About Robert E Kelly

I am a professor of political science at Pusan National University. I write mostly on international relations in East Asia.

Does South Korea Need a Aircraft Carrier? Creeping Chinese Control of the South China Sea’s Oil Sea Lane is the Best Argument for It

South Korea's new CVX Aircraft Carrier project: An overview - Naval NewsThere has a been a pretty vibrant debate in South Korea over building an indigenous aircraft carrier. That debate has been especially resonant where I live – Busan – because it would probably be built here.

This post is a re-up of an op-ed I wrote for the Japan Times this week. I also wrote on this once before for a ROK navy-adjacent think-tank.

IMO, the best argument for a ROK carrier is China’s creeping, long-term effort to dominate the South China Sea. Oil from the Persian Gulf traverses the SCS on its way to East Asia’s democracies – Japan, South Korea, Taiwan. Chinese control of the SCS oil sea lane would allow the PLAN to embargo carbon imports for whatever bogus reason Beijing could think of.

We can be sure that Chinese bullying in the region will use this tool as soon as China consolidates control of the SCS and puts up enough bases to launch blockades. Indeed, I have long thought that this is the primary reason China wants to control the SCS so badly. It’s not clear that there are a lot of natural resources in the seabed there or that they can be cost-effectively extracted. And all the little islands and sandbars in the SCS aren’t valuable in themselves.

But this would require SK to start seriously thinking about 1) power projection southward, 2) contesting Chinese sea control inside the first island chain, and 3) cooperating with Japan which is also threatened by this and which has a larger navy. That would all be great but is a big ask for a country not used to thinking about foreign policy much beyond the peninsula. And that is my big concern: that the previous Moon administration really wanted to build this because Japan is building an aircraft carrier, and wants to park it next to Dokdo. That is the wrong reason to build one.

Here is the original, pre-edited version of my essay from the Japan Times:

South Korean has considered, in the last year, constructing a light aircraft carrier. This has provoked controversy. The decision to build it or not has swung back and forth. The South Korean navy very much wants it and has made a public push for it. The South Korean legislature, the National Assembly, ultimately decided to fund it last year. But the government of new President Yoon Seok Yeol is apparently re-considering.

South Korea the Land Power

Most countries in the world lean into either land or sea power, as dictated by their geography. Unsurprisingly, island states develop ‘blue water’ (i.e., ocean-going) navies. Japanese modernization, for example, lead to maritime power in the last century and half. Britain too had a large navy at its peak.

South Korea would appear to fit into this box. It is an island of sorts. It has just one land border, but that is tightly sealed. So strategically, South Korea is nearly an island.

But necessity has made South Korean a land power nonetheless. Its border with North Korea is the most militarized place on the planet. The North Korean army numbers over one million active-duty soldiers, with millions more in reserve. North Korea’s air and naval power are small in comparison. A second Korean war, like the first one, would mostly be fought on the ground. Continue reading

Teaching the American Gun Debate in a Foreign Country: No Matter What You Say, They Think We’re Bananas

Officers stand near a memorial of flowers at the scene of the mass shooting at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on 25 MayUS politics is part of my teaching load here in Korea. And part of that is, inevitably, the US gun debate. Foreigners just don’t get the US fascination with guns at all, and that is putting it mildly.

I have lived outside the US for almost 18 years – in East Asia and Western Europe – and I have discussed guns in America with non-Americans countless times given that my area is political science. Non-Americans are genuinely curious why we allow private fire arm ownership, especially when it so obviously correlates with gun violence. I can say that I have never had a non-American ever tell me they wished their country had US gun laws. Not one.

I have written a lot on foreign perceptions of US gun ownership on Twitter in the last two days. Try this, this, this, this, and especially this.

In short, there is no other country in the world which approaches guns with the laxity we do. No other conservative party in a democracy approaches guns as the GOP does. Often my students here often don’t even understand how gun ownership is a ‘conservative’ or partisan issue, which is something Americans should know. Righties in other countries are not gun fetishists. Even other societies with a frontier tradition – Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Russia – don’t have the gun culture we do.

No one else thinks about Mad Max government collapse scenarios which would require you to be armed. (Trying to explain that one to non-Americans is almost impossible.)

No one else talks about an ‘armed citizenry’ resisting tyranny. When you try to explain this one, my students often can’t even figure out why they would battling their own democratic government. Good question! And then they wonder how regular Americans with guns could outshoot the cops or the military. They can’t, of course. Another good question!

