A Long Day's Journey Into Putin's Night
By Ivan Eland
Instead of a quick Russian victory, Russia’s second invasion of Ukraine seems to be settling into a drawn-out slugfest. After Ukrainian soldiers surprisingly thwarted Russia’s offensive on Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital city, the gleeful United States rallied NATO nations to provide the Ukrainians with tens of billions in weapons technology.
After some Ukrainian battlefield successes in throwing back the Russians in the east and south of Ukraine, which gained back some Russian-occupied territory, the United States and its allies gradually succumbed to the vision of decisively handing the Russian Bear with a stinging military defeat.
Yet, Russia still has some advantages. By essentially invading Crimea and parts of industrialized eastern Ukraine in 2014 and combining this conquered territory with that of its initial gains in the east and south in the 2022 invasion, the Russians have given the Ukrainians a Herculean task to recapture such a large land area against a more significant and sometimes well-dug-in occupying force.
Unless the reported low morale of the Russian force causes it to suddenly collapse—as German troops did in 1918 during World War I—the war likely will turn into a long, bloody slog.
Currently, the United States provides more military aid to Ukraine than all other countries combined. If the Europeans lack some of the weapons needed by Ukraine, they can buy them from the United States and send them on. Through several recent presidential administrations, the U.S. military establishment has been trying to “pivot to Asia” to deal with the much bigger threat of a rising China, but the strategically overstretched United States—U.S. national debt has reached $31.5 trillion—has repeatedly been diverted from this objective by self-inflicted quagmires in the Middle East and providing tens of billions of aid to Ukraine.
Second, the Russian fighting force has been shown to be a paper tiger, despite its large mass alone likely being able to lock up the war with Ukraine in stalemate for perhaps years—much like Russia’s other foreign conflicts.
Third, a better solution would be to reach a settlement that gives both countries a face-saving way out and creates the best chance for long-term stability—that is, the absence of future wars over the same ground.
In the longer term, the two exhausted parties might agree to hold a referendum, or referendums, in Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine to let the people decide whether to be part of Russia, Ukraine or even a newly independent country. Such self-determination can often help settle conflicts based on ethnic or religious strife.
IVAN ELAND is Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute and Director of the Institute’s Center on Peace & Liberty.
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