December 8, 2022 Special Dispatch No. 10365

Russian Former Colonel Trenin: Russia Failed To Assess The Western Response To Ukraine Invasion, But There Is No Way Back, Russia Must Persevere And Conquer Most Of Ukraine

December 8, 2022
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 10365

Dmitri Trenin a member of Russia’s Foreign and Defense Policy Council was formerly a colonel in Russian military intelligence He served as director of the Carnegie Moscow Center before the think tank ran afoul of the Putin regime. Trenin has emerged as a full-fledged backer of the war in Ukraine.

In the article below, that appeared in the Russian edition of Russia in Global Affairs Trenin concedes that Russia had severely miscalculated on the Western response to the invasion. Both the energy weapon and nuclear threats had failed to deter the West. There were also deficiencies revealed in Russia’s military performance, the mobilization and the conduct of part of the elite. This is however water under the dam, because there is no way back. Surrender to the West would result in Russia’s loss of sovereignty and the possibility of Russia’s disappearance. The only course is to stick it out until Ukraine excluding Western Ukraine has been conquered and the territories integrated into Russia.

Trenin’s article follows below: [1]

Dmitri Trenin (Source:

The word "rupture" in the title was deliberately chosen. A "turning point" can still be walked back by turning around and returning to the starting point, where there is a chance to redraw everything. A "rupture" signifies the irreversibility of what has happened.

The "rupture" in Russian foreign policy didn’t occur immediately. By the mid-2000s, it became clear that Moscow’s policy of integrating the Russian Federation as a great power into the global US-centric world order (established after the end of the Cold War) requires at least a correction. An attempt at such a correction, made at the turn of the 2010s under the slogans of "resetting" Russia’s relations with the US and "modernizing partnerships" with Germany and other European countries, ended in failure. The Ukrainian crisis of 2014 conclusively buried the idea of Russia’s integration into the Western community as well as the related "Greater Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok" project.

After Russia’s relations with the West became tense, they began to deteriorate exponentially. The US and EU economic sanctions, political rivalries, and information warfare transformed the former partnership into a confrontation that many have dubbed, by analogy with the confrontation of the second half of the 20th century, a "hybrid war." In February of 2022, the hybrid war received a military dimension, the confrontation was replaced by a struggle (so far, a proxy one, provided we talk about the conflict between Russia and NATO member-states, led by the US). Such a situation completely destroys the legacy of partnership, dispelling the last illusions. The "rupture" has become a fact.

The military conflict in Ukraine has opened an entirely new stage in Russia’s internal development. The country’s borders, demographics, economic system, social relations and attitudes, political environment, ideological system, and much more are changing.

The "first edition" of the Russian Federation is over; the country is going through a transition to a new qualitative state, the contours of which, have already begun to emerge. The scale and significance of the changes in foreign policy are nothing compared to these enormous internal changes, but for Russia’s international position, its place and role in the world, they mean a radical change of external conditions and, consequently, a change in the goals, objectives, strategies and tactics of "the game." The following are just some of the most important changes:

In the new (even compared to the 2014-2022) environment Russia faces a politically mobilized collective West. With the outbreak of war in Ukraine, the degree of cohesion amongst English-speaking countries, Europe, and Asian allies around the US, has reached previously unseen levels. Not only Great Britain, Poland, and the Baltics, but also Germany, France, Italy, and Spain took a sharply anti-Russian stance.

For the first time in Russian history, Russia doesn't have any allies in the West, but it lacks interlocutors, capable of playing the role of mediators, "interpreters," etc. The traditional neutrality of a number of European states has been wiped out and nullified.

[I’m talking not only about] Finland and Sweden, which decided to join NATO, but also Austria, Ireland and even Switzerland, which is not a member of any union, have effectively joined the anti-Russian alliance. The Vatican also sides with this coalition numbering about fifty countries worldwide.

True, the Western countries have failed to achieve the worldwide political isolation of Russia, but they have been able to deploy international institutions to their advantage. In addition to having control of the apparatuses of these institutions, the West has succeeded in obtaining a majority of votes in support of anti-Russian resolutions.

