The War in Ukraine: Origins and Implications

The War in Ukraine: Origins and Implications

Michael C. Kimmage discussed his recently published book, "Collisions: The War in Ukraine and the Origins of the New Global Instability" (Oxford University Press, 2024), which argues that the war in Ukraine is not a singular conflict; it has three separate axes, making it a series of collisions.
Michael C. Kimmage discussed his recent book, "Collisions," at a CDDRL research seminar on June 6, 2024. Michael C. Kimmage discussed his recent book, "Collisions," at a CDDRL research seminar on June 6, 2024. Rachel Cody Owens

In a CDDRL seminar series talk, Michael C. Kimmage, a professor of history at the Catholic University of America, discussed his recently published book, Collisions: The War in Ukraine and the Origins of the New Global Instability (Oxford University Press, 2024). The book argues that the war in Ukraine is not a singular conflict; it has three separate axes, making it a series of collisions, not a singular one.

The first axis of conflict is self-evident: Russia and Ukraine. The armies of these two countries are waging a war of attrition over ideas of nationhood.

The second axis, Kimmage explained, pertains to Russia and Europe. The European Union's 2009 Eastern Partnerships Program was meant to be a bureaucratic and procedural move. However, it effectively forced Ukrainian leadership to choose between Russia and Europe. In 2013, then-president Victor Yanukovych bowed to pressure from Moscow, choosing Russia and sparking the largest demonstrations since the Orange Revolution. This situated Europe as a key player in the conflict.

The third axis encompasses Russia and the US. While the US was not as involved in the conflict in 2013, by 2020, they were a key actor. Based on military spending and risks taken, the war in Ukraine appears to be an important agenda item for the Joe Biden administration. They see it as a precedent-setting conflict — both for European security architecture and the international order at large. It remains unclear how much the US general population still cares about the conflict, but interest remains high at the governmental level.

Russia, too, is invested in this axis. Their rhetoric suggests that there are two shell enemies and one real enemy in this war. Ukraine, they argue, is not a proper nation, and Europe is not a firepower to be taken seriously. The US, on the other hand, is presented in this vision as the mastermind behind these shell actors — that is, the enemy that matters.

The nuclear capabilities of these two nations supercharge this war, and having a transatlantic opponent globalizes it. What may be construed as regional or local conflict has firmly gone global. 

These three points of tension do not have the same origin, carry the same internal dynamics, and will not resolve themselves in the same way — making the war as complicated as it is.

The book draws four conclusions, which Kimmage reflected on and evaluated. The first is that the break between Russia and the West is profound and will be long-lasting. Putin has strategically created as autonomous a Russia as possible, cutting it off from the West. The Russian elite and society have been made complicit in the war, a barrier to normalizing future relations with the West.

He also argues that Ukraine will make its way into Europe. Sentiment, Kimmage believes, suggests Ukraine has already joined, while the humanitarian suffering has expedited the process. Institutional ties are also strengthening with growing intelligence sharing between Ukraine, Europe, and the U.S., as well as bilateral security agreements with countries like the UK and France.

This war, Kimmage believes, has also cast a shadow over peaceful Europe. There is now a major war in Europe, and the European project cannot be divorced from this fact. Finally, US engagement marks a turning point, a shift into a more active role in European politics both militarily and diplomatically. This engagement, however, could change with shifts in priorities in Washington.

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