The Ukraine Russia war and America’s role

Someone I know well has summarised the Ukraine-Russia situation well and also whats ahead. In case members are interested.

Wars sometimes start easily, but it is a tenet of strategy that they are always unpredictable and extremely hard to end. Putin’s war of choice in Ukraine is already escalating faster than most experts would have imagined just a week ago. He has now encircled major Ukrainian cities with his army and threatens to flatten them with thermobaric weapons, cluster munitions, and guided missiles. This will terrorize the civilian population and could demoralize the budding Ukrainian resistance. He could escalate the conflict to another region, such as the Balkans, where long-standing conflicts fester and Russia has an extensive network of intelligence and security services. He may turn the lights off in a major U.S. city with a cyber attack. Most frighteningly, he has raised the alert level of Russian nuclear forces and may be considering introducing martial law.

Meanwhile, NATO, the G7, and a host of other countries have turned the dial of economic punishment up to unprecedented levels. Several European nations that had previously hesitated to involve themselves militarily in the conflict have now done so, sending weapons and financing Ukraine’s resistance. A growing number of voices in Washington are clamoring for a more aggressive approach from the United States and NATO, pressuring the White House to support a Ukrainian insurgency with a broad menu of weaponry or even calling for NATO to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

Amid this escalation, experts can spin out an infinite number of branching scenarios on how this might end. But scores of war games conducted for the U.S. and allied governments and my own experience as the U.S. national intelligence officer for Europe suggest that if we boil it down, there are really only two paths toward ending the war: one, continued escalation, potentially across the nuclear threshold; the other, a bitter peace imposed on a defeated Ukraine that will be extremely hard for the United States and many European allies to swallow.

* * *

Putin deliberately frames his operation in Ukraine in the same way that the United States has framed its own regime-change operations in Kosovo, Iraq, and Libya, charging that Ukraine has committed human rights violations and is a terrorist state. For good measure, Putin throws in the ludicrous assertion that Ukraine is fascist. These are transparent fig leaves for what is nothing more than a war of brute imperialism.

Judging from how things stand now, Putin, having invested so much in this war already, seems unlikely to settle for anything less than the complete subjugation of the Ukrainian government. If the current uneven pace of Russian military progress doesn’t accomplish the job, the most likely strategy for doing this is to make an example of a city like Kharkiv, leveling it as if it were Grozny or Aleppo, both cities that Russia has brutally destroyed in the recent past, and then threatening to burn Kyiv to the ground. He can accompany this with special forces attacks in the capital to disrupt the civilian population and sow further confusion and discontent. Ultimately, he needs at least to force the ouster of President Volodymyr Zelensky and his government.

In this case, Russia will install a puppet government in Kyiv, which will sign terms of surrender highly favorable to Russia. The terms will almost certainly include a pledge of Ukrainian neutrality, and might go further by committing Ukraine formally to Russia’s sphere of influence with a membership in Russia’s Collective Security Treaty Organization or its Eurasian Economic Union.

At this juncture, the United States and its allies would face an extraordinarily difficult policy choice. Disgust with Putin’s war has greatly increased the chances that Washington and some of its allies would seek to fight on, for instance by supporting a Ukrainian insurgency. This would roughly mirror the strategy that the United States used to assist French resistance against Nazi Germany in World War II. The more effective NATO support to the insurgency is, the more the Kremlin would likely be willing to risk attacks on safe havens in NATO territory—most likely employing irregular forces or even the infamous Wagner Group, a private organization that operates globally as a quasi-special force of the Kremlin. These operations could lead to a massive escalation that would open the door to a much wider war between NATO and Russia—exactly the war that U.S. President Joe Biden has been trying to avoid.

Alternatively, the insurgency might greatly weaken Russian forces. The Ukrainian insurgent army could impose heavy damages on Russian forces and erode Putin’s position among Russian elites, on whose support he depends for power. Ukrainian forces would have major incentives to take their fight inside Russian territory, attacking Russia’s rearguard in Belarus and Russia itself.

