Is US Commitment to Ukraine War at Tipping Point?
For now, the goal for Ukraine and its NATO allies should be to contain the Russian offensive within southeastern Ukraine, push Putin’s forces back where possible – and make this war too painful for Russia to continue indefinitely’.
Are we seeing an inflection point in the conflict over Ukraine, which growing numbers of US lawmakers tell us is, in truth, a US ‘war’ on Russia? What the latter means however, is not clear, but it sounds like the early laying down of a narrative for possible military escalation. But is military escalation still feasible?
It is perhaps too early to claim strategic ‘inflection’ — but what does seem to be happening is that mis-matched timelines are grinding out their ineluctable and harsh realities.
At the very outset of the Russian operations, Biden authorised emergency spending, and of US military trainers on the spot providing intelligence and tactical targeting guidance to help the Ukrainian army destroy Russian forces. The Ukrainians get it all — every twitch in Russian operational deployment is handed immediately to Russia’s enemies.
Concomitantly, as a contribution to info-war, military experts appeared across western MSM to herald an imminent “Ukrainian victory” based on the country’s allegedly ‘spectacular battlefield successes’ and Russia’s ‘extraordinary incompetence’. The US and British rush to judgement partly reflected a real failure on their part to recognise that Russia was mounting a soft, slow and steady campaign of manoeuvre — because simply that is not ‘how we in the West do things’.
However, much of it almost certainly reflected an uncritical 100% reliance on Ukrainian sources, and on wishful thinking. After the enormous eight-year investment in the training and equipping of the quarter-million Ukrainian army to NATO standards, the latter surely would prevail (they imagined) against a mere 140,000 Russians. The desire to erase the humiliation of the twenty year NATO training programme in Afghanistan – that unravelled in eleven days – almost certainly contributed to the western gung ho rhetoric: ‘Vindication at last’.
In the last few days, US Defence Secretary Austin called General Shoigu (the first call, since the start of operations that Shoigu has accepted to take). Austin asked for an immediate ceasefire. Shoigu however, declined the request.
At about the same moment, Chancellor Scholz called President Putin (and had a long discussion). Scholz also wanted an immediate ceasefire, but his focus was more on agreeing some swap, by which the besieged Avozstal fighters could withdraw from the underground Avozstal tunnels.
The western efforts to secure release of these fighters has been at the forefront of initiatives over the last week. Scholz also raised his hopes for a diplomatic solution to the Ukraine issue, but Putin was no more yielding than was Shoigu. (Interestingly, Scholz also, according to the read-out, broached the coming global food emergency in his call).
Europe has painted itself into a corner on its political initiatives. The obvious retort to Europe’s plea to Putin is: Go and persuade Zelensky. But Europe has unreservedly pinned itself to Zelensky alone determining the terms of any ceasefire — and he says he will not yield anything to Russia, and will only speak with Putin without any framework agreed in advance.
Nonetheless, here we have two Western leaders suing for a cessation of military action.
The war in Ukraine has unfolded, but not in the way western commentary foresaw. Ukrainian forces look shattered and exhausted. Supplies and reinforcements are not reaching the Ukrainian troops who now are largely unable to move, or re-deploy away from fixed defensive positions along the Slovyansk-Severodonetsk–Donetsk lines. And these lines are looking vulnerable to collapse.
Confronted with the unambiguous failure of assistance to rescue Ukrainian forces from certain destruction, the Biden administration is pivoting its narrative: the New York Times is saying that Russian forces have advanced to the border between Donetsk and Luhansk, [which] if confirmed makes it more probable that Russia could entirely control Donbas. And the Washington Post reports that Biden wants now to pivot to Asia, ‘after the Ukraine war marked a rallying moment for the geo-political West. It triggered a new steely approach by Europeans to confront Russia and spurred the imminent expansion of NATO.
And David Ignatius, a bell weather for Washington shifts, also reports: ‘The world will eventually celebrate a final Ukrainian victory and the expulsion of the last Russian invader. But that could be years, even decades, away. We aren’t going to see a peace treaty signed any time soon. For a long while, Ukraine is likely to be a partially divided country. For now, the goal for Ukraine and its NATO allies should be to contain the Russian offensive within southeastern Ukraine, push Putin’s forces back where possible – and make this war too painful for Russia to continue indefinitely’.
Scholtz’s telecon too, suggests that the EU is waking up to the merciless reality of timelines in the sphere of sanctions. Instead of being able to trigger an almost instantaneous collapse of the Russian economy, the latter is doing okay — quite okay, despite sanctions. It looks as if it is the EU’s plans rather, for an oil embargo, that are rapidly unravelling. And instead of a quick win (again as confidently forecast by the experts), the EU now faces the long grinding down of its economy, through energy, food and inflationary crises.
It does sound like Biden is talking-the-talk of a ‘pivot’, having ‘got the reality’. The rushing through of the $40 billion package may well represent a consolation prize (slush fund) for the Military Industrial Complex and for certain allies in Ukraine to be rewarded, but the question is, will Washington subsequently walk-the-walk?
An escalation through Poland seizing its ‘historic lands’ in Ukraine (the western part), could be used to present the American people with a war that Americans do not want, but cannot easily stop. Such Polish intervention would please Neo-con currents in the US and UK, though the expected follow-through for this current would be far from smooth sailing, if pursued.
Conflict involving Russians and Poles in any form would likely trigger a call for the NATO council to meet, and to address Article V of the NATO Treaty that provides for support from all members, should a NATO member (in this case Poland) be attacked.
Note however, that such support is not automatic. In the case of Turkey having shot down a Russian fighter jet, Turkey attempted to frame any Russian retribution as an Article V event — however NATO member states disagreed, arguing that Turkey was the author of its own misfortune, and that it would have to deal with the consequences alone.
War with Russia is precisely what the Pentagon and most NATO members do not want. This is a strong card in the Russian hand.