Ukraine Armistice – How the Ukraine Demilitarized Zone of 2023 Will Separate the Armies Like the Korean DMZ of 1953

Yves here. It may seem an exercise in counting chickens before they are hatched for Russian commentators to be drawing maps about what Ukraine will look like after the winter operations and possible further mopping up.

I had a discussion with Lambert a few weeks ago as to where the war was going, since it was clear then that Russia could and would take out Ukraine’s electrical to the degree it saw fit. One issue was how the military operations would be able to met the key SMO goals of demilitarizing and denazifying Ukraine. More grinding at (presumed continued) limited cost to Russia would further deplete remaining Ukraine and NATO weapons stocks. It would also kill more Ukraine men and Polish et al. mercenaries.

But what about denazification? I had said to Lambert, and wished I had said it on the site, that Russia might go full Carthage and salt the earth in Western Ukraine, as in make it uninhabitable so as to drive all the citizens, including the Banderites, into Europe. Keep in mind that Russia can do that. No power in Western Ukraine would mean the only people who could live there would be hardy survivalists. By comparison, Maine’s unorganized territories, which represent half the state’s land area, have an estimated population of less than 10,000.

In his new post, John Helmer indicates that the upcoming phase of the Russia war is set to go in a very different direction than most armchair generals anticipate. Russia will indeed come to control large swathes of Ukraine, but not by occupying them, but by depopulating them: going in and destroying more infrastructure, then booby-trapping them, then leaving.  This is a modern salting of the earth, at least in cities and towns.

As of then, the idea of a demilitarized zone was being mooted. One could logically argue for as much as 300 km wide, given that that’s the range of the most powerful HIMARS missiles. But that still leaves a lot of Western Ukraine as potential resurgent strongholds. So it would seem that Russia has not just an incentive but a need to force those neo-Nazis into the rest of Europe and let them deal with them.

Note that Helmer, again relying on Russian sources, envisions an armistice, not a peace treaty. Given the lack of political maturity in the US and heated refusal of Ukraine’s leadership to contemplate anything short of total victory, it’s hard to see how they climb down enough to sign off on even a standstill with Russia. We pointed out recently that a high percentage of modern conflict do not conclude with any sort of pact. They fizzle into a much lower level of conflict.

Admittedly, Helmer points out it took two years to agree to the Korean DMZ…but they had to agree to talk at all! And that’s before getting into the other wee problem with even a spare agreement like an armistice: that the US, NATO, and Ukraine are not agreement capable. So what is the point of formalizing a non-deal? To again show the Global South that Russia really tried?

In other words, it seems probable that Russia will impose a solution. If as expected, it becomes clear that the West can’t or won’t negotiate, it will behoove Russia to implement a maximalist solution. Or alternatively, Russia “bargains” by showing that it can create a dead zone in Western Ukraine as big as it likes. If Ukraine and its US minders don’t come to their senses, that dead zone will be awfully big.

By John Helmer, the longest continuously serving foreign correspondent in Russia, and the only western journalist to direct his own bureau independent of single national or commercial ties. Helmer has also been a professor of political science, and an advisor to government heads in Greece, the United States, and Asia. He is the first and only member of a US presidential administration (Jimmy Carter) to establish himself in Russia. Originally published at Dances with Bears

For the buffer zone to achieve the demilitarization of the Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned in July that military factors, not politics, will decide. “I see no reason to question what President Vladimir Putin announced on February 24, 2022, and reaffirmed a few days ago,” Lavrov said. “Our goals remain the same. And they will be met. There is a solution to this problem. The military know this.”

In case the distinction Lavrov was making between political negotiations and military operations, between soldiers and civilians, wasn’t clear enough, Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, made it the target of her irony last Thursday.  In her regular briefing  for reporters, Zakharova was asked to comment on US weapons supplies to the Ukraine.  “Something is wrong with this world if two women are discussing Stingers, MANPADS, SAMS, and HARM anti-radar missiles,” she answered the journalist. “As a reminder, scaling up its military supplies to Kiev and directly controlling Ukrainian forces, including the provision of real-time recon data, Washington has, in fact, become a party to the conflict in Ukraine…As far as their internal dealings regarding how much money they give to whom, what particular supplies are underway, or what items they are running out of or have more of, this is not our concern. Let them decide what kind of games they want to play among themselves.”

The Kherson manoeuvre, announced  by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Sergei Surovikin on November 9; the electric war campaign  which has followed*; and the cutoff of troops, arms and supplies by train from Kiev to the eastern front, first announced by the Russian Defense Ministry on November 24,  foreshadow how the military are preparing to establish the Ukrainian Demilitarized Zone (UDZ), its depth to the west of the Dnieper River, and the cities to be included in Russian-controlled territory.

This is a future to be established by the Russian General Staff, negotiated and signed by military officers of the NATO-controlled commands in Kiev and Lvov. The outcome is an end to  hostilities with an armistice that is not a peace treaty.

The model is the armistice of Panmunjom of July 27, 1953, which ended the Korean War. The terms of the armistice took two years to negotiate by US, Korean and Chinese officers. The Korean demilitarized zone (DMZ) which was the outcome was four kilometres in depth. The Ukrainian demilitarized zone (UDZ) will be up to one hundred kilometres in depth, depending on the range of the US and NATO missile and artillery weapons deployed on the Kiev side of the Dnieper.  On the ground inside the UDZ there may be no electricity, no people, nothing except for the means to monitor and enforce the terms of the armistice.

For avoidance of doubt, red on the map means Russia.

In what follows, Russian and other military sources have reviewed the official Russian policy statements, published operational bulletins, and social media and website commentaries in Russian. The maps with their overlays of the UDZ have been drawn by the sources to illustrate some of the constants, some of the variables in the present situation — the tactical options and the operational scenarios.

They are presented to warn that Russian politico-military thinking should not be interpreted as if it’s similar to US military doctrine.

The sources also caution that the recent evidence of Polish government decision-making, leaked last week by Moscow, rules out the foreseeable prospect that, whoever wins next year’s Polish elections, any regime in Warsaw will be capable of more independence of Washington’s control than the regime in Kiev.   Consequently, the Galician region will remain nominally Ukrainian, de facto North American. De-nazification of the Americans and Canadians entrenched between Lvov and Cracow is not a Russian objective.

By contrast, the future for Hungarian Transcarpathia is beyond Washington’s control.  Either way, Russian thinking is to “let the disaster zone that is rump Ukraine, west of the Dnieper, remain someone else’s problem.”

There are well-known advocates in Moscow for “the Ukrainian demilitarized zone to be all of the Ukraine”. In their words, “there is no sense in leaving western Ukraine to remain in bed with the US and deploy NATO weapons. Nothing will be offered to the Hungarians and Poles — they will have to earn it for themselves. It follows that demilitarization is not four or one hundred kilometres deep, comparable to the terms imposed on Germany in 1945 or on Korea in 1953. For Russia’s long-term security, look where we are in Germany and on the Korean peninsula right now. So eventually, for the long term the solution is the December terms.  But the Americans won’t discuss this. Short of that — the Banderite state and its army must be defeated. That’s what demilitarization and de-nazification mean. There must not be a UDZ  but a buffer that will be all of the Ukraine.”

Other sources believe that the official statements from Moscow, the operational evidence, and General Winter are all now indicating six months of formation and testing of the lines of a new UDZ and of the new Russia to the east of these lines.

For the demarcation of the eastern line of the UDZ,  according to one source, “look at Kherson – I think she’s the prototype. Look at Krasny Liman as well. The electric war raids have been extended for the first time in November to the rail tracks moving west to east with Ukrainian military reinforcements of men and resupply of arms and ammunition. This signals the start of the campaign to disrupt Ukrainian logistics. This is coordinated with the situation of what is left of the civilian population in the cities along this line. We are seeing the large population centres emptied.”

Social media reports of new Russian ground force movements also indicate that a winter offensive of ground operations is being readied in parallel.  How much is calculated feint and battlefield deception will be clear soon enough.

A Russian videoclip of Russian tanks repainted in winter white camouflage was recorded from a civilian car and posted this weekend on the internet; no location was identified.  The car is travelling at about 40 kph; the clip lasts for one minute and when it stops, the line of tanks in the opposite lane is continuing to stretch to the horizon.  

One Moscow source: “I cannot see Russians risking massive armoured movements or repeating their March manoeuvres. I believe the General Staff will wage the electricity war and put pressure on Kiev and on Europe while continuing a slow, inch-by-inch movement in Donbass. General Patience is more important than General Winter. Those two are on a par with General Iskander taking out electric substations and transport corridors. Putin will only come under pressure if he puts himself under pressure to take territory and takes thousands of casualties in the process. He does not want this. The General Staff does not want this. They have made this explicitly clear. So they have come up with new forms of warfare. Just how new these are hasn’t dawned yet in Kiev or Washington or Brussels.”