And very definitely, no one wants armed teachers, metal detectors in schools, open carry, concealed carry, and so on. Hardening schools and letting regular people walk around packing strikes them as insanely dangerous.

Inevitably then, I get three or four papers a year in my US politics class on guns, and they’re uniformly negative and incredulous. One particular title I remember from years back: ‘The US is a Gun-ocracy.’ That just about sums it up.

Support for Ukraine is Not ‘Pro-War’, because Some Things, like Sovereignty and Freedom, are More Important than Peace

Sniper RifleCalling Western support for Ukraine ‘pro-war’ is grossly manipulative and deceptive with its implication that Western elites ‘like’ war. That is obviously not the case. Does Ursula von der Leyen strike anyone as ‘pro-war’? Gimme a break.

The following is a re-post of an essay I wrote for 1945.com.

The most nauseating part of the Ukraine war in the West has been the pro-Kremlin ‘anti-war’ set – Tucker Carlson, Tulsi Gabbard, Glenn Greenwald, Michael Brendan Daugherty, and so on. To be ‘anti-anti-Putin’, at this point, is to be effectively pro-Putin and pro-fascist, just as being anti-anti-Trump at this point basically means your MAGA. You’d think the left would not go to the lengths of supporting Russian fascism in order to oppose US imperialism, but that’s where Michael Tracey, who denies the Bucha massacre, has landed.

The usual anti-imperial leftist tropes are meaningless here: Ukraine is not Iraq; this is not a US foreign policy issue; the military-industrial complex is not profiteering off the war; Hillary Clinton, the CIA, Goldman Sachs, the IMF, Davos, and all your favorite neoliberal shills are just irrelevant. Putin has built a semi-fascist regime at home, launched an aggressive war against a weak, democratic neighbor, and tolerated, if not endorsed, war crimes. That’s what matters, not relitigating the American empire debate of 20 years ago.

It is ironic that the anti-imperialist left, which wants to bemoan American empire, makes the same Amero-centric error as the neocons they hate so much: both read US choices as the only thing that matters in world politics. Foreigners have no agency; the Ukraine war is apparently about the US, not Ukraine and Russia. So the war in Ukraine becomes about NATO expansion rather than Putin’s own bluntly stated explanation that it’s because Ukraine is a fake country and really part of Russia. Good grief.

Here is that essay for 1945.com:

“Western Support for Ukraine is Not ‘Pro-War’” – Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a small but vocal clutch of Twitter and television personalities have argued that Western support for Ukrainian resistance is ‘pro-war,’ a worsening of the conflict via the provision of aid which prolongs the fighting. This posture might be best described as ‘anti-anti-Putin.’ That is, these voices read Western dislike for Russian President Vladimir Putin since February as overwrought and exaggerated, thereby deepening the war.

To critics, this position is nearly indistinguishable from a pro-Kremlin posture that refuses to admit Putin’s apparent agency in launching the war.

The most prominent voices in the group are Tucker Carlson, the highly-rated Fox News host, and his frequent guest Glenn Greenwald. Others include former Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and Substack gadflies Michael Tracey, Michael Brendon Dougherty, and Matt Taibbi. All seem to suggest that the West should cut off aid to Ukraine, on the premise that the war would end sooner.

Please read the rest here.

South Korea’s New President is Probably a Bland Centrist – and That’s Fine

South Korea's new president, Yoon Suk-yeol (right), greets the country's outgoing leader, Moon Jae-in, at his inauguration ceremony in Seoul on Tuesday. | REUTERSThis is what a peaceful transition of power looks like, American Republicans! Moon and Yoon follow the rules. That’s good. Learn from that.

This is a repost of an article I wrote for The Japan Times.

My impression from teaching my student is that the new South Korean president, Yoon Seok-Yeol, ignites no enthusiasm. He reminds them of their grandfather – old, kinda out-of-touch, lacking charisma. But honestly, after 5 year of Moon Jae-In’s rollercoaster with Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, I’ll take some bland boredom.

Yoon jumped into the race last year and does not have deep roots on the right here. Most importantly, he does not (seem to) share SK right’s fatiguing obsession with vindicating impeached former conservative president Park Geun-Hye. Park was guilty already! Get over it. I am hopeful that means he won’t prosecute Moon in his post-presidency solely for revenge, which I think almost any other traditional right-wing POTROK would do.

