Sun. May 26th, 2024

Why Ukraine’s Conflict is a Darn Lost Cause from Joe Schmo’s Eyes

Alex Thompson By Alex Thompson May20,2024

The great tragedy of the Russian-Ukrainian war is that it will ultimately prove to have been futile. The likely outcome — territorial adjustments in Moscow’s favor, security guarantees for Ukraine and Russia — could have been peaceably negotiated beforehand had leaders had a firmer grasp of the real balance of power or greater political courage. The cost of failed diplomacy is already hundreds of thousands of lives lost and hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of property destroyed. 

There are many reasons why diplomacy failed and why it has not been revived.

To begin with, blinded by messianic delusions of Russia’s and his own historical mission, Russian President Vladimir Putin prized a dramatic show of Russian might over tedious diplomacy to halt Ukraine’s geopolitical reorientation towards the West. He was convinced the war would be short. He had nothing but disdain for Ukraine’s leaders. He thought Russian-speaking Ukrainians would greet his forces as liberators. He discounted the West’s resolve. And he grossly exaggerated his own military’s capabilities. He once boasted that he could take Kyiv in two weeks. His imagined blitzkrieg has now entered its third year. He bears the moral responsibility for launching a devastating, unnecessary war.

Washington, for its part, erroneously thought that it could deter Putin by exposing his plans through the calibrated disclosure of sensitive intelligence and rallying the West to threaten “crippling” sanctions should he invade. But it steadfastly refused to discuss the one issue that might have changed his calculations and given diplomacy a chance: Ukraine’s membership in NATO. It was a matter of principle, Washington declared. It would not compromise NATO’s “Open Door” policy — the “right” of any democratic European country to seek membership — or renege on NATO’s pledge that Ukraine would eventually join, even though it, and its NATO allies, had no intention of allowing Ukraine to join anytime soon.

As the carnage enters its third year, no end is in sight. The West and Ukraine lack a credible strategy going forward. Sanctions have not crippled Russia — its economy grew last year and is forecast to do so again this year. Russia has restructured and reoriented its trade to reduce its dependence on the West as a partner and on the dollar as a means of exchange. 

In these circumstances, doubling down on sanctions, as Ukraine’s boosters advocate, will hardly bring Russia to its knees. Similarly, arming Ukraine with more sophisticated weapons (F-16s, long-range ATACMS missiles) will not prove decisive in overcoming Russia’s well-fortified defensive positions. As the past year has shown, drone warfare has advantaged defensive over offensive operations.

Meanwhile, Putin exudes optimism — his economy has withstood Western sanctions; his military thwarted Ukraine’s counteroffensive last year; and the West appears to be in disarray. Russian forces are on the offensive all along the front, and Russia has stepped up its aerial assault on cities and infrastructure in the rear. 

For all its effort, however, Russia has made little progress, and the losses have been staggering, adding steadily to the 300,000 to 350,000 casualties it has already suffered. Should Congress finally pass the $60-billion supplemental the administration has requested, as now appears likely, the flow of arms to Ukraine should be able to thwart any decisive Russian advances in the months ahead.

With the war at an impasse, and the costs relentlessly mounting, the time would appear ripe for a diplomatic initiative. But diplomacy remains out of favor. No one is yet prepared to write off the sunk costs to move toward a settlement. No one wants to believe their soldiers died in vain. Indeed, each side has raised the stakes: The Kremlin claims the “special military operation” against Ukraine has morphed into an historic war against the West. Many Western leaders warn of a coming war with Russia if it is not stopped in Ukraine. And Ukrainian leaders maintain that anything short of total victory spells catastrophe.

And so the war continues — until one side, more likely the Ukrainians, or both are exhausted or conclude that it cannot make further gains through military action. When negotiations begin, two items will be at the top of the agenda: security guarantees to reduce the threat of renewed fighting and the disposition of the territory that Russia has seized, the very two issues that were on the table in the months before Russia invaded in February 2022.

To be sure, the details of the actual settlement will differ from those that could have been negotiated in the run-up to the war. Ukraine, for example, stands to lose more territory than it would have in 2022, when Russia occupied only Crimea and part of the Donbas. But will the differences be so great as to justify the huge losses suffered for any party to the conflict? The question answers itself.

Thomas Graham, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, served as the senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff during the George W. Bush administration.

Alex Thompson

By Alex Thompson

Alex is an award-winning journalist with a passion for investigative reporting. With over 15 years of experience in the field, Alex has covered a wide range of topics from politics to entertainment. Known for in-depth research and compelling storytelling, Alex's work has been featured in major news outlets around the world.

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2 thoughts on “Why Ukraine’s Conflict is a Darn Lost Cause from Joe Schmo’s Eyes”
  1. Blinded by messianic delusions of Russia’s and his own historical mission, Russian President Vladimir Putin prized a dramatic show of Russian might over tedious diplomacy to halt Ukraine’s geopolitical reorientation towards the West. He was convinced the war would be short. He had nothing but disdain for Ukraine’s leaders. He thought Russian-speaking Ukrainians would greet his forces as liberators. He discounted the West’s resolve. And he grossly exaggerated his own military’s capabilities. He once boasted that he could take Kyiv in two weeks. His imagined blitzkrieg has now entered its third year. He bears the moral responsibility for launching a devastating, unnecessary war.

  2. To begin with, blinded by messianic delusions of Russia’s and her own historical mission, Russian President Vladimir Putin prized a dramatic show of Russian might over tedious diplomacy to halt Ukraine’s geopolitical reorientation towards the West. She was convinced the war would be short. She had nothing but disdain for Ukraine’s leaders. She thought Russian-speaking Ukrainians would greet her forces as liberators. She discounted the West’s resolve. And she grossly exaggerated her own military’s capabilities. She once boasted that she could take Kyiv in two weeks. Her imagined blitzkrieg has now entered its third year. She bears the moral responsibility for launching a devastating, unnecessary war.

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