Jan Kofroň: Russia’s nukes are ‘its only surviving card’
“Had they decided to go for some sort of partial or semi-mobilized mobilization in mid-March, they could have gotten something big out of it and won the conflict. Right now they will be fighting hard to hold on to what they were able to get and will not be able to defeat Ukraine. That’s my guess.
So, in other words, they’ve already missed the opportunity?
“Had they decided to go for some sort of partial or semi-mobilized mobilization by mid-March, they could have come up with something big and won the conflict.”
“To a large extent. It seems to me that their bet over the last few months or weeks was that they basically hoped to be able to stabilize the front until the end of the fall and then they would try to enter into negotiations with Europeans and others. They were hoping maybe to play the energy card so hard that at least some Europeans would end up deciding that maybe they don’t want to support Ukraine. However, right now , it’s much easier for European politicians to sell to their national voters that Ukraine should be supported because Ukrainians are able to get their land back, it’s much easier to say that when you have some sort of result in hand, rather than if you had absolutely nothing.
Looking at areas that were at least claimed by Russia as part of their sphere of influence – the Caucasus and Central Asia – we have seen recently that President Vladimir Putin may not be getting as much respect from the part of the leaders of some of the republics of these regions as in the past. What influence do you think Russia has lost with these partners and what threat does this potentially pose to stability in these regions?
“The war in Ukraine was a heavy blow for Russia. No doubt about it. And obviously, all of these neighboring states of Russia, including Turkey, realize that Russia is no longer as powerful as it used to be.
“Basically, Russia’s only surviving card is its nuclear weapons, as the majority of its current force is engaged in Ukraine. So some of these states may feel like they can do whatever they want now, provided they can at least manage the situation to some extent.
Basically, Russia’s only surviving card is its nuclear weapons, as the majority of its current force is committed to Ukraine.
“You can easily see that Azerbaijan is taking advantage in that sense, by attacking Armenia. There are clashes between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. That’s basically what you said – the situation there is destabilizing. Whatever we may think of Russia in the context of Europe, Russia is also, at least to some extent, or has been, a stabilizing factor in the Caucasus region, Central Asia, etc. I don’t Not saying they were stabilizing for good, but at least they were stabilizing to some degree.
“Now, with this situation totally changed, one can imagine that the local elites might decide that maybe it’s time to move on and get rid of their local enemies.”
To what extent does a potential destabilization of these regions concern you as an international relations specialist and for professionals in your community? Generally, western populations seem to support their governments’ efforts to support Ukraine, many hope that Russia will be defeated, but what larger risk would lead to a real defeat of Russia?
“That would be huge speculation, but I think some issues, especially in Central Asia, won’t be so important for Europe. This could end in something relatively tragic for the local people, for the states near the given hotspot.
“I can still imagine it would have huge implications for the Caucasus region. That said, if we’re honest, does it matter to Europeans? No, it’s not an area of vital interest to us. And even more so when it comes to the United States. Take, for example, the two-year-long war between Armenia and Azerbaijan. How important was it to us? Almost not at all.
“So, yes, there could be some destabilization in those areas, but I don’t think it will affect us deeply.”
What do you think is China’s position in all of this? It appears to have withdrawn some of its initial support for Russia since the failures in February and March. Do you think China could play to gain influence in Kazakhstan and Central Asia in general? Is Russia threatened to become a vassal state of China as we sometimes hear?
“I guess Russia’s dependence on China will indeed increase over time and there’s not much we can do about that. This is because we obviously do not want to accept a Ukrainian defeat or new expansionist tendencies from Russia towards Europe. So we are logically pushing against Russia, which means the Kremlin has to look elsewhere for economic or political allies. Where would it be? China.
“Obviously, China is not stupid enough to openly support Russia. Why should they do this?
“Obviously, China is not stupid enough to openly support Russia. Why should they do that? They of course have their own political goals and objectives and are very happy that after a relatively long time United States must again prioritize Europe. After all, for the past 10 or 15 years, the United States has been looking to Asia. Now, at least to some extent, the United States must once again turn to Europe.
“It just makes sense that China isn’t trying to change that situation very much. So I imagine they’re relatively comfortable with the current situation, as long as it doesn’t go in a totally They probably realize that, in the long term, Russia will have to be much more dependent on Chinese commercial and military support.
How worried should we be about a possible increase in China’s influence vis-à-vis Russia? In terms of strategic concerns for the West, would greater Chinese access to Russian resources be a game-changer, or anything like that?
“I don’t think so. That obviously means we can’t use Russia as a potential ally against China. That’s probably out of place for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, I don’t think it will provide a sort of extremely strong advantage to China, simply because the Russian economy is relatively backward.
“Yes, they have a lot of resources. True. But the Russians traded resources with them, at least to some extent, already before this war. Now it will probably be more pronounced, but I think the best The Russia can give China in economic terms is that it is still a relatively large market.
Given these realities, should Europe simply continue to focus on supporting Ukraine, or should it strive to achieve a common position between Russia and Ukraine?
“First of all, I think we have to make it clear that there is not just one Europe. The positions of Poland, France, the Czech Republic and Germany, for example, are, I would say, quite different. I’m not saying they’re antagonistic to each other, but they’re definitely different in some ways.
“If we can get rid of a strong Russia, that’s a big bonus for us.”
“In the case of the Eastern European EU members, it obviously makes sense to push for a Ukrainian victory, at least a defensive victory, as much as possible. If we can get rid of a strong Russia , that’s a big bonus for us. Obviously, it’s not so much an urgent problem for Germany or France.
“If I were a German or French politician, I would logically not be threatened by Russia. This is because Russia is quite far away and it is quite clear that their military power does not threaten me so much. From this point view, I would say that there are at least to some extent two slightly different parts of Europe, so I don’t think we can find a single position.
“At the end of the day, I think the European position will be a kind of compromise between these two positions. It obviously makes sense to support Ukraine to a large extent. The question is: Are we ready, for example, to increase our armaments production? is because, if this war is not to end in the next two or three months, we will have to ensure that Ukraine has enough ammunition and heavy equipment for the months coming.
Europe could possibly be faced with a situation where it will have to make difficult decisions. Ukraine, of course, wants to join the EU and has been granted candidate status. And then there is of course Georgia, once again, in a region that risks becoming destabilized. Is there some kind of red line beyond which you think Europe should not cross?
“Look, if you totally beat Russia, then it makes sense to say to Ukraine or anybody else, ‘Join NATO or join the European Union.’ This is because there would be no one on the other side of the hill to shoot you. However, if Russia is able to survive this campaign as a great power, and not as a superpower because it is not, so I think for the foreseeable future there will be no offer for Ukraine to join NATO.
“I’m also relatively hesitant about its prospects for EU membership. Not so much because of the Russians, but because of economic disparity. Therefore, I can imagine Ukraine getting some sort of special status vis -with respect to the European Union, something like a special partnership.However, I think that joining the EU, given the economic conditions of the country, is quite unlikely.
Looking at this conflict in general, is there anything you’ve noticed that hasn’t been mentioned much by the pundits or the media?
“There are a lot of striking issues. You said, for example, that the Russians performed below average compared to initial expectations. Ukraine, on the other hand, fared much better.
“However, the general lesson I take from this conflict is that war is always possible and it takes huge reserves – reserves of manpower and equipment. This is because, if the war drags on, it becomes a huge drain on manpower and equipment, and without supplies you won’t be able to survive.