This is not positional warfare by Russian forces, all sources agree. But the outcome of highly mobile deployments (known as РЕЙД – “reyd” – in Russian military terminology) will be geographical.


Legend: Black lines=UDZ; red arrows=Russian РЕЙД  movements; blue arrows=withdrawal and re-deployment; red stars=attack targets; blue crosses=Russian fortifications.


Legend: broken line=state border; black points=near-border train stations; red points=western train stations; red circles=western train stations included in international passenger tariff.

Military source: “The maps speak for themselves. The РЕЙД will consist of several heavy armoured spearheads with the objective of occupying and destroying enemy logistical hubs and transportation routes as well as any infrastructure. This will include whatever remains of the Ukrainian electrical grid in the target zone. Once the destruction of these targets has been completed, the remnants of the infrastructure will be mined, and the area planted with sensing devices. The armies will then begin a rapid, staged withdrawal behind Russian lines where the process of fortification and entrenchment has already begun.”

“Civilians and disarmed Ukrainian troops – except for the Ukro-Nazi units — will be allotted one or two corridors through which they will be permitted to leave the zone. They’d better not dawdle.”


First detected in operation in March, Zemledeliye (literally “agriculture”) is a remotely fired rocket system for planting mines across a landscape. The mines “can be used in defence and offence. In defence to block the enemy’s advance and in offence to block retreat and channel the enemy into the desired killing zone. The mines launched by this system are programmable -- they can be deactivated or they can self-destruct in the future with the cessation of hostilities.” Source:

The sources agree that the city of Odessa is not a target for direct military attack. There are several reasons. One is that up to half the city population is already pro-Russian and willing to wait for the opportunity to open the city gates; for the evidence, read this.

A related reason, according to this source: “The Ukronazis have put their maximum effort into de-Russification using terror, and they are dug in for a fight, while the locals appear content to let anyone or everyone else to do the fighting.  It looks like [General] Surovikin has arrived at the conclusion that there is no point in trying to slog across unfavourable ground with dodgy logistics in order  to ‘liberate’ a headache — at least not until depopulation due to de-electrification occurs. I take Surovikin at his word.”

For Surovikin’s October 18 statement, read this.

The sources agree there will be a new military demarcation line before the thaw next spring; they differ on how it is being drawn now, and how it will look next April. “For now the line will be on the Dnieper with the zone extending from the west bank into the rump Ukraine – my guess is at a depth of not less than 100km. This will put Russian territory out of the range of most Ukrainian artillery. A 100km-deep zone will also give the Russian forces time to detect and intercept anything in flight. In the central sector, Kherson City will remain without population for an as yet undecided period. For as long as this lasts, the city is likely to be part of the zone rather than part of Russian territory. Time and armistice negotiations may change that.”

“In the northern sector – that’s from Kramatorsk and Slovyansk to Kharkov, then northwestward to Sumy and Chernigov – these are garrisons and staging areas of hate on or near to Russia’s borders; they will not be spared. It’s lights out for them. They made their decision in February-March and during the pull-back last spring. The shelling, sabotage, and other attacks on Bryansk, Belgorod and Kursk have qualified them for de-electrification, de-population, and de-nazification.”

“The point to emphasize, especially in the Russian operations in the north, is that they will be РЕЙД operations – they will not seize and hold territory. The penetrations will be deep, but not as deep as last February-March. This time they will include a massive security element,  including drones and infantry support. The idea won’t be to occupy the territory, let alone administer it, for any length of time. The goal will be to destroy enemies who raise their heads and the infrastructure they rely on; lay mines and sensors; and then withdraw.”

“Once the assigned transportation and logistics nodes have been taken, the job of destroying them by engineer units will begin. Bridges, roads, railroads, marshalling yards, rolling stock, airfields, fuel storage and dispensaries, electrical substations, transmission and communications towers, central offices, warehouses, laydown areas,  agricultural equipment – anything that could possibly be used to support the Ukrainian-NATO effort east of the zone’s western border will be destroyed. That will be also be the ground forces’ job – more comprehensive and thorough than missile and drone strikes can achieve.”

“Civilians and disarmed fighters, without their motorized equipment, will be permitted to walk out of the zone to specially prepared buses (as Surovikin supervised in Syria) with whatever they can carry on their backs. The United Nations Secretary-General, so enthusiastic about saving Ukronazis at Mariupol,    will be told to have them ready at prescribed pick-up points. The elderly will be encouraged to come to prepared aid stations for care and processing.  Anyone who chooses to stay inside the zone will be informed explicitly via radio, flyers, and loudspeaker that they are considered enemy combatants and will be targeted accordingly. After a prescribed amount of time, the ‘golden bridges’ for the exiting population will be destroyed. For those remaining they will have had no power, sanitation, or communications before the Russians arrive, and even fewer means to restore these utilities after they leave.”

Inside the UDZ, take Poltava, for example — the source has indicated by the red arrows the western and eastern lines of approach by the Russian forces:

Above:  Poltava with the highway approaches marked by red arrows. Below: satellite picture, just south of Poltava, of electrical substation and transmission towers destroyed by Russian military engineers before they withdraw.

“If the Russians are able to skirt the large population centres, reach the outskirts of Poltava, and bring the large railway marshalling yards, junctions and highways under fire, this will be the death knell for the NATO-Ukrainian forces to the east. After a set interval allowing those who wish to escape, the infrastructure can be destroyed. As Russian forces move back along the E40 and north along the routes that got them there. they will be able to destroy everything including fuel stations, radio/microwave towers, sub-stations, and bridges along the way.”

Another source: “I see a continuation of strikes to hit commanders in Ukraine, though it would seem that now all strategy meetings and even tactical command meetings happen overseas. Russians will try to push as many civilians as possible toward Europe. Darkness over the country gives a clear view of small units spread out in the country in defensive positions if they are not using civilian cover. They will be picked out and hit with drones or artillery right across the eastern front.”

[*]There was plagiarism on this topic by Pepe Escobar in a recent piece he entitled “Electric War” in which concepts, terms and references were cribbed from Dances with Bears. Following republication of Escobar by Ron Unz of The Unz Review and Andrei Raevsky of The Saker, they have refused to acknowledge the evidence of the plagiarism.

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  1. Michaelmas

    This is both logical and very doable, as far as I can see, given the capability to indict large areas of territory if needed with, forex, overflight by heat-sensing drones. Also, people here and elsewhere are concentrating on energy infrastructure destruction. But the Russians are taking out water lines, too —

    ‘Ukraine war: Kyiv locals queue for water after Russian strikes’

    So ‘hardy survivalists’ remaining in the Ukraine DMZ’s urban sites are going to be risk of cholera and diarrhoeal diseases, too.

    1. Greg

      Water supply in Ukraine is dependent on power. Water goes out as a consequence of damage to the grid. I haven’t seen any reports of direct attacks on water pumping stations.

      1. Polar Socialist

        I have, but those were in mid-February and in Donetsk. It resulted in hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians evacuating to Russia.
        I guess it doesn’t count, having been perpetrated by those Defenders of Democracy, Azovs.

        1. Nicola Avery

          There have also been continuous attacks in the region for years, at one time these were surprisingly recorded by OSCE monitors and also reported by UN. Some of those might be here now
          I lost faith in the OSCE & UN reporting however after reports and photographs surfaced showing that they had hidden field data, which suggests there were more than reported.

  2. Tom Pfotzer

    This is a well-constructed plan. It keeps the initiative entirely in Russian hands, it’s incremental, has plenty of flexibility, and fully utilizes all the advantages Russia has, including mobility, airspace control, firepower and troops.

    Pace and targeting is set by events; territory isn’t acquired and defended, it’s over-run, immobilized, and vacated. Kherson was the prototype, now it gets rolled out. Remote control mines are a new element; first time I’ve seen that.

    Whether things play out this way or not, this program is evidence of some very high quality military and political strategic thinking.


    And it’s now clear that the “break with the West” is well and truly going to happen, and may last a very long time.

    This is going to make things very, very difficult for the EU. This Ukraine “buffer zone” is a model; heed it well, EU. Kherson was prototype.

    The good news is that the damage to infrastructure is readily reversed. Things can be fixed, mines can be de-activated, people can come back.

    I look forward to hearing what Colonel MacGregor has to say about this plan.

      1. digi_owl

        Depends on how long the batteries last vs the explosives.

        Problem with explosives is that they become unpredictable with time, depending on chemistry etc.

        Never mind that cluster bombs were banned for a reason, as often a few of the bomblets would not detonate as planned but instead linger. Often looking like toys or similar to kids. A similar problem could be in the making here as the mines will not detonate upon signaled, but instead linger in a half-state until something disturbs it.