On policy, Yoon will lean to the right. He’ll be conservative on social mores – no gay marriage, no anti-discrimination law (sigh) – but he won’t be Trump. On economic issues – chaebol power, overlong work hours – he’ll do nothing, unfortunately. But at least on NK, we won’t have to hear anymore about what a misunderstood great guy Kim Jong-Un is. Enough of that. Those calling him the Donald Trump of Korea are probably just casting around for a label. Yoon doesn’t behave like Trump at all, thankfully.

Here is my essay for The Japan Times:

Yoon Seok-Yeol was inaugurated president of South Korea this week. He is a former prosecutor who only entered politics in the last year. He is from the conservative People Power Party. But he has no roots in that party or its various factions. Nor does he seem particularly ideological. He channels the basic anti-communism – aimed at North Korea – of the South Korean right. That has long been the core motivator of South Korean conservativism. But beyond that, he seems like a bland centrist.

This is a surprising turn. There is no obvious reason why South Korean conservatives would want him as their candidate, beyond simply defeating the left in the election. Yoon has no particularly programmatic interest in domestic politics. He is not a libertarian or religious social conservative, for example.

He has been called the ‘Donald Trump of Korea,’ but that feels mostly like foreign journalists grasping for an ideological handle for him. If he is a Trumpian populist, he has not talked that way. Trump’s signature mix of bombast, racism, tariffs, and loud nationalism is not how Yoon campaigned.

Please read the rest here.

Putin is Turning Russia into North Korea– Isolated, Fascist, Loathed, Recklessly Waving Nukes Around, Domestically Repressive, Dependent on China, Led by a Corrupt Paranoiac

RussiaYeah, it’s a click-bait-y title, but it’s kinda true! Putin’s foolish war is turning Russia into a hated, isolated country with a lot of the same problems as North Korea, just on a larger scale.

This is a repost of an essay I wrote for 1945.com.

Here is my punch-line comparing the two:

There is another country much like Russia emerging from the Ukraine war: led by a paranoid, brutal, nationalistic leader toadied to by servile cronies; with a corrupt, dysfunctional economy; loathed, feared, and isolated by much of the world; served by a corrupted, bloated military; leaning into nuclear weapons for international prestige; making outlandish threats and waving its nukes around recklessly; repressive of its own people, where anyone who can leave does; with an extreme nationalist ideology; dependent on China.

Scale is the difference of course. Russia is a great power (although only sort of now), with a UNSC veto seat and a much bigger population and economy. And yes, it’s not nearly as misgoverned as NK. But if Putin doesn’t end the war soon, Russia will be isolated as a danger to the world, as NK is. US SecDef just admitted that we want to see Russia weakened. And Putin is more reckless and and expansionist than Kim Jong Un is, ironically.

So yeah, the comparison is a stretch, but the more the war drags on, the more it works.

Here’s that 1945 essay:

Russian President Vladimir Putin is destroying Russian power, and his misbegotten Ukraine war is accelerating Russian decline. Putin himself does not seem to realize this. Western officials increasingly suspect that Putin is being lied to about the war by his closest advisors. And Putin has never seemed much interested in economic affairs. He does not appear to grasp just how much the Russian economy will shrink if the sanctions on Russia are left in place for a lengthy war.

In a few years, we may look back on this war as the breaking of Russian power, as the reduction of Russia to a middle power for at least a generation.

Putin is now a Fascist War Criminal

The regime Putin has built over the last decade and a half is increasingly authoritarian, closed, hyper-nationalistic, and repressive. Putin began his presidency seeking to restore Russian stability after the chaotic 1990s. A strong hand was arguably necessary to rein in the gangsterism of post-Soviet ‘wild west’ capitalism. But Putin slid increasingly toward open authoritarianism, rigging the constitution to stay in power almost indefinitely.

Please read the rest here.

S Korea’s Confused Response on the Ukraine War wasn’t just Reflexive Mercantilism, but also the Leverage Autocracies Gain Over Democracies who Trade with Them Too Much

South Korean voters were less than pleased with their government's standoffish stance on the Ukraine invasion, which arguably helped hawkish candidate Yoon Suk-yeol win the presidential election. | POOL / VIA REUTERS
South Korea got a lot of (deserved) criticism for its erratic, corporate-profits-uber-alles approach to the Ukraine War. It has since come around, but only after the US twisted its arm with export control threats. And its MPs mostly skipped Zelensky’s speech to the SK parliament. All in all it was a pretty poor showing.

