Time for a wider lens to see what things are happening outside of the immediate SMO zone, and implications thereof. I welcome your comments / debate.
As many of you will know, the first and only opportunity for a true peace settlement was in March 2022. Following three rounds of negotiations in Belarus, the representatives from Ukraine and Russian Federation met in Turkey, there was rumoured to be a meeting between Putin and Zelensky, and things were looking up.
And then Boris Johnson made a surprise visit in early April. He had two simple messages to Kiev:
The first is that Putin is a war criminal; he should be pressured, not negotiated with. And the second is that even if Ukraine is ready to sign some agreements on guarantees with Putin, they are not. We can sign [an agreement] with you [Ukraine], but not with him. Anyway, he will screw everyone over,” is how one of Zelenskyy’s close associates summed up the essence of Johnson’s visit…
And that was effectively the end. Three days after Johnson left Kyiv, Putin stated publicly that talks with Ukraine “had turned into a dead end”.
There were several other attempts at “negotiations”, mostly involving grain deal, ammonia supply deal, and other similar subjects. Ukraine has tried to sabotage these deals, according to Russia. Russia has tried to sabotage these deals, according to Ukraine. Without going down the rabbit hole of who is right and who is wrong, it seems odd to me that Putin and Lavrov (Russian Foreign Minister) are constantly being presented as “weak”, because they constantly state that they are “open for negotiations”. On the other hand, Zelensky is “strong”, because he would not even start negotiations until Russia removes all of its troops from Ukraine and goes back to 1991 (with Crimea) or 2014 (without Crimea) borders – these demands change from time to time.
The last attempt at negotiations, from memory, was a deal around RAF withdrawal from Kherson. There were various reports and theories why RAF were able to withdraw from the right bank without AFU shelling the effort, and why RAF withdrew in the first place. General “Armageddon” Surovikin deemed defending the right bank as a waste of RAF’s most important resource – its soldiers – hence the decision to withdraw. There were also reports that there was some sort of a “peace deal” being worked out between Ukraine and Russia, with the arbitrage by the USA (so called “Sullivan formula” – best link I could find), whereby a ceasefire or some other sort of de-escalation would be achieved prior to G20 summit in Bali. AFU would in return stop shelling the nuke power plant in Zaporizhzhya, line of conflict would be frozen (Russia retaining its newly acquired land), and some other concessions by both parties. Allegedly, RAF held up its end of the bargain. Ukraine reneged.
Following this, Zelensky had a ball during his address to G20, rolling out a “10-point peace plan”. For starters, he demanded that
Russia must agree to the territorial integrity of Ukraine, withdraw its troops from his country and pay compensation for damage caused by President Vladmir Putin’ invasion
all the while referring to the group as G19, excluding Russia, with whom he was trying to negotiate a peace deal. This stellar effort did not go anywhere.
I would also add the latest initiative by Russia for a 36-hour ceasefire during Orthodox Christmas (7 January 2023). It was first suggested by Russian Orthodox Church leader Patriarch Kirill, and later ordered by Putin. Naturally, Ukrainians called this a ploy for Russians to regroup, as they were losing. They also claimed that it was “a cynical trap and an element of propaganda”. Germany, among other Western countries, deemed the offer unauthentic, and the White House called it a “cynical ploy”.
President Biden said Thursday that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s call for a temporary, Christmas ceasefire is an effort to “find some oxygen,” dismissing that the Kremlin is serious about finding an off ramp for its assault against Ukraine.
The president said he was “reluctant to respond to anything Putin says,” but characterized the Kremlin as cynically attacking civilians over the December holidays.”
As a reminder, Minsk Agreements were designed to regulate conflict in Donbass area of Ukraine (effectively, a civil war) that started after a 2014 coup against the then-President of Ukraine Yanukovich. I will not go into detail of the coup, other than its result – Crimea voted to become a part of Russian Federation, pro-Russian supporters were burned alive in Odessa, pro-Nazi elements entered Ukrainian government, and Donbass and Lugansk started an uprising which morphed into a full-blown civil war that smouldered for 8 years.
