Russia’s War On Ukraine: A New World Order

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First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.

                  —  Vladimir Putin, Russian State of the Union speechApril 25, 2005


The world changed on February 24, 2022. That was the day Russia invaded Ukraine. It changed even more dramatically on Sunday, February 27. That was the day Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he had ordered Russian nuclear forces on high alert. The last time that there were threats of nuclear war on the world’s stage was sixty years ago during the Cuban Missile Crisis, in October 1962. Most people in the West have been living under the assumption that wars between great powers were a thing of the past. No longer.

Many barrels of printer’s ink have been spilled over the past weeks on the war in Ukraine. Rather than recounting the last agonizing weeks of warfare, the purpose of this commentary is briefly to analyze how the war has progressed, and to provide a brief primer on the history of Ukraine, a portrait of the country, some possible outcomes of the war, and what it means for the United States and for investors.

I have some firsthand knowledge of Ukraine. About 15 years ago, I spent several weeks in Ukraine while my son was serving in the Peace Corps there. I visited both Kyiv (better known in the West as Kiev) and smaller cities and villages in central Ukraine. At that time, it was a rough, underdeveloped country with a high level of corruption and frequent incidents of intimidation by mafia-type gangs. It was still marked by the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, which occurred when Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union. But I encountered a fierce sense of pride in Ukrainian independence and nationalism, which is now on display each night on the news.


Some Facts About Ukraine

Ukraine is a big country; it has a landmass 10 percent greater than that of France. It has a population of 43 million people. (While that’s of course smaller than Russia’s 145 million, at about 30 percent it’s a much larger proportion than many think.) Ukraine also has more than 2,000 miles of coastline on the Black Sea. The largest city in Ukraine is the capital, Kyiv, with a population of 2.7 million. Kyiv is an old and beautiful city dating back to the ninth century.

Ukraine is known as the breadbasket of Europe. Its rich, dark soil is perfect for growing grain and other food products. While part of the Soviet Union, Ukraine produced 25 percent of all of the Soviets’ agricultural output. Nowadays, Ukraine supplies 50 percent of the corn imported into the European Union and is one of world’s largest exporters of wheat and sunflower oil.

Ukraine has rich mineral resources, with large iron ore, coal, and manganese reserves. It has important deposits of alunite, which is a source of potash (an important fertilizer). It also has extensive gas and oil pipeline systems throughout the country. Ukraine also produces more than 50 percent of the world’s neon gas, which is essential in the production of semiconductor chips. Neon is a byproduct of steel manufacturing, and two Ukrainian companies, one of which is located in Mariupol now under siege, are the main producers of neon. Both have shuttered production due to the war.

Ukraine has the second largest military in Europe, with approximately 200,000 personnel on active duty. (But that is dwarfed by Russia’s 900,000 active personnel.) Russia’s 2021 defense budget was $45 billion; Ukraine’s was 10 percent of that. Ukraine has roughly 20 percent of the armored fighting vehicles that Russia has and less than 10 percent of its aircraft. But Ukraine has 900,000 reserve personnel to bolster its forces.

Nonetheless, this is a David-versus-Goliath struggle.


History of Ukraine

The origins of the Russian nation-state go back to 862 A.D. when Oleg of Novgorod founded the Slavic state of Kievan Rus. Twenty years later, Kyiv became the capital. Beginning in 988, Prince Vladimir the Great consolidated the territory from modern day Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia to the Baltic Sea into one state. He also converted from paganism to Christianity and spread the faith throughout Kievan Rus. The resulting Christian church was part of the Eastern Orthodox Church, with its headquarters in Constantinople, until 1448, when Russian bishops began to elect their own Metropolitan (later called Patriarch). Thus, the Russian Orthodox Church was actually founded in Ukraine.

Fast forward four or five centuries, and what is currently modern-day Ukraine was a territory controlled by Tsarist Russia, Poland, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In 1917, in the midst of World War I, Ukraine declared its independence. Between 1917 and 1922, there was almost constant warfare among Ukrainian, Polish, and Bolshevik Russian forces, with Kyiv being occupied off and on by armies from these states. In 1921, the Polish-Soviet War ended with the Peace Treaty of Riga, and in 1922, Ukraine formally became one of the 15 so-called “republics” that made up the Soviet Union.