There are possible other paths toward further escalation, but they all eventually lead toward the nuclear threshold. Scores of war games carried out by the United States and its allies in the wake of Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine make it clear that Putin would probably use a nuclear weapon if he concludes that his regime is threatened. It is hard to know exactly what turn of events would scare him enough to cross the nuclear threshold. Certainly a large NATO army entering Russian territory would be enough. But what if events in Ukraine loosened his grip on power at home? Indeed, achieving regime change in Russia indirectly by making Putin lose in Ukraine seems to be the logic behind some of those who are pushing for escalation today.

Moving across the nuclear threshold wouldn’t necessarily mean an immediate, full-force nuclear exchange—in other words, global thermonuclear war. But it would be an extremely dangerous, watershed event in world history.

The nuclear option that has been most frequently discussed in the past few days involves Russia using a small nuclear weapon (a “non-strategic nuclear weapon”) against a specific military target in Ukraine. Such a strike might have a military purpose, such as destroying an airfield or other military target, but it would mainly be aimed at demonstrating the will to use nuclear weapons, or “escalating to de-escalate,” and scaring the West into backing down.

Some analysts have questioned Russia’s ability to actually carry out such an operation, given its lack of practice. Unfortunately, this isn’t the only or even the most likely option available to the Kremlin. Based on war games I ran in the wake of Putin’s 2014 invasion, a more likely option would be a sudden nuclear test or a high-altitude nuclear detonation that damages the electrical grid over a major Ukrainian or even NATO city. Think of an explosion that makes the lights go out over Oslo.

Those war games indicated that the best U.S. response to this kind of attack would be first to demonstrate U.S. resolve with a response in kind, aimed at a target of similar value, followed by restraint and diplomatic efforts to de-escalate. In most games, Russia still responds with a second nuclear attack, but in the games that go “well,” the United States and Russia manage to de-escalate after that, although only in circumstances where both sides have clear political off-ramps and lines of communication between Moscow and Washington have remained open. In all the other games, the world is basically destroyed.

Even in the better case where both sides take their fingers off the triggers, the nuclear taboo has been broken, and we are in an entirely new era: two nuclear superpowers have used their nuclear weapons in a war. The proliferation consequences alone would be far-reaching, as other countries accelerate their nuclear weapons programs. The very fact that the nuclear taboo had been broken increases the odds that the nuclear threshold is crossed again in future conflicts, not just between Russia and America, but also with China, between India and Pakistan, in the Middle East, or elsewhere. Even this outcome in which the world is “saved,” the United States is far worse off than it was before the war in Ukraine broke out last month.

* * *

What is the alternative? Once again, infinite scenarios and branches are possible, but there is a single basic one that helps to simplify thinking. It begins with an effort to avoid further escalation today. So far, the Biden administration has wisely restrained direct U.S. military involvement in the conflict, but holding off against the rising chorus of voices pushing for escalation may be hard in the coming days if Russian forces brutally devastate Ukraine’s cities. But the most difficult challenge lies a little further down the road with the scenario described above: how to respond if Russia imposes a puppet regime in Ukraine. This would put the United States in the near-impossible position of having to choose between further escalation and compromising on the very principles that drove it toward the war in the first place—the right of a nation like Ukraine to be free and independent of subjugation to foreign rule.

In this scenario, the Biden administration would have to show extraordinary leadership and strength to hold together its coalition and steer it toward restraint. It would face extremely high levels of pressure from European capitals, Ukrainian lobbies, and others to reject the puppet government and fight on, perhaps by recognizing a Ukrainian government-in-exile. The administration is already facing calls from hawkish corners of Washington to preempt any negotiated settlement to this war. Emotions are likely to have a much greater effect on the free democracies fighting for Ukraine than on the autocrat sitting in the Kremlin, but they will affect both sides. As they escalate, the prospects of negotiation diminish further.

