There are a couple of articles that may have come up on your radar and merit some discussion with regards to the war in Ukraine, the response of the west and Russia’s prospects. Heady stuff for some, but I think both are red herrings, i.e., A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important question.
The first comes courtesy of The HIll and carries the catchy title, Why the US is becoming more brazen with its Ukraine support? Here are the salient points:
The Biden administration is arming Ukraine with weapons that can do serious damage to Russian forces, and, unlike early in the war, U.S. officials don’t appear worried about Moscow’s reaction.
“Over time, the administration has recognized that they can provide larger, more capable, longer-distance, heavier weapons to the Ukrainians and the Russians have not reacted,” former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor told The Hill.
“The Russians have kind of bluffed and blustered, but they haven’t been provoked. And there was concern [over this] in the administration early on — there still is to some degree — but the fear of provoking the Russians has gone down,” added Taylor, who is now with the U.S. Institute of Peace.
We need an irony alert here. Ambassador Taylor, “who is now with the U.S. Institute of Peace”, is opining on steps the Biden Administration ought to take in order to blow the hell out of the Russians. His keen insight is that Putin is bluffing and won’t react to the United States escalating the lethality of weapons delivered to Ukraine. Anyone out there want to take that bet?
All of the analysis in this article is based on a false premise that is summarized in these paragraphs:
Looking ahead, multiple reports have indicated that the U.S. plans to soon send Excalibur precision-guided artillery munitions — weapons that can travel up to 70 kilometers and would help the Ukrainians target dug-in Russian positions and command posts.
Part of the shift in messaging can be attributed to the fact Kyiv defied international expectations and did not quickly fall when Russia first attacked, according to Nathan Sales, a former State Department official who most recently served as the acting undersecretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights.
At risk of being accused of beating a dead horse, I want to re-emphasize some critical points:
- Russia attacked Ukraine with a small force that was one-third the size of the defending Ukrainian force. Advantage Ukraine and yet, despite the fact that Russia was outnumbered, Russia steadily pushed Ukraine back, taking Mariupol, Kherson and Luhansk.
- At no point did Russia declare any kind of timeline for accomplishing its stated mission of demilitarization and denazification.
- The bulk of the fighting from the Russian side is being handled by the militias from the Donbas. Russia has committed only a small fraction of its troops.
- Despite a massive influx of western military aid, Ukraine has been unable to force the Russians to retreat. Those who want to point to the current Ukrainian offensive as a stunning success are ignoring Ukraine’s massive losses in men and equipment during the past week. Capturing a couple of isolated, unihabited rural villages is not exactly a 21st Century version of Omar Bradley’s Operation Cobra, which was led by General Patton and broke out of hedge row country in Normandy.
In short, Ambassador Taylor and other unnamed U.S. officials (both active and retired) are insisting that the United States is no longer afraid of what Russia might do. Why? Because Russia is on the ropes and struggling to stay in the fight. This is a dangerous delusion.
The other piece meriting comment comes from Paul Craig Roberts writing at the UNZ–The Kremlin’s “Limited Military Operation” in Ukraine Was a Strategic Blunder. I am fascinated by the western pundits who insist they know what the Russian military plan was or is and can confidently insist the Russians have blundered.
You know how worried the Russian Government is about the progress of the operation in Ukraine? Putin and his top Generals spent a week on Russia’s east coast, i.e. the Pacific, conducting a 50,000 man joint force military exercise with China and Vietnam. Nothing says panic and desperation like focusing national resources on carrying out a military exercise. Mr. Roberts chooses to ignore that salient fact.
At least Paul Craig Roberts is sane. He recognizes that western provocations could get out of hand and produce the conditions leading to a nuclear war. I agree with him on that point. But there is an underlying false assumption in Roberts’ analysis–the west is on an equal footing in confronting Russia.
One can reason that the Kremlin made all these mistakes because it did not want to scare more of Europe into NATO by demonstrating its military prowess in a lightening conquest of Ukraine. But it is Russia’s halfway measures that have given Finland and Sweden the confidence to join NATO as they see no threat to themselves from being NATO members. A devastating Russian blow to Ukraine would have caused all of Europe to rethink NATO membership as no European country would want to face the prospect of war with Russia. Instead, what the Kremlin has produced is a British prime minister who is prepared to engage Russia in nuclear war, and a NATO that intends to keep the Ukrainian conflict going.
Let me suggest an alternative explanation for Russia’s slow, methodical approach in Ukraine. Russia is committed to the demilitarization of Ukraine. Russia’s current campaign not only is destroying Ukraine’s army and the tanks, planes, helicopters and vehicles, but it also is forcing the United States and NATO to strip themselves of weapons that will not be quickly replaced in the near term. In other words, without risking a direct confrontation with NATO, Russia also is weakening NATO. And Putin does not have to turn Ukraine into a smoldering, nuclear wasteland with millions of dead Ukrainians. Seems like a reasonable approach to me.
The weakening of NATO also is being accelerated with economic weapons–i.e., cutting off the sale of gas and oil. Without gas and oil, Europe’s war industry is grinding to a halt. I do not know if this is part of the Russian plan for the Special Military Operation or just a happy serendipity that serves Russia’s interests. Regardless, the effect hurts NATO.
I do not pretend to know what plan Russia’s General Staff is following. What I do know is that none of the weapons supplied by the United States and NATO have changed the strategic goal of Russia to demilitarize Ukraine and eliminate a NATO threat on the western border. That means Russia’s ability to continue moving west is not eliminated and Ukraine’s prospects grow more bleak.