This is a re-post of a column I wrote a few days ago for the Japan Times. For other commentary in the same vein, try here, here, and here.

Some of this was straight-up mercantilism. The government complained about corporate investments in Russian being put at risk, plus the wider trade relationship. That came off so callous and tone-deaf that South Korean citizens pushed back. But it illustrates a long-established problem in South Korean foreign policy: the country’s largest corporations are far too influential, creating a what’s-good-for-Samsung-is-good-for-Korea mentality which is wrong, plutocratic, and undemocratic.

But the larger issue applies to all democracies trading a lot with autocracies: trade creates leverage, and autocracies are happy to weaponize it. China already did this in the THAAD fight with S Korea a few years back; New Zealand has gotten criticism as a weak link; American businesses like Disney and the NBA have been craven before China. All of us democracies are going to have to start unwinding our economies from nasty dictatorships to avoid betraying our values for corporate profits, and since China is South Korea’s biggest export market, the new Yoon government should start that now.

Here is that Japan Times essay:

The Ukraine war has a been a unique challenge to Asia’s democracies. The war is far away. It involves peoples cultural distinct from this region, and its impacts will be most directly felt in Eastern Europe. Russia’s complaints and motivations mostly concern the West, particularly the post-Cold War European settlement which much reduced Russian power there. Inevitably then, the West’s response has been the most active. It is in the firing line.

But there are Asian ramifications too, which Japan, to its credit, seems to have grasped. Despite long hesitation on the use of sanctions – despite the regular use of sanctions by its American ally – Tokyo appears to have decided that this Russian aggression needs to be punished. The Russian invasion is blatant imperialism. Were Russia to get away with absorbing a smaller neighbor as the world watched, it would send a powerful signal to China that it could do the same to Taiwan. That would be a direct security threat to Japan. And Russian tactics – the purposeful shelling of civilian areas, and the operation of death squads to murder civilians en masse – have been a moral shock. Japan’s decision to support the sanctioning of Russia looks increasingly like the right call.

By contrast, South Korea’s response has a been mixed bag. When the war started, Seoul’s response was hesitant and ambiguous, provoking a wave of international criticism which the government neither seemed to understand, nor know how to respond to. The first response of South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s administration was fear for South Korean exports to Russia. Lee Jae-Myung, the leftist candidate in the recent presidential election at the time, blamed Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky for provoking the invasion, which brought another wave of social media backlash. For days, it was not clear if Seoul would support the sanctions regime. South Korea only came around when the US threatened a trade exemption its exporters need.

Read the rest here.

After the Donbas Offensive: the Oldie-but-Goodie Putin Playbook of Bogus, Russia-Dependent, Breakaway Statelets

Ukraine ChernihivPutin can’t conquer Ukraine, but taking Donbas, creating another ‘frozen conflict,’ and ending the war before it all gets so much worse for Russia is a pretty good option.

This is a re-post of an essay I wrote for 1945.com.

There was some chatter that Putin would try to end the war by V-E Day (May 9). That would be smart. The war is a disaster for Putin. His military has been revealed as much weaker than expected. China will never see Russia as a equal now. The sanctions are going to reduce Russia’s economy by 10% this year. Oligarchs are losing their assets, and the Russian people will sour on this if it turns into a long grind like Afghanistan in the 80s.

So why not go back Putin’s long-established playbook of ginning up frozen conflicts? Putin got quite good at stirring up local conflicts on Russia’s periphery, getting Russia invited in as peacekeepers, getting local stooges to depend autonomy, and then having the whole mess freeze in place so that Russia could project power into an area and inhibit consolidation of western-leaning states on his border.

It seemed like that was originally the plan with recognition of Donetsk and Luhansk, but then Putin – probably drinking his own kool-aid about Ukraine being a ‘fake country’ – decided to show what a tough guy he was with an invasion he clearly didn’t really prepare for. Now, if the Donbas offensive doesn’t generate a real breakthrough, Putin is stuck either with a war of attrition or establishing a ‘frozen conflict’ in Donbas in order to get out of the war before the costs in material, sanctions, and prestige get any worse. That’s the best way out for him now.