Would NATO’s door remain open to a Russian-dominated Ukraine? Probably, but it would be similar to claiming that NATO’s door is open to North Korea or Iran (which it theoretically is). All of the consequences that are likely from this conflict—growing conventional force buildup on the NATO-Russia border, higher levels of defense spending in the United States at the expense of domestic programs, an end to efforts to draw down U.S. military posture in the Middle East, and fewer resources for strategic competition with China—would still be a better outcome than the alternative, in which nuclear weapons have been used.

Wars can start quickly or slowly, but it is a dictum of strategy that once started, they take on a logic of their own. It is not too soon to think about how to bring this war to a close. The chances that Putin emerges strategically weak are real. But that does not mean the United States can win. It will have to settle for a picture that is much uglier than it was before the war, and the sooner Washington accepts that, the better. more  

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ABSOLUTELY MUST READ February 25, 2022 Chronicle of War Foretold by Chris Hedges I was in Eastern Europe in 1989 reporting on the revolutions that overthrew the ossified communist dictatorships that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a time of hope. NATO, with the breakup of the Soviet empire, became obsolete. President Mikhail Gorbachev reached out to Washington and Europe to build a new security pact that would include Russia. Secretary of State James Baker in the Reagan administration, along with the West German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, assured the Soviet leader that if Germany was unified NATO would not be extended beyond the new borders. The commitment not to expand NATO, also made by Great Britain and France, appeared to herald a new global order. We saw the peace dividend dangled before us, the promise that the massive expenditures on weapons that characterized the Cold War would be converted into expenditures on social programs and infrastructures that had long been neglected to feed the insatiable appetite of the military. There was a near universal understanding among diplomats and political leaders at the time that any attempt to expand NATO was foolish, an unwarranted provocation against Russia that would obliterate the ties and bonds that happily emerged at the end of the Cold War. How naive we were. The war industry did not intend to shrink its power or its profits. It set out almost immediately to recruit the former Communist Bloc countries into the European Union and NATO. Countries that joined NATO, which now include Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia were forced to reconfigure their militaries, often through hefty loans, to become compatible with NATO military hardware. There would be no peace dividend. The expansion of NATO swiftly became a multi-billion-dollar bonanza for the corporations that had profited from the Cold War. Poland, for example, just agreed to spend $ 6 billion on M1 Abrams tanks and other U.S. military equipment. If Russia would not acquiesce to again being the enemy, then Russia would be pressured into becoming the enemy. And here we are. On the brink of another Cold War, one from which only the war industry will profit while, as W. H. Auden wrote, the little children die in the streets. The consequences of pushing NATO up to the borders with Russia — there is now a NATO missile base in Poland 100 miles from the Russian border — were well known to policy makers. Yet they did it anyway. It made no geopolitical sense. But it made commercial sense. War, after all, is a business, a very lucrative one. It is why we spent two decades in Afghanistan although there was near universal consensus after a few years of fruitless fighting that we had waded into a quagmire we could never win. In a classified diplomatic cable obtained and released by WikiLeaks dated February 1, 2008, written from Moscow, and addressed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, NATO-European Union Cooperative, National Security Council, Russia Moscow Political Collective, Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State there was an unequivocal understanding that expanding NATO risked an eventual conflict with Russia, especially over the Ukraine. “Not only does Russia perceive encirclement [by NATO], and efforts to undermine Russia’s influence in the region, but it also fears unpredictable and uncontrolled consequences which would seriously affect Russian security interests,” the cable reads. “Experts tell us that Russia is particularly worried that the strong divisions in Ukraine over NATO membership, with much of the ethnic-Russian community against membership, could lead to a major split, involving violence or at worst, civil war. In that eventuality, Russia would have to decide whether to intervene; a decision Russia does not want to have to face. . . . Dmitri Trenin, Deputy Director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, expressed concern that Ukraine was, in the long-term, the most potentially destabilizing factor in U.S.