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cAmy Dettmer is the Opinion Editor for Politico Europe.
Last November, US Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, infuriated Kiev — as well as some of the more hawkish officials in President Joe Biden’s administration — by comparing the conflict in Ukraine to World War I, and suggesting a stalemate. reached.
On Christmas Day 1914, Millie said, “I’ve got… A war that cannot be won From now on, militarily.”
Later, speaking at the Economic Club of New York, he added: “When opportunity arises for negotiation, when peace is possible, seize it. Hold on to the moment.” The following week, he repeated his suggestion that the time had come for negotiations — Ukraine’s successful counteroffensive around Kharkiv in the northeast and Kherson in the south meant Kiev could negotiate from a position of strength.
“Now Russia is standing on its back,” Milley said.
Millie was wrong about World War I He was It can be won militarily – and it was achieved by the Western Allies, thanks in no small part For economic factors and superior level of developmentWhich allows them to throw more resources into the apocalyptic meat grinder.
Because of the large peasant sectors, the Central Powers could not sustain agricultural production, as wartime mobilization redirected resources from agriculture. Historian Stephen Broadberry noted that the resulting urban famine undermined the supply chain behind the war effort.
Victory, yes, but at an appalling human cost. Before everything calmed down on the Western Front, it was estimated that the total number of casualties exceeded 37 million people, including soldiers and civilians, making World War I one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. No European family remained the same. The industrial nature of the killing – which saw young men maimed by machine guns and obliterated by artillery bombardment, as well as poisoned by clouds of noxious gases – haunts European memory, adding yet another stain on the forehead of our war-loving species.
And now November is approaching, and autumn rains will soon be falling on Ukraine, making military maneuvering more difficult. The indications are that if Ukraine cannot secure a breakthrough on its southern front and break through the three layers of Russia’s formidable Surovikin Line by then — something the country’s forces have so far eluded in three months of fierce fighting — calls for negotiations will escalate as the situation worsens. A year of elections looms in both Europe and the United States, which will alter the internal political dynamics of the Allies.
So, for now, all eyes are on me ZaporozhyeWhere the Ukrainian and Western hopes were suspended, after securing the penetration of the first line of Russian defense full of mines around the village of Robotyn. Hence, the hope is that Ukraine can breach key fortifications, as some believe Russia will struggle to deploy the reserves needed to hold the line — although it has so far redeployed forces relatively quickly.
Only time will tell if a full breakthrough can be achieved, and then Ukraine can advance to bring it closer to the goal of cutting the so-called land bridge connecting the annexed Crimean Isthmus with the Russian-occupied southern Ukrainian territories. However, the fact that Ukrainian forces have only managed to recover 108 square kilometers of occupied territory since launching the counter-offensive in early June calls for caution. In addition, the Pentagon was already pessimistic about the prospects for the counterattack even before it began.
Ukrainian officials are wary of this pessimism and are eager to reverse the narrative that is beginning to take hold that the counterattack is likely to fail to achieve the desired result. He added: “Ukrainian forces are moving forward. In spite of everything and no matter what anyone says, we are advancing, and this is the most important thing. We are moving,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on Saturday. But in secret, there is more in Kiev about long war.
Certainly, if Ukraine does not make more progress on the ground by November, Milley’s warning will be renewed, and this time it risks turning into a chorus, with more people questioning whether this war can be won. However, we then run into the problem that has dogged the Western Allies from the start, in that they have not collectively defined clear objectives for the Ukraine war – in part because trying to do so would likely risk Allied unity – and thus have not defined “winnable”. Absolutely. .
Instead, they have resorted to prevarication, hedging, and evasion, keeping their grand rhetoric about democracy at stake and the need to defend the rights of sovereignty and independence or see the already crumbling world order collapse in favor of autocrats, heralding the dawning of the dawn. From another dark age. Ukraine today, Taiwan and the Baltics tomorrow.
But if that was the case, why didn’t the Western Allies match their words with deeds, use their economic might to the fullest, and put the factories to war as they did during the so-called Great War? Why were they hesitant and late in supplying munitions and weapon systems, offering them at best in time, or at worst, far behind schedule, to the great frustration of the Ukrainians?
Part of the reason was to try to secure unanimous agreement among the Allies. Another fear was the fear of nuclear escalation, far-fetched though it was, and the accompanying assessment that careful calibration was necessary to reduce that risk. “the The United States has done enough to prevent a Russian victoryJames Nixey of Chatham House noted, “It’s not a matter of how much Russia can be defeated (and the consequent potential for nuclear escalation from their point of view).”
But the other key factor is that, deep down in their hearts, Ukraine’s allies never felt that their democratic destinies were, in fact, at stake – for all their sympathy for Ukraine and their horror at Russian barbaric atrocities in Bucha and Bucharest. Elsewhere, the same is not true of its residents, who have concerns about the cost of living.
As the war progressed, the sense of danger diminished. After all, if Russia’s mighty bear can’t subdue its smaller neighbour, how can it overrun NATO countries, let alone threaten the United States?
For the Ukrainians, of course, it is different. Not surprisingly, Kiev has been crystal clear about its war aims – namely, the return of all sovereign territory, including illegally annexed Crimea, Russian war reparations and stringent Western security guarantees – and, even better, NATO membership. .
Oddly enough, their greatest allies in the quest for complete victory are currently the Russian dissidents, though Kiev keeps their distance from them in contempt. The liberal opposition to Vladimir Putin has a direct self-interest in achieving “total victory” – it has no other realistic mechanism for overthrowing the Russian leader and shattering the ugly system he heads.
But regardless of the Russian dissidents, and however insulting it may be to what the writer George Orwell calls the “moral nose,” the call for negotiations will grow only if there is no significant military breakthrough in this counterattack.
One thing Russia and Ukraine have in common is that their allies do not believe that either side is capable of achieving complete victory.
For Beijing, this may be desirable in itself, a distracted West good for China, and a weakened Russia knowing its place as a junior partner in their bilateral relationship. But for others, including war-torn Ukraine, a prolonged war is not desirable, and as time goes on, we are likely to see more negotiating balloons being launched.
However, there are three widespread problems with this alternative plan.
Nixey highlighted one such reason, noting that “weak support now will only make Ukraine more vulnerable (with consequences for broader European and global security), threaten the gains made so far, and give Putin unparalleled leverage.” He owns it now – especially in light of internal interference in Russia.” disturbances in recent weeks.
The other reason is that even if Zelensky agreed to negotiations – and there is no indication that he is in the mood to do so – ordinary Ukrainians have no desire for talks with a Russia that is indiscriminately bombing their homes; Slaughter, torture and kidnapping of children. They remain trapped in cold rage.
Moreover, Putin may agree to start talks, but we’ve seen how negotiations with him – and his tough Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov – turn out before.
For the Russian leader, negotiations are just another weapon of war, used to distract, delay and give time to maneuver to achieve military and diplomatic goals, and to entrap goodwill and naivety — something that was highlighted between 2014 and 2017, when Lavrov and Putin assumed the presidency of Russia. Then US Secretary of State John Kerry “negotiated” on Syria. The talks helped Moscow save Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from defeat and convinced then-US President Barack Obama to take his finger off the trigger and ignore his red line on Damascus’ use of chemical weapons.
Frozen wars – a misnomer if there is one – are Putin’s forte: they allow him to turn international weakness into strength, maintain power at home by stirring up paranoid patriotism, and convince Russians that foreign enemies seek the destruction of Holy Mother Russia.
plan c anyone?