Common sense dictates the Russia-Ukraine conflict must end, and serious effort should be invested in achieving the peace settlement.
Consider the costs in lives and treasure. Despite the unimaginable toll in lives and the vast spending and commitment of arms by the U.S. over the past 10 months, victory for either side is not on the horizon.
One hundred thousand Ukrainian troops have been killed or injured since Russia’s invasion in February, according to the European Commission’s President Ursula von der Leyen. The Pentagon assessed the number of dead or injured Russian troops at 100,000 and dead Ukrainian civilians at 40,000.
U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Mark Milley admitted to reporters in November that the “probability of Ukrainian military victory happening anytime soon is not high.” The U.S. weapons arsenal is severely depleted. There’s a $19 billion backlog of weapons that will not reach Taiwan on schedule, according to The Wall Street Journal, jeopardizing Taiwan’s ability to defend itself from an invasion by China.
WHAT IS PUTIN THINKING? WHERE THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR STANDS NINE MONTHS AFTER INVASION
The Pentagon has used up, in 10 months of the war, 13 years worth of Stinger production and five years worth of Javelin production, according to Raytheon’s CEO. U.S. defense industry production capacity to restock those inventories is extremely limited. U.S. security aid in November reached $68 billion, and the Biden administration has asked Congress for another $37.7 billion.
But the probability of a peace settlement remains extremely low. Moscow, Kyiv and Washington — the key stakeholders in the current war — maintain irreconcilable positions while pursuing unachievable goals.
Russia’s position. Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite tactical setbacks on the battlefield, insists on the West’s recognition of Crimea, which Russia invaded in 2014, and four other recently annexed territories in Eastern Ukraine, as Russian. This is a non-starter for the U.S. or Europe, as such a concession would amount to handing victory to Putin.
On Tuesday, Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov ruled out peace negotiations, insisting that Russia “will achieve the goals it has set.” Putin almost certainly is preparing for a protracted war of attrition, having noted on Wednesday that “to start seeing the results of the special operation will be a long process.”
FIVE REASONS WHY BIDEN MUST MOVE TO DE-ESCALATE THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR NOW
In November, Russia completed a partial mobilization, the first since World War II, having added 318,000 military personnel and increased its 2023 military budget by $13.6 billion to $84 billion.
Moscow also continues covert mobilization, upgrading recruitment centers, drafting new call-up lists and releasing convicts from prisons and sending them to the front. Putin is betting that by subjecting Ukrainians to unimaginable suffering, depriving them of heat, electricity and drinking water as Russian forces are pounding Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, he can compel Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to accept Russia’s demands.
Ukraine’s position. Zelenskyy also continues to pursue unrealistic war aims. In early November, he set conditions for “genuine peace talks” with Russia. Kyiv seeks to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity by driving the Russians out of the entire country, including Crimea, get compensated for the destruction of the nation by Russia and have key Russian officials and some soldiers tried by the International Criminal Court. Until recently, Zelenskyy insisted he would only negotiate with a new Russian president, clearly not a serious condition.
So far, the charismatic former actor has been very successful at convincing American and European governments to part with large amounts of cash from their countries’ treasuries to help defend his country from the Russians. U.S. aid to Kyiv has exceeded 50% of Ukraine’s 2021 GDP of $200.1 billion. A recently released poll, however, reveals that support among Americans for indefinite aid to Ukraine has dropped, and nearly half of Americans (47%) believe that Washington must urge Kyiv to settle for peace.
It is unlikely that Zelenskyy’s recent appeal for another $55 billion to cover budget shortfalls and reconstruction will find many supporters. Even Elon Musk, whose donation to Ukraine through his company SpaceX to provide Starlink satellite communications is projected to reach $100 million by the end of the year, indicated that there are limits to his generosity. Without Starlink internet terminals, on which the Ukrainian military is reliant for command and control, Kyiv’s ability to continue the fight will be severely degraded.
The Biden Administration position. While Washington has scaled down its goals for this proxy war with Russia, it still operates in the wishful thinking paradigm. Calls for Putin’s removal by Biden and others betrayed how removed from reality Washington politicians are. Contemplating a regime change in a country that possesses the world’s largest nuclear arsenal and whose president enjoys a 75% approval rating is wishful thinking. So was the objective articulated by Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in April to “weaken” the Russian military “to the degree it cannot do the kind of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.”
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken articulated a much more modest agenda on Tuesday: drive Russians back to pre-invasion lines, letting Putin keep the strategic peninsula of Crimea and parts of Donbas. Expelling the Russians from captured and annexed territories would require massive additional outlays in military hardware and involves the risk of Russia’s use of weapons of mass destruction.
On Wednesday, Putin issued yet another veiled nuclear threat as he and his security council are mulling a response to Ukraine’s strike on Russian nuclear missile carriers stationed in a strategic aviation airbase in Russia proper. Paragraph 19 of the Russian nuclear doctrine allows the Kremlin to press the “red button” to launch a retaliatory strike when its strategic weapons facilities are attacked.
The Biden administration understands there’s a credible threat of Putin authorizing a nuclear strike with a low-yield tactical warhead in Ukraine. This is why the Pentagon secretly modified the long-range HIMARS rocket launchers before shipping them to Kyiv to prevent Ukrainians from firing missiles deep into Russian territory.
It’s also why, on Tuesday, Blinken insisted that the U.S. did not encourage or help Ukrainians carry out strikes inside Russia. The Biden administration likely is coming to a realization that at some point you run out of taxpayer money and your own defensive arsenal if you continue fueling a war that is unwinnable — even though it may be a just war.
The Russians have a very high tolerance for casualties, having sacrificed more than 20 million during World War II. Unless Washington steps in and compels Zelenskyy to negotiate an end to this bitter, devastating stalemate, Putin will fight till the last Ukrainian standing.
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