ( As of writing, Kim was in Vladivostok meeting with Putin.

Russia is also now reaching into America’s Western Hemisphere, further complicating America’s geostrategic position. In February 2022 Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov signed a pact to increase military cooperation with Venezuela. Moscow then deployed military equipment, troops, and mercenaries to Venezuela, and provided technical assistance. Russian has also supported Venezuelan forces sent to the state of Apure, bordering Colombia. Moscow recently announced that a Russian snipers team, along with teams from China, Iran, and seven other countries, would participate in a military sniper competition in Venezuela ( and,  p. 1).

In June 2022 Nicaragua issued a re-authorization for limited numbers of Russian troops and equipment to enter the country for training missions and other forms of support (,  p. 1). It expanded a previous authorization and allowed 180-230 Russian troops as well as Russian aircraft, ships and weapons to operate on Nicaraguan soil from July to December 2022 and provide support for counter-narcotic, military communication, training, and other military measures (,  pp. 2-3).

Russia has been making diplomatic gains as well in Latin America among countries typically not so kindly disposed towards Russia such as Cuba, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Venezuela have been. Putting aside Brazil’s membership in BRICS and BRICS’s abstention from any criticism of Russian actions in Ukraine, the governments of Brazil as well as Argentina lent Putin political support and visited Moscow as Russian troops were preparing to invade Ukraine in winter 2021-2022 in the event taht Putin’s proposals to the West were answered unsatisfactorily as they ultimately were. Argentine President Alberto Fernandez offered his government as the “gateway” for Russia’s entry into Latin America. Mexico’s Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) has characterized as “immoral” NATO’s military assistance to Ukraine in the war with Russia (,  pp. 4-5). Russia’s advance in the region is perhaps best represented by the fact that, as one observer notes, “virtually no government in the region has provided military support to Ukrainians resisting Russia’s invasion of their country” (,  p. 5). It appears that Russia is more popular now among Latin American governments than is the U.S., and this strategic defeat has been consolidated by Russian diplomatic and military competition with Washington intensified since the NATO-Russia Ukrainian war’s outset.

This strategic defeat can persist, deepen, and is expaning beyond Latin America. Nearly all the countries in Latin America are in crisis, and should more of them shift towards the position of moderate ‘dissent’ taken by Brazil and Argentina or move to the position of radical dissent held by countries like Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, Russia (and China) will be in an even closer to being able to use countries in the region for purposes of asymmetric escalation as NATO and its allies escalate in and around Ukraine (,  p. 7). The same appears to be true in Africa and Asia, with numerous countries seeking cooperation with both Russia and China, despite the latter countries’ tensions with the West, which is demanding implementation of draconian sanctions. Among the most powerful Third World states support for Russia and even more so China, became clear at the September G-20 meeting, where criticism of Russia’s actions in Ukraine were not criticized in the final resolution, despite the G-20 Western states’ demand that a condemnation be included in the document (

Strategic setbacks are visible in terms of the West’s energy security. As already noted, Moscow and beijing have succeeded in drawing oil giant Saudi Arabia away from the West and into the ‘eastern’ orbit. Russia along with friendly Algeria control natural gas prices. Russia has kidnapped Saudi Arabia and OPEC from the Western trade system. This allows Moscow to manipulate and drive up energy prices and inflation in the West, cultivating economic hardship, crises, and decline. At the same time, the West is burdened with Russian counter-sanctions, rising oil and natural gas prices, and support of almost all of Ukraine’s economy, state, society, and military during a terrible war of attrition.

Moreover, NATO’s chief ally against Russia is experiencing a time of troubles approaching the great Ruin of the second half of the 17th century during which the Cossacks suffered from Polish and Russian control and civil war.

