War expansion talk seems to have ratcheted up in the past few days, even as conventional warfare continues. Protracted conflict is now being projected in the face of a variety of feints in Moldova and elsewhere. Russian attacks play with the spectacular:
An important strand of international relations theory tells us why. The “bargaining model of war” views warfare as just another form of negotiation, where two sides engage in multiple (if bloody) rounds of “bargaining” until they converge on a common set of expectations about the outcome of the war.
One of the problems preventing a settlement in Ukraine is that both Russia and Ukraine are pursuing indivisible war aims: Russia seeks the extermination of Ukraine’s sovereign democratic government, while Ukraine seeks to continue its existence as a country. Given that these two maximalist goals are mutually exclusive in the minds of each country’s leaders, it will take a lot of fighting to settle the conflict or even generate a stalemate.
The other reason the conflict is likely to drag on is that each side thinks that it still has a chance of winning the war. If this were not true, the “inevitable” loser would recognize that fate and hope for the best terms of surrender. As of today, Putin and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy both believe that they can win this war. The reason they believe this is because they still have incomplete information about the other side’s capabilities and resolve. But each combat engagement between Russian and Ukrainian forces reveals new information about how well each country fights and how likely they are to prevail. Sooner or later, this bloody “bargaining” will reveal enough information that the loser acknowledges the inevitable and sues for peace.
Ukraine, led by their brave and charismatic president, shows no signs of throwing in the towel—this is an existential fight for survival. But nothing that Vladimir Putin has said or done since the start of this war suggests that he is ready to abandon his original war aims and pursue a diplomatic off-ramp. In his mind, Russia will ultimately prevail if it simply continues to grind Ukraine to dust, no matter how long it takes.
Even though it is premature to hope for diplomatic off-ramps and face-saving measures, it is still useful to consider the possible long-term outcomes so that a future settlement—however distant—can be steered toward more favorable terms for Ukrainian, American, and European interests. In a perfect world, Ukraine would emerge from this tragic episode “whole, free, and at peace,” to paraphrase President George H.W. Bush’s vision for Europe in 1989. Sadly, short of the implosion of Putin’s regime, this utopic vision is a near impossibility without a vigorous and sustained Western effort.
Instead, Ukraine will likely be forced to come to terms with reality: at best, they can achieve two out of the three goals in the Bush troika. At worst, Russia will deny Ukraine all three, leaving the country divided, subjugated, and at war. Tragically, this “zero outcome” appears the most likely for the foreseeable future without increased Western support of Ukraine.
This is what I refer to as Ukraine’s “trilemma,” a situation where Kyiv cannot achieve all three elements of the troika and will have limited ability to shape which of the remaining outcomes it can obtain. The following assesses the plausible combinations and likelihood of each emerging as a new status quo.
Tragically, the most likely outcome for Ukraine in the short to medium term is the most depressing: Ukraine is denied all three pillars of the European ideal. Ukraine is neither whole, free, nor at peace in this “zero outcome.” There will be a patchwork of Russian occupation zones with fluid lines of combat and each side will fight for localized gains and losses. There will be fierce partisan resistance in areas under Russian occupation, a prospect sure to raise the cost of Moscow’s severe miscalculation but unlikely to force Putin to quickly reverse his catastrophic mistake. Although Ukraine would attempt to maintain stable democratic governance in the areas under its direct control, it would not be a truly “free” Ukraine as long as significant portions of the country were controlled by Putin’s exported dictatorship.
