What Happens If the West Decides to Negotiate an End to the War in Ukraine and Russia Does Not (Really) Go Along?

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Let’s play out commonly-held views among non-mainstream, close watchers/commentators on the Ukraine conflict. Keep in mind they are increasingly confirmed by the orthodox press (see Ukraine Isn’t Ready For Its Big Offensive, But It Has No Choice from the Sunday Times for a fresh example). Mind you, we need to offer a big caveat up front: the hawks are sufficiently well entrenched (Biden himself, Blinken, Sullivan, Nuland, as well as the key players in the UK Ministry of Defense) that it may prove to be extremely difficult to open a line to Russia. Not only, as we will discuss, is there no bargaining overlap between probable Collective West and Russian positions, but there hasn’t been any between the US/NATO hawks and the realists. And it’s not clear that the prospect or actuality of a Ukraine defeat will change that. You would expect such a loss to dislodge the war-mongers, but look at their positions in decision-making.

Ukraine is going to launch a counter offensive, with the latest rumors pegging it for mid-May, but as late as June is possible. Ukraine can’t back down because its coalition partners have spent money on it and they and Ukraine have talked it up too much.

It will probably go badly. Ukraine can’t muster up a very large force, even with expected NATO types and mercs adding to the ranks. It is very short on ammo. It lacks air support. It is operating with a hodge podge of armored vehicles and weapons systems. There’s good reason to expect it to be a worse bloodbath that the Kherson offensive (not to be confused with the later Russian evacuation of Kherson city), where Ukraine hospitals as far as Odessa were overflowing with the wounded.

Even if goes better than expected (due to a monster Russian screw-up, Ukraine successfully deceiving Russia as to the size and target of its attack), Ukraine is too short on men and materiel to sustain an offensive. Even if Ukraine gained some ground, most expert observers agree this would be Ukraine’s final throw. As Obama said, Russia has escalation dominance, and Ukraine’s forces are weaker than they were when the war started. Many argue that Ukraine’s current force is effectively a second army built by the US and NATO. They lack the ability to create a third one.

If Ukraine does particularly well, or alternatively pulls off a nasty terrorist stunt, the Russian government will be under pressure to hit back hard and quickly, at a minimum with more destructive air strikes. Russia has now sufficiently degraded Ukraine’s air defenses that it can deploy massively destructive glide bombs, which has further tipped the table to Russia’s advantage.

Aside from the scenario of unexpectedly good performance by Ukraine leading Russia to need to hit back fast and hard for domestic purposes, Russia is likely to decide the nature and pace of what to do next based on the information it gains from Ukraine’s conduct of the offensive. I still believe Russia will not change from an attritional approach until it has at a minimum cleared all of Donbass and eliminated Ukraine’s ability to shell Donetsk city. That is still a way away on current trajectories. The Ukraine counteroffensive should accelerate the timetable by burning up men and materiel faster, particularly if Ukraine follows its established pattern of pulling troops and machines from other parts of the front lines to shore up crumbling positions.

So Ukraine’s counteroffensive, even if it fails to dent Russian positions much/at all, could conceivably go on for a bit due to Bakhmut-level efforts to dig in. But I am not sure any of the conceivable lines of attack would offer Ukraine any where near as good holdout opportunities as Bakhmut has.

Below is a map from a few days ago from the Financial Times. It has the advantage of being relatively current and not being cluttered up with deployment porn.

My understanding from the various English-speaking war watchers is that once Russia takes Bakhmut, the last line of defense is at Slaviansk and Kramatorsk, and for reasons over my pay grade, will be easier to surmount than Bakhmut. Russia also needs to take Avdiivka and Marinka, two cities to the west of Donetsk city that Ukraine is using to shell Donetsk. It’s a big embarrassment to the Russian military that this is still going on, so that needs to be cleaned up before anything big happens.

Let’s throw in a few other issues:

The sharp divisions between the hawks and realists mean that even if the Ukraine counteroffensive is a complete fiasco, to the degree that the press can’t and won’t cover it up, the warmongers can’t beat their own retreat that quickly. So any decision to talk to Russia likely won’t be coming soon (if at all).

A slower timetable for the Collective West coming to its senses again suits Russia. For appearances with the Global South, it least has to look like it is willing to end the war. But Russia for reasons of formal commitments has to take all of the four annexed oblasts, even if territorial acquisition is not a primary objective (prostrating Ukraine, whatever that looks like, and now bleeding NATO white, are).

Despite China publishing a peace napkin-doodle (its proposal was at best an apple pie and motherhood statement of principles, which Zelensky immediately jumped upon, asking to meet Xi, which eventually led to Xi relenting and taking his call, China is an interested bystander. The most important part of the readouts to me was China making it very clear it was ready to help rebuild Ukraine. There are a lot of observers who are attributing more significance to this call that it has. The Kremlin poured cold water on the idea that this was anything more than a China-Ukraine chat. From TASS:

“We are ready to welcome anything that could help bring an end to the conflict in Ukraine closer and, actually, also help Russia achieve all of its goals. We are ready to welcome that. As for the fact of their communication, it is a sovereign matter for each of the two counties that pertains exclusively to their bilateral dialogue,” the Kremlin spokesman [Dmitry Peskov] told reporters on Thursday.

So I don’t see how peace talks get anywhere. The hawks are still in the driver’s seat and will either balk at negotiations or set preconditions. Recall Russia previously rejected preconditions; even if they were to entertain them now, the odds are very high the West’s initial demands, like an immediate ceasefire, would be rejected, or quickly vitiated by Russian counters like “Only if you suspend the sanctions.”

That does not mean there won’t be backchannel chatter, but don’t expect it to go far.