        Damn it, French farmers keep plowing up the odd shell even today that was used back during WW1! Common enough that they refer to them as German potatoes. And i think a forest on the Polish-German border is still off limits do to leftover munitions from WW2.

        Some years back i even read about a WW2 bomb that has been sitting in the ground for some 80s years going off thanks to a lighting strike. Luckily nobody was harmed.

        1. jsn

          The Internet of Exploding Crap is the stupidest time line, so that’s where we find ourselves.

          Only thing dumber than the iOT is the iOET.

      2. Tom Pfotzer

        My thoughts exactly. All the best ideas get used to do the stupidest things.

        Same thing I thought when drones came out.


  3. Lex

    We’ll see, but this is a feasible model. I remain unconvinced that Russia is interested in conquering, holding and managing the whole of Ukraine. As I remain unconvinced that rolling NATO back to 1997 borders physically is a goal of the Kremlin. A large DMZ would make sense in a few ways and makes a fair amount of sense in a geopolitical context. In this scenario the competition becomes who rebuilds on their side of the DMZ fastest and best. I think that’s a competition Russia likes their odds in and it leaves a basket case in the laps of the EU.

    That said, I’m not ready to draw lines on a map and I suspect that the Kremlin in this scenario will draw the lines where events set them. There’s more and more evidence that Ukrainian lines are cracking around Bakhmut. It’s looked that way before but the total context was much different. Recent rail strikes have made reenforcing Ukrainian positions problematic. It’s getting into winter. There’s increasing domestic instability and inability to cope with the fullness of the conflict. We are at a point where a systemic collapse of Ukrainian resistance is possible.

    That changes everything. In that scenario it become really hard to predict where the lines end up drawn. A large DMZ solves a reconstruction problem though. Many of the settlements have been mostly empty for years, they’re now destroyed and there’s no way to predict how fully they’d be repopulated. Ecologically, DMZs are pretty amazing. This would be Europe’s largest nature reserve by a long shot.

    1. Michaelmas

      Lex: Ecologically, DMZs are pretty amazing. This would be Europe’s largest nature reserve by a long shot.

      This is slightly OT, but since we’re talking Russia and exclusion zones, Stalker/Roadside Picnic style, the following item struck me as the most amusingly 2022 news titbit I’ve seen so far this year —

      1/ In what may be a bizarre case of mistaken identity, the Russian FSB has killed a group of Russian people it claims are pro-Ukrainian saboteurs – but who reportedly appear to be Airsoft enthusiasts who were engaged in live-action roleplay of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. video games.

      Poor judgement by both the Stalker LARPERS and the FSB, of course, and not amusing at all for the participants.

      Trigger warning: extreme Russophobia by some Twitter commenters.

      1. digi_owl

        Tangential, but i wonder if the harassment and -phobias on display on social media is down to similar social dynamics that in the past drove inquisitions, witch hunts, and perhaps McCarthyism.

        In other words, people feel the need to make public displays of their anti-Russian stance or risk themselves become the target for such displays.

    2. Joe Well

      I guess it all depends if it is a real DMZ or just a lawless borderland, and if there is anything there to attract eco-criminals. A large part of the Amazon is effectively a lawless borderland between Venezuela and Brazil, Venezuela and Colombia, Colombia and Brazil, Colombia and Peru, and Peru and Brazil. It is not clear if it is good for the environment since wildcat gold miners have destroyed a lot of land and waterways. On the other hand, legal mining is plenty destructive.

      1. digi_owl

        Hard to police those lands as well, unless one were to establish 24/7 drone or sat coverage. But the nations in question likely can’t afford the expense. And perhaps such outlays would be just as effective directed towards regional poverty.

        1. Earl Erland

          Could they be farmed with simple surveillance? You know, like farmers like to do? Could we let the Poles run through the fields in Joy?

  4. PlutoniumKun

    This must look tempting from Moscow, but there are clear tactical and strategic problems with a zone this big over generally, fertile land. The DMZ in Korea for example is 2.5 miles wide and has proven hugely expensive and problematic in many ways (not least as its so leaky despite massive resources put into it). A DMZ with a much wider dead zone means an enormous number of refugees and a huge loss of farmland, not to mention the severance of many local economic (transport, power, water) links. If farming was permitted, then control becomes vastly trickier – farming means large vehicles moving around all the time, this hugely increases the requirement for monitoring. Think of the problems of the US/Mexico border and multiply by 10. Contested or ambiguous borders, whether US/Mexico, Ireland/UK, the Koreas, Cyprus or wherever, are never as simple to control as they may seem to people sitting looking at a map in a cosy office. They are pretty much a recipe for very long term grievances and costs. Plenty of pro-Russians in that region will lose out badly too. The only winner will be wildlife.

    The particularly problematic area is west of the Dnieper. This type of solution does not address navigation and water control on the river, and it implicitly leaves Odessa and the other coastal cities in Ukrainian control. If Moscow wants to impose control over them, this means control of the lower Dneiper and linking into Transnistria. To achieve this means taking a lot more territory, and implicitly capturing or emptying key pro-Kiev cities along the river. This is potentially very problematic if Russia hopes to have a peaceful, secure area behind its control zone. Its very hard to see it as being workable unless it sticks to the core south-eastern area it now controls. And even then, this leaves key infrastructure potentially within easy striking distance.

    This is the sort of ‘solution’ that armchair generals have been dreaming up for millennia, but rarely works in reality (as Varus discovered in Germania). Historically secure borders either have a physical reality (rivers, impassible mountains, seas), mutually agreed lines, very big walls, or neutral / cowed buffer states. This has been a reality of geopolitics since the time of the Assyrians.

    1. DJG, Reality Czar

      PlutoniumKun: Agreed. I also think that as “statecraft,” it is counterproductive. My comment is below.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      The farmland in the east is what is used for major grain production and other ag exports like corn and sunflower oil.

      And there are a lot of rivers in the West, with the Dniester being fairly substantial:

      As indicated, Russia has the means to impose Carthaginian solutions. If it takes out electrical and water infrastructure, pray tell what can the current west Ukraine do? It may need to go further in the direction of “he who can destroy something controls it” before the US and NATO knuckle under. But given the US willingness to fight to the last Ukrainian, will they?

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        To elaborate: I am not certain but I believe ag export comes largely from eastern Ukraine, the output from the west is more for local consumption. Moreover, as we saw, Europe was taking that mainly for its own use since France, an even bigger grain exporter, had a terrible harvest last year. Russia dwarfs Ukraine in grain export and the West was blocking it from markets.

        I don’t think this solution is Putin-esque, but what alternatives does Russia have? The West is not agreement capable. Western institutions are totally anti-Russia, witness the failure of the UN to take any interest in the bioweapons findings and the IAEA appallingly refusing to say Ukraine has been shelling the ZNPP. Oh, and OSCE sharing intel with Ukraine! I doubt the West would accept peacekeepers that say had good representation from China and South Africa.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        The Carthaginian solution was the complete annihilation of a strategic enemy. What this is discussing is the creation of a ‘dead zone’ as a border – similar to the original Roman strategy for Germania (i.e. keep a largely depopulated buffer between the border and any more threatening tribes further north). It didn’t work – the Romans eventually opened up trade and did deals with the Germans, something that succeeded for a few hundred years where Varus failed.

        A 200 km buffer means a dead zone of 100,000 Thats about half the size of Britain and vastly larger than any other DMZ in existence. Maybe Israels borders with Lebanon and Syria are the closest example, and they are far smaller. You would need huge resources to keep that ‘dead’, and there would be a huge economic cost in terms of lost agriculture and other outputs. If you allow anything but a complete dead zone you would have to intensively police it (how do you distinguish some Above infiltrators from boar hunters?)

        The border areas around Ireland have been economic basket cases for a century because of the severance of historic links and loss of output. Cyprus similarly. All sides lose out with zones like this. Borders on maps always make superficial sense. They rarely make sense to people on the ground unless they have a basis in physical reality or are mutually agreed. I’ve walked and cycled the Irish border (and tried and largely failed to make my way along the Syrian/Lebanon/Israel border by bike) enough times to see how this works – or doesn’t work.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The strategic enemy here is not all of western Ukraine but the considerable Nazis presence. Some have estimated it is as many as a million, but that includes people who are of little value in a kinetic war, like rabid women who put up Telegram posts advocating sending Russians home after chopping them up, ideally while alive. In other words, seriously sick fucks who have no ability to execute but hope to whip up those who can and mess with Russians’ heads.

