the argument for why the West should change course on the war in Ukraine

Ukrainian soldiers at a military exercise in the Kherson region.  (Genya SAVILOV / AFP)

Ukrainian soldiers at a military exercise in the Kherson region. (Genya SAVILOV / AFP) – Credits: @GENYA SAVILOV

WASHINGTON.- At least for those who make decisions in Western governments, the war in Ukraine seems to be measured by the number of weapons delivered. Its response to the brutal Russian onslaught last February has been a parade of weapons and armor: Javelin missiles, howitzers, drones, attack vehicles, anti-aircraft equipment, mobile missile launchers, and in recent days, tanks as well. All the time Ukraine demanded more weapons to drive out the Russian invaders, and almost every time the West complied, though perhaps not as quickly as kyiv would have liked.

The next round of that dispute could revolve around Ukraine’s desire for a fleet of multi-role fighter jets, with which kyiv hopes to repel the impending Russian offensive and retake Russian-held territory in the country’s southeast, as well as the Crimean peninsula, which the Russians annexed in 2014.”Give us the weapons and we will take back what is ours,” President Volodimir Zelensky said. before the global elite gathered in Davos last month.

Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky

Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky

This week, when asked if the United States would send F-16 fighters, the president Joe Biden he replied flatly “no”, while British officials said sending such fighter jets “is not practical”. But the French president Emmanuel Macron, told reporters that in terms of arms shipments to Ukraine “we are not ruling anything out.” That is the West’s discursive commitment to the Ukrainian war effort. The West appears to fully support Ukraine’s struggle for sovereignty and share the same high-minded view of victory as kyiv.

Privately, Western officials acknowledge that the war should end diplomatically, and that is probably the only way it will end. But every time journalists ask a Western politician or diplomat at an open microphone what the outcome will be like, they consistently respond with the same phrases: is Ukraine the one that should determine the conditions for peace (even if without foreign aid they would not survive a day); Russia has no intention of negotiating in good faith, and the important thing now is to arm Ukraine so that it comes to an eventual future negotiating table in a position of strength.

But there’s a new report criticizing that stance, warning that it leaves the United States on the brink of an open-ended conflict that could escalate dangerously at any moment. The report Avoiding a Long War: US Policy and the Course of the Russia-Ukraine Conflictpublished by the influential Washington-based think tank Rand Corp., notes that the longer the war drags on, the the more risk there is of an escalation that puts Russia in direct conflict with NATOand also that the Kremlin deploys nuclear weapons on the battlefield. Rather than allow the war to drag on over time, the report recommends that the powers put more pressure on the parties to sit down to negotiate.

An exercise by Ukrainian soldiers in the Kherson region.  (Genya SAVILOV / AFP)

An exercise by Ukrainian soldiers in the Kherson region. (Genya SAVILOV / AFP) – Credits: @GENYA SAVILOV

They are not the first to raise the same question: Henry Kissinger, a venerable representative of the US diplomatic establishment, already did so last year. But Rand’s report is perhaps the most comprehensive call for policy change yet made by a Washington think tank, most of whom have argued that the war in Ukraine is good and necessary and that represents an excellent opportunity to reaffirm the leadership of the United States on the global scene. Departing from that script that bites its tail, the new report makes no reference once to Western “democracy”, “rule of law” or “values”.

no outright victory

The authors of the report, the political scientists Samuel Charap and Miranda Priebe, soberly point out the worrying structural elements of this war: neither Russia nor Ukraine have a chance of securing what they consider “absolute victory”although both countries are confident in their ability to win in the long term and at the same time wary of a ceasefire and an “uncomfortable” peace.

But beyond the political rhetoric, on the ability of the West to maintain a constant flow of arms and aid to Ukraine reigns complete uncertainty. The new Pew poll reveals that already more than half of Americans believe that the United States is doing too much for Ukraine, while the authors of the Rand report point out a truism: that a prolonged war would only cause more suffering in Ukraine and more havoc. cheap in Europe.

And then there is the question of nuclear weapons. Ukraine and its allies have been calling for months to dismiss Vladimir Putin’s sporadic dalliances with nuclear risk.

Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin – Credits: @Sergei Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

“It’s a scare tactic.” General Kyrylo Budanov, Ukraine’s military intelligence chief, said recently. “From Russia you can expect anything, but not such idiocy. That is not going to happen. A nuclear attack would not only lead to the defeat of Russia, but to the collapse of Russia. And they know it perfectly well,” Budanov said.

Even so, Charap and Priebe point to the real danger “of a war unleashed with the country that has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world”. An escalation in hostilities, even triggered by tactical miscalculations amid the turmoil of war, could quickly push NATO countries into an open confrontation with Russia. “And keeping a war between Russia and NATO below the nuclear threshold would be extremely difficult, especially given the current weakness of Russia’s conventional Army,” they point out.

Why flirt with such a scenario, the authors wonder, when even the consolidation of the current front lines would represent a significant defeat for Russia?

In an essay published in The Economist, Christopher Chivvis of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace makes a similar claim. “If the peace negotiations were to freeze the battle lines where they are now, Putin would have paid a very high price for very limited gains,” says Chivvis. “Its Armed Forces have shown their incompetence in the eyes of the world. Now Russia is a pariah state, and its link with Europe, the most important for centuries, is destroyed. And the sanctions will slow Russia’s economic growth for years, even if they are eventually eased in exchange for concessions from the Kremlin.”

Among other things, the authors of the Rand report suggest that The US should present Russia with a roadmap on the conditions for eventual sanctions relief. Chivvis argues that it is even preferable to embark on an imperfect negotiation process than to buy into the idea that Russia can be completely evicted from Ukrainian territory.

Ukrainian soldiers fire a Pion artillery system at Russian positions near Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine.  (AP Photo/LIBKOS)

Ukrainian soldiers fire a Pion artillery system at Russian positions near Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine. (AP Photo/LIBKOS)

“Yes, it would be nice if Ukraine could recover a little more territory, but at what cost and with what strategic profit?” Chivvis reflects. “Even in the unlikely event that the West can support Ukraine for many years, until it drives the Russians out of all of its territory, sooner or later Russia would restart the war to recover what was lost and wash its reputation”.

In their introduction, Charap and Priebe acknowledge that it was the Ukrainians who fought and died to resist “an illegal, unprovoked and morally repugnant Russian invasion.” But in the opinion of the authors, that does not mean that Ukraine’s interests are “synonymous” with those of the United States.

Translation by Jaime Arrambide


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