The sort of thing that could provide real impetus for a negotiation initiative would be:

1. Evidence of Ukraine military failure, like Russia marching to the banks of the Dnieper, encircling Dniepro, and/or parking on the eastern side of Kiev. That sort o big change in the look of the maps would focus some minds.

2024 US elections could also produce a big change in personnel which could open up a lot more options, but I would not bet on that.

2. In connection with some sort of large-scale, undeniable success, Russia could up the ante and play to the Global South by making an ultimatum of sorts: “We’ll entertain stopping here [subject to some conditions like a rollback of some sanctions, ideally the ones that make poor countries collateral damage], otherwise we continue.” Russia is not big on signaling its targets but it would not be hard to see that as a barely-coded threat to take the Black Sea coast and leave rump Ukraine even less viable than it would otherwise be.

Mind you, Putin does not seem to be all that keen about taking Odessa; he’s called it an apple of discord. Others have pointed out a dearth of nearby geographic features to help in creating a barrier between presumed-future Russian Black Sea coast acquisitions and rump Ukraine.

Let’s charitably assume, despite all that, that the West actually does ask Russia to negotiate. Unless the request is made in an obviously unacceptable manner, Russia has to entertain it.

But I don’t see how this goes anywhere until leaders in West have really, really internalized that Russia holds a great hand and does not have good reasons to stop until it has subjugated Ukraine.

And all Russia has to do to substantively sabotage negotiations is to bring up the demand that Putin has been making in different forms since the Munich Security Conference of 2007: security guarantees. Who will give them? The gleeful French and German admissions of duplicity with respect to the Minsk Accords means no NATO state can be trusted, save maybe Turkey (and if Erdogan survives, he’ll likely be deemed too close to Russia to be acceptable). The US clearly can’t be trusted. China would not be acceptable, and is not suited to the role (it’s not a land power and does not have a presence in theater).

So unless some tail events happen (and Taleb warns tails are fat), we still look to be on course to Russia prosecuting the war until it can impose terms on Kiev.


1 I do not attach the significance that others do to China using a Russian translator for Zelensky. Zelensky was born and raised in a Russian-speaking parts of Ukraine and by all accounts, his Ukrainian is really not very good. I suspect his not-bad English is at at least as fluent. To me, it’s more telling that Ukraine did not clear the language to be used first (I would assume that customarily both sides have their own translators to assure no misunderstanding; can any readers confirm?). The use of a Russian translator looks much more like a wink and nod Chinese courtesy than an official statement.

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  1. John R Moffett

    The collective West is so deluded by their own propaganda that they think that Russia will go back to the negotiating table whenever the West asks. Russia knows that any cease fire would simply be another stalling tactic, and they won’t fall for that again. As Russia has made clear, this will now be settled on the ground. The question is, how desperate will the West get in trying to prevent a total disaster in Ukraine.

    1. XXYY

      I have been thinking this almost since the war started.

      In order to have a negotiated end to the conflict, some basic level of trust needs to exist between the negotiating parties. The US and NATO have shown repeatedly over several decades that nothing they say can be trusted, and that any negotiation process is either a sham or a way of gaining time before resuming the offensive. (Native Americans will be very familiar with the process.)

      Putin himself realized this in the early oughts, concluded that nothing but strength would protect his country from the West, and resumed a large program of weapons development and manufacturing. We are seeing the fruits of this now, and the Russian army has clearly surpassed the US military not only in most important weapon technologies, but also in manufacturing capacity and supply chain dominance.

      So, I can’t imagine why Russia would have the slightest interest in negotiating an end to the Ukraine operation. Nothing coming out of the negotiation can be believed, and Russia’s opponents in the negotiation are clearly on their last legs. Furthermore, the people who have been pushing for the expansion of NATO up to and hopefully beyond Russia’s borders are still very much in charge in the West, so there’s no reason for Russia to think anything fundamental would change after a negotiated “end” of hostilities.

      Russia invaded Ukraine in order to achieve certain objectives, and there is no reason for it to back off until these objectives have been obtained. They completely control the timeline and pace of the war, and there isn’t much the Ukraine or its Western backers can do about it. Only Western hubris is allowing us to think negotiations are in the cards.

      1. lyman alpha blob

        I’d lay about 50/50 odds that there will be a negotiation to end the war, but the US and NATO will have nothing to do with it. China will be the mediator and there have been reports that after the call between Xi and Zelensky, China will be sending its top diplomats in.

        I’d also guess that Zelensky won’t be going to Miami either – maybe China will set him up in Macao or somewhere like that. China has shown themselves to be quite able to look after billionaires with behavior problems and due to all his embezzlement, I’m sure Zelensky qualifies as such.

        NATO had its chance over a year ago to negotiate and if they had, Russia might still have been agreeable to the terms of the Minsk agreements, with the Donbass still being part of Ukraine but semi-autonomous. That ship has most certainly sailed now.

        1. Alan Roxdale

          This is a politically feasible scenario. A Ukrainian surrender, mediated by China, loudly proclaimed illegitimate by the west, but under which one by one they can quietly hold their noses and go back to making money.
          A cynical, unpricipaled, venal and sham peace, but not a war. It’s not only palettable to modern politics, it is in harmony.

    2. Bart Hansen

      And Putin doesn’t want to face the wrath of the widows and parents of the fallen if Russia’s goals are not largely met. Don’t know about that roll back NATO to 1990(?) boundaries.

      1. Polar Socialist

        I think it was not rolling NATO back as such, but rolling the troop deployments back to 1991. Or so. In other words, Eastern Europe can stay in NATO all they want, but no foreign troops should be on their soil.

        And Putin did actually apologize to Donbass mothers for being deceived by The West and allowing the situation in Donbass to go on for so long.

  2. Louis Fyne

    “…Others have pointed out a dearth of nearby geographic features to help in creating a barrier between presumed-future Russian Black Sea coast acquisitions and rump Ukraine….”

