More On: Ukraine
We're in new territory, where a non-nuclear Western ally may now try to destroy a nuclear Russia's assets on Russian soil or in neutral or even Russian seas, which is understandable but dangerous.
It was meant to be a straightforward invasion. Vladimir Putin's considerably larger, wealthier, more belligerent Russia launched a surprise invasion on a much smaller, impoverished Ukraine. He aimed to overthrow Kyiv's administration. Then he'd conquer the eastern half of the country, cement his easy victories, and ramp up the pressure on western Ukraine to join the Russian Federation.
After that, the rest is history. The Russian military was found to be under-equipped and under-supplied. With a high percentage of low-morale conscript troops, it was badly led. Russia lacked a viable strategic plan for capturing, much less holding, Kiev. Ukraine was Russia's Kabul, with tens of thousands of deaths thrown in for good measure.
Russian planners naively assumed that NATO would be crippled by mutual recriminations and fear, and that Germany would respond with appeasement. In truth, NATO came together in response to growing fears of future Russian aggression, as the alliance urged Germany to abandon its self-serving Russian romance.
Sanctions have a poor track record of ending wars quickly, and they haven't done so far in this case.
However, majority of the Western world was turned off by Russia's brazen use of force, war crimes against civilians, and poor propaganda, and it boycotted, sanctioned, and embargoed Moscow as a result. Despite these porous and slow-moving measures, Russia will eventually find it more difficult to muster the economic and military resources necessary to sustain a halted invasion.
Why Putin Invade Ukraine?
By February 24, 2022, the Western alliance's deterrent force had visibly eroded. The disastrous retreat and flight from Afghanistan, as well as the complete abandonment of an embassy and the transfer of billions of dollars in sophisticated weaponry to the Taliban, revealed to the Russians that the present US military had embraced other objectives from its once feared history. Some in Moscow believed the Pentagon was becoming more like former Soviet armies, where ideology outweighed military readiness and lethality.
In so many ways, Biden added to that impression.
Initial assault armament supplies to Ukraine were slowed by him.
He pleaded with Putin to tell his hackers to be more selective in their attacks on US targets, and he pleaded with him to pump more oil while the US cuts its own output.
Biden hinted that the extent of the ostensibly impending Russian invasion would determine how the US responded. When the invasion began, he immediately dispatched American diplomats and offered Ukrainian President Zelenskyy a lift out of the country.
He removed restrictions on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline between Germany and Russia. Biden also attempted to halt the EastMed natural gas pipeline project into Europe, which is being spearheaded by US allies Cyprus, Greece, and Israel. He seemed to believe that Europe didn't need any more natural gas, that Cyprus, Greece, and Israel were foes rather than friends, and that Europe's high natural gas costs would encourage more windmills and solar panels.
As Vice President, Biden was a crucial figure in the Obama administration's disastrous "reset" and "hot mic" appeasement of Russia. All of this culminated in the 2014 invasions of eastern Ukraine and Crimea, the dismantling of US-sponsored missile defense in Eastern Europe, and the Hunter Biden syndicate's meddling in corrupt Ukrainian politics to funnel millions of dollars into the Biden family's pockets.
In short, Putin misjudged NATO's reaction to his absorbing half of the country in a week and then negotiating away western Ukraine in fear. As a result, Putin failed to account for his own military ineptness, let alone Joe Biden's fear of a landslide defeat in the upcoming midterm election if he continues to appear weak and accommodating. And Putin grossly misread Europe's fear that a wealthy EU would be ripe for plundering unless it banded together and poured its top-tier weapons arsenals into Ukraine.
When you add it all together, Putin believes that 2022 will be similar to 2008 and 2014, when aggression went unpunished, territorial acquisitions of former Soviet republics were simple, and the NATO alliance was in a state of dormancy.
It appears that discussing why Putin did not invade between 2017 and 2020 is impolite. His good behavior throughout those years, however, is silently acknowledged as a result of his dread of an unpredictable presidential response in the United States.
Steps to Take
Ukraine must sink much of the Russian Black Sea fleet that is supplying Crimea and blocking Ukrainian imports and exports on the Black Sea, as well as conduct commando and air attacks on Russian staging areas and supply depots inside Russia, to expel every Russian from Ukrainian territory and change the status quo ante bellum. In fact, Kyiv is already pursuing such a policy, with the wink-and-nod assistance of some Western powers, and driven by domestic pressure on the US to supply the Ukrainians powerful shore-to-ship missiles and even more lethal armaments to carry out these missions.
To get Putin out of Ukraine, it would appear that Russia would have to be so badly damaged that it would cease to be a superpower.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin explicitly acknowledged to the risky approach of viewing the war as a proxy fight in order to weaken Russia to the point where it will never consider a Ukrainian-style invasion again.
