Is the Ukraine war approaching an endgame?
With US/NATO plans faltering, surprises can be expected this winter
The tone of Western official statements and media analyses and commentaries about the Ukraine war has been changing noticeably in recent weeks. A sense of resignation verging on despair has crept in which contrasts starkly with the triumphant enthusiasm, based on confident expectations of victory, that prevailed 18 months ago when Russian tanks rolled over Ukraine’s borders.
As the much-heralded Ukrainian summer counteroffensive draws to a close without having achieved anything of much significance, perceptions and assumptions have been shifting.
In Ukraine itself, people seem dismayed by the huge number of casualties sustained by the army in the failed operation, and the destruction of vast amounts of Western-supplied military equipment. Growing numbers of young Ukrainian men are reported to be fleeing the country to escape conscription.
Outside Ukraine, senior officials in NATO countries, including the alliance’s secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, have been warning their citizens to prepare for a long war with no quick end in sight. This will not go down well with European publics already suffering from the economic and financial fallout of the war and their governments’ support for it. They were told it could be won by sending vast quantities of expensive armaments to the Ukrainian army. But that failed to turn the tide, and much of that weaponry has been destroyed or expended.
It is no exaggeration to say that in the process, Ukraine has ceased to be an independent state in any meaningful sense, and has become a mere tool and surrogate of a highly aggressive but casualty-shy (in terms of American though certainly not Ukrainian lives) US policy.
Yet Washington could not even get the G-20 leaders to agree a statement in support of the war and Ukrainian president Zelensky, a major blow to its presumed ability to operate the global order by remote control.
Biden is now promising to send long-range missiles to the Ukrainian military, after his previous supplies of sophisticated weapons failed to alter the rules of engagement. This is bound to be seen as a major provocation by the Russian leadership, which has threatened to eliminate these missiles which threaten its heartlands, and turn the US’ proxy war against it into a direct war: not just against Ukraine’s heartlands but maybe US bases in Europe too, or even the US’ heartlands.
With the Ukrainian offensive fizzling out and the European winter approaching, Russia seems to be gaining the upper hand both militarily and psychologically. Winter means more energy needs to be consumed, and at higher prices, all to the benefit of Moscow’s coffers. Disaffection is likely to grow among Europeans as a result, and to be increasingly directed against their governments’ subservience to the US.
There are three foreseeable ways this war could end.
First, pressure could mount within the US — from congressional leaders and the public with tacit support from elements of the deep state — to depose or prevent the re-election of Biden, who played the key role in initiating and escalating the war with the aim of weakening or dismembering Russia.
Second, Zelensky could be deposed or assassinated and replaced by a president more amenable to negotiated peace proposals, a cease-fire, implementation of the Minsk agreements, and a neutral Ukraine that stays out of NATO.