    100% agree, but the same can be said of the Kaliningrad enclave (albeit that was decided in 1945).

    But as the West is not agreement capable, a post-war Ukrainian/NATO Odessa = tinderbox for another war. It’s possible WW3 if the Russians take Odessa in 2023-4, possible WW3 in 2030 if UA keeps Odesa after this war.

    Anyone have ideas how will Russia take Odessa as the RU army needs to secure a Dnipr River crossing and/or initiate a “Hail Mary”-type of airborne and/or amphibious landing while maintaining Russia’s casualty-risk-averse tactics—before someone in DC or London gets the idea to send the 82nd Airborne or SAS to the Odesa Airport as a tripwire?

    That’s one tiny needle that needs to be threaded.

    1. Amfortas the hippie

      I’ve thought from the get=go that it would be foolish for Russia to not end up with Odessa, and the whole Black Sea coast.
      the geography down there would be a problem, but …from what i’ve read, at least…could prolly be defended with robust AD and counterartillery…and a cordon sanitaire level of “border” security.

      1. Jams O'Donnell

        Many countries have at least sections of borders which are not easily defensible. But if (when) the Ukraine collapses, then the question of a defensible border with Russia shouldn’t arise, as one of the conditions for an end to the operation could be that any rump Ukrainian territory will undertake not to have armed forces capable of anything more than police actions. Attempting to breach such a condition could mean an automatic further SMO against them. Further, Russia will probably insist that a new Ukrainian government has numerous similar conditions laid on it which will attempt at least, to neuter its use by the US/NATO to attack Russia in future – compulsory neutrality and so on.

    2. Detroit Dan

      Odessa seems to be off the table for now. The war may evolve via continued escalation as the West refuses to surrender despite a series of losses. As long as attacks against Russian held territory continue, Russia will strike back at the attacking regions, especially if Russia’s air and missile superiority continues. Thus, it’s plausible to see Russia eventually recrossing the Dnipr near Kherson, Nikolaev, and Odessa and blockading those regions. This could tie in with renewed support for the proRussian TransDniestrian region.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        An implication of this piece is that Russia will prosecute this war until the Ukraine military collapses. It seems way too unlikely the Western interests will get even remotely enough on the same page to change course before that.

        Some like Ritter think this could effectively occur by the early fall.

        When that happens, a whole new menu of things becomes possible for Russia.

        1. Polar Socialist

          It may be a sign of some internal developments in Ukraine that, according to Telegram channels, SBU has today arrested many Poroshenko’s supporters and looted confiscated computers and other office appliances.

          Who ever is calling the shots in Ukraine is starting to be uncomfortable with even other hard-liners nominally on the same side.

          1. mrsyk

            Interesting. I can’t help but wonder if it has something to do with Chinese dealmaking.

    3. hk

      The problem is that the West has not thought out what to do if the 82nd Airborne is effectively captured by the Russians. It doesn’t have to involve them being actually overrun: Egyptian 3rd Army Corps being caught in the east of Suez by Israelis violating ceasefire in 1973 type situation, perhaps? Doubtful that NATO will have the ability then to free the trapped forces. Most people will blink rather than start a nuclear war that will only assure that the trapped troops (and a few billion more people) will be annihilated. Neocons won’t, hopefully, be able to force things at that stage.

  3. diptherio

    “Let’s throw in a few other issues:”

    Did you intend to mention more issues than just the Chinese napkin-back peace plan? Inquiring minds want to know.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That’s enough for now. It’s sufficient to help substantiate what most here have likely worked out intuitively. A shorter piece is better than a long one if you can do the job that way.

  4. The Rev Kev

    Assuming that the planned Ukrainian attack is a total failure and the Russians launch their counter attacks, I would say that at that point the Collective West will try to demand to negotiate a Minsk 3 agreement. They may even call it that without even a sense of irony. Note that each of the previous Minsk agreements followed total defeats of the Ukrainian army and this will be the same. I would imagine that the demand would be for a cease fire that could then be frozen into a permanent state of affairs that would be advantageous to the Ukrainians. Of course for this to happen, they would have to have a lot of good cards in their hand but from what I see, all they have to offer is a busted flush. NATO has already announced that after the war, they they will retrain and re-equip the Ukrainian army so that they can do it all over again. They aren’t even hiding their intentions. From the Russian viewpoint, I am not sure who there is to negotiate with. Zelensky and Europe will do whatever Washington tells them so obviously Moscow will have to negotiate with Washington. But I am not even sure that is even an option with people like Blinken, Nuland, Kirby and Sullivan running things under a resentful Biden that will have his eye only on next year’s elections. None of them will accept a situation where they will lose. Russia will not probably try to occupy all of Ukraine but I can see where they will occupy all the Russian-speaking regions and bring them into the Russian Federation. What will be left of the Ukraine will be a rump state which has lost total access to the Black Sea, lost all access to the regions that generated 90% of their GDP, have no real economy to talk of and a population that will be a demographic disaster.

    1. John R Moffett

      I do not believe there will be any negotiations, as that requires both sides to engage honestly. Russia is not fool enough to fall for stalling tactics again. I anticipate that Russia will continue the slow meat grinder approach that limits their casualties while maximizing Ukrainian casualties. It will not end until Russia is satisfied that their future security is not at risk. That may be another year from now at which point the west and Ukraine will be desperate for some resolution. That is unless the west is belligerent enough to do something really provocative like a dirty bomb that they will blame on Russia. If that happens, I think Russia will stop doing the slow grind and move to a much more aggressive use of long range munitions (rather than holding many in reserve just in case).

      1. ddt

        Perhaps the slow, attrition warfare that Russia is conducting is also timed to affect US elections?

