At the risk of treating timing as proof of connection, one has to wonder why the State Department saw fit to plant a story in the most obvious manner possible, by granting an interview with Anthony Blinken to one of the spooks’ favorite whispers, David Ignatius of the Washington Post (full text can be found here) . Not only was there no news trigger for the chat, but the interview’s premise was peculiar: talking about the endgame of the war and the US post war policy for Ukraine seems might peculiar since no resolution for the conflict is in sight.
And the interview itself was odd. Blinken did make a major concession to reality in acknowledging that Ukraine would not be able to retake Crimea any time soon. He expects the US to continue to arm Ukraine without having a treaty. Yet no where does the article suggest how the war might end, let alone mention the “n” word, negotiate. The Blinken/State vision seems to be:
US and NATO support Ukraine > *Magic* > War ends > US and NATO support Ukraine
One theory is that this article is intended to start managing down expectations in the US and Ukraine by conceding that Crimea is a lost cause. Even though that is a step in the right direction, there’s a long road between that admission and acknowledging the Russian battlefield advantage even before its recently mobilized troops have been put to work. The Ignatius piece is larded with “Russia is losing” assertions like ” Vladimir Putin has failed” and “U.S. weapons help pulverize Putin’s invasion force.”
So what is the point of this message, since this a piece presented in this manner is meant to send a message?
One guess is that Blinken cleared his throat to undercut the more or less contemporaneously-released RAND paper, Avoiding a Long War, embedded at the end of this post. I strongly urge you to read it in full. It contains a remarkable number of reality-challenged statements about Russian performance and politics. And what is particularly disconcerting is that the piece reads as if those are RAND’s conclusions, as opposed to the authors having to navigate a difficult terrain of misperceptions.
Irrespective of what one makes of RAND’s take on Russia, the paper presents ending the war as in America’s interest, and further a political settlement would be more beneficial to the US that a mere armistice, as in halt to fighting with no settlement of the drivers of the conflict.
The paper’s first sentence, “Discussion of the Russia-Ukraine war in Washington is increasingly dominated by the question of how it might end.” At a minimum, that can be read as an admission that even the folks in the Beltway bubble are realizing that the war is not going at all well for Ukraine.
However, Blinken scotches the idea that there is anything that needs to be discussed. Per Ignatius:
Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined his strategy for the Ukrainian endgame and postwar deterrence during an interview on Monday at the State Department…Russia’s colossal failure to achieve its military goals, Blinken believes, should now spur the United States and its allies to begin thinking about the shape of postwar Ukraine — and how to create a just and durable peace that upholds Ukraine’s territorial integrity and allows it to deter and, if necessary, defend against any future aggression. In other words, Russia should not be able to rest, regroup and reattack.
In other words, Blinken is in “Nothing to see here” mode with respect to how and where the war is going, and instead wants to focus on the bright shiny object of what to do after the war is, erm, resolved.
Blinken calls for permanent war with Russia, despite the blather about peace. Anything less than ongoing conflict would allow Russia to refit.
Hence it’s not hard to see that this interview was meant in part to signal State’s opposition to the RAND analysis, as well as any other pro-negotiation factions, say at the Pentagon.
With that understanding, it is peculiar to see Western pundit and officials more than occasionally talk about negotiations when it obvious to a careful reader that they are merely trying not to look like warmongers. And even the few that are genuine ignore the elephant in the room. From the RAND paper:
Since neither side appears to have the intention or capabilities to achieve absolute victory, the war will most likely end with some sort of negotiated outcome. Negotiated ends to wars, unlike absolute victories, require the belligerents to accept a degree of risk that the terms of the peace could be violated; even the relative “loser” in the conflict will retain the ability to threaten the other side.
Notice again that RAND is arguing (over the course of the paper) that the US has enough to lose that it would be better served to negotiate an end to the conflict even though that would mean Russia would still be in a position to wage war. Blinken rejects that view; his “just” end to the war requires a prostrated Russia.
The RAND overview states:
Although Washington cannot by itself determine the war’s duration, it can take steps that make an eventual negotiated end to the conflict more likely.
Does no one in policy circles in the US understand that the “negotiation” horse was taken out and shot?
