INTERVIEW: 'Ukraine war is a watershed moment for global security,' says Washington Institute's Rob Satloff

Sahar Zahran,Thursday 31 Mar 2022

As Russia’s war on Ukraine enters its second month, there is still much to be done by Western powers with regard to imposing a ban on Russian energy exports, Rob Satloff, the executive director of the Washington Institute for Middle East Policy, said in an interview with Al-Ahram daily newspaper.

Robert Satloff
Robert Satloff . AP

The Western response to the “illegal” and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine with multi-pronged efforts have led to Moscow’s isolation, notably in what Satloff described as “the demonstration of global unity against Russia” at the United Nations General Assembly. This has been manifested in the massive sanctions that have effectively cut off a large part of the Russian economy from the world, as well as the dramatic commitments to bolster NATO spending, preparedness, and posture, particularly in countries bordering Russia and Ukraine, Satloff said.

However, imposing a ban on Russian energy exports, Satloff argued, would be “a very moving response to Russia's outrageous attack on its peaceful, democratic neighbour.”

While he maintained that it is still too early to determine the repercussions of this conflict, he described it is a watershed moment for the global security system, akin perhaps to 9/11 20 years ago.

This war “is a transformative event whose repercussions will be felt for decades.”

NATO’s mobilisation is one facet of these transformations. While careful not to turn the conflict into a war with Russia, NATO has not limited itself to economic sanctions as a way to counter the Russian aggression, he said. 

There has now been direct support to, and strengthening of, NATO forces in Poland, Romania and the Baltic states, “as well as potential expansion of partnerships and perhaps even the membership of hitherto neutral states like Sweden and Finland are all part of the price Russia is paying for its illegitimacy,” Satloff said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin may have thought that a large-scale invasion of Ukraine was a way to bring Ukraine back under Moscow's control and restore a Soviet-style sphere of influence, but he appears to have miscalculated terribly, Satloff stated.

“The result is likely to destroy the Russian economy, isolate Moscow in the international community, and harm both the prestige and capabilities of the Russian army.”

Meanwhile, China is almost certain to view Ukraine's resilience and NATO unity with concern. “The remarkable courage of the Ukrainians would surely give China pause over their aggressive plans for Taiwan.”

There are many concerns regarding a prolonged war, including that it could possibly expand to the immediate vicinity of the current conflict in Eastern Europe and possibly other arenas, especially if the Russians choose to escalate the situation, Satloff said.

It is essential that America and the West continue their support for Ukraine, he insisted.

“I've seen a number of particularly disturbing war games in which Russia resorts to tactical nuclear weapons, which would drastically change the situation and open up Pandora's horrible box to spread around the world.”

On Iran

The Ukraine war has interrupted, yet influenced, talks between Iran – a Russian ally – and Western powers over a new nuclear deal.

Satloff believes such an agreement may be “less beneficial” than the original deal in 2015, as it cedes what he describes as “more advantages” to Iran and concessions from the US.  

“By holding out for the past year, Iran has forced Washington to drop its demands for a ‘longer and stronger’ agreement and shift the balance of influence so that we needed the deal more than Iran.”

Iran’s wins appear to be reflected in transformations in the Syrian conflict, as Tehran is a major ally of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Assad’s first visit outside Syria since the 2011 civil war, which took place in the United Arab Emirates last week, is a manifestation of the prevailing wisdom in Syria that the conflict is over and it is time to start returning Assad to the Arab fold, said Satloff. This is happening even though “Assad still controls only part of his territory and does so only with Russian and Iranian support.”

The “idea that embracing him will reduce Iranian influence runs counter to the past 40 years of history.”

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