With the war for Ukraine in its third bloody week, the world faces two urgent questions: How do we help the brave Ukrainian people continue their fight for freedom? And how do we bring this war to an end before Ukraine is destroyed?
The two questions may seem sharply at odds, but the Biden administration rightly believes they are related. By stepping up military assistance to Ukraine — and making President Vladimir Putin pay an ever-steeper price for his invasion — the United States and its allies will boost the chances of a peace agreement that is not a capitulation to Russia’s flagrant aggression.
Military support for Ukraine is the best peace plan, in other words. Already, Ukraine’s valiant defense has led Putin to soften his initial war demands. A “peace process” is underway, involving would-be mediators from Israel, Germany, France and other nations. Let’s hope this can produce a cease-fire before too long. But any real settlement will require Putin to change course — not just to save Ukraine, but to save Russia.
Diplomats have been working overtime this past week to craft a formula for a neutral Ukraine on the model of Austria, whose security would be guaranteed by Germany, France, Russia, the United States and perhaps other nations. This formula would reflect a major concession by Putin, but it could also diminish the heroic status of President Volodymyr Zelensky. Many Ukrainians would argue that their people didn’t fight and die to achieve neutrality.
The decision about war and peace should belong to Zelensky and his nation. But as diplomacy moves forward, several things seem certain. First, there’s sure to be more fighting on the way to a truce. Second, the Ukrainians (and their NATO partners, too) will need top-flight diplomats to negotiate with cunning Russian negotiators in a process that could resemble the 1995 Dayton Accords that ended the Balkan war. [Continue reading…]
Reports of low morale, dissension between commanders, mutiny on at least one vessel, desertion, and so on, all within the first two weeks are indicators of major manpower problems. And in pure numbers, the Ukrainian armed forces still outnumber or closely match Russian forces actually on the ground in Ukraine.
There is no suggestion that the Russians have big units lurking in the woods somewhere (and the Pentagon has said it sees no signs of significant reinforcements.) So it’s apparent that the notional 900,000 strength of the Russian military is a hollow number. Their public call for 16,000 troops from Syria and elsewhere indicates this. Employment of “stop loss” by Russia on conscripts whose time is about up is another indicator. The Ukrainian diaspora is flocking home to help the fight; Russians are not coming back home — and indeed, many are leaving to avoid Putin’s fight.
There is now an opportunity to exacerbate their manpower problem. The next intake of conscripts into the Russian Army is on April 1, when around 130,000 Russian families are required to send their sons (18-25) to Conscription Centers where they will be inducted into the Russian Army as privates.
We should do all we can to influence that next intake by using a combination of human outreach as well as cyber/technical means to bypass the Russian blackout on journalism and social media. Millions of Ukrainians, Georgians, Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, and Finns have friends, family, business contacts, employees, and customers in Russia. They should be reaching out to them directly — Lithuanians have already launched a campaign along these lines. If we can get some percentage of those families to resist, joining those thousands of Russians who are already showing the courage to protest, that would send shockwaves across Russia. [Continue reading…]
Even if Russia succeeds in its invasion of Ukraine and achieves a conventional defeat of the country’s armed forces, the war won’t end there, said a current member of the Ukrainian special forces. Instead, he said, a violent and organized struggle will continue, led by the most secretive branch of the Ukrainian military.
Experts and a Pentagon source see the path forward in similar terms: Even if the Kremlin defeats the Ukrainian military, a brutal guerrilla war will ensue. And given the country’s borders with key allies and a well-trained, secretive force ready to carry out insurgent activities, the war could continue indefinitely. [Continue reading…]