To state what ought to be obvious: Russia has every reason not to trust the US and NATO, given bizarre bragging about bad faith conduct like using Minsk accords to buy time to arm Ukraine and planning to use peace talks to stall and again strengthen Ukraine. Their message is clear: Russia has no right to ask for anything, and its people must be subjugated and assimilated. Again, as many have pointed out, the West’s demonization of all things Russian, and not just the Russian government, has confirmed the view that this fight is existential, not just for the Russian state, but also for the Russian nation and culture. Annalena Baerbock’s statement that Germany is at war with Russia if nothing else poured more fuel on the fire of Russia distrust.2
This would be all well and good, in a might makes right sort of way, if the US could push Russia around. But that isn’t working out so well. The sanctions failed to prostrate Russia, and have harmed the collective West. Russia has destroyed the original Ukraine fighting force, dispatched much of what can be credibly called a second army, and absent major errors, looks set to defeat a third, assured-to-be-weaker force3
The problem now with where the US and NATO have gotten themselves is all they know how to do is escalate when they have pretty much nothing left to escalate with. The sanctions are tapped out. Three brigades of tanks, which is the estimate of what all the deliveries might add up to, will at most delay the inevitable for a bit. If you were a cynic, you could regard this effort as advancing the “demilitarize NATO” project:
The supply to #Ukraine has exhausted #German army. There is only enough ammunition for a few days of war. The tanks are broken.
But German is actively provoking #Russia
Bad historical memory,nostalgia for Russian tanks in #Berlin or just idiocy?😥https://t.co/2kT56DUNVE
— Alexander Ivanov (@innova_center) January 29, 2023
Brian Berletic has been chronicling the US/NATO weapons deliveries meticulously and discussing their (too often non) suitability. Berletic has also repeatedly pointed out that the arms supplied have been shrinking in number. So the tanks and possible addition of fighter jets looks to be an exercise in Doing Something, and also in keeping coalition members visibly committed to Project Ukraine.4.
If you don’t believe Berletic, another tell is Russia’s reaction. Russia is still in the process of training many of its recently mobilized troops. Experts like Scott Ritter, who estimated an earlier offensive launch date, are now saying Russia may not be ready to go until the start of March, allegedly because they
feel they have the luxury of time want their forces to operate effectively. If Russia were concerned about the tank and other noises, one would expect them to accelerate their timetable and make moves before the new goodies arrive.
In keeping, Maria Zarakhova, the Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman, reacted to the US non-proposals in a January 27 press briefing. From the translation provided by John Helmer:
For its part, Russia has always remained open to the possibility of using diplomatic and negotiation tools. This has been talked about repeatedly. All this has been applied, and all this is blocked by the Kiev regime under the dictation of the West. The ‘collective West’, NATO, the EU have long abandoned diplomacy, chosen a different path, and began to create security threats, setting fire, inciting, pushing, and simply driving the European continent to a global catastrophe. What is happening now is not a question of Ukraine, Russia or even the European continent. This is a much bigger and global thing…
Today I heard that Washington said that if Russia does something like this or that, maybe some sanctions or something else will be lifted. Who is listening to this at all? Who needs it? Who pays attention to this at all? Someone said something, some sanctions. That’s not the issue.
Against the background of the fact that heavy weapons are being supplied, it is not necessary to talk about what will happen if someone does something there…
Given that all negotiations have been terminated by Ukraine, this issue will be resolved on the ground. Under pressure or on its own, Kiev has banned any negotiations with Russia at the government level. So that’s it. The rest is for the military experts.
Nevertheless, there are some serious risks with the new equipment escalation, even if militarily there is less than meets the eye. One is that the UK is champing at the bit to send Ukraine longer range missiles. But all that is likely to accomplish is to confirm that Russia need to have a big margin of protection around the four oblasts that it now considers to be Russian territory. Another is that if the West gives Ukraine fighter jets, Ukraine is now short of working airstrips and Russia will make sure any remaining ones will be disabled. So will planes fly from Poland? And what will Russia make of that?
And that’s before getting to the other costs of keeping Ukraine going. Even though the US and its EU allies make noises about being committed for as long as it takes, they cannot afford the cost of carrying Ukraine economically on an open-ended basis. The fact that the Republicans have been taking the view that Ukraine funding is not open-ended says the money spigot will be turned down, but how quickly and how much is anyone’s guess. But remember, direct funding of the Ukraine government, as in police, pensions, hospitals, teachers, does little for the US military industrial complex.