The formative moment in Ukrainian history that has caused many of the Ukrainian people to despise Russia is the Great Famine. The Great Famine resulted from Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin’s attempt to destroy the rich peasants (called kulaks) in Ukraine and elsewhere. In 1929, Stalin pronounced: “In order to oust the kulaks as a class, the resistance of this class must be smashed in open battle and it must be deprived of the productive sources of its existence and development (free use of land, instruments of production, land-renting, right to hire labor, etc.). That is a turn towards the policy of eliminating the kulaks as a class. Without it, talk about ousting the kulaks as a class is empty prattle, acceptable and profitable only to the Right deviators.” What followed was the Great Famine of 1930-1933, when as many as 6 to 7 million peasant farmers and their families were liquidated in the forced collectivization of the kulaks. They either starved to death, were murdered, or were deported to Siberian labor camps and worked to death.

In 2005, during a visit with a farmer in Ukraine, I asked how the farmer’s family had survived the Great Famine. The elderly man began to weep, responding that his grandfather was one of nine siblings, five of whom had starved to death.


Recent Ukrainian History

Upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ukraine held a referendum on independence from Russia. With 84 percent of the electorate voting, 90 percent voted for independence. Following the chaotic decade of the 1990s, Ukraine held a presidential election in 2004, in which Putin’s preferred pro-Russian candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, won amidst widespread allegations of voter intimidation and fraud. This result spurred huge protests and strikes, which were dubbed the Orange Revolution. A new election was held, and pro-western Viktor Yushchenko won, causing Putin distress that Ukraine was looking to the West rather than wishing to stay within Russia’s orbit. Several months after this election, Putin decried the breakup of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” (quoted at the beginning of this commentary).

For the next several years, Putin sought to win over leaders in western Europe by promising to build a democracy in Russia and work with the West, causing many, including German  chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, to see Putin as a friend and strategic partner.

Then in February 2007, Putin gave his now-infamous speech in Munich, in which he, among other things, spoke defiantly against Ukraine ever joining the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the military alliance of the United States and its European allies.

Since NATO’s formation in 1949, the United States and other members have always viewed it as a defensive alliance against Russia, which maintains a massive nuclear arsenal and the largest military in Europe. But Putin sees NATO as encroaching upon Russia’s traditional sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and a threat to Russia on multiple fronts.

At the time of Putin’s speech in 2007, Yushchenko was requesting Ukraine be given a path to joining NATO, which then-U.S. President George W. Bush affirmed. Neither Germany nor France would agree to it, because they were seeking to placate Putin. Despite this vacillation on the part of NATO countries, Putin was not mollified, calling Ukraine a “made-up country.” In effect, Putin sees Ukraine as part of Russia in the same fashion that Americans view the state of Pennsylvania or the commonwealth of Virginia — as an original and founding member of the United States of America.

In 2008, a year after his Munich speech, Putin sent Russian forces into the neighboring country of Georgia, which also wanted to join NATO. Putin exploited tensions between Georgia’s government and Russian-backed separatists. The West effectively did nothing to counter this aggression.

In 2011, pro-Western Yushchenko lost a presidential election to Russia-leaning Yanukovych, who began to negotiate a trade agreement with the European Union. This move outraged Putin, who wanted Ukraine to join a customs union with Russia and Belarus. In 2013, Yanukovych suspended talks with the European Union, citing Russian displeasure. Protests spread throughout Ukraine, culminating in huge crowds in Maidan, the independence square in Kyiv, where clashes with riot police became frequent.

In February 2014, police snipers killed dozens of protesters. In his office, Yanukovych met with a Russian general in the FSB (successor to the Soviet-era KGB), who advised calling out the Ukrainian Army and crushing the protesters. Instead, Yanukovych fled from Kyiv to Russia in a helicopter. Within days, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea, which Russia had affirmed as Ukrainian in three treaties during the 1990s. (Adding to the complexity, Crimea had been considered part of Russia from 1783 to 1954, when the Soviet Union transferred it from the Russian Soviet republic to the Ukrainian Soviet republic.)

Also in 2014, Russia hatched a separatist rebellion in Russian-speaking Donbas in the eastern and more industrialized part of Ukraine; a local war has gone on there for eight years and continues today, including fierce fighting. Unfortunately, the United States (under then-President Barack Obama) and NATO once again gave a weak and tepid response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea, using mild sanctions against Russian interests but refusing to provide offensive military weapons to Ukraine to prevent further depredations by Russia.



