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So Now Washington Tells Us

Even the blob doesn’t believe in Ukraine’s coming victory over Russia.

Screen Shot 2024-01-03 at 11.38.05 AM
Credit: Ministry of Defense Ukraine

With Ukrainians suffering through their second winter at war, the Biden administration apparently has abandoned thoughts of victory and Ukraine whole and free. Instead, Washington believes the two sides must negotiate.

Reported Politico

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The Biden administration and European officials are quietly shifting their focus from supporting Ukraine’s goal of total victory over Russia to improving its position in an eventual negotiation to end the war, according to a Biden administration official and a European diplomat based in Washington. Such a negotiation would likely mean giving up parts of Ukraine to Russia.

This is the fruit of nearly two years at war.

In February 2022, the U.S. refused to negotiate with Russia over NATO’s pledge to induct Ukraine. Washington insisted that the promise remained inviolate as the transatlantic alliance drew Kiev ever closer militarily. Leaving Ukraine territorially whole but politically nonaligned was just too high a price to pay for peace in the Biden administration’s view. So the U.S. launched an expensive and increasingly bitter proxy war against Russia with outright victory as the goal.

Almost two years have passed. Ukraine has been ravaged. Territory has been lost. Cities have been bombed. Millions of people have been displaced. Many Ukrainians have fled abroad. 

The West’s highly touted Wunderwaffe failed to deliver victory. Ukraine’s military has suffered staggering though officially unacknowledged losses. As the flow of volunteers ebbed, Kiev revived the ancient British practice of impressment, snatching young and old men alike off the streets for military service. 

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Dissension fills Kiev, with political and military officials at one another’s throats. To some of his own aides, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s insistence on victory has gone from heroic to delusional. Public desire to end the war is rising, as “many Ukrainians are growing tired and weary of the war. One Ukrainian military source admitted that average Ukrainians were talking of a truce yet there were questions around what the price of the truce would be.” Allied enthusiasm for pouring more money and weapons into a Ukrainian black hole is fading.

So much for achieving victory. Recovering the Donbass and Crimea. Defanging Moscow. Ousting Putin. Breaking up Russia. Rather, the allied objective is now to prepare Kiev for negotiations. From Politico again: 

“That’s been our theory of the case throughout—the only way this war ends ultimately is through negotiation,” said the official, a White House spokesperson who was given anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the record. “We want Ukraine to have the strongest hand possible when that comes.”

Now they tell us! Before the war, Ukraine likely could have kept its territory by agreeing to neutrality—without suffering tens or hundreds of thousands of casualties, enduring destruction of many cities and towns, deforming their land with mines, fortifications, and graves, and facing endless combat. The allies would have maintained non-military ties with the Ukrainian people while saving hundreds of billions of dollars and conserving their military arsenals. The West would not have pushed Putin and other Russian nationalists eastward into a tighter embrace with China. And the entire world would have been spared the severe economic dislocations caused by both combat operations and economic sanctions.

Even after the invasion, Moscow and Kiev were apparently close to another compromise, with an emphasis on Ukraine’s agreement to remain outside of NATO. Yet allied governments apparently dissuaded the Zelensky government from moving forward, creating another lost opportunity, one which would have left the Ukrainians far better off than today.

Negotiations will now be much more difficult. Bitterness has metastasized, making any agreement harder to reach. The horrific human and economic losses have caused both parties to demand more concessions as compensation. Nor is any side inclined to trust the other. Ukrainians disdain any talks with Moscow, but it has reason to doubt Ukraine and the allies, which now admit the 2014 Minsk agreement was a fraud, designed to give Kiev a breather in which to strengthen its military. What assurances will Russia now demand to choose peace?

The only possible conclusion is that most Western policymakers are fools. Rarely have so many American and European officials blundered so spectacularly and at such terrible cost to all. Many if not most still refuse to admit the obvious. Asserting that the world as we know it might end if Moscow triumphs, they continue to publicly press for increased commitment to and aid for Ukraine. 

