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What is victory? Adjust the "friend or foe" system or die

For a community (nation) to survive, it needs, first of all, to be aware of itself and its difference from others. When the secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine, Oleksiy Danilov, says (during the discussion "What should be the strategy of Ukraine and the world towards Russia after our victory?" held by and EFI Group under the New Country special project last week - ed.) that Ukrainians must "rediscover themselves and know their history" – either consciously or unconsciously – he is conveying a key need for survival in any mass conflict. This need is the ability to identify any object as a "friend or foe". If the friend-or-foe recognition system is dysfunctional, there can be no victory.

Photo: EPA/UPG

"Those who are convinced that we do not need to study Russia or build relevant strategies are not able to think in terms of victories"

"Friend or foe" identification is a key to survival. A primitive man first asked his fellow man about his tribe to know whether to fight or negotiate. A small child is taught to distinguish between "poo" and "toy". A big child is taught to determine what is defeat and what is victory.

The global functioning of the "friend or foe" system for a political nation is determined by culture. In order to survive, you need to know who you are and how you differ from what you do not want to be. Who are the "others" and how they differ from you? What is the difference between us and the citizens of the Russian Federation? How do we explain this difference to other peoples so that they do not interfere with our ability to implement the "friend or foe" identification by seeking to have a civilised exchange of views with Russians? This is necessary for survival.

However, it is no longer enough to win. If, dear Ukrainians, in addition to the desire to "survive", you also aspire to "win", then nurturing such an ambition requires more than just being concerned exclusively with yourself. If someone says "we need to understand who we are, what our history is, and let the Russians deal with Russia", and in the next sentence, confidently says that "we will gain control over the 1991 borders", this means that this person is lying. Consciously or unconsciously.

To identify someone as "friend or foe", it is not enough to know exactly who you are (i.e. to identify "friends"), it is also imperative to know in as much detail as possible who the "foe" is and their characteristics in order to promptly identify and defeat them.

Photo: EPA/UPG

People who are convinced that we do not need to study Russians and the Russian Federation, or build relevant strategies, that we need to concentrate only on ourselves are those who are unable to think in terms of victory.

Of course, you can always go back to the primitive state and say that "all those who are not your own are strangers". But civilisational evolution has proven that this is a losing scenario.

When someone convinces you that they will support you as long as you need them, but then clearly demonstrates by their behaviour that these words hold no water, how do you classify such a subject? At what moments will he be a "friend" and when will you have to state that he is a "foe"?

It is obvious that many people, including those at the highest military and political levels in Ukraine, find it difficult to accept deep down that the enemy should be treated at least with the same attention as themselves. It is not for nothing that they say "keep your friends close and your enemies closer". Instead, people who have remained in the infantile dichotomy of "poo-toy" know that "poo" should be avoided as much as possible.

But in the modern world, the metamodern situation is becoming exponentially more complicated. A person in an infantile position has no chance of winning. Because every subject can ambivalently and simultaneously play the role of both "friend" or "foe", depending on our specific goal and a particular moment in time. Metamodernism is about the perception of reality, not reality itself. It is a world where nothing is true and everything is possible.

Such a world means that knowing your friends and foes is no longer enough to achieve the desired victory. You still need to be very clear about your specific goals and desires at a particular moment in time.

Photo: Facebook/General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine

Thus, the only possible path to victory can be the effective operation of the "friend or foe" system, which includes:

● knowledge of who we are, what we want and how we see our future;

● a deep knowledge of our enemy, in what guises he appears inside and outside our country, what future is possible for them, and what future we want for them;

● how we can articulate our desires and our goals at any given time.

If at least one aspect of this system fails, we can forget about winning. Because of the broken friend-or-foe system, business representatives somehow think that military uniforms can bother them. Due to the broken system of "friend or foe", a taxi driver considers the requirement to speak Ukrainian to be aggressive behaviour. And other people make this taxi driver an attractive political tool to be supported and used for their PR and promotion. Because of the broken system of "friend or foe", we demand that the whole world hear and understand us, but we are not going to hear and understand other people.

In such a situation, we must forget about the word "victory" altogether, as well as about the restoration of the 1991 borders, and certainly forget that something will fall apart "like dew in the sun..."

"First our military victory, then the transformation of the Russian Federation"

Valeriy Pekar gave the best description of the Ukrainian victory:

"Victory is a peace that is better for us than the previous one. Peace that is the same as the previous one is not a victory. Peace that is better than the previous one is when Russia never threatens Ukraine again. This cannot be achieved by military means alone, but also by political means. Irreversible changes must take place in Russia itself."

Valeriy Pekar
Photo: Max Trebukhov
Valeriy Pekar

This description is expanded upon in more detail in the "Manifesto for Sustainable Peace", which seems to be rejected by representatives of Ukraine's current military and political leadership because their "friend or foe" system is out of order.