          As Teddy Roosevelt said, “If you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow”. Russia may need to start demonstrating that it will go full Carthage if Ukraine refuses to de-citizen all Nazis. Russia can demonstrate it has no choice that it has to go the collective guilt route if Ukraine will not expel its Nazis and assure they will not come back into power.

          Of course, there is the wee problem that the Nazis will kill Zelensky if he goes this route and they will dig in even harder if Zelensky is dead or manages to flee. The SBU has also been a potent force in controlling the public….but its effectiveness will go kaput with no power, no comms, great difficulty in effective surveillance and obstacles to even moving muscle from point A to point B.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            I can’t think of anything more likely to boost the Nazis than the creation of a vast forested empty but semi-militarized area, large caches of spare weaponry, and several million dispossessed, unemployed and very angry people – many of which will be on the Russian side of this zone.

            1. John k

              Given drones, movement will be difficult in a de-mil zone; shoot anything that moves. So supplies will be difficult. Food, water, medicine, as well as weapons/ammo etc., and sleeping rough is ok for some, but not many. And consider winter/rain/mud etc without shelter.
              I read that in some election nazi candidates got 2% of the vote, implying to me a total of 1 mil at best, a significant fraction women. Some of the men are now dead. How many of the balance will want to be a guerrilla, as opposed to just emigrating to eu and writing off Ukraine? And, how long will those that stay continue the fight? Certainly there will be attrition…

              1. PlutoniumKun

                It would be a vast expanse – 1-200 km wide and 500 km or more long – a bigger area than the Ho Chi Minh Trail. You would need hundreds of drones in the air at any one time to come close to covering it. And if the area vegetated into scrub and forests, then good look finding anything – only the most advanced drones have the type of tech that can detect movements at night, in bad weather, or under tree cover – its far more friendly terrain for seeking cover than, for example Afghanistan or the Mexican border. Drones are not a magic wand, they are just aircraft with cameras. They haven’t won a war yet, even against a few Afghan farmers.

                And thats assuming you can depopulate the area – in reality many farmers just won’t move, even if you shell them. So you then have decisions about how many civilians you are willing to kill to stop possible infiltrators.

                1. Amfortas the hippie

                  t’wer me, Carthage would likely entail carpetbombing the entire space…due to exactly the reasons you’ve laid out.
                  make a desert, call it a DMZ.
                  what choice do the Rus have?
                  turn east, but first build an empty quarter on yer west,
                  where all the enemies are.

                  ….and…i might get shot if i say that kind of thing in a local bar, btw…even in small c conservative county, with zero ukie flags flying anywhere, except that sticker on that one dude’s little electric pretentiousmobile.

        2. albrt

          I agree the Giant DMZ is not a long term solution, but it seems like a reasonable goal for what the next phase of the war will look like. “Problems of the US/Mexico border and multiply by 10” doesn’t look so bad compared to the current front line.

          1. chris

            We may even sponsor an exchange program! I can see the headlines now… “I was angry hearing about all the money we’ve blown in Ukraine when the water system and other critical infrastructure in Detroit is so broken. But after my vacation at Camp Blacksite(tm) I realize how lucky I am to live in the United States!”

        3. hunkerdown

          The broad foreign land ownership rights, as granted by Zelensky and said to be exercised by Cargill, Bayer, and others, could be implicated by enemy strategy. To park all that land as a huge nature reserve, with no opportunity for Western private exploitation, serves as a deep rejection of the Western agrotech interest model, and also puts a pollen DMZ between Western engineered gruel and Russian organics.

          It’s just another victory for ebil anti-trans(genic) Russian ideology.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Only a very tiny percentage of land is controlled by western businesses, mostly via Ukrainian companies like UkrLandFarming. Something like 14% of farmland in Ukraine is owned by the top 20 enterprises (mostly Ukrainian). About a quarter is State owned. The majority is either privately rented for long term use or is owned (ambiguously) by small holdings. The average farm size isn’t huge – excluding the big operations its something like 100 hectares per farm. One figure I’ve seen is that there are 4.5 million agricultural landowners in Ukraine, although landownership laws have never been fully clarified.

            This means, in effect, a depopulated zone would mean 10’s of thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of small farmers being dispossessed and driven off the land – and no doubt many would have to be driven out at gunpoint. This has been done many times before in history and has never ended well for anyone but urban slum landlords.

            The likes of Cargill and Greencore would love this situation. It would drive up food prices, drive down agricultural labour costs, and in the chaos would open up lots of opportunities for them to pick up cheap assets in the rump of Ukraine.

            1. chuck roast

              You are raising the spectre of the Kulaks. Something the Russians would be very sensitive to. A large scale agricultural zone seems to make sense. Of course the devil is in the administrative details. The Russians would have to manage light-touch administration of small regional farming communities. Villages and small towns could be permissible and the larger cities depopulated. Minimal infrastructure only supportive of fragmented development. It could be thought through.

              1. PlutoniumKun

                The proposal, as I read it from Helmers post, is that the buffer would be outside the notional ‘border’, which means the Russians would not have the ability to administer anything. If they go in to administer things, its Russian territory. Which means the buffer zone goes another 200km northwest.

    3. The Rev Kev

      I agree here with your comment. That zone would be huge and would take enormous resources and manpower to enforce – if it could be. It leaves the Ukrainians free to build up their military once more and NATO has already said that they have a ten-year plan to do precisely that. And then the Russians will be dealing with a renewed Ukrainian military that would be able to choose a wide border to attack. Like all wars, this one will only end with a negotiated treaty that will be enforceable. But as Douglas Macgregor has pointed out, the US is refusing to even considering any sort of peace. Would you believe that ‘a special US-Russia military hotline that was set up at the beginning of the Ukraine conflict to prevent dangerous miscalculations between Washington and Moscow has reportedly been used only once since the crisis began.’ This war only ends when Washington has to acknowledge that they lost and all this new talk about sending MiG-29 and F-16 warplanes to Ukraine is just that – talk. It won’t change a damn thing-

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        How could Russia possibly be dealing with a “renewed Ukraine military”? It’s already running on old men and mercs.

        If Russia were to take out infrastructure, including water, how will troops get by? Get supplies? Armies run on logistics.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          An appropriate example would be Israel/Lebanon. The Lebanese army does not provide a threat to Israel. But Hizbollah does. Ukraine has several potential Hizbollahs in its border, and they are already very well armed thanks to the west.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Hizbollah started in the early 1980’s as a loose association of minor Shia groups as a counter to the Israeli destruction of much of southern Lebanon.

              If Kiev is destroyed as an effective central authority, the rise of local warlords/paramilitary groups is almost a given. The core of those groups – primarily Bandarists – already exists, and they have lots of arms and lots of international connections. The only question is who they decide their enemy might be. And that depends on who gives them the most support. They already despise the Russians for ideological reasons, a big no-mans land with a rearward ‘base’ is exactly the scenario they would need to thrive. For Baalbek, read Lvov, for South Lebanon/Golan Heights, read the new Ukrainian dead zone.

              1. Polar Socialist

                Hizbollah also has the support of large swathes of Lebanese society because they provide physical and social security. They actually deter Israel from being too belligerent.

                Whereas the Banderistas in Ukraine have had already twice (1920’s and 1940’s) the population to turn against them since their presence prevents physical and social safety for the surrounding population.

                1. PlutoniumKun

                  In the last Lebanese general election, Hizbollah representatives won 15 out of 129 seats available, which was an increase on previous elections. Their core support base is small and generally geographically limited to the north Bekaa and the southern border areas. Their military capacity is widely respected, and also feared by other Lebanese.

                  The Bandaristas may have had the population turn against them a few times, but they seem to be doing pretty well for themselves in Kiev and Lvov these days for a supposedly unpopular group.

        2. The Rev Kev

          The second point is valid but a lot can be rebuilt in the next ten years, especially if the critical nodes are built in places like Poland. But I can answer the first part. I was thinking about NATO’s ten-year plan and wondered why such a long-term horizon when it occurred to me. They are almost certainly thinking about all those Ukrainians from 7 years of age through to 17 years old right now. By 2032, you will have a whole new generation that would have grown up which will have been indoctrinated in those camps that the Nazis have established and also taught by combat vets from the present war. It will be a very different Ukrainian army in 2032 and certainly more fanatical but neither Washington, Brussels or even Kiev care about the lives of those kids growing up. They are just raw materials to be used up for geopolitical goals-

          1. nippersdad

            This rationale assumes that there will be a NATO, or, indeed, a European Union in ten years. They appear to be breaking up already, and a few years of being Third World nations should take care of that. But, on a lighter side, Jens Stoltenberg, a man in the running to be the most imbecilic public figure on the planet, has just reiterated that Ukraine is to become a part of NATO.