As a result, international organizations, in whose creation Moscow took a most active part, and in which it played a leading role for a long time, considering them the foundations of a just world order, the UN and the OSCE, shifted against Russia.

Even the physical attendance of Russian representatives at these organizations’ forums was made dependent on the decisions of the US and European authorities. Russia’s status, as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, came under attack, while Russia’s veto power in the Council is being circumvented by transferring issues [for voting] to the General Assembly. Nuclear deterrence, on which the Russian leadership relied as a guarantee that its vital interests would be reliably protected from outside encroachment, has proven its inadequacy.

The Russian president’s warnings about the gravest consequences for Western countries in case they decided to intervene in the Ukrainian conflict didn’t prevent the active and effective participation of the US and NATO member-states in arming and training the Ukrainian army, from providing real-time intelligence information to Kyiv, from large-scale financial, economic and technical assistance, in other words, they didn’t prevent active intervention in the war (without sending their own armed forces to Ukraine).

What’s more, statements by Russian officials referring to Russia’s nuclear capabilities as well as exercises of the Russian strategic nuclear forces have been widely interpreted in the West and picked up around the world as evidence of Moscow’s preparations to unleash a nuclear war.

What’s paradoxical, however, is that this information campaign didn’t lead to public protests in the West against the nuclear threat and for an end to military support for Ukraine. This "fear factor," which existed in the public consciousness of Western countries, especially in Europe, during the Cold War years, has practically stopped playing any significant role. NATO’s indirect war with nuclear superpower Russia is no longer perceived as something really dangerous in the US and Europe.

The reasons are apparent: a decision by the Russian leadership to launch a nuclear strike against the US, or NATO member-states is considered to be unthinkable, due to the obviously, suicidal nature of such a decision.

In turn, usage of nuclear arms in Ukraine would have limited consequences and would make Russia look like an enemy of entire mankind. What’s more (and this fact seems incredible to me) the systematic shelling on part of the Ukrainian troops of the Russian-controlled Zaporozhye nuclear power plant encounters no reaction from the Western public, Ukraine’s role in this situation is being obscured contrary to common sense. In turn, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is essentially covering for the party that endangers Europe's nuclear security.

Provocations against Russia don’t end there. In addition to possible incidents with used nuclear fuel, which could be provoked by Ukraine and the West, there is the danger of provocations involving chemical arms and biological materials. Experience of the war in Syria and the full control the Western countries have over the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) create a genuine threat of provocations, for which Russia will be held responsible.

Another serious potential danger is possible incidents with shelling of territory, or military targets and platforms (planes, ships) of NATO member states orchestrated by Ukraine. Kyiv would try to put the blame on Russia for the latter, as it already has been the case in November of 2022 on the territory of Poland bordering Ukraine. The goal of such provocations could be an escalation of the conflict up to a direct NATO - Russia military clash.

Russia’s economic ties with the West have been eliminated. The US and the EU sanctions war against Russia began in 2014 and has been steadily ratcheted up ever since. However, in 2022 it escalated into an all-out economic, monetary and financial war. As a result, the geo-economic model that Moscow was pursuing since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transition to market relations was [critically] damaged in its most important segment, i.e., relations with the West (Russia’s main trade, investment and technological partner).

Russia was confronted with something it had never expected, i.e., the freezing and confiscation of sovereign foreign currency reserves, private business assets, and, practically, exclusion from financial transactions conducted in Western currencies. As a result, the country not only lost half of its Central Bank’s reserves, but also lost access to Western markets.

Thus, the expectation that Western economic players, acting in their own interests, would mitigate the consequences of geopolitical clashes did not materialize.

A collapse of energy ties with Europe came as an especially painful disappointment for Moscow. These ties, created and nurtured by the Russian leadership for fifty years, including during the times of the Cold War, were perceived, as a guarantee of stable relations between Russia and Europe (in contrast to relations with the US, where nothing of the sort existed). Russia has tried to cultivate the image of a very reliable energy supplier to the EU in every possible way. In addition, the country relied on the presumption that a commercial alternative to Russian gas supplies to Europe did not exist.

Many in Moscow were counting on that Russia’s "energy weapon," i.e., [an opportunity to close] "the gas valve," would restrain Europe from breaking ties with Russia.