    2. ejf

      Here’s what I’m waiting for: another Gulf of Tonkin incident that’ll keep Congress in line. Nord Stream as PR worked, kind of, but not as a basis for US/NATO troops overt invasion.
      Ukraine knows it can’t prevail. So what’s left? Negotiate? Impossible. Instead, we’ll probably blow stuff up… until we gotta negotiate.
      I’m just thinking how long will that take, 2, 4 or 6 years?

      1. Clyde

        NS destruction was a War crime against allied industry to paralyze it and make it obedient. Main target was Germany’s industry because the rest of the Europe’s industry is a low hanging fruit, France and Italy close to a final point of declaring the end of the Euro as they have done 100 years ago with the Latinic Franc. EU’s people are just good enough to be milked to prolong the us$ for a few mor years and then thrown again into war against each other.

  5. carolina concerned

    I have not seen a serious discussion of what happens if the Ukrainian military collapses. Will the US political leaders be able to accept defeat. How far is the US willing to go to prevent that level of loss of prestige, internationally and more importantly in the arena of party politics.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      This piece inches toward that idea. I have no idea what the West would do. Our defeat in Vietnam took longer and the public had come to hate that war, so there was no need to manage expectations much. This might be comparable to the UK defeat in the 1956 crisis, but news didn’t transmit as quickly and was more controllable then.

      This is another reason I have argued that it serves Russia to go slowly if they can get the Western public to accept a Ukraine defeat. I articulated the principle as “Don’t make sudden moves around crazy people”. The problem is a relatively fast Ukraine military collapse is not an event Russia could necessarily control.

      One likely outcome if that event happens before enough people in political and press circles have wrapped their minds around it is an outrage-gasm of screeching about Putin being Hitler and soon to march to Berlin or even Paris. That would amount to a demand that the West prove its manhood. If that happens, it’s not clear how to turn the temperature down.

      Thinking about optimal timelines from the “avoid US craziness” standpoint, it would be ideal to push it out to the start of primary season. Then Team Biden and the Dems would have huge incentives to minimize the consequences.

      But Scott Ritter has been saying the war will be effectively over by end of summer/early fall because Ukraine will be so out of everything as not to be able to wage war. Would Russia slow down its clearing operations to manage the West’s psychopathy?

      1. John R Moffett

        The US has always played the “madman” game with adversaries, and Russia knows this well. I am fairly confident that Russia knows that there are limits to how far the US will push those theatrics. NATO commanders know that they aren’t fighting Iraq or Afghanistan, and that their crazy talk may not have much effect on Russia. But then again, Ukraine could try to pull off their own crazy attack with a dirty bomb and finger pointing at Russia. That will almost certainly lead to uncontrollable escalations as the western press pushes for them. The “radiation monitors” setup was obviously a cover story plant that would make such an incident possible with the ability to “point the finger at Russia”. We will see how much the crazy talk is just talk over the next few weeks.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          This is not “madman theatrics”. Russia has been dealing with Victoria Nuland for decades. She is vicious and cunning. As Sy Hersh recounted in a recent article, the pros at CIA are furious with Blinken and Sullivan, seeing them as stupid and dangerous amateurs. They are not clever actors. They are reckless morons. From Hersh:

          Zelensky’s half-hearted response [to the Burns list of corrupt officials and demands he do something] and the White House’s lack of concern was seen, the intelligence official added, as another sign of a lack of leadership that is leading to a “total breakdown” of trust between the White House and some elements of the intelligence community. Another divisive issue, I have been repeatedly told in my recent reporting, is the strident ideology and lack of political skill shown by Secretary of State Tony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. The president and his two main foreign policy advisers “live in different worlds” than the experienced diplomats and military and intelligence officers assigned to the White House;. “They have no experience, judgment, and moral integrity. They just tell lies, make up stories. Diplomatic deniability is something else,” the intelligence official said. “That has to be done.”

          A prominent retired American diplomat who strenuously opposes Biden’s foreign policy toward China and Russia depicted Blinken as little more than a “jumped-up congressional staffer” and Sullivan as “a political campaign manager” who suddenly find themselves front and center in the world of high-powered diplomacy “with no empathy for the opposition. They’re decent pols,” he added, “but now we have the political and energy world all upside down. China and India are now selling refined gasoline to the Western world. It’s just business.”

          1. Karl

            This is not “madman theatrics”…Blinken and Sullivan…are not clever actors. They are reckless morons.

            Well, reckless morons will occasionally engage in “madman theatrics”, with viciousness and cunning, if it suits their purpose, right? That seems to be the case with the U.S.

            Consider a child who is used to manipulating you with vicious and cunning “madman theatrics”, then changes course and says, “let’s negotiate.” Is it just another manipulative gambit? I don’t think Putin will even try to sort this out. Putin has no duty (as good parent does) to negotiate with the child, except possibly the fine points of “surrender”, as in “go to your room after dinner, but no dessert.”

            The big question is when the child will give up the theatrics, knowing they aren’t working. The sooner the better, but some children are stubborn. Stubbornness will lead to “no dessert, no TV and no computer” and will escalate from there.

      2. Stephen

        I agree.

        The analogy for possible craziness might be how Britain (especially) and France (more reluctantly) reacted in May 1939. This was after Hitler had overturned the Munich settlement that Chamberlain had set his heart on by dismembering Czechoslovakia. Doing that was with the full complicity, of course, of Poland (who seized territory), Hungary and Slovakian nationalists. Chamberlain and Halifax were so filled with pique and fear that Britain was about to lose its great power status that they embarked on the irrational guarantee to Poland, that they of course could not even make good on. Doing that then converted Hitler from seeking an anti USSR alliance with Poland to invading that country instead.

