The Hill: ‘The idea of total Ukrainian victory is delusional’

12:52 19.02.2024 •

Photo: The Guardian

Russia is winning the war and there is little to suggest that any foreseeable political, economic, tactical or technological developments are likely to alter that fundamental reality, writes at The Hill Andrew Latham, a professor of international relations at Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minn., a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Peace and Diplomacy, and a non-resident fellow at Defense Priorities in Washington, D.C.

Ukraine is not prevailing at the tactical level — if anything, Russia’s advantage at there is growing rather than diminishing, as Russia outpaces Ukraine in adapting to the evolving realities of the battlefield. The net result? Russia not only remains capable of sustaining the kind of defense-in-depth that has completely frustrated all Ukrainian offensive efforts, but is increasingly able to mount successful offensives in places like Avdeeivka.

The delusional belief that there is a pathway to total victory for Ukraine is based less on evolving military or geopolitical realities than on a simple psychological dynamic, one best summed up in the concept of “commitment escalation.”

According to this concept, individuals or groups sometimes exhibit a tendency to persist with a failing argument, even as that argument becomes increasingly untenable in light of the facts. This behavior is marked above all by an adherence to prior commitments — sunk costs, as the economists might put it — regardless of their present plausibility or rationality. It is a psychological dysfunction.

Applying this concept to Ukraine explains the delusional belief that despite all of Ukraine’s devastating defeats and strategic setbacks, victory is just around the corner. Those who committed publicly to the view that Ukraine was destined to inflict a decisive defeat on Russia during the much-heralded but ultimately failed spring/summer “counteroffensive” in 2023 have irrationally doubled down on that public commitment. They have, in other words, escalated their commitment even as the facts on the ground dictate that this faith in Ukraine’s ultimate total victory is simply baseless, and that a rational person would adjust their views in light of those facts.

Put slightly differently, the more dire Ukraine’s strategic prospects have become, the more these true believers have felt compelled to concoct imagined pathways to total Ukrainian victory — despite the increasingly incontrovertible evidence that no such pathway exists.

Those observers who originally committed to the “Ukraine will prevail” thesis continue to return to their delusion — ever more manically expressed — that there is a pathway to total victory for Kyiv. But there isn’t.

And the sooner policymakers and influencers on both sides of the Atlantic grasp this, the sooner we can get to a negotiated cessation of hostilities that stems, at least for the moment, the obscene carnage that has come to define this war.


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