This expectation has also failed. The EU’s decisions, in line with purely political reasoning,  to abandon imports of Russian oil and coal and to impose restrictions (which prescribe for a gradual ban of gas imports), passed purely political logic-wise, broke a major material bond between Russia and Europe. The destruction of the Nord Stream pipeline via an act of sabotage in September of 2022 came to symbolize the relations’ collapse.

In this context, the prompt dismantling of the Russo-German partnership came as the biggest event in the European geopolitics. [This partnership] was based on the phenomenal reconciliation between Russia and Germany after World War II (which didn’t prescribe for any institutional integration), and on the role that the Soviet Union played in the issue of Germany unification after the end of the Cold War.

Moscow - Berlin relations are once again hostile: In German public consciousness, the image of a backward, reactionary, and aggressive Russia is rapidly being restored, while in Russian public consciousness, at the background of pictures [on the Internet] of armaments delivered to Ukraine by Germany, memories of Hitler’s invasion are once again becoming topical. 

As opposed to the strong Russo-German ties since German reunification, Olaf Scholz and Vladimir Putin are far apart (Source:

The poisoned relationship between the two major players in Europe responds to US and British geopolitical interests but is becoming an important factor of future European instability.

Russia’s Special Military Operation in Ukraine [hereafter – the SVO] came as a test not only for Russia’s adversaries and formerly neutral states, but also for Moscow’s formal allies and integration partners. This test revealed a true state of affairs, about which it’s not customary to speak publicly. Of all Russia’s allies under the Collective Security Treaty Organization (the CSTO), only Belarus sided with Moscow and gave it real support.

All the other allies, as well as partners under the Eurasian Economic Union (the EAEU), took a neutral stance. Their main motive was to avoid spoiling relations with the US and the West in any way and to take advantage of Moscow’s focus on Ukraine to further diversify their foreign policy and continue distancing themselves from Russia. This situation raises the issue of Moscow’s future policy towards problems of allied relations and integration with former Soviet republics.

Russia’s inability to quickly solve the problems of the SVO has drastically lowered estimates of Russian military power in many European countries.

This change (along with [the European population's] liberation from the fear of nuclear arms, withdrew the Europeans from their state of torpor in facing the "Russian military threat" and encourages them to pursue a more offensive policy towards Russia, predicated on the collective West's presumption of material and moral superiority.

Naturally, the SVO became primarily a test for Russia itself. It revealed serious problems with political and military strategy and tactics; in training, arming, equipping, and manning the [Russian] Armed Forces; in the country’s preparedness for mobilization (including that of the industry); in the ideological dimension of state policy; and in conduct of some part of the elites and society.

Taken together, these and other problems, till they are overcome, discourage Russia's allies and encouraging its adversaries, prompting the latter to put forward more decisive goals up to the "final resolution of the Russian question" via inflicting strategic defeat on Russia and inciting political regime change in the country, with its subsequent demilitarization (including de-nuclearization), geographical and political reformatting, re-education and replacement of the elites. The result will be the total marginalization of Russia (or of what be left of it) in the international arena.

Against this background of serious geopolitical cataclysms, of cracks and fissures, the most important positive consequence for Russia’s international status has been the position of many countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America (including the largest ones).

China, India, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, seeking to consolidate their sovereignty and increasing their role in world governance, have adopted a formally neutral stance in the Russo-Western conflict.

In some cases (for instance Iran and China) this stance is, clearly, pro-Russian, or, clearly, favorable to Moscow, but in all cases, including Turkey’s one, which is a NATO member-state and the US ally, it objectively serves Russian interests.

Even Erdogan objectively serves Russian interests (Source:

This group of states that refused to join the anti-Russian sanctions (although they partly supported political resolutions condemning Russia’s actions) is now increasingly referred to as the "World Majority." Naturally, this majority is not homogeneous, the interests of individual states widely diverge, and the volume and quality of relations with Russia vary. There are complications, contradictions, and even elements of rivalry, but generally the World Majority has become the most important and most valuable resource of contemporary Russian foreign policy. The Soviet Union didn’t enjoy such a powerful potential resource during the Cold War.