A key aspect of sustainable peace is political change within the Russian Federation, which is inextricably linked to the withdrawal of all enemy paramilitary groups from the sovereign territory of Ukraine and the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity.

At the same time, the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity can be both a cause and a consequence of political change within the Russian Federation. Most experts (including me) do not believe in any change in Russia that would allow Ukraine to be liberated. Therefore, the liberation of Ukraine will be the key to changes in Russia. First, a military victory, then the transformation of Russia.

However, the liberation of Ukraine depends on the decisions of the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Moreover, each of these Western partners has clearly articulated that an uncontrolled disintegration of the Russian Federation or any socio-political cataclysms there are not in their interests.

Photo: Max Trebukhov

This means that every Ukrainian leader who is now repeating the mantra "Russia will collapse!", "Russia will collapse!" should realise that he is delaying the provision of necessary military assistance to Ukraine...

Politico columnist Susan Glasser, who wrote a political portrait of National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan for the New Yorker, noted in her article that, according to one former US official she spoke to, "a Ukrainian victory would present challenges for American foreign policy, since it would 'threaten the integrity of the Russian state and the Russian regime and create instability throughout Eurasia'".

Susan Glasser also writes that Ukraine's desire to take back occupied Crimea has been a particular concern for Sullivan, since this scenario carries the highest risk of Putin following through on his nuclear threats. Another commentator, whose name Glasser does not mention, explained to her: "It's not like they think, Oh, we're going to give them atacms and then Russia is going to launch an attack against NATO. It's because they recognize that it's not going anywhere—that they are fighting a war they can't afford either to win or lose."

Of course, Sullivan disagreed with this interpretation, saying that "we are not fighting for a draw here" but must seek the best possible outcome in the interests of the American people.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan during a briefing at the White House on 11 July 2022
Photo: EPA/UPG
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan during a briefing at the White House on 11 July 2022

And here we need to recall the effective work of the "friend or foe" system again. We need to accept as a fact that the interests of the American people in this war with Russia and the interests of the Ukrainian people are not the same. And there is nothing wrong with that. Because Jake Sullivan's system of "friend or foe" works perfectly. It is our system of "friend or foe" that does not work properly.

"There will be no collapse of the Russian Federation, because it is not beneficial to anyone"

One way or another, there will be no disintegration of the Russian Federation, because it is not in anyone's interest. This means that disintegration processes will continue, because all empires fall apart, but the problem is that the collapse can happen tomorrow or in 40-70 years. Are we ready for the Russian Federation to continue to exist in its current state for another 40-70 years?

What form of existence of the Russian Federation can suit us? This is the key subject of discussion that should be taking place in Ukrainian society, but it is not. It does not exist because Ukrainian society is kept in the most infantile state possible by the efforts of those who manage the United News telethon and have created inflated expectations of the situation on the battlefield. These inflated expectations have stumped the commander-in-chief and seem to leave him no room for political manoeuvre.

The EU's €50 billion financial aid package is being blocked by pro-Russian Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico. Representatives of the Trump wing of the US Republican Party are blocking the US aid package for Ukraine.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L) and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico during a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, 26 October 2023
Photo: EPA/UPG
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L) and Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico during a meeting of the European Council in Brussels, 26 October 2023

Iran, by initiating an attack on Israel, has levelled all our diplomatic hopes for building relations with Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa.

In these conditions, we continue to repeat the magic mantra of "the collapse of Russia" instead of a broad public discussion of strategies and their flexibility.

The way out of this situation is to unite the efforts of the state apparatus and civil society around the initiatives of President Zelenskyy's Peace Formula and the Manifesto for Sustainable Peace. This is not about creating one document out of the two. They can continue to exist separately, but it is critical that information and expertise diffuse between the two processes of improving and implementing both initiatives. This is especially true given that the progress made in Jeddah has been virtually levelled out by the escalation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which Ukraine supports Israel, after Volodymyr Zelenskyy proposed his visit to Tel Aviv.

Central to this work should be the construction of a plan for the transformation of the Russian Federation without its disintegration. What specific state of existence of the Russian Federation can guarantee the absence of threats to the world and to Ukraine, including the restoration of territorial integrity.

This transformation plan must clearly describe what format of political system in the Russian Federation could suit Ukraine? How would institutions work there and who could be a separate partner of Ukraine, choosing money and the future over loyalty to Vladimir Putin? Who and how would carry out the transformation processes in Russia and how could we influence their course?

Photo: EPA/UPG

If we are able to answer these questions, such answers will clearly reveal our "friends and foes". Accordingly, this will remove the problem of the discussion of "good Russians". If we have a clear plan, then those who help us implement it are our partners. Anyone who hinders it is our enemy. And it doesn't matter what language he or she speaks or how they behave, as long as they help us achieve the goal we have set for ourselves, as long as the "friend or foe" system works.

Dmytro Zolotukhin, Executive Director of the Institute of Post-Information Society
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