Of course, recognizing the sheer idiocy of allied policy does not justify the Putin government’s invasion of Ukraine. That was a criminal act, with horrendous consequences. The attack, however, was not “unprovoked,” as so commonly claimed. The allies recklessly ignored Moscow’s security interests, which were oft-expressed to allied officials. For instance, Fiona Hill, lately on President Donald Trump’s National Security Council staff, was a national intelligence briefer and in 2008 her team warned President George W. Bush “that Mr. Putin would view steps to bring Ukraine and Georgia closer to NATO as a provocative move that would likely provoke pre-emptive Russian military action.” 

Around the same time William Burns, then American ambassador to Russia (and currently CIA director), reported back to Washington:

It’s equally hard to overstate the strategic consequences of a premature [Membership Action Plan] offer, especially to Ukraine. Ukrainian entry into NATO is the brightest of all redlines for the Russian elite (not just Putin). In my more than two and a half years of conversations with key Russian players, from knuckle-draggers in the dark recesses of the Kremlin to Putin's sharpest liberal critics, I have yet to find anyone who views Ukraine in NATO as anything other than a direct challenge to Russian interests. At this stage, a MAP offer would be seen not as a technical step along a long road toward membership, but as throwing down the strategic gauntlet. Today's Russia will respond. Russian-Ukrainian relations will go into a deep freeze, with Moscow likely to contemplate economic measures ranging from an immediate increase in gas prices to world market levels, to a clampdown on Ukrainian workers coming to Russia. It will create fertile soil for Russian meddling in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. There'd be much chest-thumping about repositioning military assets closer to the Ukrainian border, and threats of nuclear retargeting. The NATO-Russia Council would go on life support, or expire altogether.

The challenge now is how to recover from the allies’ terrible mistake and recoup at least some of the expected losses from defeat. Unfortunately, Kiev’s evident problems may have fueled a sense of triumphalism in Moscow. If the Russian government overestimates its chances, the war might go on as both sides reject the sort of compromise necessary to end the conflict. Although Moscow has the edge, there is no certainty in war. Continued combat will drain its military and economy. While Russia has weathered the sanctions storm, allied technology restrictions are likely to blunt its future military developments. Moscow also will remain the minor partner of China, to Moscow’s likely discomfort.

What should Washington do? 

First, the U.S. and Europe need to have serious discussions about the future security of the latter: how to adapt to a neutral Ukraine, relate to Russia, and shift defense responsibility onto European nations. The perfect should not become the enemy of the good. There should be none of the triumphant illusions that have so dominated discourse over the war.

Second, the allies should talk with Kiev. The goal would not be to impose a policy, but to make sure Ukrainians understand what the U.S. and Europe are prepared to support. If Ukraine doesn’t want to fight on alone, it should prepare to accept the painful compromises necessary to preserve its sovereignty and viability. Refusing to do so would risk Kiev’s future.

Third, Washington and Brussels should put everything on the table with Russia. Economic sanctions, frozen assets, energy pipelines, and future cooperation should be used as potential inducements to encourage a settlement with Ukraine. 

Such a process undoubtedly would be painful and uncertain. The fumbling allies, however, have little other choice. They might be able to keep the war going, but that would just mean more death and destruction with little hope of victory. Kiev’s friends are not its friends if they decide to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian in the name of “assisting” Ukraine.

Although the administration has yet to publicly acknowledge battlefield reality, the facts are breaking through. America and Europe’s populations are growing ever more skeptical of continued assistance. Increasing numbers of policymakers also are coming to share this view. For instance, before Zelensky’s recent visit Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) opined that Ukraine would likely have to negotiate and lose territory. Accepting reality, he added, would be in “America’s best interest.” 

So, Washington has decided that Kiev must negotiate and lose territory to end the war with Russia. It’s too bad U.S. policymakers didn’t think about that possibility two years ago when they rejected diplomacy with Moscow. American decision-makers are not fit to manage the foreign policy of a postage stamp nation like Monaco, let alone a superpower like the U.S.

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