Below is a timeline of the path to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, followed by the trajectory of the life of Volodymyr Zelensky, whom the world so greatly admires.


The Path to Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine


April 2005                              In his State of the Union speech, Putin declares that
                                                  “the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest
                                                  geopolitical catastrophe of the century”

February 2007                       In Munich, Putin warns the West against Ukraine
                                                  joining NATO

August 2008                          Putin, worried about neighboring Georgia joining NATO,
                                                  sends troops into Georgia; the West does little

February 2014                       Pro-Putin Yushchenko rejects Putin’s advice to have
                                                  Ukrainian Army crush Maidan protests and flees Ukraine
                                                  by helicopter

February/March 2014         Russia invades and annexes Crimea;
                                                  the West responds weakly

September 2015                    Russia given carte blanche by the West to intervene
                                                  with Russian troops in Syrian civil war, on the side of
                                                  Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad

December 2019                     Putin meets then-new Ukrainian president
                                                  Volodymyr Zelensky in Paris and underestimates him

July 2021                                Putin writes an essay foretelling the invasion,
                                                  declaring that “Ukrainians and Russians are one people”

August 2021                           United States abandons Afghanistan in disastrous military
                                                  withdrawal, telegraphing foreign policy weakness

November 2021                     United States and Ukraine cross Putin’s red line by signing
                                                  the Charter on Strategic Partnership, asserting U.S. support
                                                  of Ukraine’s right to pursue membership in NATO

November 2021                     Russian troops begin to mass on Ukrainian borders

December 2021                      German chancellor Angela Merkel, strongest statesman
                                                   in Europe, retires, leaving Europe without a strong leader

January 2022                         Putin, in a historic miscalculation, assumes that an
                                                   invasion of Ukraine will be a cakewalk, and that within a
                                                   week Kyiv will fall, the Ukrainian government will collapse,
                                                   and Zelensky will flee

January 2022                         Putin believes that the United States and Europe are weak
                                                   and decadent and will respond feebly again to another
                                                   invasion of Ukraine

January 2022                         In another miscalculation, Putin assumes that Europe’s,
                                                   and especially Germany’s, dependence on Russian gas and
                                                   oil will neutralize NATO’s response

February 2022                       Russia invades Ukraine



Life of Volodymyr Zelensky


January 1978               Born in central Ukraine to a Russian-speaking Jewish family

1995                               Begins working as a comic actor

2015                               Stars as fictional president of Ukraine in popular comedic
                                        television show called Servant of the People

December 2018           Announces campaign as real-life president of Ukraine;
                                        campaigns as against corruption and against Russian influence

April 2019                     Elected president of Ukraine



Volodymyr Zelensky

Elected president of Ukraine in 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky won the hearts of the world when Russia invaded when he uttered these words, “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride,” refusing a U.S. offer to move him away from reported Russian assassination teams to a more secure location.

This was in stark contrast to Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, who fled Afghanistan to the United Arab Emirates under pressure from the Taliban in August 2021.

So, what kind of a man is this 44-year-old comedian-turned-leader of an embattled nation?

Zelensky was born in 1978 into a Jewish family in a Russian-speaking part of Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. His father is a professor and computer scientist and his mother is an engineer. His grandfather served in the Red Army during World War II, rising to the rank of colonel. His great-grandfather along with three brothers died in the Holocaust.

With this background, Putin’s repeated charges of neo-Nazis in the leadership of Ukraine is, indeed, difficult to countenance.

Zelensky earned a law degree at Kryvyi Rih National University but chose not to pursue a career in law. Instead, he chose to become an entertainer, performing until his late 20s as a comedian. He then became an actor, starring in Russian-language films.

His big break came in 2015 when he starred in a television series with 50-plus episodes called Servant of the People. In the series, Zelensky’s character was a high school teacher in his 30s who won the presidential election of Ukraine after a video, which went viral, showed him ranting against corruption.

In 2018, members of his TV production company, Kvartal 95, registered a new political party named Servant of the People — the same name as the TV show. At the end of 2018, four months before the presidential election, Zelensky announced his candidacy, running against the incumbent president Petro Poroshenko, who was pro-West but widely seen as weak on corruption in the government.