Let’s recall that back in the day Moscow had to spend resources and make great efforts in order to maintain the Eastern European countries in its orbit, of which only two, the GDR and Czechoslovakia, had developed industrial and technological potential.

In turn, China, had been USSR’s opponent for a quarter of a century; India had only recently built foundations of modern heavy industry; Iran had been an ally of the US before the Islamic Revolution, but after that it perceived the USSR along with the US as a "satanic state". Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia served as important components of a "Soviet containment system" on the southern front; Brazil was a loyal ally of Washington; and apartheid-era South Africa was involved in undeclared wars with pro-Soviet regimes in southern Africa.

So, the situation for Russia’s foreign policy has changed dramatically, but it’s by no means hopeless. There are no ways back, or rather, a theoretical path to surrender exists, but even this path won’t restore Russia to the February 20 [2022] or 2013 [status que ante]. This is a path to national catastrophe, probable chaos, and an unconditional loss of sovereignty.

If we wish not only to avoid such a scenario, but to reach a qualitatively higher level of interaction with the surrounding world, then our common direction can only be forward movement.

A imperative condition for success is the resolution of the Ukrainian problem. We are obliged to consider all the scenarios in which the current conflict can develop. Losing the war (despite our best efforts) and, accordingly, an actual victory for the enemy carries the risk of upheavals.

True, such wars occurred in Russian history, for example, the Crimean War and the Russo-Japanese War, which led to internal reforms and further development.

There were other gains from defeats. For instance: the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk [1918] saved the Bolsheviks' along with the US; the [1921] Treaty of Riga, which ended the failed Soviet-Polish war, stabilized the western frontier of the emerging Union of Soviet Republics; the exorbitant price paid for victory in the Russo-Finnish War became the first contribution to victory in the Great Patriotic War.

In the present circumstances, however, those in Russia, who hope for a repeat of [the post-Crimean War] 1855-1856 events should always remember the tragedy of 1916-1917.

Avoiding defeat, however, doesn’t mean victory. A scenario of "freezing" hostilities along the front lines would mean that Moscow admits its inability to achieve the declared goals of the SVO, i.e., its [Russia's] moral defeat.

Furthermore, such a "freezing" would be a mere respite preceding a, more than likely, resumption of hostilities by an adversary that does not intend to renounce its maximalist goals. Nevertheless, this option exists and, as far as one can judge, is being worked on by interested parties.

There also exists the scenario of strategic success. Here, I deliberately don’t employ the word "victory," because in our domestic collective consciousness, after 1945 this word began to mean a crushing defeat of the enemy, his complete and unconditional surrender.

As applied to the situation in Ukraine, Russia's taking control of the entire eastern, southern, and central parts of the neighboring country would be counted a strategic success. The western part of Ukraine, which would remain outside Russian control, cannot in principle be integrated into the Russian civilizational space; it would become a foreign body, a source of instability.

Indeed, Galicia and Volyn, thus left aside, would inevitably become a stronghold of Ukrainian ultra-nationalism and a staging area of Western presence and influence, but this bulwark-staging area would lack the sufficient critical mass to seriously threaten Russia. The overall success of Russian policy at the Ukrainian direction will critically depend on the consolidation of military gains by the political, economic, and ideological integration of the controlled territories with Russia.

This scenario will demand enormous resources and targeted efforts over many years and, unfortunately, great sacrifices. However, strategically it would be a winnable one.

Any solution to the Ukrainian conflict won’t signify the establishment of a stable status quo in eastern Europe. Western pressure on Russia in the European area will continue in several paths. In addition, to the Ukrainian path itself, which will remain the major sore spot, these will include Belarus, Transnistria, Kaliningrad and the Caucasus [directions]. Moscow will have to strengthen its stance along the entire western geopolitical front line, from the Arctic to the Black Sea, in order to withstand such pressure.

Russia has actually been practically prised out of the US-centric world order for its attempt to leave it and protect its core security interests. In the ensuing global turbulence (which exists not only in geopolitics, but also in geo-economics and the military sphere) Russia no longer has any interest, or special capacities to maintain the status quo in Europe and in the world as a whole.

