Ukraine is At an Endgame
It’s possible that Ukraine’s anticipated counteroffensive, which might just be getting started, will be as unsuccessful as Russia’s winter offensive. In trench warfare, defenders typically have an advantage over attackers, and the Russian Army has had months to fortify its position.
However, it’s also conceivable that the Ukrainians could make strides this year that would bring the war to an end. Then what? How ought this to end?
Starting with the ways it shouldn’t, we can move on. The first is the one that French President Emmanuel Macron proposed last year. He argued that “we must not humiliate Russia” in order to use diplomacy to create an exit strategy once the fighting has ceased. “Not humiliate Russia” at the time meant allowing Russia to keep its illegally acquired advantages while it was on the offensive.
Exactly what is required to put an end to Russia’s imperialistic ambition is a crushing and obvious defeat.
It’s simple to forget that Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine last year for a third time in his campaign of conquest, intimidation, and annexation against his neighbours, following his invasions of Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014. Not to mention the destruction of Grozny, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, assassinations on British soil, and cyberwarfare against Estonia.
Since each act of aggression largely went unpunished, Russia was tempted to commit another. The only “exit ramp” the West will have discovered is Putin’s on-ramp to his next atrocity if the war in Ukraine results in him achieving at least some of his objectives and his regime suffering no irreparable consequences.
Similarly, there will be those who argue that a cease-fire and armistice on the Korean model is preferable to the risks of a dramatic escalation if Ukrainian forces breach Russian lines in a way that prompts Putin to seek a settlement — likely through Chinese mediation. By rattling its nuclear sabre once more, but this time louder, the Kremlin may attempt to promote this way of thinking.
Although the nuclear threat should never be ignored, closer examination reveals that it is hollow.
The moral hesitations that might disappear if Putin feels cornered are not the reason why he has refrained from using tactical nuclear weapons so far in this conflict. It’s because those weapons, which were intended to destroy dense concentrations of armour, are useless on a battlefield that is sparsely populated. Additionally, the Biden administration has warned that Russia will face “catastrophic consequences” if it uses such weapons, which could include the sunking of its Black Sea fleet or another kinetic but non-nuclear NATO response.
The main issue with the armistice model is that it effectively freezes the conflict so that Russia can pick it up again after it has healed its wounds and regained its strength. Ukraine would have to transform into a garrison state despite the war’s devastating effects on its economy. Those who use South Korea as an example overlook two points. First off, Russia is a more powerful state inherently than North Korea. Second, only a small minority of Americans would be eager to replicate the U.S. military presence in Ukraine that has kept the peace on the Korean Peninsula for the past 70 years.
The winning alternative…..
It is what the people of Ukraine merit, what the vast majority desire, and what they demand of their political leadership. President Biden’s erratic willingness to give Kyiv the resources it needs to triumph has both hampered and advanced the goal. His own ambivalence about the outcome he really wants—other than to prevent Russia from winning and to prevent the world from exploding in the process—has also stymied it.
In winning, there are two types. The first, and riskier, option is to arm Kyiv with the necessary weapons, primarily long-range guided missiles, additional tanks, Predator drones, and F-16s, in order for it to retake Crimea and the breakaway “republics” in the east in addition to driving Russia out of the areas it had taken during this war. Ukrainians want this, and they have a moral and legal right to it.
However, retaking Crimea will be challenging, and success will not be without costs, chiefly in the form of populations that may not be overly eager to be freed by Kyiv. Consequently, the second flavor To assist Ukraine in regaining its pre-February 2022 borders, but not further, in exchange for compensation in the form of EU membership and a bilateral security agreement between the US and Ukraine that is modelled after the US’s security agreement with Israel.
Would this put America at greater risk of Russian aggression? No, it would weaken it because dictators prey on the weak, not the strong, which is why Putin didn’t dare attack the NATO-member Baltic States but twice attacked Ukraine. Would it be enough to meet Ukraine’s security needs? Yes, both in terms of assured access to American weapons and markets in Europe.
And would it make Putin look bad?
In the best way possible, by demonstrating to him and other despots both inside and outside of Russia that attacking democracies will never be profitable.