Perhaps. However, whatever the language, a strike on Russian soldiers beyond Ukraine or in international waters is an escalation of the war. As Europe's first war in which a nuclear power is directly involved as the main combatant—one whose dictatorship seized and maintains power on on the perception of his brutality at home and abroad—it will raise the stakes of danger.
The Free and the Not-So-Free Wills of Ukraine
Russia was always veiled in ambiguity in this vicious game of realpolitik. It has previously aided India in thwarting Chinese ambitions. Driving Russia into China's arms has long been regarded as a failure of US foreign policy.
Furthermore, the conflict has devolved into bloody clashes over primarily Russian-speaking border corridors and Crimea. The former may or may not have some affinities with Russia, and may or may not wish to join Russia or stay independent pro-Russian puppet states. Crimea has a long and tragic history as a focal point for desperate Russian defenses against foreign invaders, most notably during the German siege and destruction of Sevastopol in 1942.
To summarize, when Ukraine receives more advanced weapons and its more capable forces achieve incredible gains, the struggle will shift away from defending Ukraine from Russia, which has already been accomplished to a considerable extent. Rather, the fight will soon turn on whether the triumphant Ukrainians have the authority to overturn the 2014 ruling and evict all Russians from their homeland, using means like as air and sea attacks against Russian assets inside Russia and in international waters.
Such escalation is unquestionably justified on strategic and moral reasons against an aggressor seeking to destroy and devastate a modern country.
In practice, however, we have entered new territory, where a non-nuclear Western friend will now want to destroy a nuclear Russia's assets on Russian soil, in neutral waters, or even in Russian seas, even if this is justified.
Ukraine is neither an independent participant nor a bystander in Russia's heinous war against it. Its valor and sacrifice have aided the West as much as the country. And it is solely responsible for ridding Ukraine of Russian intruders and restoring the country to its pre-2014 state. The West cannot push Ukraine to make compromises in order to avoid a terrifying continental escalation by weakening NATO's adversary Russia.
Ukraine, on the other hand, isn't really a stand-alone player.
Its whole existence is based on the abundance of not only foreign armaments, but also Western arms that are significantly superior than those delivered to a non-NATO ally.
And, just as some credit must be given to Ukraine's Western suppliers, Russia will blame its defeat in part on the same abettors if it is completely destroyed and humiliated in Ukraine.
Add to the mix the fact that Ukrainian administrations have been deeply interested in U.S. presidential politics for years, to the point of meddling, according to some.
The Biden family has long been bribed by Kyiv-based business interests for preferential treatment. The presidential impeachment of 2019 was influenced by Ukrainians and their allies in a variety of ways.
Even the left-wing Nation decried the fact that Ukraine was directly involved in the 2016 campaign to hurt Trump's candidacy by admitting to releasing humiliating information about a corrupt Paul Manafort to the media in order to boost the Clinton campaign.
Fallout from Russia
Russia has a history of fighting poorly overseas while fighting ferociously at home. And no Russian administration can accept the fact that a Western-supplied military is battling Russian forces within Russia for long. This is merely a historical fact, not a moral judgment.
Other nations have interests that are not directly related to the battlefield. The Biden Administration made a blunder by allowing Russia to act as a middleman in reviving the Iran nuclear accord. For the time being, Syria's airspace is under Russian control. When you add it all up, there's no surprise that Israel avoids sanctioning Russia.
It's possible that the latter may try to prevent any retaliatory Israeli flights into Syria in order to stop Hezbollah's missile launches. And, if Iran gets the bomb (not if), Russia could easily declare Iran to be under its own nuclear umbrella if it is attacked first.
And, if Russia withdraws its assets from Syria to redeploy in Ukraine, Iran is likely to step in to fill the hole, with Russian approval.
These aren't justifiable reasons to keep armaments out of Ukraine; they're also not justifiable reasons to keep Ukraine under control. They are, nevertheless, major considerations for US commanders as they assess how to conclude the war without a nuclear climax.
It may be impossible to compel Russia to make compensation for the harm it has caused the people of Ukraine. However, it is not unthinkable for Russia to be humiliated and forced back to its 2014 lines, at which time diplomats can use continuous sanctions to compel plebiscites on the future of these disputed territory.
An alternative is to unleash the Western-supplied Ukrainians to ramp up their border incursions and sink much of the Russian Black Sea fleet with American missiles—and then expect an insane and likely ill dictator with 6,000 nuclear weapons to admit that he destroyed the Russian military by ensuring the loss of majority-Russian-speaking lands he claimed to be defending—and then ruined the Russian economy as dessert.
That situation is not likely to work out.