-Russian relations, given the level of emotion and neuralgia triggered by its quest for NATO membership . . . Because membership remained divisive in Ukrainian domestic politics, it created an opening for Russian intervention. Trenin expressed concern that elements within the Russian establishment would be encouraged to meddle, stimulating U.S. overt encouragement of opposing political forces, and leaving the U.S. and Russia in a classic confrontational posture.” The Obama administration, not wanting to further inflame tensions with Russia, blocked arms sales to Kiev. But this act of prudence was abandoned by the Trump and Biden administrations. Weapons from the U.S. and Great Britain are pouring into the Ukraine, part of the $1.5 billion in promised military aid. The equipment includes hundreds of sophisticated Javelins and NLAW anti-tank weapons despite repeated protests by Moscow. The United States and its NATO allies have no intention of sending troops to the Ukraine. Rather, they will flood the country with weapons, which is what it did in the 2008 conflict between Russia and Georgia. The conflict in the Ukraine echoes the novel “Chronicle of a Death Foretold” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In the novel it is acknowledged by the narrator that “there had never been a death more foretold” and yet no one was able or willing to stop it. All of us who reported from the Eastern Europe in 1989 knew the consequences of provoking Russia, and yet few have raised their voices to halt the madness. The methodical steps towards war took on a life of their own, moving us like sleepwalkers towards disaster. Once NATO expanded into Eastern Europe the Clinton administration promised Moscow that NATO combat troops would not be stationed in Eastern Europe, the defining issue of the NATO-Russia Founding Act on Mutual Relations. This promise again turned out to be a lie. Then in 2014 the U.S. backed a coup against the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych who sought to build an economic alliance with Russia rather than the European Union. Of course, once integrated into the European Union, as seen in the rest of Eastern Europe, the next step is integration into NATO. Russia, spooked by the coup, alarmed at the overtures by the EU and NATO, then annexed Crimea, largely populated by Russian speakers. And the death spiral that led us to the conflict currently underway in the Ukraine became unstoppable. The war state needs enemies to sustain itself. When an enemy can’t be found an enemy is manufactured. Putin has become, in the words of Senator Angus King, the new Hitler, out to grab the Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe. The full-throated cries for war, echoed shamelessly by the press, are justified by draining the conflict of historical context, by elevating ourselves as the saviors and whoever we oppose, from Saddam Hussein to Putin, as the new Nazi leader. I don’t know where this will end up. We must remember, as Putin reminded us, that Russia is a nuclear power. We must remember that once you open the Pandora’s box of war it unleashes dark and murderous forces no one can control. I know this from personal experience. The match has been lit. The tragedy is that there was never any dispute about how the conflagration would start. This first appeared on ScheerPost. Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who was a foreign correspondent for fifteen years for The New York Times, where he served as the Middle East Bureau Chief and Balkan Bureau Chief for the paper. His books include American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, Death of the Liberal Class, and War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt, a collaboration with comics artist and journalist Joe Sacco. more  
Putin and Russia have lost the war and the Ukrains have won the war. When such a powerful nation with the most sofiscated weapons cannot pulverise Ukraine a small country with hardly any great weapons then it is deemed that the Russians have lost the war . And Putin cannot boast that he has won the war more  
All countries that are able, must band together and issue a declaration, and act on it, that any uninvited foreign armed forces witin Ukraine, will be destroyed. This is near-term tactics. Paralelly, negotiations must continue with Putin to end the aggression. If Putin's ability is diminished, he will negotiate. Since he is the agressor in this case, there is nothing to negotiate except that he withdraw all his forces and cease the aggression. As for nuclear threat, while it must be considered very seriously, steps above must be taken to stop the aggression. Talks alone will not stop his stance. more  
Nature has matured. Earth has matured . But, World has not matured . This is a World of War(s) and Peace(s) in the passage of time. So long as War and Peace are friends , there are immaterial-issues . But, when War and Peace are enemies , there are non-immaterial-issues. When John Kerry , the American, campaigned for de-Russianization of Ukraine instead of Climate-Change-Sciences , less bothered was the World. Now, the World after burning its fingers, stretching hands for softer Leaves . more  
Intelligent analysis..... more  
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