The AtlanticThe Atlantic

It’s not enough for Ukraine to win. Russia has to lose

By Eliot A. Cohen

19 May 2023 · 5 min read

Editor's Note

Victory in Ukraine won't be achieved on the battlefield, but inside the heads of Russia's leaders. Only by convincing them of their defeat can the West bring the country to heel, The Atlantic argues.

The United States has suffered from a deliberate fuzziness in formulating its objectives in the Russian war in Ukraine. Flaccid phrases like “helping Ukraine defend itself” or, even worse, “putting Ukraine in the best possible position for negotiations” are either meaningless or insipid. Bureaucratic mental fog is masquerading as artful policy, and it is dangerous. Strategy is the matching of means to ends. In war it is easy to become obsessed with action rather than purpose, and thereby to fall into Nietzsche’s famous description of the most common human stupidity: forgetting what one intended to do in the first place.

Ukraine knows how it defines victory: the pre-2014 borders cleansed of the invader, its exiles and refugees returned, its society and economy rebuilt, membership in the European Union and NATO attained, and some measure of justice for Russian rapists, torturers, and murderers secured. Similarly, we know how the Russians define victory: a Ukraine broken and severed from the West, much of its territory annexed; a Europe in disarray that resumes its addiction to cheap natural resources and business opportunities in Moscow; and the reconstruction of much of the old Russian imperial state.

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