In recent revelations, Angela Merkel, and then Francois Hollande, who were mediators of the Minsk Agreements in the so-called Normandy Format, spelled out the real reason for the agreements: to allow Ukraine to prepare for future war with Russia.
Putin, of course, was not amused, as he believed he was negotiating in good faith.
I thought the other participants of this agreement were at least honest, but no, it turns out they were also lying to us and only wanted to pump Ukraine with weapons and get it prepared for a military conflict,” Putin said. “Apparently, we got our bearings too late, to be honest. Maybe we should have started all this [the military operation] earlier, but we just hoped that we would be able to solve it within the framework of the Minsk agreements.
With this latest revelation, Putin could very well be done negotiating with the West.
Aid to Ukraine
So far, Ukraine has received ~$95B in foreign aid through 3 October 2022, most of it coming from the USA. Military aid was just shy of $50B, and that was before the latest $47B package unveiled as a result of Zelensky’s visit to the USA, culminating in his speech before Congress.
A lot of the military aid supplied to date has been destroyed during the last 11 months of fighting. Some has been allegedly sold on the black market to various buyers in Europe (Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Netherlands so far) and Africa (Lake Chad Basin region). Keep in mind that NATO has been supplying what they call “defensive” weapons, as Russia pretty much said earlier that “offensive” weapons could be interpreted as NATO’s direct involvement in conflict and will bring consequences. What those consequences may be is anyone’s guess, but this is a full spectrum from “do nothing” to “strategic nukes”.
With AFU taking heavy losses in Soledar (which fell a couple of days ago, although Zelensky is in denial) and Bakhmut (which is going to fall in a matter of days, I believe), any potential AFU offensive is looking very shaky. So, the collective West, over the last couple of weeks, has announced a massive list of heavier armaments that will be transferred to AFU. These include: French AMX-10, German Marder APC, and American Bradleys, M113 APCs, M109 Paladin howitzers, 105mm towed howitzers, Humvees and MRAPs. Plus a smorgasbord of other goodies, ~$3B all up. And, yes, the Patriot missile battery or two. And earlier Poland had agreed to give up to 14 of its Leopard tanks to the AFU. Wunderwaffe. UK has also joined the fray and committed to sending 12 Challenger tanks.
I have also seen reports where the AFU are complaining about the American weapons – these were designed to operate in the desert (Humvees, MRAPs) and are seizing in Ukrainian winter. But by far the biggest problem for the AFU is a sort of mishmash makeup of its artillery, wheel and track equipment, manufactured in various countries. This presents a real problem with servicing and repair when the need arises – and it certainly will arise. It is almost a given that any repairs must be done in other countries, which presents logistics problems.
On the humanitarian front, things are looking even more dire. To function, according to Zelensky, the country needs $7B per month, or $84B per year to pay teachers, pensioners, maintain infrastructure and the like. Given that Ukraine’s GDP was ~$200B per year prior to the SMO, and its economy contracted by up to 70% due to destruction of agriculture, manufacturing and power generation, it is safe to say that the burden of keeping Ukraine minimally viable will rest on the USA and the EU in the foreseeable future.
I have seen discussions on whether this aid (both military and humanitarian) was a gift, or a loan (similar to Lend Lease program of WWII). I seem to recall that bulk of the aid was, indeed, in the form of loans, but I would bet that it will turn out to be a gift – USA and EU countries printed dollars and Euros out of thin air and given these to the Ukraine, a country that has been in an economic and demographic decline over last 30 years and has suffered a collapse in the last 11 months. There is a very slim chance that these loans would ever be repaid.