Here is that essay from 1945:

Putin’s Likely Ukraine Goal Now is Breakaway and Pseudo-Republics in Eastern Ukraine – The Battle of Kyiv is over, and Russia has suffered a surprising and significant defeat. A middle power has inflicted a stinging loss on an ostensible great power. Russia’s status as a world power is obviously in question now. Despite its size and weight, it cannot reduce a significantly smaller neighbor.

Russian President Vladimir Putin must now – if only to impress his Chinese backers and justify the war to his own people – win some kind of battlefield victory elsewhere in Ukraine.

It increasingly looks like the Russian effort will be a tank surge in the Donbas. Rumor suggests that Putin is looking to end the war quickly, ideally by May 9, which is VE (Victory in Europe) Day, the day the Nazis finally surrender to the Soviet Union.

This would be a wise choice. Putin pretty clearly cannot take over all of Ukraine at this point. And the sanctions will soon bite deeply into the Russian economy. This war is breaking Russian power and pushing its economy into a major contraction. Putin himself will become persona non grata, unable to travel or access his overseas assets.

Read the rest here.

Stop Invoking the ‘Clash of Civilizations.’ There are Too Many ‘Intra-Civilizational’ Wars and Conflicts It Can’t Explain

Why Civilizations Really ClashI am fairly exhausted that this framework gets brought back to life every few years. Yes, it has an exciting historical sweep, but it is conceptually a mess and empirically doesn’t really work very well.

This essay is a re-post of an article I wrote for 1945.com, based on a Twitter thread I wrote in response to a column by Ross Douthat from the New York Times. Lots of other people have criticized Huntington over the years. My concerns below are mostly conceptual – I don’t think Huntington’s civilizations hold up very well – but here is an empirical evaluation of Huntington’s troubles by a friend of mine.

In brief, my concern is that Huntington’s civilizations are just not convincingly aggregated or monolithic enough to be coherent actors. He says in the essay that conflict in the future will occur between civilizations. This means that civilizations acting en bloc will either supplement or displace states as the primary conflict actors in world politics. But this just isn’t convincing, because the divisions inside many of his civilizations are so deep and serious that they cripple his civilizations from acting as coherent agents.

Here are some intra-civilizational wars and conflicts which undercut civilizational agency (i.e., sink Huntington’s concepts of civilizations):

Russia vs Ukraine in Orthodox civilization

Rwandan genocide and ‘WWI of Africa’ after Zaire’s fall in African civilization

Sunni-Shina contestation in the Persian Gulf in Islamic civilization

Chinese contestation with Japan, Taiwan, and Vietnam, plus inter-Korean competition in Confucian civilization

In fact, a Confucian civilization so obviously  doesn’t work – because there is so much conflict within it – that Huntington doesn’t propose a Confucian civilization, enough though that’s what his framework demands! Instead he kludges: he hives off Japan as its own civilization (?) in order to, unconvincingly, accommodate Sino-Japanese competition, now can now be read as ‘inter-civilizational.’ But even that dodge doesn’t explain China-Taiwan, China-Vietnam (in the South China Sea), S Korea-NK. What a mess.

Here’s that 1945 essay:

In The New York Times recently Ross Douthat suggested that Samuel Huntington’s famous theory of global politics, the clash of civilizations, could help explain the Ukraine War and other contemporary world conflicts. This is a curious choice because academic international relations theory does not much use the clash of civilizations in research or teaching because it is riddled with conceptual and predictive errors.

It does not, in fact, explain the Ukraine War, and it woefully exaggerates the importance and coherence of ‘civilizations’ as conflict actors.

Modern Conflict is Not Always ‘Civilizational’

The most basic problem with the framework is its insistence that conflict has moved away from political, ideological, territorial, and other sources of competition to civilizational clashes.

Huntington defines civilizations via culture, especially religion, in part because he first worked it up in response to the Balkan wars of the 1990s. There the Serb-Croat-Bosnia split overlapped with an Orthodox-Catholic-Islamic division. And the harshness of that war seemed to justify Huntington’s religious pessimism.

Read the rest here.