            “President Putin cannot deny sovereign nations to make their own sovereign decisions that are not a threat to Russia,” Stoltenberg said in comments ahead of a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Bucharest, Romania.”*

            I really do not see Europeans putting up with that kind of transparently stupid rhetoric for very long. Finland needs to run as fast as it can.


          2. JBird4049

            >>>By 2032, you will have a whole new generation that would have grown up which will have been indoctrinated in those camps that the Nazis have established and also taught by combat vets from the present war

            A armistice of twenty years? Where have we heard of this before?

      2. Kouros

        What will stop Russia to improve is target practice on the western Ukraine? 100 well place missiles per week? It is likely that the Russian Rostec can produce such quantities and more…

        What will those planes do against said missiles? Attack Russia? Will they go against the S-300, S-400, and S500 and the rest of the layered defense system?

      3. John k

        Regardless of the size of the zone, I assume the de-mil will go to the polish border. This means that the 7-year olds will be going to school etc outside Ukraine for the 10 years… not clear he would identify with Ukraine even if the family stopped in Poland.
        No power, water, sewage this winter will force most of the population to leave for the eu. Poland can’t handle that many, most will flow through to other countries. All will have major issues handling even 10-mil refugees on top of those already there. However, as the kids grow up most will merge into the local pop. How many will want to fight for farms in a broken country with hard winters and no or minimal services? Granted, eu will be a different and less attractive place after 10 years of pricey power combined with the loss of both local heavy industry and export markets. Think of a multi-year recession, with the 23-24 winter much worse even if the fighting stops.
        However, if Russia doesn’t take the Odessa oblast, which will link up with Transnistria, they will have major problems… so why not? And Kharkov? Imo helmer’s map is not sufficiently ambitious.

        1. Alan Roxdale

          not clear he would identify with Ukraine even if the family stopped in Poland

          The relevant groups for historical study are the French Hugenouts, Cuban refugees, and come to think of it large diasporas like the Irish, the Armenians, and the Jewish diasporas. In short, it is unrealistic to expect 10-20 million refugees are going to just stop being Ukrainian on a timescales of less tha say, 200-300 years. More likely I find is that these AstroTurfed Nazis will be funded to expand their operations all over the continent, and not just among Ukrainians.

    4. Anne Neveson

      Plutonium Kun: exactly. Helmer’s entire piece reeks of armchair strategizing and, in addition, ignores the reality on the ground in Russia itself, which is that, following the loss of Izium and, especially, Kherson, a significant portion of Russian public opinion has embraced the formerly nationalist maximalist position (taking over all of Ukraine barring Galicia). There is now considerable suspicion re: the “Putin clique” or “Putin millionaires” and their discredited neo-liberal positions and intentions. Since Kherson, Putin now consistently lags behind public opinion on Ukraine and any attempts to temporize or follow incrementalist strategies will not be well-received. As an example, consider the premier military website Topwar, portions of which are translated into English, where both the editorials and the prolific comments (Topwar gets more than 50,000 hits daily) have gone from solidly supporting Putin at the beginning of the SMO to a more nuanced suspicion of his oligarchic affiliations and motives. The alienation from the West in Russia is greater than I’ve ever seen it, especially the farther away one gets from the Moscow/Peter axis.

      1. Karl

        Very interesting perspective. Among the many other things our (US) leaders are failing to fully consider is how the Russian people’s attitudes on this war have been hardening.

        I’m not sure the Russian people would consider the DMZ idea acceptable at this point. It would be a flash point and a headache, just as the N-S Korea DMZ is.

        No, I think Putin’s objective (and implicitly his commitment) is to a neutral, denazified Ukraine. Similarly, Europe’s commitment should also be for the Ukraine albatross to be rid of once and for all. And quickly. That, I think, would be a best case scenario for Europe, but that will take years.

        Europe (certainly its shivering people) should, by now, desperately want to go back to status quo ante: get cheap gas from Russia, lean military budgets, etc. Europeans will, I suspect, be stuck with the nazi refugees for a long time.

        A thoroughly de-populated, denazified and Russified Ukraine will give Russia lots of nice Liebensraum.

        Go West comrades, and make your fortunes!

  5. Strontium-90

    An “uncontrolled” decommissioning of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant’s three reactors could certainly create a large exclusion zone in the flatlands separating Odessa and Kyiv.

    1. Michaelmas

      An “uncontrolled” decommissioning of the South Ukraine Nuclear Power Plant’s three reactors could certainly create a large exclusion zone in the flatlands separating Odessa and Kyiv.


    2. The Rev Kev

      You’d be always able to see that zone – even at night! But in reality the Kiev regime would not care. Last year they were sending their own troops into the Chernobyl dead zone so that they could get training in urban areas before the war broke out. By the time any of those troops got things like cancer, etc. they would be out of the military so would already have served their purpose. And if they died early, then that means that they would not have to be paid a pension.

      1. Kouros

        In the early 2000s I attended (was mandatory) a weekly science seminar where the guest was a researcher from Ukraine, who looked at the rates of cancer, as a follow up of the Chernobyl meltdown. The finding was underwhelming: only on the young group was an uptick of thyroid cancers, above the historical baseline…

  6. DJG, Reality Czar

    There are already a few comments here that the plan seems logical and feasible. To me, though, the plan has a logic not seen in Europe for some time. I recall reading of depopulated Silesia at the end of the religious wars and the Thirty Years’ War. I recall a comment from an Alsatian writer and language preservationist, who described Alsace at the end of those same wars: A nothing.

    Introducing a depopulated DMZ in Europe also sends the wrong signals to the Global South, a group of nations that Russia has done very well to cultivate. Given the arbitrariness of the borders in Africa, would one want to suggest the DMZs are the wave of the future? I’m thinking of Ethiopia now–and of the horrors of civil war in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. Does Mali have an option of turning inconvenient regions into DMZs?

    Up top, Yves Smith make an astute comment of the U.S., [U.K.}, and Ukrainian elites and their inability / unwillingness to negotiate. [Other countries in the “West” that could oversee the peace, such as Italy, France, Spain, and even Turchia, don’t have any leverage right now.]

    The runup to the war was ugly, filthy, all those coups and corruption. The war is ugly, with its endless vile propaganda. I suppose I should have descried an ugly peace.

    I am reminded of the novel Q by Wu Ming (also listed under their former name of Luther Blissett), followed by their deceptively peaceful yet still very grim novel Altai. And I have mentioned Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte more than once. The lights are now going out like something in Canticle for Liebowitz. Would that these masterpieces weren’t prophesies.

    1. voislav

      I see it the same way. I think that the purpose of the electrical campaign is to make life difficult and force another wave of refugees. This will internally displace the population, particularly in the Eastern regions as these are close to the frontlines. Russia can then, if it manages to occupy them, filter the returning population. Something like this has already happened in Donbas, Bakhmut, Slovyansk and Kramatorsk have been largely cleared of civilian population by the Ukrainian government.

      Realistically, a large operation such as one described here would lead to the collapse of Ukrainian military and likely cause government instability, with a strong possibility of a right-wing coup and even a civil war. This would force a ceasefire/peace on Russian terms.

  7. Stephen

    This feels as likely an outcome as any other I have heard referred to and is very logical. It meets Russia’s security needs in a way that does not rely on the perfidious west observing the niceties of a treaty. If, as you say Yves, the west would even agree to have a negotiation that might end with a treaty.

    The cynic in me also thinks that such an outcome meets the desires of the people who control US foreign / warmaking policy too:

    Firstly, a permanent cleavage is created with Russia that potentially never heals. This helps to keep Europe under the U.S. political and economic yoke, albeit a yoke that many people seem keen to be under.

    Secondly, it also leaves Europe ripe to be organised for further conflict against China, which the beneficiary of the U.K. palace coup Rishi Sunak seems super keen to be part of.

    Thirdly, there would be lots of ongoing need for US bases in Eastern Europe to “keep the peace”, more headquarters with more jobs for Generals and their staffs plus great opportunities to sell more arms.

    Clearly, they will never say publicly that this would be a great outcome though! Obviously, the preferred US foreign policy controllers outcome would be a reversion to the Russia of the 90s, the removal of Putin and puppet state status for plundering but this might be a good realistic second best for them.

    The interesting speculation would then be whether a form of European Ostpolitik could re-emerge afterwards anyway. All the logic says that Europe (especially Germany) needs to trade with Russia. Surely, that self interest will assert itself somehow, despite the new iron curtain that Atlanticists seem so keen to create.

    1. nippersdad

      “The interesting speculation would then be whether a form of European Ostpolitik could re-emerge afterwards anyway.”

      This has been Colonel MacGregors view for a while now. He sees it happening sooner rather than later, but the question will be one of whether or not Russia will have any interest in it. It would go far toward making terms like those presented to the UN by Russia before the SMO more palatable.