        From the perspective of British interests it was possibly the stupidest foreign policy decision ever made. We entered a war that we could not win, rather than staying out and watching Germany fight the USSR. But prestige mattered. None of which is to equate Putin with Hitler, nor to say that Hitler did not need to be stopped at some point.

        The US foreign policy decision makers may be in a similar position today though. Desperately worried about losing status and likely to make deeply irrational decisions. Which they will rationalize as “defending democracy”, “stopping Putin”.

        Suez is an interesting analogy too but I fear that the US is not yet at that stage of being prepared to back down when threatened by a recognised superior super power. After all, that is what it took. The US still sees itself as the top dog. Suez came after our bankrupting in WW2, the loss of most of the empire and debacles such as the fall of Singapore. Elites realised that Britain was no longer at the top table. The US has not experienced that feeling yet.

        I think net net I am confirming agreement with your take on this. A go slow for Russia feels very much the right move, given all this.

      3. gpc

        I think your idea of a fast or semi-fast ukra AFU collaps is not happening soon – looking at the
        charts – there is little movement, most is frozen or not suitable for breakthrough attempts from russian side (it is not vice versa!),
        so there is a problem with visibility: AFU can thin out units and move to remaining hot zones – even from belaruss border – and russian would not see this – Zelenski&co is delaying for an offensive, but maybe he is delaying the collaps – it fits with reinforcing bahkmut units. btw, rumor has it, he reinforced it with pravi sector/nazi groups – this also support a collaps delay for obvious reasons – Z likes to rule without them after losing the war

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Regardless of troop levels, Ukraine is set to be almost totally out of ammo over the summer. This is why Scott Ritter expects the fighting to end by end of summer/early fall. The Discord files as of early March said they had only a week of shells at hand and were averaging 1,000 shells a day. The Wall Street Journal just reported that already expected to be inadequate shell production is running below commitments. It also reported that Ukraine is now only launching up to 3,000 shells a day v. 20,000 for Russia on an typical day.

          Russia absolutely would see troop movements. You are out of date with the state of ISR. Everyone saw the massing of troops in Kharkiv, for instance, even I heard about it, but those of us in the peanut gallery were not well informed as to #s (estimates varied widely). That was why Russia was able to pull out with almost no losses.

          1. gpc

            please brief clarification – so your are thinking about a collaps in weeks, maybe less than 3 months, bc this is my fast or half fast time horizont for a collaps?

            I dont expect it so soon – an AFU “break up” will not stop there – the political leaders, high r. bureaucrats, SBU- and mil. leaders will do a lot to delay it at all costs.

            maybe it will not be a breakup from bottom to top but the other way around, I am
            thinking about 1963 South Vietnamese coup d’état scenario for Z. but still it need other 3 months, IMO.

            1. Lex

              I think those sorts of collapses are exceedingly difficult to predict. I certainly think a cascading collapse within 3 months is well within the realm of possibility. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to predict that it will happen.

              Kiev and the AFU could hang on for a long time. No question that’s possible. But there are severe economic and societal pressures happening in Ukraine and even more pressures building at the front. Leadership will do its best to delay or stop a cascading failure, but that doesn’t mean that they will be successful.

          2. Greg

            The artillery calculations have shifted in the last few days now that it has come out that the US is drawing down their presumably very large stores of 155mm ammunition in Israel. It was kept there against a rainy day war in the middle east, and is likely at least a million rounds. Enough to keep the AFU fighting for a few more months.

            The collapse in air defense missiles is looking much closer, with the May deadlines from the leaked documents combined with the recent massive missile-cookoff-looking explosions from Russian raids in Pavlograd and the confirmed losses of several more S300 and their associated support vehicles (potentially carrying more missiles).

            I think it’s important to remember that “running out of ammo” is only in some categories, and if the AFU does undergo a rapid collapse, there will be absolute avalanche of small arms and man-portable explosives flooding into Europe and global hotspots, along with a tidal wave of newly trained extremists with potential to cause mayhem.

      4. Skip Intro

        It is in everyone’s interest to mask the actual collapse of the AFU as long as possible, from commanders collecting paychecks for ghost soldiers, to generals promising results and skimming transfers, to Z begging for arms and alms while bragging of his counteroffensive, to US Pols writing checks to and collecting bribes from, US Arms companies, because they can sell a desperate but winnable war.
        And Prigozhin or Wagner don’t benefit from underestimating their opponents strength.

        The AFU collapse will not be televised.

    2. Amfortas the hippie

      this remains my biggest worry…what will the neocon imperialists do when its obvious to everyone, including the True Believers in my local GOPtea, that “we’ve” had our rear ends handed to us?
      neocons are not a majority of the elite, just pushy and ruthless enough to impose themselves.
      when they start yammering(a la Bolton) that now we need to nuke Russia, will cooler heads prevail , at last?
      are there any cooler heads at this point that have enough smash to do this?

      1. Rob

        I have come to believe that it’s nearly impossible to remove the neocons’ hands from the levers of power. Once the Ukraine debacle is over and done, they will shift their sights to China and yet another foolish and unnecessary war. After that catastrophe, if human civilization survives, the neocons may at long last be shamed and sent into permanent exile.

      1. juno mas

        The article suggests he was not fighting but helping evacuate “civilians”. Of course he was doing “humanitarian” work? For free?

        1. Henry Moon Pie

          He was under contract beginning last fall and up through March. He stayed past the expiration of the contract.

          So he was definitely being paid.

    3. Polar Socialist

      They will shrug, have a “what Ukraine?” look in their eyes and proceed to point out that the manifest destiny of the Free World is to defeat the evil commies in the Spratly Islands.

      It’s the only way to make the world secure for Our Values and Our Democracy. We should look forward, not backward, as arguing only makes us weak and are you Xi’s puppet, anyway?