Ukraine’s Ruin II

The great Cossack ‘Ruin’, which like Cossack legacies themselves have been appropriated by modern day Ukrainians by dint of its occurrence on Cossack lands, was a period of civil war, anarchy, chaos, and devastation nurtured by foreign powers’ interventions. In many ways, it resembles Russia’s ‘Smuta’ or Time of Troubles of seven-eight decades earlier, which combined chaos, internal conflict, and foreign, mostly Polish intervention. The 17th century great ‘Ukrainian’ or Cossack ‘Ruin’, which lasted from the death of Cossack Hetman Bodgan Khmelnitskiy in 1657 until the rise of the next great hetman, Ivan Mazepa, in 1687. Khmelnitskiy led the dominant Zaporozhian Cossacks to sign the 1654 Pereslavl Treaty, which brought many Cossack lands under Russian sovereignty. But chaos and destruction were sewn through political machinations, violent raiding, and full-scale attacks by Poland-Lithuania, the Ottoman Empire, and the Crimean Tatar Khanate, occasionally backed by Sweden in order to contest Russian and Cossack sovereignty. In particular, the Polish-Russian War (1654-1667) sparked by the Pereslavl treaty generated much of the conflict and dislocation of the Ruin. Other wars raged across what is today Ukraine: the Ukrainian-Polish war (1666-1671), the Ukrainian-Moscow war (1665-1676), and the Polish-Turkish war (1672-1676), with various Cossack groups joining and changing sides often enough.

At the same time, Russia’s protection and presence, combined with the pressure from other ‘Others’, especially the hated Poles, formed a contrast against which a Cossack identity began to be consolidated across a broader swathe of the population on both sides of the Dniepr. The Russian attempt to subdue and organize the Cossacks, who had declared their loyalty to the tsar, violated Cossack traditions of decentralization, anarchic freedom, lack of rule of law, and a resulting internecine conflict and violence. Discontent with and internal disagreements over Russian rule fueled further conflict between those who supported and opposed it. Additional internal tensions were driven by conflict between non-Catholic nobles and the Cossack officer class or ‘starshina’ over new, ownerless lands seized from Poland and comprising some 50 percent of Cossack territory. The fighting over these lands divided the poor peasantry from rich, landed Cossacks.

But most unsettling was the fighting between Russia and Poland over Cossack territories, with Poland struggling to control the ‘right’ or western bank Ukraine and Russia usually the ‘left’ or eastern bank. This forced Cossack hetmen, starshina, and ‘society’ to split between these and other outside forces, leading to internal power struggles, constantly shifting allegiances that pitted Cossack against Cossack as well as Cossacks against outsiders. The Ruin’s consequences included: the division of Cossack (Ukrainian) lands by Russia, Poland-Lithuania, and Ottoman Turkey, Polish-controlled right bank Ukraine’s loss of more than half of its inhabitants many of them to the Russian controlled left bank, and the mass devastation of Cossack settlements. It was not until the end of Catherine the Great’s reign, when the left bank Cossacks lost the limited autonomy they had enjoyed under the Pereslavl Treaty, that Cossackdom’s entire left bank and much of the right bank lands were stabilized and integrated into the Russian Imperial system.

Ultimately, the great 17th century ‘Ruin’ could very well pale in significance to the ongoing time of troubles Ukraine is beginning to experience under Russia’s SVO. Ukraine, of course, is not the first country in this part of the world to fall victim to the seemingly eternal contest between Russia and the West. When statesmanship fails one or both sides of the East-West civilizational divide, the small countries situated between them suffer calamity. This is the case with today’s expansion of NATO throughout Eastern Europe to Russia’s borders and the Russian military response. No country in the post-Cold war era has experienced anything near the catastrophe now unfolding in Ukraine’s Ruin II.  