  8. David

    I rather suspect Helmer hasn’t actually visited the DMZ: it’s quite a busy place, and has many buildings and installations, as well, of course as the famous conference room where the border bisects the table, and where, if you walk round the table you can technically claim to have visited North Korea. And it’s not really demilitarised, because both sides have troops stationed there. He clearly has something else in mind.

    I think the Russians are still a bit in the Cold War mindset, and are thinking in terms of physical defences: the “fortifications and entrenchments” mentioned in the article. The obvious analogue is the fortifications along the Inner German Border from 1961-1989, but that was over a much shorter and easier stretch of ground and the dead zone (literally for those who tried to cross it) was only measured in tens of metres. And, like the Soviet Union after 1945, I think the Russians are over-reacting here. The lead-time for rebuilding Ukraine at all, never mind a decent military capability, will be years, and in some cases decades. Rearming Ukraine depends on a massive industrial, financial and military effort from the West which I don’t believe will be forthcoming. Indeed, I’ve argued that Russian policy is specifically designed to exhaust the West, and discourage it from the huge commitment that would be required. Perfect security simply isn’t going to be possible along a line of contact that long, and there’s no practical way of preventing, for example, small-scale incursions, sabotage, or opportunistic launching of short-range missiles. But these are essentially demonstrative acts, which won’t really affect Russia’s security, and which its security services should be able to deal with. A degree of permanent instability on the border may just have to be lived with. If I were the Russians, I would be satisfied with a Zone of Control, extending perhaps several hundred kilometres back, intensively patrolled by drones and as empty of human life as possible. There’s obviously a need to mark a new border somewhere, and there will be border-posts and barbed wire, but that will be a political signal, not a defensive line.

    I do think Helmer is right, though, to put the accent on an armistice rather than a peace treaty of some kind. There’s no actual reason why a state of armed conflict should not endure in Ukraine for many years, as it has in Korea, and as it has, by some interpretations, in Cyprus. Quite quickly, life, and international relations, will adjust to it. I’m convinced that the Russian aim is to create on the ground effectively the same conditions that their draft treaties were aimed at, without the need for formal negotiations. Indeed, negotiations are probably a bad idea for the Russians because they require precision where, in fact, precision just creates problems, and they allow other actors (principally the US and the EU) to insert themselves into the game. It’s said that Putin has a legalistic mentality, but I really think that, from the point of view of stability all round, it would be far better to have a de facto situation tacitly accepted by all, than to have long and complex negotiations which will probably go nowhere. Experience suggests that treaties are very often actually destabilising, because they give rise to unanticipated problems and disputes, and opportunities for trouble-making. Common understandings, based on indisputable strength on the ground, would be a lot more stable in my view.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Agreed with the considerable difficulty of restoring Ukraine’s military as an effective force any time soon given Russia’s continued success in bleeding it out.

      I think Helmer’s military sources envision that quite a lot can be done by surveillance and payload drones and if push comes to shove, cruise missiles and air power that formerly took boots on the ground, and the Korean DMZ is a relic that for political and inertial reasons cannot be modernized. Russia has air superiority, a fact I assume that is not operative in the Koreas either.

    2. Lex

      The famous part of the DMZ isn’t the whole DMZ, although the West Sea Islands are fairly busy in terms of military activity along the rest of the DMZ. Much of that was completely closed to outsiders for decades but since about 2000 has been partially opened up to tourism. At least back then it was a weird scene on those islands but they were never fully emptied of population. Fishing and farming by locals/natives never stopped. So it’s not necessary that a DMZ be completely emptied of population, even though Helmer seems to be suggesting that it would be.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Since when is a humanitarian crisis a rosy scenario?

      Destroying Ukraine’s electrical grid and moving on to water and gas distribution is hardly a cheery future. Dysentery and cholera will soon afflict the Ukrainians who can’t flee targeted cities. And the ones who do are set to create a refugee crisis in their destination countries.

      1. Michaelmas

        Since when is a humanitarian crisis a rosy scenario?

        I presume Andy Pyle is dispensing irony.

        In any case, I agree with you and David. Historical comparisons like ‘Varus in Germania’ don’t recognize that in 2022 the technologies exist to make maintaining a DMZ of this size feasible.

        Likewise, the arguments for the ‘enormous resources’ presumed to be necessary for a DMZ’s maintenance don’t reckon with the fact that for the Russians the alternative is far worse: maintaining control over a population in which Ukrainian insurrectionists can continually move and hide, thus over-extending and bleeding Russia in precisely the way the US-NATO intended to bleed it by building up Ukraine as their proxy attack dog in the first place.

        A DMZ is their best answer in the end.

  9. Tom Pfotzer

    The “DMZ” is a temporary buffer zone. I emphasize “temporary”.

    How “temporary”? A few years at minimum, a few decades maximally. In the immediate situation, the DMZ’s job is to depopulate a missile-range-wide swath of Ukraine, and to keep it depopulated as long as eastern Ukraine is a military threat to Russia.

    The duration of the DMZ is mainly the West’s decision. It can be long or short.

    As the plan sets out, the Russians will make it very uncomfortable for anyone to live in the DMZ. It can be done, but it’s dangerous, expensive, and very uncomfortable.

    The DMZ can be entirely dismantled, and restored to its former productive status in just a few years. The relations with the West can also be restored, but that may take a bit longer.

    The pace of the restoration of relations between the EU and Russia is another key decision for the EU to make. Expenses are going to rapidly increase for the EU, and the time it takes to undo the damage is about to lengthen a lot.


    Andy Pyle’s remark about comments from Rosy Scenario is correct. The plan set out is an optimal scenario, and plans generally don’t deliver optimal results.

    We’ll see how things work out.

    The plan as-stated seems like a very good starting point, especially because it continues to leave the door open for rapprochement. Most of the damage is going to be visited upon replaceable things, and the damage to be done is being announced well ahead of its occurrence.

    I believe that is the purpose of Russia’s “leaking” of their plans: to avoid any possible unnecessary damage to civilians. Good on you, Russia.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The Irish border, the Cyprus border, the current Israeli borders, the Aksai Chin and the Korean border were all temporary buffer zones.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        PK: Of course you’re right – this “buffer” can stay a very long time. If the antipathy towards Russia continues, it probably will. It seems like Russia’s not expecting the West to turn off their quasi-WW3 any time soon.

        Speaking of permanent buffers, the Israeli borders are still in motion, are they not? The Israeli buffers expand – not as a security measure so much as a territorial acquisition measure. Israel is one big “buffer”. The Golan Heights were recently added to the “buffer”.

        But the Ukraine buffer – if and when it’s actually established – and EU-Russia relations in general, are not fixed. The EU may decide that maybe ruining its economy and dividing itself from the rest of Asia, etc. is not as great an idea as it originally seemed.

        That seems unlikely today, but the fundamentals of geography and trade are more durable than politics.

        So if “temporary” buffers can expand – as in Israel’s case – then certainly a buffer can contract or be dissolved.

        And that will be another interesting negotiation: who gets it when the buffer zone is released.

  10. Raymond Sim

    I don’t think the plan, as described by Helmer, would prove practicable if a rump Banderist Galicia remained. It would be a godsend to the CIA though. Just as their misbegotten military boondoggle collapses for want of resources they’d get a ready-made irredentist movement to sponsor, and a live-fire training range paid for and maintained by the Russians. It really really really does not sound like a recipe for stability and security on Russia’s borders.

    Empty zones between hostile empires have long been a feature of Ukraine, and if we could travel back into prehistory we’d likely find something similar happening then. You could almost call no-man’s-lands a natural part of the ecosystem. They never stay empty, no more than clearings in a forest do, because it takes so much effort to keep them clear. What Helmer’s describing sounds like a tech-bro solution to that problem.

    If this is the plan the Russians attempt to execute I think the usual mundane military realities will assert themselves and it will become apparent that the initial patrolling and manning of observation posts in territory intended for the buffer zone will have to continue indefinitely, i.e. the territory will have to be conquered and garrisoned, if only lightly, whether the Russians like it or not.

  11. David in Santa Cruz

    My problem with the “DMZ” scenario presented by Helmer’s sources is that it leaves a fortified border between “Ukraine” and Kursk and Belgorod oblasts over which short-range missiles may be lobbed. Any effective “DMZ” must follow the Dnieper River, which presents the vexing problem of what to do with the population of Kharkov.

    I suspect that Helmer’s sources (like me) are suffering from “war fatigue” and are searching for a quick and tidy end-game. The only end-game that is stated by Putin, Lavrov, and Zakharova is the destruction of the AFU east of the Dnieper and the collapse of the illegal Euromaidan coup government.