Putin is now a Fascist, Imperialist War Criminal. He Himself – his Continuance in Office – is now the Biggest Issue in Any Ukraine Peace Negotiations

Tanks Belarus PutinThe death squad war crimes in Ukraine now mean that Putin himself is the biggest obstacle to a peace deal. He won’t agree to leave power, but with him still office, neither Ukraine nor the West is likely to accept the full re-normalization of Russia, by which I mean the rollback of the war sanctions and the re-entry of Russia into normal diplomatic intercourse with West.

This post is based on an op-ed I wrote at 1945.com.

Just as the Kaiser had to abdicate in Germany after WWI, and the Japanese military junta had to step aside after WWII, so will there be enormous pressure to insist on regime change as part of a sanctions relief deal. Biden already blurted this out last week, and now, after the revelation of the war crimes, it is almost impossible to imagine the West interacting with Russia normally again while Putin is still in charge.

Putin is a fascist, imperialist war criminal. He has built an near-fascist regime at home. He has openly invaded another country in an enormous land war not seen in Europe in decades. He has tolerated death squads systematically killing hundreds of civilians to terrorize his opponents.

Because of this, no Western leader will likely ever meet Putin again, and the sanctions will stay on Russia even if it ends the war. Russia under Putin is just too dangerous.

Here is that essay for 1945:

Russian Re-Normalization with Putin in Charge is Likely Impossible after His War Crimes – At some point, the Ukraine war will end. Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said the war will last years. Even if true, the war will conclude eventually. A part of the settlement will be the ‘re-normalization’ of Russia. This means rolling back the sanctions and permitting Russia to resume normal economic and diplomatic interaction with the sanctioning states.

After World War I, France famously inhibited Germany’s resumption of normal intercourse with the world via the Versailles Treaty. This is now widely seen as an enormous error. Versailles crippled the Weimar Republic and opened space for both rightist revanchist and Marxist revolutionary movements. In time, fascism destroyed a weak interwar German democracy.

A core challenge of any final settlement with Russia be the terms of its re-normalization. Russia is a large, nuclear-armed, consequential power with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Even if the war reduces it to middle power status, it will retain enormous potential to cause trouble. We are already seeing the difficulties of fully de-linking from the Russian economy. It owes debt payments to western institutions who do not wish to lose those monies; it supplies natural gas to Europe which has struggled to find alternatives; it, and Ukraine, are food exporters, and those prices look set to rise.

Please read the rest here.

The Post-War Re-Normalization of Russia Increasingly Turns on Whether Putin Stays in Power, especially after the War Crimes

Putin RussiaAt some point the war in Ukraine will end, and Russia will seek to re-enter diplomacy and the world economy, and shed the heavy sanctions and isolation on it. This will be a major part of whatever the final peace deal emerges. (This is a local re-post of an essay I wrote at 1945.com.)

The model of what not to do is, of course, Weimar Germany. France particularly fought the re-normalization of post-WWI Germany. This fired a revanchist far right which eventually destroyed the Weimar Republic. Any final status deal on Ukraine shouldn’t punish Russia so harshly that we drive its domestic politics toward even more radical right voices than Putin’s.

Conversely, this was pretty clearly a war of choice. Russia has to be punished in someway. Also, Russia is now pretty clearly a threat to its neighbors. There is a case against re-normalization – to leave sanctions and diplomatic isolation on belligerent Russia after the war to keep it weak.

This will be a tough balance to find, especially since Putin will likely stay in power which will insure a continuing informal isolation: western leaders will probably never meet Putin personally again; western companies will likely never return with Putin in power.

My own thoughts on the terms a peace deal are here. In short, I think Ukraine should get an indemnity, EU membership, a military, and territorial integrity, while Russia gets Ukraine out of NATO, sanctions rollback, diplomatic re-normalization, Crimea, and Putin in power.

Here is that essay at 1945:

It is now apparent that Russia will not conquer Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has significantly over-reached. His defense ministry recently scaled back its war aims. The army now claims to only seek to gain the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine. If Putin follows through on this change, it should take pressure off the Ukrainian capital and the Black Sea coastline.

The War is Stalemated, Perhaps even Turning against Russia

There is obviously much cause for skepticism. Putin has limited his goals because Russia is stalemated in the war, perhaps even on the cusp of losing. It is highly unlikely that Putin has changed his beliefs that Ukraine is a fake country that should be controlled by Russia.

Nevertheless, this partial de-escalation is the first step toward resolving the conflict. Now that Putin’s offensive has culminated, he is unlikely to make any major new gains.

Please read the rest here.