Zelensky’s campaign was almost completely virtual; he used YouTube videos and social media posts to position himself as the anti-establishment and anti-corruption candidate. In the first round of the elections, Zelensky was the clear leader, and in the second and final round, he received 73 percent of the vote to Poroshenko’s 25 percent.

Zelensky is one of only two Jewish heads of state in the world; the other is the president of Israel.

In the July 2019 parliamentary elections, Zelensky’s political party, Servant of the People, won the first single-party majority in parliament in modern Ukrainian history, with 43 percent of the party-list vote. His party gained 254 of the 424 seats, about 60 percent of them.

Zelensky has sought to make good his commitments to reform Ukrainian politics and culture through a series of laws and regulations, but has had only limited success. Throughout his term, he has had to deal with the ongoing territorial dispute and war with Russian-backed separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in eastern Ukraine. There have been more than a dozen ceasefires over the past years, but none of them have lasted.

During the continuing Russian invasion of Ukraine, Zelensky’s courage and communication skills have united much of the world behind him and Ukraine’s struggle to maintain its independence. He spoke virtually to the House of Commons in London, invoking Winston Churchill’s famous speech, “We will fight till the end at sea. In the air. We will continue fighting for our land whatever the cost. We will fight in the forests, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets.” He spoke in the same vein to the U.S. Congress on March 16, thanking the United States for its military aid and sanctions against Russia, but requesting greater support. He has spoken tirelessly to the West in efforts to move NATO and other friendly countries to provide Ukraine with the tools to defeat Russia.


How The World Has Changed Since Russia Invaded Ukraine

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many in the West have held the illusion that we were living in a “rules-based world order.” The most salient example of this illusion was then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s assertion in 2014 during Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea that “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in the 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”

Putin’s recent invasion of Ukraine has shattered this illusion. In addition to invading Ukraine, Putin has also demanded buffer states between Russia and the West — states that are not to be members of NATO.

Some western leaders have been swayed by this argument because Russia was invaded twice — first by Napoleon in 1812 and then by Hitler in 1941. Most European leaders have also believed that strong commercial relations and expressions of good will with Russia would diminish Putin’s revanchism and distrust of the West. Accordingly, Germany, Italy, and other European countries structured energy policies in which 50 percent or more of their gas and oil needs come in pipelines from Russia, thereby placing their economies at the mercy of Russia.

This has turned out to be nothing but rank appeasement. And appeasing a dictator like Putin has been shown historically to be a deeply flawed policy that often emboldens the aggressor and leads to war rather than peace. As Churchill famously said, “An appeaser is one who feeds the crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its continued prosecution of the war has caused, among other things, the following changes in the world order:


  •  The invasion of Ukraine is effectively the resumption of the Cold War between Russia and the West, led by a United States weakened by the extreme polarization of the American people. While there is not a Sino-Soviet axis as there was in the 1950s and 1960s, China has chosen to ally itself with Russia rather than the West.


  •  Putin has accomplished what previously seemed impossible:  he has managed to unify NATO in a way not seen since the 1980s. He has also made it clear that it has been unwise for European nations to skimp on their defense budgets.


  •  The 30 European and North American nations that make up NATO are united in their affirmation of Article 5 of the NATO Treaty — the collective defense article that says an attack on one NATO country is to be treated as an attack on all of the countries and obliges the signatories to assist the country which is attacked (although not necessarily to respond with military force).


  •  Putin’s Russia has been turned into a pariah nation by much of the world. Furthermore, the sanctions and actions by the West will damage the Russian economy and harm the lives of the Russian people. The charges of “war crimes” and genocide will be investigated and not easily dismissed, as the world has watched on TV and social media the missile and artillery attacks on civilians and their homes.


  •  European nations have now realized the folly of relying on Russia for their energy needs and will take steps to change that, although it will take years to fully implement the necessary changes.


  •  The war has made it clear to the world not only how vital fossil fuels currently are to ensure a nation’s prosperity and economic growth but also the importance of alternative sources of energy.


  •  Lastly, the unity of most of the world behind Ukraine and the economic, political, and moral consequences of Russia’s war on Ukraine will surely give pause to China as it seeks to find a way to bring Taiwan into its fold.


How Does This War End?

In the first few days of the war, many, if not most, observers assumed that Kyiv would quickly fall, that Zelensky would be assassinated or ousted, and that Russia would occupy most of Ukraine and install a puppet government. That would have would basically been a reprise of the Russian invasion and occupation of Hungary in 1956.