    This requires a “grinding” war and a “battle of wills” with the EU, NATO, and the US. It will entail a substantial reduction in the standard of living in both Russia and the collective West over several years. The beneficiaries will be the BRICS+ bloc, with whom Russia is well positioned for when the dust settles.

    1. Polar Socialist

      Frankly, I believe it’s either a mostly frozen war of decades as depicted by this DMZ idea, or Russia crushing Ukraine in a way that the next generations of Ukrainians will hunt down and hang from lamppost anyone even hinting at a possibility of a new war with Russia.

      Somehow they managed to do it in Chechnya, and they have had pretty successful operations in returning surrendered “opposition” fighter to Syrian society.

      Anyhow, the continuous pressure of Russians in Bakhmut and Ugledar areas, and advances in Avdiivka deep into Ukrainian positions tell me that there will be many a battle fought before Russian will start thinking about any zones. Nothing says defeat better than column after column of surrendered Ukrainians in their summer fatigues marching towards Rostov in the freezing cold.

  12. Chris Cosmos

    Fascinating discussion and great post. Helmer has a lot credibility with me so I accept this is a distinct possibility.

    For the Russians this war has become a drain on resources and must be stabilized soon. I don’t quite see a demilitarized zone like the one in Korea but, rather, one that featured the scorched earth policy described in this piece since eliminating the Nazis does require a depopulation strategy in the West. Will Russia take the road? If it has the means to do so it will have to though modern states find changing course difficult through inertia.

    The whole thing is a shame. Had the news media in the West not been in such rigid control by the US Deep State (it would be interesting to discuss how that happened) the negotiations could have borne fruit. But Washington has the agenda of world-conquest or bust and will not relent on its control of the narrative though reality may force some changes. But if Russia succeeds in scorched earth policies it will fit nicely in the mainstream narrative of evil Russia committing genocide etc., etc., and pushing the pathetic Europeans back into some sort of militarism–particularly the Germans who follow leaders far too easily. The possibility of the West’s narrative control may cause the Russians to hesitate and go slower than indicated here by this piece and the comments I’ve read. In the end, this will be resolved through a complex series of secret negotiations among many players (we cannot ignore Ukraine’s criminal/oligarch “underground” for example) where a roadmap for a modus vivendi will play out over time as both sides will declare victory which will allow Washington to shift towards making trouble in Asia where it will find the footing to be very slippery.

  13. David

    A lot depends on what you think the DMZ is intended to prevent. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect to prevent extreme nationalists in Ukraine from trying, at least, to mount attacks across the new border. But this is not your classic guerrilla or resistance scenario. These people would be literally insurgents, trying to cross an area without infrastructure, probably on foot, hiding from drones and other forms of surveillance, and probably tracked by Russian counter-insurgency forces. They would be limited in weapons to what they could physically carry, even if arms-dumps could be established in the DMZ itself. In practice, that means perhaps attacks with firearms on border posts or attempts to use missiles to attack targets near the border Larger groups would find it hard to sustain themselves and be easier to detect.

    I’ve been trying, in fact, to think of some historical precedent for what would be involved. The nearest I can recall would be the attempts by the ANC’s military wing, MK, to infiltrate combat groups from the camps in Angola, through Namibia and into South Africa itself. These groups were frequently intercepted and wiped out by the SADF in Namibia, and, to the extent that they were able to operate in South Africa at all, benefited from local support groups. It’s hard to imagine that a Ukrainian nationalist organisation will be able to find safe houses and logistic support in the Donbas. The only other example I can think of is the 1956-62 IRA Border campaign, which was a total failure.

    Which is to say that some level of violence by Ukrainian nationalists probably has to be factored in, but it’s hard to see how it would amount to much more than a nuisance. Certainly, it would not be possible to mount a serious military operation, or at least not successfully. And history suggests that even the most extreme nationalists eventually get tired and go home.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      The obvious example that comes to my mind is the Israeli border, in which they either occupy a ‘dead’ zone (Golan Heights) or enforce a de-facto cross-border buffer by way of killing anyone within sniper range that they deem suspicious (southern Lebanon, Gaza).

      There are of course plenty of examples of ambiguous borders that have been used by guerrillas or for official army ‘incursions’ for one form or another – Kashmir, the Indian/China border, western Bhutan/India, the Thai/Myanmar border, Thai/Malaysia, Nicaragua/Honduras, Venezuela/Colombia, and thats just off the top of my head. They are never good news. Oceans and big rivers tend to make for better neighbours.

  14. Lex

    Is a buffer that’s bigger than Ukraine’s rocket range necessary? If the DMZ is not recognized and there’s no diplomatic end to active hostilities, then yes it is. If there’s some agreement to stop fighting then there’s no real need to have such a large buffer zone because a launch of rockets from the Ukrainian side breaks the agreement and Russia responds with standoff weaponry.

    Perhaps what we’re seeing from Helmer is one potential end game rather than the most likely or the preferred. In the grand scheme of things, a narrow DMZ based on the Dnieper is probably the best outcome for Russia and stability. That gets a little complicated in Kiev proper but is a good line everywhere else.

    1. Chris Cosmos

      What you say may be what will happen but I think it’s unlikely. Russia cannot afford to have a constant war and tense truce–that’s what it started with. Again, for the long-term Russia must destroy the Ukie military and de-Nazify Ukraine one way or the other through a very wide DMZ or complete destruction of the country forcing mass migration into Europe. I think that possibility will change the focus of the EU/NATO if the Russians are serious and then the West will negotiate in good faith.

  15. Roland

    The word, “armistice,” is what made me click here, since the only possible good news from the war would be that of a cease-fire. But it was a false hope. All I find is an escalation scheme, for a cordon most unsanitary.

    The sort of thinking in this piece will lead to nothing but more conflict, more fear, more resentment, more hatred, for more generations. While the rhetoric is that of missions accomplished, in reality this is the counsel of despair.

    Remember that in war all one can do is kill people and destroy things, and threaten to kill even more people and destroy even more things, in the expectation, or mere hope, that somehow all the killing and destruction and threats will make someone else do as one tells them.

    But what someone else does is always up to them. This basic fact applies to all of the war’s participants.

    It’s easy to think that because war is the most forceful, most dangerous, and most costly way of doing politics, that it must therefore be the most effective. But that is a misconception. It’s also a self-deception: in the longing to ordain a certain kind of future, one forms the belief that others can be duly ordered, if only one’s will be forceful enough. We see this sort of self-deception over and over again in the history of wars.

    We have no proper analogies for this Ukraine War. Korea, at least in the 1950’s, while the fighting was going on, was a peripheral war for both USA and USSR, while PRC was a world power only in embryo. In today’s power-politics, however, Ukraine is not peripheral, for either RF or NATO. The Third Punic War is also a poor analogy, because Carthage didn’t have any strong allies. Ukraine does. These are fundamental differences, and power-political analysis must always consider the fundamental power relations.

    There are no specific examples which can guide us in this war, since there have been no open wars fought between nuclear-armed powers over their vital interests. That’s the way this war is going, unless somebody backs down, and soon. It’s as if we have resolved to make for the future a dreadful example of ourselves. What education!

    It shames me that I have not taken to the streets of my city to call for peace, but it feels like I’m up against a world spirit that craves war. I am dismayed to find comments here which applaud devastation. There is much more talk about how to hurt Ukrainians than there is about how to arrange a cease-fire. If you dismiss your opponents as incapable of negotiation, then you too become incapable.

    1. MILLER

      Roland, while one may fully applaud the sentiments in your post, it must be noted that the Russian Federation has been attempting to negotiate peaceful solutions to the issues arising from NATO expansion generally – and the Ukrainian situation in particular – for at least fifteen years. The Minsk II accords of 2015 (endorsed unanimously by the UNSC in its Resolution No. 2022 of February 17, 2015) and the draft treaties presented by the Russian Federation to the United States and NATO on December 17, 2021, are only the most germane to the current situation. These efforts have been either actively sabotaged (in the first case) or substantively ignored (in the second). And as background, we have all been witnesses to the willful, unilateral destruction by the United States of the arms control agreements so painstakingly negotiated in the 1970s and 1980s to reduce the danger of nuclear confrontation. So how exactly are you suggesting that the Russians negotiate? And with whom? Does the Russian side have any assurance that agreements concluded will be honored? The question is rhetorical.

      For those who have more than a passing knowledge of Russian history, one of the constant themes in this history – from the 9th century occupation of the Northwest by the Swedes (“taking a squirrel pelt from each hearth” as tribute, as the old chronicles record) to the more recent “adventures” of the German Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front during 1941-1945 – is the unappeasable appetites of the “collective West” for the conquest and looting of the Russia’s Eurasian Plain. The United States of America is thus only the latest in a long series of aggressors, following the Poles, the Swedes, the French and the Germans, the expansion of NATO to the Russian borders being the tip of its spear.

