Is Russia destined to lose in Ukraine? What would that mean for the future of liberalism and the West?
Francis Fukuyama, the political theorist who developed the famous “end of history” thesis, is generating some buzz with a new piece that makes a stark prediction: “Russia is heading for an outright defeat in Ukraine.”
Fukuyama argues that Russian President Vladimir Putin badly miscalculated, underestimating Ukrainian resolve to resist annexation, and that Putin doesn’t have the military resources to subjugate the whole country.
This comes as fears are mounting that Putin, angry and frustrated, is escalating the civilian slaughter to industrial levels. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky just warned that the situation is “urgent.”
Yet Fukuyama remains optimistic, and not just about a near-term Russian defeat. He predicts such an outcome could have world-historical long-term implications:
A Russian defeat will make possible a “new birth of freedom,” and get us out of our funk about the declining state of global democracy. The spirit of 1989 will live on, thanks to a bunch of brave Ukrainians.
The 1989 reference, of course, is to the end of the Soviet Union. In “The End of History and the Last Man,” Fukuyama argued that Western liberalism had triumphed over all its ideological competitors, and would end up as the single form of government over the long term.
The rise of illiberal authoritarianism around the world — including here at home — has led some to question that thesis. But Fukuyama’s argument is more complicated than it’s usually credited with being.
So I asked Fukuyama, who has a forthcoming book on liberalism’s struggles, to expand on his optimism about Ukraine and the future of liberal democracy. An edited and condensed version of our exchange follows.
Greg Sargent: Why should we not believe that eventually Russia will grind down Ukraine through mass slaughter, necessitating some kind of surrender by Zelensky, followed by a partial occupation and ferocious resistance?
Francis Fukuyama: Russia does not begin to have a large enough military to occupy Ukraine and bring Ukraine to a point where they’d make that kind of concession. This is a country with a population of over 40 million, and Putin has already committed the vast bulk of his military.
It’s extremely costly for the Russians to keep up this kind of siege. Every single day, they lose a large number of armored vehicles, men, supplies. The morale in the Russian army appears to be extremely low.