March 26, 2023

I understand why the US will be in deep trouble if the Ukraine war continues ‘at a draw’

The president’s biggest mistake Russian President Vladimir Putin So here at Ukraine It was to give the West the impression that Russia You can lose the war. The initial attack on Kyiv bogged down and failed. The Russian giant did not look as formidable as it first appeared. The war suddenly looked like a confrontation between a demoralized mass of incompetent Russians and energetic and skillful Ukrainian patriots.

These expectations naturally elevated the Ukrainian war aims. President Volodymyr Zelensky She was once in the camp in favor of a peace agreement in Ukraine. “Guarantees of security, neutrality, and the non-nuclear status of our state. He declared a month after the start of the conflict. Now Zelensky demands a complete victory: the return of every inch of the territory occupied by Russia, including Crimea. Polls show that Ukrainians will settle for nothing less. While the battles are going on Donetsk that it LuhanskUkrainian leaders and some of their backers in the West are already dreaming of Nuremberg-style trials for Putin and his top brass in Moscow.

The problem is that Ukraine has only one sure way to achieve this feat in the short term: direct NATO involvement in the war. Only the full deployment, Desert Storm style, of NATO and US forces and weapons we She will be able to achieve a broad Ukrainian victory in the near future. (Not to mention that such a proliferation would likely increase the odds of one of the war’s darkest prospects: the more Russia loses, the more likely it is to resort to nuclear weapons.)

A Leopard 2 tank is operated by a Ukrainian soldier during a parade at the military base in Swietoszow, Poland, on February 13. filming: Maciek Nabrdalik/The New York Times

In the absence of NATO intervention, the Ukrainian army is able to hold its line and regain territory, as it did in Kharkiv that it KhersonBut complete victory is almost impossible. If Russia could hardly advance a few hundred meters a day in BakhmutAt the cost of 50 to 70 men, since the Ukrainians are well entrenched, will the Ukrainians be able to advance better than the Russians, who are equally rooted in the whole region between Russia and the eastern bank of the Dnipro delta, including the coast of the Sea of ​​Azov and the isthmus to the peninsula Crimea? What was a meat grinder in one direction tends to become a meat grinder in the other.

Moreover, Russia has almost completely turned its state into a war economy, while the United States has not yet met the production needs to supply its foreign partners. The war has already consumed 13 years of making Stinger surface-to-air missiles and five years of Javelin missiles, and the United States has delivered $19 billion in weapons to Taiwan late. Western media reports have focused on Russian men evading draft orders, but the Kremlin still has plenty of soldiers to draw on even after September’s 300,000-man draft.

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The debate over the sending of heavy war equipment to Ukraine—which particularly consumed the German press—is, in this sense, irrelevant. It is not clear when all of NATO’s promised Leopard 1, 2 and M1 Abrams tanks will be operational. Ukraine ordered 300-500 tanks, NATO promised only about 200 tanks.

It makes sense for Zelensky to invest so much of his diplomacy in these arms shipments: he needs to send a message to the Kremlin that Ukraine is ready for a long and difficult conflict. But in terms of combat-ready equipment for the next six months, very little of what was promised would be achievable. If Zelensky wants to complete his self-portrait of Winston Churchill sooner rather than later, he will want to hasten the day when he can toast the entry of NATO — that is, the United States — into the conflict.

The problem for Kiev is that – regardless of public assertions – Washington has no interest in entering the war directly. General Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has expressed the view that a complete short-term victory is impossible for Russia and Ukraine. President Joe Biden and his national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, were adamant about preventing the United States from entering the conflict. Nor does the American public show any desire for direct intervention. The United States may have an interest in continuing the war so long as it reduces Russia’s ability to operate in other parts of the world, increases the value of American energy exports, and serves as a proper rehearsal for Allied unity and coordination. economic war against Beijing.

What is less, the Kremlin’s goals in the war may have – by necessity – been scaled back. Seemingly resigned to its inability to effect regime change in Kiev and seize a larger chunk of Ukrainian territory, the Kremlin now appears to be focused primarily on maintaining its positions in Luhansk and Donetsk to secure access to Crimea. These are areas that, even under the best of circumstances, would be difficult for Ukraine to reintegrate.

In the current situation, Ukraine’s economic future seems viable even without the territories currently occupied by Russia. Ukraine did not become a landlocked country, and Kiev still controls seven of the eight regions with the highest GDP per capita. Ukraine would risk jeopardizing its position in a counterattack. Ironically, continuing the war also serves Russian interests: It gives Moscow more opportunities to attack Ukraine so that it becomes a buffer state, making it less attractive as a candidate for NATO and EU membership.

Historian Stephen Kotkin recently argued that it would be better for the Ukrainians to define their victory as EU membership rather than full reconquest of Ukrainian lands. What’s more, with the exception of countries that remained neutral during the Cold War, every historical case of entering the EU was preceded by joining NATO, which since the 1990s has served as Europe’s risk-rating agency, ensuring that countries are safe for investment. . This rarely goes unnoticed by the Ukrainian population: surveys (mostly excluding Luhansk and Donetsk since 2014) show that interest in the country’s NATO membership appears to have escalated since the beginning of the conflict.

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In the end, only Washington has the power to decide how much Ukraine it wants to place under its umbrella. Genuine official reluctance to bring Ukraine into NATO has seldom been more pronounced, and public support for Kyiv has never been more pronounced. Meanwhile, European leaders may soon find themselves in the unwelcome position of persuading the Ukrainians that access to the common market and a European economic recovery plan is a reasonable exchange for “total victory”. / Translation by Guilherme Rousseau

* Thomas Meny is a researcher at the Max Planck Society in Göttingen, Germany. He writes about US foreign policy and international relations for the London Review of Books, The Guardian, and more.