DC shifts to damage control as Ukraine defense fadesOne possible outcome: a Korean-style armistice, with a line between East and West Ukraine but no peace treaty
By UWE PARPART AND DAVID P. GOLDMAN
JUNE 14, 2022
With its use of heavy artillery, the Russian army is making progress in the Donbas. Photo: Newsbeezer
Having made multiple declarations that Russia would cease to be a world power after the Ukraine war, President Biden and his top officials are now focused on damage control – warning Ukraine through proxies that it will have to sacrifice territory for a ceasefire.
Speaking at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Los Angeles, Biden blamed Volodymyr Zelensky for allegedly not heeding American warnings about a Russian invasion:
And, folks, nothing like this has happened since World War Two. I know a lot of people thought I was maybe exaggerating, but I knew — and we had data to sustain — he was going to go in, off the border. There was no doubt. And Zelenskyy didn’t want to hear it, nor did a lot of people. Understanding why they didn’t want to hear it. But he went in.
Ukrainian officials angrily disputed Biden’s version of events, but the cat was out of the bag.
That’s a turnabout from April 25, when Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin declared in Kyiv that the United States wanted to destroy Russia’s capacity to undertake wars on this scale: “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.
So it has already lost a lot of military capability. And a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability.”
A month earlier, Biden had tweeted, “The Russian economy is on track to be cut in half. It was ranked the 11th biggest economy in the world before this invasion — and soon, it will not even rank among the top 20.”
By late May, Russian artillery had begun to reduce Ukrainian forces in the Donbas, threatening to trap Ukrainian forces in a pocket around Severodonetsk – now all but under Russian control. Pentagon observers noted that the Russians had learned to coordinate artillery, infantry, armor and air power. Ukraine began to lose 100 to 200 killed in action per day.
The first sign of a shift to damage-control in Washington came June 8 in a New York Times report by reporter Julian Barnes, quoting US intelligence officials who complained that “American intelligence agencies have less information than they would like about Ukraine’s operations and possess a far better picture of Russia’s military, its planned operations and its successes and failures.”
That is implausible, but not impossible; the United States has satellite images that reveal every detail of ground action, as well as 150 advisers on the ground as of January. Failure to assess the situation on the ground in Ukraine would imply a stupefying level of incompetence in the American intelligence community, which cannot be excluded.
A former senior CIA official, Beth Sanner, told the newspaper, “How much do we really know about how Ukraine is doing? Can you find a person who will tell you with confidence how many troops has Ukraine lost, how many pieces of equipment has Ukraine lost?” Sanner formerly was deputy director of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence – and a presidential briefer during 2017.
“Everything is about Russia’s goals and Russia’s prospects for meeting their goals,” Sanner added. “We do not talk about whether Ukraine might be able to defeat them. And to me, I feel that we are setting ourselves up for another intel failure by not talking about that publicly.”
Translated from spook-speak, Sanner’s warning about an “intel failure” means that the failure had already occurred and that the intelligence services hoped to blame the Ukrainians for it – just as Biden did in Los Angeles two days later.
Asia Times noted the implications of Sanner’s interview with the New York Times in a June 9 situation report on Ukraine.
After her retirement last year Sanner joined Harvard’s Belfer Center for foreign policy. Belfer’s most prominent scholar is Graham Allison, a prominent realist and, in his own description, Henry Kissinger’s oldest student.
Kissinger told the World Economic Forum on May 23 that “movement towards negotiations and negotiations on peace need to begin in the next two months so that the outcome of the war should be outlined but before it could create upheaval and tensions that will be ever-harder to overcome, particularly between the eventual relationship of Russia, Georgia and of Ukraine towards Europe. Ideally, the dividing line should return the status quo ante.”
The “status quo ante” implies that Ukraine will make territorial concessions to Russia—a phrase that Kissinger did not use.
But NATO’s General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg, who has taken a hawkish stance towards Russia since the inception of the war, spelled out the conditions for peace on June 12 at a press conference with the president of Finland:
“Peace is possible in Ukraine. The only question is how much are you willing to pay for this peace. How much are you willing to sacrifice land, independence, sovereignty, freedom and democracy. And that is a very difficult moral dilemma.”
The Ukraine government responded to Stoltenberg with a denial that it was willing to concede any territory at all.
One possible outcome that’s been floated in the American media and closely considered in Moscow is a Korean-style armistice, with an armistice line between East and West Ukraine but without a peace treaty.
Jong Eun Lee of American University wrote May 12 in The National Interest: “Nearly three months into a war, could Ukraine be convinced that a similar armistice is preferable to continued war? The burden is on the United States and the world to convince Ukrainians … that their security threats would not worsen in the future, and that their territorial losses could be restored in the future.”
An armistice would allow Ukraine to deny that it had given up claims on territory held by Russia. Although the proposal has been studied in Moscow, Russia has little motivation to accept it while it is gaining ground.
Some European countries, meanwhile express buyer’s remorse about the acquisition of Ukraine as a full-fledged member of the European family. The Netherlands and Denmark have raised objections to Ukrainian membership in the European Union, widely proposed as a response to the Russian invasion.
According to Bloomberg News, a diplomatic note from Denmark to the European Commission stated that “Ukraine does not sufficiently meet the criteria related to the stability of institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights, respect and protection of minorities. Kyiv will need to fundamentally improve its legislative and institutional framework to make progress on all these fronts.”
The prospect of a reversal in Washington and the shift in sentiment towards Ukraine among some of the smaller European Union members leave the German government in a tricky position. Under American pressure, German Chancellor Olaf Scholze and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock have agreed to provide heavy weapons to Ukraine.
That policy is deeply unpopular; according to a May 5 poll, 57% of Germans believe that heavy weapons deliveries to Ukraine would lead to an expansion of the war to other countries in Europe, versus 34% who support heavy weapons deliveries. Scholz appears to have caved in to American pressure to give military backing to Ukraine at exactly the moment when the Americans themselves are starting to express doubts.
The next several weeks of fighting will give the Ukraine government a different perspective. By one US military estimate, Ukraine has suffered up to 70,000 casualties (10,000 killed, 40,000-50,000 wounded, and about 10,000 prisoners). It is running out of the old Soviet ammunition for most of its heavy weapons, and it cannot move Western weapons to the front fast enough in the face of Russian artillery and missile – couldn’t even if the West were to supply it.
If the formula that Kissinger and Stoltenberg propose returns to the Western agenda, the warring parties will in effect return to something like the Minsk II framework – which the United States sabotaged in the advent of the present war. A peace agreement is deeply to be desired, but the character of any possible peace will make clear that the war was unnecessary to begin with.