The War in Ukraine: Cascading Consequences

By Robbin Laird

Recently, Henry Kissinger emphasized that the war in Ukraine needed to be stopped and negotiations put in place to manage the war and its broader consequences.

“I have repeatedly expressed my support for the allied military effort to thwart Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” Kissinger wrote. “But the time is approaching to build on the strategic changes which have already been accomplished and to integrate them into a new structure towards achieving peace through negotiation.”

 Kissinger suggested in May that the two sides agree to a “dividing line” that returns to “the status quo ante,” essentially asking Ukraine to cede territory including the Crimean peninsula and parts of the Donetsk region in return for peace. 

In his article over the weekend, the 99-year-old diplomat suggests control of those territories be decided after a ceasefire agreement.

If the pre-war dividing line between Ukraine and Russia cannot be achieved by combat or by negotiation, recourse to the principle of self-determination could be explored,” he wrote. “Internationally supervised referendums concerning self-determination could be applied to particularly divisive territories which have changed hands repeatedly over the centuries.”

And he argues that Ukraine has established itself during the war as a “major state in Central Europe” with “one of the largest and most effective land armies in Europe,” paving the way for its entry into western security alliances. 

“A peace process should link Ukraine to Nato, however expressed. The alternative of neutrality is no longer meaningful, especially after Finland and Sweden joined Nato,” Kissinger writes.

One reason one might seriously consider this is rather simply put: the global consequences of the war have already made this a de facto global confrontation with global consequences and rather than heralding in the return of the liberal democratic order it is accelerating something quite different.

To discuss this situation, I talked recently with Pippa Malmgren, a well-known and well-regarded global strategist (see bio at the end of the article).

As suggested in my discussion with Dr. Bracken, one needs to get beyond the week-to-week focus of Western decision-making focused on which weapons to provide Ukraine and look at the broader picture, one that is not reduced to the decision-making scope of either the President of Ukraine or the President of Russia.

Malmgren made a key point in starting the conversation. “There is a focus for many on the war in Ukraine as a land war or a defense or grab for land. That may good as it goes, but such a characterization is far too limited.

“This is a superpower conflict which is far bigger and genuinely global. To start with the authoritarian powers are aligning, China, Russia and Iran and are moving beyond the notion that war is about the projection of hard power, or lethal force. They have moved to a position where weaponization of anything is an appropriate instrument of war, such as oil, food and certainly information. The current conflict seen from the standpoint of weaponization is global.

“It also the case that the authoritarian powers have been engaged globally.

“This has accelerated in the context of the war in Ukraine. There is now competition in and for the High North and the Arctic. The Wagner group in Africa now controls the Libyan oil fields and stands behind the conflicts across the Sahel. Russia and China together have established deep supply lines to raw materials from gold to food across Africa. Signs of this include that the Sudanese recently gave Russia a military capable port on the Red Sea. Meanwhile, the U.S. and China are positioning in the Pacific and jockeying for influence. China is aligning with the Solomon Islands, while the U.S. is significantly ramping up its presence in Guam and more deeply aligning with Australia via AUKUS.

“The superpowers have also been at war in a highly invisible but increasingly critical domain – space. For example, the Russians cut the internet cable in Svalbard, Norway. This is the cable that virtually every high-altitude satellite relies upon to connect to earth, including the International Space Station.  This is how the Russians, and the Chinese think about warfare. It is not simply about tanks coming across the battlefield.”

Notably, this action occurred on 6 January 2022 when the press and politicians were focused on the January 6th anniversary. Malmgren asks, “Was this a coincidence?”

According to an article by Atle Staalesen: “The cable is operated by Space Norway, and also serves the SvalSat park of more than 100 satellite antennas. SvalSat is today the world’s largest commercial ground station with worldwide customers. Its location at 78°N, halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, gives the station a unique position to provide all-orbit support to operators of polar-orbiting satellites.