      As an aside, I observe that from this historical circumstance is due the curious longevity of the Russian State as the principal actor in the internal development of Russian society, since its primary role as the defender of national sovereignty allows it an undisputed priority claim on the nation’s human and material resources and is ultimately the source of its legitimacy. Si vis pacem, para bellum.

      1. Polar Socialist

        In the 9th century the Slavs were still pushing into a well established Finno-Ugric habitation in the Northwest (and caused Russification* that is still going on), so I doubt they yet felt threatened by the Swedes. That was to come a few centuries later.

        Other than that I do agree. Russia has never had any natural, defendable borders, so there have been only short periods in history when she has been “at ease” regarding conflicts at her borders.

        * genetically majority of northwestern Russians are Finno-Ugric** or close to
        ** one of the reasons certain seriously crazy circles in Ukraine do consider Russians sub-humans (mixing also with Turkish tribes) and not “proper Slavs***” like Ukrainians are
        *** yes, it’s about “blood lines”

        1. MILLER

          The 9th century entries in the Novgorodian 1st Chronicle (Younger Recension), reputed to be the most faithful to the Primary Chronicle (compiled at the end of the 9th century), recount the circumstances surrounding the expulsion “beyond the sea” of the “Varangians” who took tribute from the locals (the Krivichi, the Slovene, the Mer’ia and the Chud), the onset of conflicts between them and the “invitation” to and appearance of Riurik in the area. It is considered in the historiography as the founding moment of the Russian State (as well as its ruling dynasty until 1598). The archaeological evidence suggests an extensive Scandinavian (Viking?) presence in the Northwest in the 9th century, and if the founding of Novgorod cannot be attributed to Riurik and his entourage as the Novgorodian chronicler boasts (the Scandinavian sources suggest that he landed first in Ladoga), the archaeological evidence from the site 2 km. south of Novgorod (“Gorodishche”) has lent credence to this fort as “the new fort (novyi gorod)” built by Riurik. This fort served as the residence of all Novgorodian princes after 1136, when they were forced to vacate their former residence within the city walls (Iaroslavovo dvor).

          1. Polar Socialist

            There are actually no that many Scandinavian archeological artefacts in northwest Russia. Current Russian archeology tends to think that the river trade between Nordic and Constatinople was controlled by Finnic tribes. Much more acheological evidence supporting that, and also linguistic traces in the vocabulary used for different vessels in rivers.

            The cultural layers in Novgorod only start in the 10th century, so according to the current knowledge the city is at least hundred years younger than the Chronicle claims.

            Anyway, half of the tribes mentioned in the Chronicles are Finnic. The Slavic tribes, like Krivichi, had appeared in the area recently from northern Belarus, as also stated in the Chronicle. And it also makes it very clear that Varangians are not Swedish, as in mentioning them as separate people. It also says the Varangians spoke Slavic language, the same as Polonians “who are now known as Rus”.

  16. Tom Bradford

    Is there not a lot to be learned here from the US’s treatment of Japan post-WW2? On peace/an armistice Russia will move in to support and help re-build Western Ukraine, letting it remain a nation-state and go its own way to some extent but requiring it limit its military to a small ‘internal security’ force, with no need for missiles, heavy artillery, battle-tanks etc. And no aggressive air force, let alone NATO membership. Any attempt to breach that latter condition and Russia has already shown it can reduce the country to the stone-age in two days – which is a very new development in historical terms.

    This gives Russia a ‘DMZ’ the width of the largest country in Europe, and I think would be noted favourably by the Global South.

  17. Tom Stone

    Most of these comments assume that the EU and NATO are stable entities.
    I don’t believe that is the case.
    Add a few Million Ukrainians to the population who feel the “Collective West” has betrayed them to populations that have been immiserated by the sanctions, stir in a few hundred Stingers and spice with 100K rabid NAZI’s and it’s going to get interesting.
    I have no doubt that the welcome given those refugees will be less than enthusiastic by the general populace or by governments stretched past their limits financially.

    1. Patrick Donnelly

      I fear you are correct.

      Expenditure on The Joke by the west is unsupportable and explains the slow pace of Russian forces, even if they await General Winter. Nordstream and confiscations can be reversed in time, but expended arms are often gone up in smoke.

      The leadership of Europe is destroying their nations. Slow motion exposure of those family dynasties which are showing their bloomers to the middle and lower classes. What sort of evolution will occur, if revolution be avoided?

  18. Karl

    I have to disagree with many comments that this is a “feasible” solution. All this does is keep Ukraine as a flashpoint and headache for Europe and Russia. It solves nothing; it defers everything to “later”. Politicians love these kinds of solutions. That DMZ will be like East-West Berlin, full of intrigue and great power mischief. The MIC –on both sides– will love having this thorn keep peace from actually breaking out in Europe.

    As Anatol Lieven said, Ukraine is the biggest danger to peace in Europe, and the one most easily solved: neutrality. But the whole country must be neutral. I am now convinced there must be no “rump” Ukraine unless there are multi-power security guarantees.

    Too bad, the US is not agreement capable. We know that. So the DMZ “agreement” is a pipe dream. My impression is that, if Putin wanted to, he does not have to political space to conclude such an agreement. My impression is that the Russian people want the Ukraine problem solved once and for all. So, for that matter should the Europeans.


  19. elkern

    I’m skeptical. Any plan which includes giving NATO countries chunks of Ukraine is Armchair Diplomacy, or perhaps merely a Russian fantasy written to sow extra discord in NATO. Russian sources talking to Helmer would gladly push the idea, and he’ll gladly pass them on to keep his sources talking. (I’m not complaining about Helmer here, just triangulating his sources).

    Wiping out a political movement (UkroNazis) in another country is not a practical goal, short of a complete invasion followed by annexation and police-state. A lengthy occupation would likely make the problem worse. And stand-off weapons (missiles, drones) will create as many new enemies as they kill (see: USA, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc).

    Russia will have to be content with reducing the numbers of UkroNazis (via composting & migration). followed by *enforceable* “understandings” limiting long-distance weapons in [rump] Ukraine. If Russia proves that it has overwhelming military supremacy, it can state its terms and enforce them without waiting for “agreement”. Something like “if any missiles are fired into Russian territory from any [rump] Ukrainian Oblast, we will destroy all electrical power generation & transmission in that Oblast”.

    We should wait for results of Russia’s next offensive(s) before speculating too much on where new borders will be drawn. I expect that they will (re)take all of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts, and likely more of Zaporizhzhia Oblast, but they may well take more, including some/much that they intend to give back. OTOH, if the coming offensives fail, it would likely lead to a far longer and more dangerous war.

    The worst news from this piece is that Russia has started to destroy water supply systems. IMO, that’s far more of a “War Crime” than destruction of the electrical grid. It is much easier to claim that electricity is dual-use (mil/civ), and therefore a legitimate military target. I hope that this news is just another example of Western “news” sources trumpeting one stray missile as a new pattern.

  20. eg

    Hard to say, really. Russia has already secured a land bridge to Crimea and annexed the primarily Russian speaking oblasts. Now it’s demonstrating that it can wreck from distance whatever it doesn’t currently occupy.

    What’s the hurry?

    1. John k

      There are 9 majority Russian leaning oblasts based on the 2014 election. They have annexed 5 of them. The remaining 4 include Odessa in the south (west of the river) and Kharkov in the northeast, plus two central ones, one of which straddles the dnieper river. The Odessa oblast would allow them to link up with the Russian speaking narrow Transnistria area.
      Putin was quite ready to forget about these oblasts back in march, but imo the Russian people will not now allow these regions to be forgotten. Plus missiles can reach crimea from Odessa oblast, and the port allows weapons etc to be delivered while nato lusts for it for a naval base. Russia can’t afford to forget Odessa.

  21. Patrick Donnelly

    Good discussion!

    The USA cannot be trusted. The Rus know this and so do so many other nations. There will be no Treaty, for a decade after the cessation of AshkeNAZI attacks. The land behind the DMZ will be safe or else the DMZ will expand.

    If missiles are supplied to the AshkeNAZIM, then the DMZ will expand accordingly.

    This is not about Crimea or anywhere else in ‘The Ukraine’. It is about safety from invasion of the entirety of Russia.

    The ‘West’ will come to learn this after much more misery and expenditure.

    Meanwhile, the Schumpeter Express continues. What will the USA do about Syria when Turkey annexes part of it? At best, it will become a DMZ.

    1. Raymond Sim

      “AshkeNAZI” huh? Dude that was old when I was young, and I’m old now too. If you’re not some Ukrainian brain genius doing info ops then I promise you that doesn’t hit they way you think it does.

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