War in Ukraine: The Clash of Norms and Ontologies


  • Andrej Krickovic Higher School of Economics
  • Richard Sakwa University of Kent


The Russo-Ukrainian war from February 2022 represents a major inflection point in international politics. Ukraine has become the focal point for a larger contest between models of the post-Cold War peace order, with one advanced by the Euro-Atlantic allies and the other by Russia. Both were rooted in a similar normative framework but with very different ontologies. The Western powers and Russia are locked into a struggle described by the West as one between democracy and autocracy. But it runs much deeper as it is based on the two sides' conflicting understandings of the fundamental nature of international politics. The contesting parties talk past one another as if they are living in different realities, which in a sense they are. While the gulf at the normative level may be addressed through diplomacy, the ontological character of the conflict frustrates any attempts to achieve lasting peace. At the same time, countries in the Global South (except those with security ties with the US) do not perceive that their ontological security is substantively affected by the war in Ukraine. They have been reluctant to join the anti-Russian sanctions and have voiced disquiet at the Global North’s attempts to embroil them in a struggle not of their making and which reproduces their subaltern status. 

Author Biographies

Andrej Krickovic, Higher School of Economics

Andrej Krickovic is an associate professor of International Relations at the Higher School of Economics (HSE), in Moscow. His many articles have been published in leading journals such as International Politics, International Studies Review, the Chinese Journal of International Relations, and Post-Soviet Affairs.

Richard Sakwa, University of Kent

Richard Sakwa is is Professor Emeritus of Politics at the University of Kent and a Senior Research Fellow at the National Research University-Higher School of Economics in Moscow. He has published widely on global, Russian and post-communist affairs. His latest books include Russia against the Rest: The Post-Cold War Crisis of World Order (Cambridge University Press, 2017), The Putin Paradox (I. B. Tauris, 2020) and Deception: Russiagate and the New Cold War (Lexington Books, 2022).






Special Issue: War in Ukraine