If this scenario had occurred, many predicted that Ukrainian cities and towns would be occupied by Russia, but also that the result would be a long-lasting insurgency in the countryside — much like the war in Afghanistan.

However, in recent weeks, it has become clear that Putin made several grievous miscalculations:  how strongly the Ukrainians feel about the independence of their nation, the willingness of Ukrainians to fight the Russians, and the ferocity of the Ukrainian military and reserve forces.

Putin and his military commanders were also seriously mistaken about the competence and professionalism of the Russian Army. This, combined with the Ukrainians’ skill in asymmetric warfare (such as jamming Russian communications and using drones to attack tanks), has stopped the Russian Army in its tracks. As many as 15,000 Russian soldiers have been killed, wounded, or taken prisoner, and several dozen Russian generals and high-ranking officers have been killed. It is unclear whether many of the Russian soldiers even knew why Russia was invading Ukraine.

Recently, the Russians have pulled back from the big cities like Kyiv and Kharkiv and are concentrating their forces in the Donbas region in the eastern part of Ukraine. Another key strategic Russian objective is the occupation of a land bridge from Russia to Crimea along the Black Sea.

There appear to be three ways that the war might end.

The first is the way President Ronald Reagan framed his goals in the Cold War: “We win, they lose.” In this scenario, President Zelensky would need to inspire his people to continue their recent successes and to win back every square inch of Ukraine that Russia has occupied. While this may be possible, it seems unlikely, as it would probably require the overthrow of Putin, who sees Ukraine as an integral part of Russia. While a coup in Russia is conceivable considering the hardships which the Russian people (and especially the oligarchs) will experience, figures like Castro, Kim Jong-un, and Putin, with their enormous security apparatus, are extremely difficult to topple. So it’s unlikely.

The second possibility is for Russia to dig in for the long haul, demanding, at the minimum, Russia’s permanent ownership of the three provinces that it already controls — the Crimean Peninsula, the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, and a land bridge from Russia to Crimea, as well as a pledge to keep Ukraine out of NATO. Can Zelensky stomach that? Will Ukrainians accept it? Given their strong response to the Russian invasion, that seems unlikely.

The third and most likely way that the war will end, in my opinion, is an agreement or treaty that reconciles the interests of Ukraine, Russia, the United States, and NATO allies of the United States.

Such a pact would have to allow Putin to save some face. It would require highly complex negotiations over the size and security of Ukraine, its possible neutrality, the removal of sanctions against Russia and individual Russians, prisoners of war, refugees, reparations, and war crimes

Unfortunately, hammering out such an agreement would take months and would mean that the war would continue to drag on.


What Does the War Mean for U.S. Investors?

What may surprise some investors is that wars often cause the stock markets of countries not directly involved in the war to go up. This is the case so far in the United States. From February 24 — the day Russia invaded Ukraine — through April 5, the Standard & Poors 500 Index advanced 5.5 percent. If the market sells off during the next several months, it is more likely that the cause will be inflation, rising interest rates, and quantitative tightening by the Federal Reserve, rather than the war.

But the war will also cause the price of many commodities to rise — not only energy and minerals but foodstuffs, as Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of wheat and corn. This will make it even more difficult to roll back what is now the highest inflation in the United States in 40 years. The war will also cause investors to favor certain sectors of the stock market such as defense, energy, commodities, and agricultural and food products. Finally, the war will also tend to increase the volatility in the stock market caused by the daily news flow as well as fears of what an irrational player like Putin might do.



In summary, it is likely that the Russian war in Ukraine will be less about its impact on the global capital markets and more about the geopolitical changes in the world. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has reinforced the integrity and importance of the nation-state — which many globalists have been discounting. A great power invaded a peaceful, self-governing nation for conquest — to subjugate its people, seize its industry and its farms, and destroy its institutions and its culture. President Zelensky has effectively communicated this message to the world, which has rallied behind him and Ukraine. The West has not been this unified for four decades.

And hopefully, the unity and resolve of so many nations against Russia’s contemptible war against Ukraine will give pause to other dictators and totalitarian governments around the world who have their own plans for conquest.


Robert H. Bradley is Chairman of Bradley, Foster & Sargent Inc., a $5.5 billion wealth management firm that has offices in Hartford, Connecticut and Wellesley, Massachusetts. Read other articles by him here.


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