“According to Space Norway, the cable disruption was located somewhere between 130 to 230 km from Longyearbyen in an area where the ocean depths drop steeply to about 2700 meters.”

Malmgren summed up her perspective as follows: “if you frame this war as a ground war that’s restricted to Ukraine, you’re going to have a totally different of solutions and approach to strategy than if you frame it as a global conflict, using unconventional warfare and involving sub-threshold events that may or may not make it into the press.”

“We are in the midst of transformation of what we call the global order, and the war in Ukraine is about that rather than simply being about the next stage of the European order.

“We have no agreement globally about the rules of global order.

“In fact, we in the West have been undermining our own rules. When we decided to confiscate Russia’s foreign exchange reserves due to the conflict, we sent a message. We meant to say “Stop behaving this way.” The message received by the rest of the world, including China was “We will use your own savings as a weapon.” Their conclusion is simple. Nobody is going to trust placing their national savings in the U.S. anymore.

“We weaponized the financial system that underpins the global order. We also did this when we kicked Russia out of SWIFT after the Skirpal poisonings. These decisions may have been tactically correct, but they undermined the belief in the global order. The Russians and Chinese see that anything can be weaponized in the struggle for establishing the next global order.”

Malmgren also argued that even in the conduct of military operations themselves, new technologies such as drones are leading to a different way of conducting war. And when you are not concerned with collateral damage, clearly unrestricted use of drones especially in conjunction with artificial intelligence are now necessary tools in warfare. Drones decisively turned the situation around in the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan.

She argued that understanding the nature of the global conflict it was necessary to expand the bandwidth of defense establishments in the West. Scoping the question of defense simply to which weapon system to buy will not provide for deterrence in the new global situation. The debate needs to be expanded, new thinking introduced, and new approaches needed. As she commented: “we need to draw upon the work and thinking of civilians who get the radical change involved in this new warfare.”

Many issues are on the table right now even with the war in Ukraine not concluded.

What forces remain in Ukraine? In any Russian area of Ukraine, they control? In Belarus? In Western Russia? In the frontline states of NATO? Who is capable of even running a negotiation? Is Ukraine part of NATO or the EU? What is the working relationship with Russia to reach answers to these questions?

Malmgren added: “Who is going to pay to rebuild Ukraine? This is really important.

“And there is the very uncomfortable question of who is going to reach out to Russia and bring it into the world economy when this leadership is not there anymore. Why? Because if we keep treating them as a pariah, and we maintain the sanctions after Putin is gone, then we are just asking for more of the same. We need to create a world where the talented, gifted, aspirational Russians and Ukrainians can’t do what they’re meant to do with their life’s work. If they can’t benefit from or contribute to the world economy, we’ll find ourselves back at war with them in the future. You can’t “cancel” Russia and you can’t “cancel” China. These billions of people need to become part of a productive world economy because that’s the best way to secure lasting peace.”

“How many people in the U.S. or European governments are thinking about these things?

“They’re not. In fact, just suggesting this makes me sound like an appeaser and pacifist. It’s hard to even suggest it as long as the shelling continues.

“But we know from history that the whole business of retribution never ever works. That’s why we did the Marshall Plan. That’s why we’re going need something similar now, because the Russian economy and the Ukrainian economy alike are going to need help.

“If the West doesn’t step up, China will claim it all. The border may not move but the line of control will. Then China will be bigger and more powerful.”

The impact of the war in Ukraine is significant way beyond the conflict for control of territory. It is about the emergence into a new historical era in which narrowly constricted concepts of conflict are no longer enough to understand the nature of the confrontation with the authoritarian states or how to shape a way ahead.

As Malmgren closed our conversation: “The war in Ukraine is requiring us to re-explore what is the definition of the national interest for us, for our allies, for China, and for Russia. I think our approach to the use of military power in the national interest that we came to know in the post war period does not remain the same as it was. All this requires new thinking.”

For a look at Pippa Malmgren’s work. see the following:

Featured Graphic:Photo 40407881 © Elena Schweitzer |