M. P. Ross 03-27-22

Putin has lost.  War at best results in a zero-sum outcome; more often it produces a net loss for both sides.  Whatever intermediate successes he may have gained, destabilizing Ukraine, keeping it closer to Russia’s orbit and remote from any likelihood of EU or NATO membership, they shrink before his losses.  While Russia’s status as a recognized sovereign state is secure, its legitimacy, and with it the ability to function as a member of the community of nations, has suffered a severe blow.  This is not news to foreign policy professionals.

The principle of Westphalian sovereignty has proved no check on Putin’s ambition to restore Russia’s empire.  While it has mostly functioned as a guiding concept in modern Europe, the many wars since 1648, and certainly Putin’s actions in the Caucasus and Ukraine, demonstrate its place within a broader general principle, Rights of Settlement and Migration are established through Conflict and Convention.  Link


Ukraine is a recognized, sovereign state within its borders.  Russia has challenged that claim.  The two sides are in Conflict, with some efforts at a diplomatic solution, or Convention.  It is only through this process of Conflict and Convention that Rights are maintained or established—if and when.  Stalemate with tremendous costs may be one of the better of worst outcomes. 

Until the present, efforts to reconstitute the empire had paid off.  Seizing Crimea and attempting a de facto annexation of the Donbass, actions that might have prompted a stronger response from the international community if Russia were a smaller and non-nuclear state, had not crossed the threshold from border dispute to a challenge to Ukraine’s state sovereignty.  With the attack on Ukraine proper, the world is in entirely different territory.

Conflict and Convention in this case will not resolve as formal, established Rights for Russia’s claims to Ukraine, regardless of the outcome; that is, whether Ukraine successfully retains its full sovereignty or Russia gains some degree of control over state functions, either openly or covertly.  The NATO member states and their allies have made it clear that Russian claims to the whole of Ukraine will not be recognized.  In either case, Russia might achieve part of its aims, to keep Ukraine away from the West, if not entirely within its sphere of influence. 

Russia’s status as a sovereign state within its borders is not being challenged, but its status outside its borders is suffering serious damage.  Its access to trade, finance, transportation, and culture have been curtained or limited. There will be lasting consequences; recovery will take years.

Banishment from the tribe was not an amicable parting of the ways.  You go your way and we’ll go ours.  Best of luck.  It was often a death sentence.  In former times, our membership in the tribe provided not just our identity but means of security in an uncertain, often hazardous environment.  While much less true for individuals today, in a complex, interconnected world, for a state, membership in the community of nations is critical to its ability to function.  The sanctions imposed on Russia are effectively a sentence of banishment.

Measures taken against Russia implicitly acknowledge the principal of Rights of Settlement.  It describes the manner in which events will play out.  Conflict and Convention will only resolve as Rights through agreement of the parties.  Sanctions are a practical application of the principle, a means of Conflict and Convention that has measurable impact on Rights.  The principle provides one perspective on a complicated and complex problem.  It provides the form for how things will take place, within what parameters, and offers a guide for practical solutions.

We do not yet know what the world will look like as a result of this regrettable episode–what the borders will be, the physical condition of the region, how the people will have fared.  We can safely make one prediction.  There will be no winners.