On one level, it’s the kind of talking points we’ve heard before, just with some added vitriol and hyperbole, but some lines are worth considering for their implications
(And besides, I read this bilious tract so you don't have to)
Why is this a war not with Ukraine but the West? Because of US ambitions of global hegemony, which means it seeks “to force Russia to give up its sovereignty, self-consciousness, culture, independent foreign and domestic policy.” In this context this is a proxy war… 3/
Because “the Americans, using their proteges in Kyiv, decided to create an antipode for our country… trying to divide an essentially single people.” Fits both Putin’s notions about Ukrainians and Lavrov’s recent proxy war rhetoric 4/
So what? If the Kremlin decides it needs to escalate a ‘special military operation’ into a war, unlocking mobilisation etc, it needs to present the conflict as already having been escalated *by the West* to avoid admitting this is a response to failure 5/
But NP seeks to reassure the readers that Western unity will not last: “Europe is facing a deep economic and political crisis. Rising inflation and declining living standards are already affecting the wallets and moods of Europeans.” (ahem, unlike Russians?) Besides... 6/
“Large-scale migration adds new challenges to old security threats like drug trafficking + transnational crime” especially as, NP asserts, “most” of 5+M Ukrainian refugees “believe Europeans should support and provide for them + when they are forced to work, they rebel.” 7/
Besides, they are “remind[ing] Europe of long-forgotten diseases. After all, only a tenth of the refugees from Ukraine have been vaccinated against coronavirus infection, viral hepatitis, tuberculosis, rubella and measles.” (!) 8/
They are also gangsters: “Representatives of the criminal community fleeing from Ukraine will try to occupy niches profitable for them, to put local criminal groups under control, which will undoubtedly be accompanied by a complication of the criminogenic situation in Europe.” 9/
This is obvious and toxic propaganda, but I do wonder if this also may foreshadow some of the non-kinetic attacks Europe may face, as – esp now so many of its spies have been expelled – Moscow looks again to mobilise gangsters to break sanctions and stir up trouble 10/
On that, btw, I would mention my @ecfr paper of 2017 that could well be depressingly relevant now:
There is lots of stuff about the West’s supposed willingness to work with a turn a blind eye to fascism, esp around the inter-war and immediate post-war era. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, needless to say gets no mention. This is lengthy, ahistorical and predictable stuff 11/
Even for NP, though, the venom he reserves for the USA is unusual. It is “a country whose elite is not capable of appreciating other people's lives. Americans are used to walking on scorched earth.” 12/
“They flooded the Vietnamese jungle with poison, bombed the Serbs with radioactive munitions, burned the Iraqis alive with white phosphorus, and helped the terrorists poison the Syrians with chlorine.” 13/
After all, “America has long divided the whole world into vassals and enemies. In the US, from childhood, people are hammered into their heads that America is a shining city on a hill, + the rest of humanity is just a testing ground for experiments and a resource appendage.” 14/
There is a lot more of this, but I suspect you get the idea. The USA is an imperialist would-be hegemon, and the Europeans are their morally debauched lackies, whose “neo-liberalism” means “Europe and European civilisation have no future.” 15/
So what? By doubling down on the civilisational and existential dimension of the conflict, NP is adding his voice to those who advocate escalation, not just on the battlefield, but also at home. Consider, for example, the economic response 16/
The siloviki originally advocated essentially nationalising and militarising the economy. The technocrats managed to push back, and at present they are still largely calling the shots on the economy; even a statist like 1stDep PM Belousov agrees 17/
NP, though, is advocating the “sovereignization” of the national financial system, and measures which “do not run counter to the conclusions of economic science, just counter to the conclusions of Western economics textbooks.” 18/
By criticising the “entrepreneurs’ fascination… with market mechanisms alone, without taking into account the specifics of our country,” he seems to believe Russia can ignore/rewrite economics. As the Soviets did, and we know how that went 19/
Instead, he wants more autarky + economics driven by the needs of the state and believes that “it is necessary to significantly tighten the discipline of implementation” of new econ policies. In other words, any failure to perform the impossible must be punished 20/
I’ve elsewhere argued that the logical end result of Putin’s policies is something like 1970s USSR, and NP seems actively to be driving this retrograde and self-destructive process. National mobilisation is, after all, the only way Russia can fight against… 21/
The West’s “empire of lies, involving the humiliation + destruction of Russia... They spit in our eyes, but claim that it is God's dew… Washington and Brussels make no secret of the fact that their sanctions are aimed at Russians' material + spiritual impoverishment.” 22/
This is the silovik manifesto: a cultural-political war to the knife with the West, with Ukraine as just a proxy battlefield, demanding repressive mobilisation and statist economics at home. A terrifying prospect for Russia and us all. But, one closing gleam of hope: 23/
That Patrushev is having to argue his case in RG, and given that the technocrats are still in charge of econ policy, it means that he and the other advocates of a paranoid fortress thugocracy have not (yet?) won the political argument. 24/end
• • •
Q: On the drones, the Phoenix Ghost drones, so what can you say about their role? In other words, broadly speaking, are they intelligence-oriented or are they attack-oriented? And when did you begin developing that asset?
And the second question is on the artillery, the howitzers. In layman's terms, what is the significance of five battalions worth of artillery that you're helping the Ukrainians develop?
