Are Putin and Zelensky about to end the Russian-Ukrainian war?
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Common sense dictates that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict must end and that serious efforts must be invested in order to reach a peaceful settlement.
Consider the cost in lives and treasures. Despite the unimaginable number of lives and vast expenditures and arms commitments by the United States over the past 10 months, victory for either side is not in sight.
One hundred thousand Ukrainian soldiers have been killed or injured since the Russian invasion in February, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. The Pentagon put the number of dead or injured Russian soldiers at 100,000 and dead Ukrainian civilians at 40,000.
Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley admitted to reporters in November that “the likelihood of a Ukrainian military victory anytime soon is not high.” The American arsenal of weapons is seriously depleted. There is a $19 billion arms backlog that will not reach Taiwan on schedule, according to the Wall Street Journal, jeopardizing Taiwan’s ability to defend itself against an invasion by China.
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The Pentagon used, in 10 months of war, 13 years of production of Stinger and five years of production of Javelin, according to the CEO of Raytheon. The production capacity of the American defense industry to replenish these stocks is extremely limited. U.S. security assistance in November reached $68 billion, and the Biden administration has asked Congress for another $37.7 billion.
But the likelihood of a peaceful settlement remains extremely low. Moscow, kyiv and Washington – the main players in the current war – maintain irreconcilable positions while pursuing unachievable goals.
Russia’s position. Russian President Vladimir Putin, despite tactical setbacks on the battlefield, insists on Western recognition of Crimea, which Russia invaded in 2014, and four other recently annexed territories in eastern Ukraine, as being Russians. It’s a no-start for the United States or Europe, because such a concession would be tantamount to giving victory to Putin.
On Tuesday, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov ruled out peace talks, insisting that Russia “will achieve the goals it has set itself”. Putin is almost certainly preparing for a prolonged war of attrition, having noted on Wednesday that “starting to see results from the special operation will be a long process.”
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In November, Russia completed a partial mobilization, the first since World War II, after adding 318,000 troops and increasing its 2023 military budget from $13.6 billion to $84 billion.
Moscow also continues secret mobilization, modernizing recruitment centers, drawing up new roll-calls and releasing convicts from prisons and sending them to the front. Putin is betting that by subjecting Ukrainians to unimaginable suffering, depriving them of heat, electricity and clean water as Russian forces pound Ukraine’s critical infrastructure, he can coerce Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to accept Russia’s demands.
position of Ukraine. Zelensky also continues to pursue unrealistic war goals. In early November, he laid down the conditions for “genuine peace talks” with Russia. Kyiv seeks to restore Ukraine’s territorial integrity by driving Russians out of the entire country, including Crimea, securing compensation for Russia’s destruction of the nation and bringing key Russian officials and some soldiers to trial by the International Criminal Court. Until recently, Zelenskyy insisted that he would only negotiate with a new Russian president, which is clearly not a serious condition.
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So far, the charismatic former actor has been very successful in convincing US and European governments to part with large sums of money from their countries’ treasuries to help defend his country against the Russians. US aid to kyiv exceeded 50% of Ukraine’s GDP in 2021, which amounted to $200.1 billion. A recently released poll, however, finds American support for unlimited aid to Ukraine has plummeted, and nearly half of Americans (47%) believe Washington should urge Kiev to accept peace.
Zelensky’s recent call for an additional $55 billion to cover budget shortfalls and reconstruction is unlikely to find many supporters. Even Elon Musk, whose donation to Ukraine through his company SpaceX to provide Starlink satellite communications is expected to reach $100 million by the end of the year, has indicated that there are limits to his generosity. Without Starlink internet terminals, which the Ukrainian military depends on for command and control, kyiv’s ability to continue the fight will be severely degraded.
The position of the Biden administration. Although Washington has reduced its objectives for this proxy war with Russia, it still operates within the paradigm of wishful thinking. Calls for Putin’s impeachment by Biden and others have betrayed how far removed Washington politicians are from reality. Considering regime change in a country that has the largest nuclear arsenal in the world and whose president enjoys a 75% approval rating is wishful thinking. So does Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s stated goal in April of “weakening” the Russian military “to the extent that it can’t do the kinds of things it did by invading.” Ukraine”.
Secretary of State Anthony Blinken outlined a much more modest program on Tuesday: bringing the Russians back to pre-invasion lines, leaving Putin to keep the strategic Crimean peninsula and parts of Donbass. Expelling the Russians from captured and annexed territories would require massive additional expenditure on military equipment and would involve the risk of Russia using weapons of mass destruction.
On Wednesday, Putin issued a new veiled nuclear threat as he and his security council considered a response to Ukraine’s strike against Russian nuclear missile carriers stationed at a strategic airbase in Russia itself. Paragraph 19 of Russia’s nuclear doctrine allows the Kremlin to press the “red button” to launch a retaliatory strike when its strategic weapons facilities are attacked.
The Biden administration understands that there is a credible threat that Putin will authorize a nuclear strike with a low-yield tactical warhead in Ukraine. This is why the Pentagon secretly modified the HIMARS long-range rocket launchers before shipping them to kyiv to prevent the Ukrainians from firing missiles deep into Russian territory.
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That’s also why on Tuesday Blinken insisted that the United States was not encouraging or assisting the Ukrainians in carrying out strikes inside Russia. The Biden administration is probably realizing that at some point you’ll run out of taxpayers’ money and your own defensive arsenal if you keep fueling a war that can’t be won — even if it can be a just war.
The Russians have a very high tolerance for casualties, having sacrificed over 20 million people during World War II. Unless Washington steps in and forces Zelensky to negotiate an end to this bitter and devastating standoff, Putin will fight to the last Ukrainian stand.
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