There is also another EU refugee crisis that is hitting Europe hard. As of July 2022, it is estimated that 5.2M refugees have left Ukraine for other countries. 1.4M of them went to Russia, the rest elsewhere, with Europe bearing the brunt of this movement. In roughly the same timeframe, only 71K Ukrainians came to the US (with some making it across the US-Mexico border). So the EU countries, in addition to providing massive amounts of aid, will be feeding, housing and clothing refugees for some years to come.
There have been a number of opinion pieces written over the last couple of months on the current situation. I will give you a couple of those:
A very good piece by Jim Rickards. There is not a lot of here that I disagree with, especially the opening statement:
Don’t believe the incessant U.S. government and media propaganda about Ukraine. Ukraine is not winning the war; they are losing badly
Rickards makes a strong argument that the only winner so far has been the military-industrial complex (MIC), mainly in the US.
One point I disagree with him on is a potential outcome of the use of tactical nukes. Once that Kraken is unleashed, strategic missiles will fly, and then it’s lights out for the northern hemisphere at the very least. I think we will stop well short of this scenario, and I will give you my reasons why further down this post.
Next, an opinion piece by Condoleezza Rice (ex-Secretary of State) and Robert M. Gates (ex-Secretary of Defence).
If we skip over platitudes about heroic AFU, the article paints a bleak but accurate picture of the Ukraine’s economy
Meanwhile, although Ukraine’s response to the invasion has been heroic and its military has performed brilliantly, the country’s economy is in a shambles, millions of its people have fled, its infrastructure is being destroyed, and much of its mineral wealth, industrial capacity and considerable agricultural land are under Russian control. Ukraine’s military capability and economy are now dependent almost entirely on lifelines from the West — primarily, the United States. Absent another major Ukrainian breakthrough and success against Russian forces, Western pressures on Ukraine to negotiate a cease-fire will grow as months of military stalemate pass. Under current circumstances, any negotiated cease-fire would leave Russian forces in a strong position to resume their invasion whenever they are ready. That is unacceptable
The recipe to defeat Russia is to “help Ukraine push back the invader now”, which translates into more modern weapons and immediate support for the 21st century’s Winston Churchill, aka Volodymyr Zelensky. More weapons = more orders for MIC to replace.
There have been multiple articles written about the destination of vast funds that were given to the Ukraine by the USA. EU countries also contributed, of course, but n much smaller scale. Bulk of these funds never leave the USA, and are spent on MIC. Only a small portion of funds actually makes it to the Ukraine, as explained by the fact checkers.
Finally, an interview (machine-translated, the best I could find) with the Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Nikolai Patrushev.
The West has mastered the zombification of people through mass propaganda, and now seeks to use cognitive weapons, influencing each person point-by-point with the help of information technologies and methods of neuropsychology. It inculcates neoliberal and other values, some of which are inherently directly opposed to human nature. They act consciously and do not hide in their circle that the LGBT agenda is a tool for gradually reducing the number of” extra people “who do not fit into the framework of the notorious “golden billion”. Just yesterday, they advertised GMOs without caring about the health consequences of such products, and today they are calling on women not to have children in order to fight climate change. Overseas science suggests evaluating people by the amount of carbon they leave behind. They measure and count humanity in the same way that Nazi scientists once measured skulls in search of criteria for separating “higher” and “lower races”.
There is an existential struggle in progress. It is West vs. East. Russia – Ukraine war is the frontline. Neither side will give up. The USA, with its EU partners, plus UK, AU, NZ, Japan, South Korea cannot afford to appear any weaker than they were immediately after Afghanistan withdrawal. For Putin, he summed it up during one his earlier interviews:
…if someone decides to annihilate Russia, we have the legal right to respond. Yes, it will be a catastrophe for humanity and for the world. But I’m a citizen of Russia and its head of state. Why do we need a world without Russia in it?