  6. hk

    As I see it, Ukraine has largely become irrelevant. The Chinese special envoy to Europe will make a courtesy visit to Kiev, then present the real Russian terms to Berlin and Paris, which will involve massive restructuring (de facto abolition, I expect) of NATO. It’ll be the kind of consequence that nobody, especially not in Berlin, will be able to hide.

    The catch, as Yves notes above, is that preparing the ground for this will take time. Quick Ukrainian collapse is thus unacceptable to Russia, so the fight will continue.

    1. DFWCom

      How about Russia joining the EU?

      It makes no sense for Russia to be divided from Europe politically, economically, or culturally. Especially in an age of looming material shortages.

      There has always been tension in Europe over its centre of influence. It’s already moving to the East and embracing Russia makes sense. Now that the UK has left the field, France is isolated and Germany is closer to Hungary and Poland with their Austria-Hungarian traditions and history.

      And the Chinese Belt-And-Road ties Europe to the Eurasian landmass far more effectively than the Atlantic Ocean ties it to a divided-we-fall US.

      It’s hard to predict the future but our most obvious imaginings – the status quo – are maybe the first to be set aside.

      1. The Rev Kev

        Unfortunately it can’t happen because these days if you join the EU, then the next step is that you end up joining NATO and anyway, several time they have refused to consider the idea of Russia joining NATO. But the fact of the matter is that the EU and it’s Parliament is extremely hostile to Russia almost to the point of being demented about the whole thing. The Russophobia runs far too deep. The EU even hosted a conference not long ago about what the Russian Federation will look like after they have broken it up into about three dozen countries.

      2. hk

        Were that to happen, I expect, US and Canada will have to be expelled from NATO in a corresponding move–i.e. it won’t happen, at least not any time soon (as in next decade at least).

      3. Kilgore Trout

        I think Lavrov and others have it clear they are done with the West. There is almost no chance Russia would be interested in joining the EU now; Russia and China are busy making other arrangements, and the US, that still pulls the strings in the West, is not “agreement capable”, under any circumstances. Barring a wholesale sea change in US approach, which to start with would mean cleaning the Neo-Con Augean Stable out completely, it’s nevah gonna happen. Too many rice bowls to break.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      The Kremlin has made clear, repeatedly, in the politest possible terms, that China is out on its own little peace chatter and is not in any way representing Russia. When Xi came to Moscow, Putin’s remarks were so excessively polite that they could be read as genuine or patronizing.

      He was cagily distancing Russia from China’s peace PR, as was Peskov vis a vis the Xi-Zelensky call. If you read this part on Ukraine, which comes at the very end of a very long recitation, you will infer by its placement that the Kremlin is treating this as less important to the bilateral relationship than the other matters. On top of that, reading carefully, Putin makes clear that Xi went on about it for quite a bit, while Putin explains these ideas can’t proceed due to Western belligerence. From the Putin statement at the Kremlin site:

      Of course, we did not ignore developments around Ukraine. We believe that many of the provisions of the peace plan put forward by China are consonant with Russian approaches and can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement when the West and Kiev are ready for it. However, so far, we have not seen such readiness on their part. Moreover, I was just informed that while the Chinese President and I were discussing the possibility of implementing the Chinese peace plan – and the Chinese President devoted considerable attention to his peace initiatives during our one-on-one conversation yesterday – the UK deputy defence minister announced that the United Kingdom would supply not only tanks to Ukraine, but also depleted uranium shells.

      It seems that the West really has decided to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian – no longer in words, but in deeds. But in this regard, I would like to note that if all this comes to pass, then Russia will have to respond accordingly. What I mean is that the collective West is already starting to use weapons with a nuclear component.

      At the same time, I would like to emphasise that Russia and China pursue an independent and sovereign foreign policy. We jointly work to create a more just and democratic multipolar world order, which should be based on the central role of the UN, its Security Council, international law, and the purposes and principles of the UN Charter.


      China running around Europe is to strengthen bilateral relations when the US is working overdrive to undercut them. It’s so much nicer to depict vying for European affections and business as a peace initiative (when China is completely and shamelessly freelancing) as opposed to fighting with the US over markets and dominance.

      1. hk

        To make sure, I don’t think the Chinese envoys are headed to Europe, if they do really materialize, to seriously “negotiate”: Chinese can’t make Russia negotiate against its will, after all. However, I expect that they will serve as a secondary channel for communications (although, admittedly, Russian terms have been publicly stated and are well known–but the same terms being repeated through “less public” quarters will serve a salutary purpose, I suspect. In the short term, it wouldn’t matter much since Paris and Berlin won’t surrender for some time. Maybe Macron (and Merkel) will make some noise (as they already have), but their leaderships seem too disoriented to do anything cohesive unless things get much uglier (and I remain a bit astonished that the German public opinion hasn’t buckled much yet, which will further delay Berlin’s surrender.). To keep up the pressure on France and Germany, Russia needs to keep the war (and the giant sucking sound) in Ukraine going for a while yet.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          China may want to be a back channel but the only EU country that could conceivably go that route is France because nukes (= greater freedom to operate), Macron grandstanding, and Gaullist tradition.

          Turkey is the best option assuming Erdogan survival but the US is currently not very happy with Turkey. But there is a dearth of alternatives. Israel looks to be out due to government turmoil.

      2. Lex

        I get the impression that China is doing some work to split up the EU. The full state visit treatment of Macron vs. sending VDL home on a commercial airline with airport security hints at this. I agree that the peace part of this is cover, or at least that Russia’s willing to talk but doesn’t expect talks to go anywhere. China may be overplaying the hand but Chinese diplomacy is hard to tease out.