In terms of the human toll being exacted by the escalating war, we can assume a minimum 120,000 dead and 220,000 wounded on the Ukrainian side. This estimate is perhaps low. Most Western estimates suggest far too few Ukrainian losses and far too many Russian casualties. Western and Ukrainian estimates of Ukrainian losses are so absurdly low that they are not even worth citing. On the other hand, one source extrapolating to Ukraine nationwide from satellite images of cemeteries and the increase in their sizes in seven regions estimates 350,000-400,000 Ukrainian war dead. It adds that since dead-to-injured ratios in war are usually 1-5 or 1-7, a reasonable estimate of total casualties on the Ukrainian side is approximately 2 million. However, these conclusions use rather rough instruments. For example, the population in Ukraine’s Western regions has been drawn upon far less in manning the army, so extrapolating the number of new graves in the east to cemeteries in the west is misguided. Taking this estimate down to 200,000 killed (rather than 350,000-400,000) and assuming a 1-3 killed-wounded ratio sometimes deemed appropriate, we could make an estimate of Ukrainian forces’ casualties at 800,000 ( This is the very upper limit of what I estimate to be a possible range for the number of Ukrainians killed and wounded (if we exclude Ukrainian casualties among civilians on both sides and among those fighting on the separatist side). However, if one reads the Russian Defense Ministry’s estimates of Ukrainian casualties each day, it will be noticed that they amount to an approximate average of perhaps 600 per day until this summer’s counteroffensive or the first 15 months of the war. This would mean 18,000 casualties per month for the 15 months prior to this summer’s counteroffensive, giving a total from February 2022 through May 2023 of 270,000 killed and wounded Ukrainian soldiers. The figures for this summer’s counteroffensive were some 20 percent higher, with the Russian Defense Ministry estimating some 66,000 for June through August. This means a total of approximately 336,000 Ukrainian military killed and wounded, according to the official Russian sources. However, it would be reasonable to suspect that Russian figures are ‘optimistic’, overstated, and therefore high. Therefore, I offer a rough estimate of some 300,000 casualties among Ukrainian forces overall between 24 February 2022 and 31 August 2023. On the other hand, even Ukrainian sources are reporting astounding losses, suggesting a darker picture than that I just painted. For example, the Ukrainian press is reporting that perhaps 80-90 percent of the ground forces recruited in autumn 2022 have already been lost ( In short, we could very well have already half a million Ukrainian military casualties.

Plus, there have been, very roughly speaking, some 50,000 civilian casualties in Ukraine. The UN’s OHCHR has recorded from 24 February 2022 to 27 August 2023, 26,717 civilian casualties in the country: 9,511 killed and 17,206 injured. Nearly one quarter of these occurred in Russian-held territory. The UN OHCHR notes, however, that the actual number of casualties is likely much higher ( This brings an overall estimate of Ukrainian casualties to some 350,000 as of September 1, 2023. I do not exclude the possibility that they could be substantially higher, but if the Russians are reporting figures along the lines I have provided here, then it seems unlikely they would be 50 percent or 100 percent higher, but who really knows. I do not think it likely that Ukraine’s casualty figures for the period discussed here can be significantly lower than this. With Ukrainian losses accelerating in September so far, we can project that if all else remains approximately as things are going, Ukraine will reach 1 million casualties by late autumn of 2024. My estimates, which will seem high to those who relay on Ukrainian and Western sources, are further buttressed by reports in August — at what is likely to be near the tail end of the counteroffensive — that Kiev is constructing a new military cemetery that will hold an additional 400,000 war dead ( The size of cemeteries already in place are enormous and growing ( Russian losses are likely to be approximately one-third of Ukrainian losses.

The war’s casualties are being driven by an escalation cycle supported both by NATO and Moscow. Every escalation by one side routinely meets an escalation from the other, damaging not just both sides’ human and material resources prompting more escalation greater destruction of Ukrainians, their land, and all manner of infrastructure. For example, when the US decided to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, which began sing them, making Russia ‘worse off’, Russia announced it would use and has begun using cluster munitions, rendering Ukrainian forces worse off. Casualties on this scale will leave a large wound on Ukrainian life, and one need only compare the scar on the U.S. left by the Vietnam war, which saw relatively fewer casualties — some 210,000 — spread out over a fifteen-year not a year and one-half period.