Over last 30 years, since the fall of USSR, the USA forgot the art of diplomacy and negotiation. It has become a bully, and the only tactic they seem to employ is to intimidate, threaten, and double down. Well, there are only a couple more opportunities to double down before we arrive to the brink of nuclear war. There will not be a winner, at least in the northern hemisphere, but Russia may come out in a better shape due its size, low population density east of the Urals, and modernised delivery systems that are more difficult to intercept than a normal ICBM.
And here we come to the speculation part. AFU, it is estimated, have lost between 12K and 25K in Soledar. It is suffering same horrific losses in Bakhmut. It is running out of men, materiel and delivery systems, which is the reason for all of the recent announcements of new weapons by the West (see above). The highly anticipated winter offensive by the AFU is looking very improbable, because the political interests of “stoic Ukrainian soldiers” defending Soledar and Bakhmut from “hordes of Russian occupants” took precedence over preservation of men – Intel Slava Z has been reporting on numerous times Zaluzhnyj pleaded with Zelensky to withdraw troops from those two towns, but Zelensky refused as it could have jeopardised the amount of aid being sent. There have also been reports that the AFU had mounted three couter-offensives to try to take Soledar back, all failed.
So, unlike RAF in Kharkov and Kherson earlier in this conflict, AFU stayed put and lost a lot of men. One can get all sorts of new toys that go “kaboom” and spread death and destruction. Problem is, you have to have someone to push the button for the toy to go “kaboom”. For historical parallels of the consequences of political decisions over military needs, see Battle of Stalingrad 1942 – 1943.
RAF are likely to mount their winter offensive in the next few days. The likely goals will be 1. To liberate Donetsk republic and 2. Advance from Kherson towards Odessa and Transinistria, thus controlling the entire Black sea shore. AFU are also likely to mount their own counteroffensive to try and take Soledar back, even if this means throwing more and more troops into a meatgrinder for political gain.
There is also a very large combined Belorussian/RAF force in Belarus right now. There is a lot of speculation, whether Russia will attack Kiev again, or whether Poland, that has been actively growing its military, will attack Belarus or try to enter western Ukraine as a “peacekeeping” force, thus annexing areas that used to be Poland (Lviv, etc.). Given Poland’s recent actions on the world stage, I would not put it past them to enter western Ukraine. I do not believe that they will attack Belarus, because in this case Article 5 of NATO will be null and void. Or maybe Poland is just building up its forces so they can attack Germany and collect $1.4T of reparations for its losses in WWII, who knows?
If and when RAF secures Donetsk and Odessa, they might consider advancing up to Dnepr River and take the entire left bank (eastern) part of the country, but no more. At the very least, I think the RAF will also attempt to take Kharkov. By then, there will be peace talks. I do not believe that the world will be facing the use of even tactical nukes.
The resolve of the West to support Ukraine indefinitely is starting to soften. The populace have lost any interest in Ukraine a few months ago. Politicians are still making loud noises and strong statements, but even they are starting to rethink whether it is worth their while to continue with Zelensky. In the USA, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy got elected after 15 rounds and multiple concessions, one of which was to cut aid to Ukraine. In Europe, they have run out of stuff to give, and are in the middle of a serious economic downturn (recession? Depression?)
And then here comes Ukraine. Would you continue to help, if you have robbed your own people (not that EU politicians care, but the electorate might start paying attention), and your help is not appreciated?
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba has urged Kiev’s “partners” to continue funnelling military aid into the country, claiming that “no one has done enough” to help, yet.
There is also a possibility for the AFU to mount its own winter offensive. They still have reserves both in men and equipment, which have been amassed, as it has been reported, in at least two sections of the front: 1. near Zaporizhzhia, to enable the AFU to advance towards Melitopol and Mariupol, thus cutting off the land bridge to Crimea; and 2. at Ugledar, to drive towards Donetsk and crush the capital of one of the separatist republics. Ther is also a very real possibility that Zelensky will continue to try to take Soledar back, to maintain morale in the AFU and among the civilians – I cannot find any other reason in denial that the town is lost.