      3. John k

        I see putin as the dove in the Kremlin but enjoying a surge in popularity for defending Russian interests and Russian speakers living in Ukraine. It seems highly likely Russia will be master of Ukraine fairly soon, how would putin convince Russians they should not hold referendums to determine what the other 4 Russian speaking oblasts prefer? And no Russian would doubt what the results would be.
        Regarding Odessa itself, most Russians remember the massacre of Russian speakers there in 2014, and their harassment since. And Kharkov is another major Russian city.
        Granted defending Odessa might be difficult, but Odessa is itself a crimea buffer… and transnistria is an Odessa buffer, narrow but then there’s the river. Perhaps the next 2-300 km west would suffice as a no-man’s land. Certainly Odessa would not be as exposed as Kaliningrad.
        I see Kiev as a bigger problem, large pop and Ukraine capitol in what should be a no-man’s land buffer… perhaps the capitol could be moved to Lviv, Kiev seems way too far east to be the rump capitol.
        Separately, hard to see Russia allowing Poland to take Galicia, moves nato east.
        I constantly hope for an early end to this dangerous war, but maybe the safest ending is when the us is busy with the campaign next summer… otoh, maybe also dangerous if it’s too close to the election and polls show Biden losing.

      4. Watt4Bob

        It seems that the West really has decided to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian – no longer in words, but in deeds. But in this regard, I would like to note that if all this comes to pass, then Russia will have to respond accordingly. What I mean is that the collective West is already starting to use weapons with a nuclear component.

        The American use of depleted uranium weapons is despicable behavior, quite the equivalent of in results to the ‘dirty’ bombs they keep going on about.

        The result being the same in each case, the local environment being polluted with radioactive material.

        In Iraq, the result of hundreds of tons of DU dust spread over vast expanses of battle grounds has already resulted in cancers and birth defects;

        From the Harvard International Review;

        Depleted uranium may pose a risk to both soldiers and local civilian populations. When ammunition made from depleted uranium strikes a target, the uranium turns into dust that is inhaled by soldiers near the explosion site. The wind then carries dust to surrounding areas, polluting local water and agriculture.

        Pieces of old armor and ammunition also pose a threat, particularly to local children playing on tanks and other military hardware made from depleted uranium. “The kids were playing on the tanks… and they were collecting the bullets,” explained Souad Al-Azzawi, an associate professor of environmental engineering at the Canadian University Dubai and former director of the doctoral program in environmental engineering at the University of Baghdad. “For some of the people, those bullets stayed in their houses for years. It was a disaster.”

        The US warmongers screech loudly about Putin allegedly threatening to use nuclear weapons, while we have already covered vast areas in other countries, with radioactive dust that will cause health problems for their people for hundreds, if not thousands of years.

      5. some guy

        Depleted uranium does not have a “nuclear component” and I suspect Putin knows that fact very and exactly well.

        Depleted uranium rounds work strictly physically-mechanically by virtue of being so dense and heavy and having such a high melting point and vaporization point. They are propelled very fast into the target and compressed against it by the speed of hitting it. They heat up to what would be melting point at normal air pressure but they are under such pressure that they stay solid while melting an insta-hole right through the protective plating on the target. Once they have melted through the side plate and reach the inside space where the crew is, the sudden release of pressure allows the superpressure-superheated round to suddenly vaporise with explosive force inside the crew space, killing all inside. The depleted uranium vapor then cools down enough to condense back into fine grains of solid depleted uranium powder dust.

        We used to make these rounds out of tungsten until someone decided depleted uranium was cheaper so why not use that instead?

        There is nothing radioactive or fissile or any such thing in any of that mode of action. So when Putin says the depleted uranium rounds are already a “nuclear weapons element”, he is just cleverly lying and hoping no-one notices the lie. One doesn’t have to oppose the RussiaGov’s basic goals for Ukraine to admit that this particular lie is a lie.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          This is absolutely false. Depleted uranium strikes will generate a bit in the way of very fine particles. When inhaled or ingested, they damage organs. Russia accordingly not longer uses depleted uranium in any of its munitions.

          Even Western press outlets concede this:

          NATO’s use of depleted uranium in bullets and armor in the Kosovo War is suspected by many to be a reason for high rates of leukemia in the region today. The long term effects on the environment also remain unclear.


          1. Greg

            “Some guy”s point is not false, but it’s pedantry and (intentionally) missing the point.

            The narrowly true part is that depleted uranium weapons don’t leave much in the way of dangerous radioactivity around.
            The point evaded by the radioactivity mansplain is that DU weapons still pollute the broad environment with incredibly toxic materials.
            DU is a very heavy metal and those heavy metal particles are incredibly toxic to all biology, and cause cancer etc in humans.

            It seems to be a common misconception that it’s radiation doing the damage, because everyone knows uranium is radioactive. Instead its heavy metal poisoning, not unlike cadmium from mining in the global south.

            1. BillS

              U238 undergoes 4.26MeV alpha particle decay to thorium 234. The radioactivity is quite low (because U238 has a 4 billion year half life, 3×10^6 decays/sec/mole U238), but alpha particles, while causing little damage if they come from outside the body, cause massive damage if they originate in your lungs, stomach, bones, etc. Hence, along with the heavy metal poisoning caused by uranium, even limited alpha particle radiation from within the body is very damaging, with the usual carcinogenic, mutagenic and teratogenic effects.

              1. Greg

                Ah thanks, that’s an additional risk I hadn’t seen discussed as much. The coverage of Fallujah etc that I’ve read talked mostly about heavy metal poisoning as the cause of the long term illnesses, but a little alpha particle action in sex cells would explain many birth defects as well.