Ukraine’s population is suffering from another attrition—that of exodus resulting from those fleeing the war, military mobilization, economic collapse, and a corrupt predatory state. The UN High Commission on Refugees estimates that as of 28 August 2023 since the beginning of Russia’s ‘special military operation’ (SVO) in February 2022, 6,203,030 Ukrainians have fled Ukraine ( This figure means Ukraine’s population has fallen from 42 to 36 million since the SVO began. But this holds only for Ukraine’s population on the territory Kiev controlled in 1991-2014. The loss of Crimea and most of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in 2014 and much of Zaporozhe and Kherson Oblasts due to Russian annexation or occupation since the SVO began reduces Ukraine’s population by another 4 million, meaning it now stands at some 32 million. Others estimate the population within Ukraine’s 1991 borders as of January 1, 2023 at only 37.6 million people, 32.6 million within the 2022 borders (minus Crimea), and 31.1 million in the territories currently controlled by the Ukrainian government (minus Crimea and most of Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporozhe, and Kherson Oblasts) (, see also Adding in the war dead and the population under Kiev’s control, the country’s population falls to under 31 million.

To this picture must be added the socioeconomic disturbance caused by an internal refugee population (people displaced from their homes) of 5,088,000 caused by the war as of 23 May 2023 ( Moreover, approximately 17.6 million people in Ukraine require urgent humanitarian support, including the 5 million internally displaced, according to the UNHCR (

Thus, if we set the population currently under Kiev’s control at 31 million, then Ukraine has lost more than 20 percent of its population since the war began, and at present more than 15 percent of the remaining population consists of internally displaced refugees and more than half the population is in need of urgent humanitarian support. The demographic picture is further darkened by declining birth rates caused by the war’s dislocations. Although Ukrainian birth rates have been declining ever since the Maidan, by 7 percent annually since 2013, only 96,755 children were born in Ukraine in the first six months of 2023, representing a 28% decline from the corresponding period of 2021 (135,079 children) and even less than in the corresponding period last year ( If the war continues through 2024, it is possible that all these losses – already constituting a catastrophe – could be doubled, especially if Russian forces begin to advance east more rapidly, threatening other regions such as Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernigov, and Mikolaev more directly.

In non-human physical terms, Ukraine’s losses are equally staggering. Regarding territory, Ukraine has lost 11% of its territory since the start of the war, an area equivalent to Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Connecticut, according to the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School. Including Crimea, Ukraine has lost about 17.5% of Ukraine, an area of about 41,000 square miles (106,000 square km) since the Maidan revolt ( Furthermore, these regions – which include Ukraine’s coal industry, much of its coastline, ports, and tourist venues – provided an inordinate share of Ukraine’s GDP. What is more, villages and towns in some parts of Ukrainian controlled territory have been bombed into moonscapes. Thus, total destruction of infrastructure was estimated by the UN at 100 billion ( Although this is likely an overestimate, even if the figure is half that then by end of summer 2023 Ukraine will have suffered $800 billion in infrastructure damage and destruction. Another way to assess the scale of the general infrastructural damage to the country is the measure of reconstruction assistance. The World Bank estimated the extent of damage as of March 2023 or for the first year of the war and concluded that Kiev needed then $411 billion in recovery assistance if the war ended then ( Since then the war has extended another six months, so we can make a rough estimate of $615 billion of aid that would be needed if the war ended by October. By March 2024 the sum will be approximately $1 trillion. That raises the question of how much of that will ever arrive and how soon, raising the additional question of a grave humanitarian disaster and further emigration from the country.

The country’s GDP in current US dollars declined between 2021 and 2022 by some 15 percent – from $198 to $161 billion ( Thus, Ukraine’s GDP in 2015 dollars contracted by 30% in 2022 ( However, the IMF claims it is set to grow by 1% to 3% this year ( Nevertheless, one source concludes that Ukraine will need $50 billion in financial support in 2024 ( Even if the GDP were grow 3 percent to reach $166 billion, with a projected 2024 budget deficit of $40 billion — which is also the amount spent on the military this year and will have to covered in good part by Western tax dollars and Euros — its budget-to-GDP ratio is around a catastrophic 25 percent. All this while Ukraine is benefitting from a payment holiday until mid-June on $20 billion in debt agreed upon with international bondholders such as MFS Investment Management, BlackRock, and Fidelity Investments (