MR. KIRBY: Five battalions of additional artillery will add to their compliment of their own artillery battalions. It will, it's added firepower. Now, we're not putting U.S. troops in with these systems, so they're going to have to provide the artillerymen, of course, but it's added capability, it's five more battalions, which is quite a number. You know, hundreds of additional troops to field these systems but they are additional systems.
And what makes it important is the kind of fighting that we expect in the Donbas, because of the terrain, because it's open, because it's flat, because it's not as urban, we can expect the Russians to rely on long range fires, artillery in particular.
In fact, Bob, we've seen them move in artillery units even before they started moving ground forces in, or I should say traditional infantry in. So we know that this is going to be part of the Russians' playbook, the use of long range fires, which are assisted by artillery.
So understanding that terrain, understanding the geography, understanding Russian doctrine here, we believed, but more critically, the Ukrainians believed that they needed additional artillery firepower, and that's what these will offer, in addition to the 18 that are already beginning to move in as well.
So we're going to continue to have a conversation with the Ukrainians about their needs going forward, but given the kind of fight that we expect is coming, we believe that this will be a force multiplier for them.
MR. KIRBY: And then on the Phoenix Ghost, this is a drone that had been in development before the invasion, clearly. The Air Force was working this. And in discussions with the Ukrainians, again, about their requirements, we believed that this particular system would very nicely suit their needs, particularly in eastern Ukraine. And so, it was already in development, but we will continue to move that development in ways that are attuned to Ukrainian requirements for unmanned aerial systems of a tactical nature in eastern Ukraine.
I am just not going to get into great detail about the specifications here. I would just tell you that this unmanned aerial system is designed for tactical operations. In other words, largely and but not exclusively to attack targets. It, like almost all unmanned aerial systems, of course, has optics. So it can also be used to give you a sight picture of what it's seeing, of course. But its principal focus is attack.
Q: You said particularly useful in eastern Ukraine. Why would -- why would that be?
MR. KIRBY: I -- again, without getting into the specifications, but the kinds of things this drone can do lend itself well to this particular kind of terrain. I think I'm just going to leave it at that. But its purpose is akin to that of the Switchblade, which we have been talking about in the past, which is basically a one-way drone and attack drone. And that's essentially what this is designed to do.
2/15 As I explored several times in the past month, Russia has two key options to operationalise their strategic objectives in the east. These are either deep or shallow operational envelopments.
3/15 Option 1 is the ‘go big option’ – a deep envelopment of Ukrainian forces in the east. This would see the Russians attempt to advance on the city of Dnipro from the northeast and from the south. Concurrently, they would need to fix Ukrainian forces in Luhansk & Donetsk.
4/15 Option 2 remains the shallow envelopment of Ukrainian forces. This would see a similar ‘fix and envelop’ operational design where the Russians would fix the Ukrainians in the east by attacks in Donetsk & Luhansk and encircle them with an advance from Izium in the north.
5/15 In examining Russia’s ‘most likely’ and ‘most dangerous’ courses of action, given the current Russian attacks as well as their demonstrated strengths and weaknesses, their most likely course of action remains the ‘shallow envelopment option.’
6/15 Their objective still appears to be to seize all of the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, an incomplete task since 2014, and one of Putin’s key objectives. They also aim to reduce the strength of the Ukrainian Army.
7/15 If the Russians successfully achieve this ‘most likely COA’ in the east, and defend their seized territory in the south, it might satisfy Putin’s current ‘theory of victory’ for his special military operation.
8/15 There remain several issues which may impact on their capacity to achieve this.
9/15 First, the Ukrainian attacks in the vicinity of Kharkiv. These local spoiling attacks have disrupted Russian operations, but how important is this? Is it the start of something bigger?
10/15 The 2nd issue is Russian troops from Mariupol. How many troops are being redeployed from this city, and what is their combat readiness? Even several additional BTGs for Russian operations in the east would help them.
11/15 A 3rd issue is logistics. Can Russia improve their supply of forces in the east? Have they adapted their logistic system, and rear area security approach, sufficiently to allow this. Pentagon briefs have indicated that there has been some improvement but is it enough?
12/15 A final issue is the role of other Russian forces in the south.
The latest from @DefenceHQ
indicates that Ukraine believes the Russians may launch an advance in the Zaporizhzhia region. Might this be the southern arm of envelopment or just a feint? (Image - @JominiW