Given all of the above, it isn’t surprising that there are more and more signs of doubts about the war. Even the most security-state-connected media outlets, like the New York Times, have taken to running the occasional piece that effectively admits things are not going well for Ukraine. Even though that is well short of acknowledging that Ukraine’s odd of prevailing are nil, and the likelihood that it becomes a failed state are high, breaks from the former relentless cheerleading are significant.
Experts like Colonel Macgregor and other former insiders have claimed that more and more officials at the Pentagon and other NATO armed forces are coming to see Ukraine as a losing cause and are concerned about how much the West is committing. The fact that RAND released a new report on Ukraine that expresses doubts, even if in think tank speak, should make it more acceptable for insiders to speak up.
The problem is, however, that within institutions, committed groups with strong ideologies routinely punch above their weight and can move the entire organization. Look at Ultras, the hard Brexiteers, who over time moved the debate about what Brexit amounted to into a very hard Brexit. Or in the US, how the law and economics movement, once regarded as fringe and eccentric, is mainstream and all too often, influential.
On top of that, the Blob and not presidents dictate policy. Obama was unable to close Gitmo. Trump came into office wanting to improve relations with Russia so as to isolate China and wound up imposing more sanctions on Russia. In his interviews with Oliver Stone, Putin described how he and Bush had productive discussions and came to concrete understandings, which were eventually walked back via turgidly-worded memos. Putin concluded that the bureaucracy and not elected officials drove foreign policy.
The neocons have the bit in their teeth despite their abysmal record. In the Ukraine project, they are aided by the ease of pinning sins of the old USSR onto modern Russia, and the way Russian studies at US universities has become “Putin-hating studies,” in the words of Scott Ritter.
Russian officials are simply doing the obvious: taking the measure of collective West intentions from their actions, which is to continue to arm Ukraine as best they can and do their best to stoke domestic support for the war. And whether you see the US/NATO commitment as tenacious or foolhardy, the key officials are so deeply invested that it’s hard to see how they could ever climb down.
1 Even when most commentators misread the state of play, they can often later identify what critical bit of information they lacked that would have changed their assessment. For instance, Ukraine skeptics missed that Russia’s manning of a very long line of contact thinned out at the end of last summer, when most of the contract soldiers whose terms of service had finished opted to go home. Bizarrely, the Ministry of Defense has assumed otherwise. That mistake helped set up the Ukraine “victory” in Kharkiv.
2 For those of you who argue that Russia should pay a price for its invasion of Ukraine (and no, that was actually not what the sanctions were about although it has been presented that way. They were imposed on February 22, as in after Russia recognized the breakaway republics and entered into a mutual defense agreement, but before the SMO began), the US did not pursue the destruction of Germany as a nation after World War I or II. But then again, Germans are not untermenschen.
3 Aside from issues of overall numbers being inadequate and a hodgepodge of equipment creating a logistical nightmare, some of the much-touted weaponry is vaporware. Jacob Dreizen, at the end of a very non-PC post, notes:
Last time, about the tanks, I forgot to mention something.
They will at least TRY with the German tanks, but the Abrams isn’t going to be used in the Ukraine at all.
(Perhaps as a mobile pillbox to guard Kiev, that’s about it.)
These things have a turbine engine, they run on jet fuel.
With all the Ukraine’s refineries bombed out of commission, it’s enough work to bring in gasoline (and diesel for the army) from Moldova and elsewhere (all at U.S. expense.)
To have a separate logistics stream for jet fuel going to the front lines, ONLY for one certain tank… that’s ridiculous.
Not to mention, this thing gets almost three gallons to the mile. (Yes, you read that right.)
Where’s Brandon’s EPA?
And who in the Ukraine will maintain that turbine engine?
The Abrams was never cut out for a “real” war.
I sat inside one, back in 1998, was shown the features. It’s an impressive thing.
It does have some other shortcomings.
Unlike all modern Russian/Ukrainian tanks, it has no autoloader…..
…..so Ukrainian loaders would have to be selected (strength required) and trained, to load, fast, even while the tank is moving.
Not an overnight skill.
4 The US has been arms-twisting various allies (pun intended) and not getting very far, either because they don’t want to take sides or need the equipment for their own use and unlike Germany, are not willing to engage in self harm to prove commitment.