analysis | Ukraine’s allies are making a mistake in dealing with Putin.


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If Israel has a chief global strategist, it is Yehezkel Dror. As a professor at the Hebrew University, he has educated Israeli leaders for generations. Six prime ministers consulted with him on war and peace issues. “Crazy States: A Counterconventional Strategic Problem”, published in 1971 while he worked for Rand Corp., awakened the world to the imminent threat posed by the fanatical Third World regime.

Israelis sometimes refer to Dror as Israel’s Henry Kissinger. Both fled the Nazis as boys. They speak German, have a PhD from Harvard, and share a very advanced and often controversial brand of foreign policy realism.

Dror, now in his mid-nineties, was largely missing out on realism in Western plans for the Ukraine war. In a recent interview via email, he discussed what he considers to be Ukraine’s mistake in dealing with Russia and why he thinks the US and its allies are “paranoid” in their approach to war. Dialogue has been edited for length and clarity.

Zev Chafets: Western governments seem increasingly convinced that Ukraine has a fighting chance to win this war. Do you see it that way?

Yehezkel Dror: No. I think President Zelenskiy is facing Melian Dilemma.

Dror: In short, the strong win and the weak lose. 2,500 years ago, the Athenian generals sent an ultimatum to the leaders of Melos. ‘Face the facts and consider how you can save the city from destruction,’ he said. ‘The strong do what they can, and the weak accept what they have to accept.’ The Melians felt supported by a high moral base and strong ally, Sparta. So they refused to give in.

Shapetz: As far as I can remember, that decision ended in the annihilation of Melos. Assuming I don’t think it will happen in Ukraine?

Dror: No. Like most wars, this war will end without a winner. Both sides will lose. The question is which one loses more. Ukraine is fighting bravely. President Volodymyr Zelensky became a media hero. Western countries are blaming Russia and providing arms and sanctions to Kyiv. But meanwhile, Ukraine is partially devastated and declining in population. Russia pays a very high price, both in blood and material, while remaining safe.

Chafets: The United States and Europe see the Ukraine War as a historical inflection point where the maintenance of a rules-based international order after World War II is in jeopardy.

Dror: There is no “rule-based order”, only a partially coordinated international system. Anything that doesn’t really exist cannot be decomposed. And while it’s not popular to say that, Ukraine is not without blemish in this conflict. Zelensky did not understand the desire to join NATO, which Vladimir Putin saw as a serious strategic threat to Russia. In April 2019, Zelensky said he saw Putin as an “enemy.” In December 2021, he called for preemptive action against Russia. No one should have been surprised by the Russian invasion in February. Statecraft amateur Zelenskiy was surprised and strategically blind.

Shapetz: US intelligence predicted the invasion and said so…

Dror: Yes, but it is difficult for the West to grasp Russia’s strategic sensitivity to what is happening in Ukraine. Russia was invaded twice from the west by Napoleon and Germany during World War II. The German invasion was not Clausewitz’s “political war” but a war of total devastation, extermination and enslavement, which cost Russia very high human and material costs. It is a major component of today’s Russian collective memory and military doctrine. We don’t want western forces or western allies on the border.

Chafets: The US and its allies, real or imaginary, do not appear to be shaken by Russian fears. They constitute war as a battle between good and evil, democracy versus authoritarian dictatorship, progress versus reaction.

Dror: This is a delusion. There is no such thing as ‘the right side of history’ that cannot be avoided. Not so long ago, dynasty rule was seen as the right side of history. And today, this idea does not hold universally. For example, China, which is highly relevant in the world, does not share it. It has a very long political tradition and a sense of superiority that can ridicule such dominant Western notions.

Sharpe: Do you think Putin is smiling too?

Dror: No. Putin will be stressed. Emotional slurs, such as branding him as a war criminal and demanding regime change in Moscow, are morally and ethically correct and honorable, but also a form of strategic madness. Russia is, and will always be, an indispensable and key partner on the world stage. Attempting to make it a patriarchal state and making Putin’s persona non-grata is an approach that can become suicidal when stress escalates.

Shapetz: So how do you propose the surrender of Ukraine and its Western allies to Russia’s demands?

Dror: First, I propose to stop promoting the misery of Ukraine by adding weapons, especially offensive ones, to fire. A war is very likely to end with neither side being completely satisfied. But the weaker Ukraine will be less satisfied.

Chafets: It seems far from a settlement. Can I be charged?

Dror: They need help. I propose that the United States, China, the European Union and India meet in a neutral place such as Singapore. If they can reach an agreement, they can put pressure on Putin and Zelensky.

Chafets: Does Israel have a place in this diplomacy?

Dror: Israel is on the American side. It relies on the US and must accept the US “proposition”. But they are also interested in not destroying relations with Russia. It is a pragmatic policy implemented by the Prime Minister. [Naftali] Foreign Secretary Bennett [Yair] Lapid is currently following you.

More from other authors in Bloomberg Opinion:

Germans waging open letter war over Ukraine and Russia: Andreas Kluth

Russia is right: the US is waging a proxy war in Ukraine: author

A nuclear attack may not trigger the reaction you expect: Tyler Cowen

This column does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP or its owners.

Zev Chafets is a journalist and author of 14 books. He was Chief Adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and founding editor of Jerusalem Report Magazine.

More stories like this can be found here. bloomberg.com/opinion

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