In emotional, psychological, and sociological terms, the catastrophe could be even far more unsettling. Post-war stress syndrome and trauma will tax society intensely. Michael Vlahos cites a figure of 50,000 Ukrainians have lost one or more limbs, close to the 67,000 for Germany for all of World War I ( Olha Rudneva, the head of the Superhumans Center for rehabilitating Ukrainian military amputees, estimates that 20,000 Ukrainians have experienced at least one amputation since the war began. But before the war, Ukraine had only five people with formal rehabilitation training for people with arm or hand amputations (

Finally, whatever ‘democracy’ survived in Ukraine before the war has now completely disappeared. Only those political parties approved by Zelenskiy are allowed to function, elections are cancelled ‘until the war ends’, all media is heavily censored, and the local affiliate of the Russian Orthodox Church is being repressed, its churches and monasteries have been taken over by the state and its some of its orphan priests arrested and facing trial, including the church’s metropolitan. Zelenskiy is abandoning his own political party, which is replete with corruption and public scandals, and has announced he would build a new party and elite based on those who served in the war. This, along with the radicalization war tends to bring, will strengthen the already too strong ultra-nationalist and neofascist element in Ukrainian politics. Societal divisions will be aggravated by the corrupt Ukrainian elite’s shameful privileges and profiting during the war. The ‘rich and famous’ are seen on social media partying on the world’s beaches while less connected young men are brutally kidnapped from the streets by recruiter-mobilizers to be sent to the front. The war has expanded corruption exponentially, as the Zelenskiy regime allows criminals and corrupt officials to accumulate massive illegal war and other profits in order to grease the wheels of the war machine and state-societal functions. The further corrupting, criminalization, and fascization of Europe’s most corrupt and neofascist country will make a revival of even a weak democracy almost impossible.


Six weeks before the present NATO-Russia Ukrainian war began, I proposed steps that Putin might take as part of an intensified coercive diplomacy campaign ( Had they been employed and the West accepted serious negotiations on Europe’s security architecture and a neutral Ukraine within it as a neutral buffer zone between Russia and NATO, things might have been different. The war might have been avoided, and any Russian pre-war measures actually taken could have been rolled back after agreements were concluded and began to be implemented. Those actually taken since the war began and those carried out as part of the war by both sides to the conflict are unlikely to be rolled back any time soon—certainly not in this decade. Has US and NATO security been enhanced by refusing to negotiate with Moscow before Putin’s invasion or by preventing Kiev from pursuing the Istanbul process begun a month after the invasion? The answer, as I have tried to demonstrate above, clearly is ‘no’.

Now we are witnessing a deteriorating, tightening security dilemma in which both sides’ security is declining. The security dilemma is devolving into a scorpions’ embrace, in which both parties will be at maximal forward posture and correspondingly more vulnerable than at any time since the Cold War’s end. The only way to release this terrible embrace rapidly is becoming nothing else than a full-scale, direct NATO-Russian war in Ukraine and beyond.










About the Author 

Gordon M. Hahn, Ph.D., is an Expert Analyst at Corr Analytics, Websites: Russian and Eurasian Politics, and

Dr. Hahn is the author of the new book: Russian Tselostnost’: Wholeness in Russian Thought, Culture, History, and Politics (Europe Books, 2022). He has authored five previous, well-received books: The Russian Dilemma: Security, Vigilance, and Relations with the West from Ivan III to Putin (McFarland, 2021); Ukraine Over the Edge: Russia, the West, and the “New Cold War” (McFarland, 2018); The Caucasus Emirate Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland, 2014), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), and Russia’s Revolution From Above: Reform, Transition and Revolution in the Fall of the Soviet Communist Regime, 1985-2000 (Transaction, 2002). He also has published numerous think tank reports, academic articles, analyses, and commentaries in both English and Russian language media.

Dr. Hahn taught at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, and San Francisco State Universities and as a Fulbright Scholar at Saint Petersburg State University, Russia and was a senior associate and visiting fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kennan Institute in Washington DC, the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and the Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group.

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