Formerly one of the support pillars and guardians of the order established in 1945, Russia has turned into a warrior country, defending its sovereignty and identity, and struggling for a world order that excludes one state’s hegemony. This is a new role, echoing the role of revolutionary Russia, but, at the same time, strongly distinguished from it. Learning to successfully perform this role won’t be easy.

The transition to a new world order will take an entire era and will depend to a larger extent on outcome of the rivalry between the two leading world powers, i.e., the US and China. So far, the BRICS member-states (China, India, Brazil, South Africa and other countries of the World Majority) are inclined to correcting the world order, rather than radically replacing it, let alone dismantling it. This situation, however, is fluid, and Russia’s conflict with the West has a significant impact on its further development.

In such circumstances, Russia faces a long period, provided it withstands the harsh confrontation with the West, during which the country’s stance in the world will be ambivalent, or "hybrid." Strong isolation of Russia by the West will be followed by active development of cooperation with the countries of the World Majority and rapprochement with its leaders.

Russia’s "pariah" status logically means that Moscow’s hands are unfettered in terms of its relations with former partners, who have once again turned into adversaries.

This free hand should be taken advantage of. It would only be worse if the Russians would fold their hands and sit on them for good measure.

For instance, it’s worth revising the attitude towards strategic stability. This concept isn’t identical to the US’s strategic relationship, much less it should be boiled down to the sum of agreements and understandings with Washington.

The key to Russia’s strategic stability lies in the development of its own capabilities in various areas. In turn, agreements with the US, if any will occur, can only serve as an adjunct – a most conditional one considering the high degree of distrust between the parties –to these capabilities. A careful consideration of the problematics [surrounding the] issue of nuclear nonproliferation is also needed. In any case, Russia cannot act in line with the US’s nuclear nonproliferation approaches to Iran and the DPRK.

Prospects for relations with the countries of the World Majority seems to be much more interesting and fruitful. Maintaining strategic stability in the new environment demands a deeper cooperation with China and in-depth dialogue with India.

Problems of energy security related to oil market must henceforth be resolved in cooperation with China and India (as the largest consumers [of Russian energy products]), Turkey as an emerging gas hub, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC+ member-states, those related to gas – with Qatar.

The main consumers of Russian food products are also located in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. In terms of technology, China and India could be leading partners.

Regarding bilateral relations with these and other countries and multilateral relations (under the SCO, BRICS treaties and etc.), Russia needs to erect elements of a transitional world order in the monetary and financial spheres on order to escape the "USD hegemony;" technologically [our country needs to] strengthen national sovereignty; in the media sphere - to limit Anglo-American media dominance.

A particularly important focus in terms of erecting the foundations of a transitional world order is the strengthening international organizations comprised of non-Western countries, via increasing their effectiveness and influence, as well as an establishment of regional security systems in Eurasia as a whole, in Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Caspian Sea, the Persian Gulf area and other regions).  

To summarize, one can state:

  • the "rupture e" in Russo-Western relations is irreparable, there is no way to backtrack, Russia is guaranteed a difficult confrontation wirth the West for a long time to come;

  • Russia’s defeat in this struggle risks national catastrophe, a sustainable compromise solution is unlikely, while a compromise on equal terms is practically excluded; [the only option that remains is to move forward;

  • Russia’s main foreign policy resource is the World Majority’s stance, which strives for greater political, economic and military independence on the global stage and to assert of its own identity within the framework of world civilization;

  • A development of political, economic, technological, military, informational, cultural and humanitarian cooperation with the countries of the World Majority is the most important direction of Russia’s foreign policy for the entire foreseeable future;

  • Strategic success for Russia is realistic, as the necessary internal and external resources exist, but this requires a strong political will on the part of the leadership, the unconditional patriotism of the elite, and national solidarity;

  • Paths for reaching success are quite obvious, but they are very difficult [to follow], there will be accompanied by inevitable losses and sacrifices; the keys to victory are: a sober assessment of a situation and of the most important trends, clearly set goals, proper resource allocation, and a calibrated governmental strategy.


[1], November 30, 2022.

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