              2. Acacia

                cause massive damage if they originate in your lungs

                Yes, and given the half-life and size of the particles from DU impact, they can end up in somebody’s lungs. There are various studies in more controlled environments, e.g.:

                Risk of Lung Cancer Mortality in Nuclear Workers from Internal Exposure to Alpha Particle-emitting Radionuclides

                Conclusions: We found strong evidence for associations between low doses from alpha-emitters and lung cancer risk. The excess OR/Gy was greater for plutonium than uranium, though confidence intervals overlap. Risk estimates were similar to those estimated previously in plutonium workers, and in uranium miners exposed to radon and its progeny. Expressed as risk/equivalent dose in sieverts (Sv), our estimates are somewhat larger than but consistent with those for atomic bomb survivors.

            2. Scylla

              Uranium is an emitter. It is still mostly Uranium. If it were truly and fully depleted, it would no longer be Uranium. I believe Uranium decays into Thorium, and Thorium is also an emitter. Emissions continue all the way down the decay chain and does not stop until it has progressed through all of the daughter elements and you end up with lead, which is a stable non-emitter. When the DU is in projectile form, it’s own mass slows down emissions- but after firing and impact, it becomes a dust which emits particles at a much higher rate due to the mass being scattered, rather than concentrated.
              Heavy metal poisoning is also an issue, but the radiation poisoning is also there, whether people admit it or not.

              1. Watt4Bob

                IIRC, the first military officer/doctor put in charge of assessing and reporting on the dangers posed by DU ammunition, explained that while the ammo itself wasn’t very dangerous to soldiers in storage, and up to the point of being fired, the dust that results from impact is a dangerous environmental pollutant.

                He was dismissed/replaced, and his replacement basically gave the all-clear, and his report resulted in the sort of opinion that some guy repeats above.

                I think an unmentioned side issue is the fact that DU is basically hazardous waste, which of course is an expensive problem for the folks who produce it as a by-product of their activities.

                How nice to discover a ‘use‘ for something you would otherwise have to pay to safely store for decades, if not hundreds of years.

                The people who came up with DU ammo and armor are not good people, and it wasn’t because there is no other way to kill tanks.

                Also, it’s obvious from the amount of it we have used in Kosovo and Iraq (~300 metric tons) that we weren’t shooting at just tanks, but almost everything moving on the road.

                Now consider the large number of our own soldiers who drove the Iraqi “Road of Death” in the aftermath of the war, climbed all over the destroyed vehicles, and took all those pictures of their dusty comrades smiling in victory.

  7. Lex

    The first question is whether any western decision makers are being told or hearing the truth of the situation. Just yesterday Kirby claimed 20,000 Russian KIA and 80,000 WIA in just the last month, so if Kirby is lying in press conferences we have a chance at rational behavior but if he’s saying what he believes and is representing the WH’s assessment, we’re in a very bad place.

    The US has a fundamental problem in its making a regional conflict, in fact a civil war that Russia entered, into an existential conflict. There’s almost no way to spin a negotiated settlement other than backing down, and I’m not sure that Biden can personally accept that. I’m also not sure that the western press can spin it any other way. So it looks like Biden is trapped. I expect that he’ll simply hold on until the decisions are made for him by events, which is also dangerous. I would be surprised if Biden can bring himself to negotiate, much less do so in good faith, with Russia at this point.

    It might be especially dangerous if events start cascading. I’m not willing to predict a total collapse of the Ukrainian military or state but it must be a considered possibility at this point. And who knows what path events take if that starts.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The White House may still believe it. There is a lot of evidence that suggests the US intel services are treating reports from Ukraine as fact and not developing or checking them against open source information. Or perhaps more accurately. to the extent that happens. a lot gets suppressed.

      1. Lex

        I fear that’s the case. The admin behaves like it’s the case. Your comment upthread about Sullivan and Blinken holds true for most of the Biden admin up to and including the “big guy”. That makes the situation all the more dangerous. Biden and co are not ready for reality. My great fear is that when confronted with reality the response will be to try sending in US forces under the belief that the situation just needs tipping. That puts us either into hot war with Russia or a constitutional crisis; neither things the US can manage or afford right now.

      2. Not Qualified to Comment

        I’ve no idea what the actual figures are or whether the White House believes these figures or not, but I’d offer that a sizeable part of whatever the true figure is, is made up of Wagner ‘mercenaries’ in Bakhmut rather than Russian regulars – which is going to have much less of an impact on the Russian population.

      3. hemeantwell

        Re what US intel believes, I’ve seen Larry Johnson report, incredulously, that US intel has been accepting Ukraine’s tallies. A question arises: how does that square with Hersh’s report that some in US intel are furious with the dishonesty shown by the hawks? It suggests that there may be serious factionalization going on, perhaps that lower level realism is being heavily screened by hawk sympathizers in the upper echelons. My guess is that if and when the offensive fails Hersh will have more sources to draw on.

    2. some guy

      Well . . . that could be a reason to elect Trump again, if Russia has not achieved visible victory before the next US election campaign.

  8. DFWCom

    It’s obvious but let me mention it anyway – the polycrisis. We really seem to be incapable of taking our end-of-growth crisis seriously. It’s hard to understand whether Ukraine is an accident or an intentional side-show.

    But the ironies abound – a nation (the US) with the highest defence spending that can arm its citizens to the teeth but cannot produce sufficient munitions for a medium size war, whose financial weapons have proven to be self-deluding duds, and whose global diplomacy has been reduced to a pale shadow of what once was.

    The lessons for the polycrisis are clear. The west – so called developed nations – do not have the industrial capacity, financial relevance, political skill, or ideological honesty to make any difference. The torch is not being passed, it is being fumbled and dropped in the gutter.

    As Alaric said to the Romans when they asked what he was leaving them, ‘your lives’. Sadly, it’s not something many Ukrainians can say and their tragedy is on our hands.

  9. The Phoenix

    The Europeans have much more interest in seeing this problem go away than the Americans. The US would not blink if all of Ukraine is destroyed as their goal is to exhaust Russia, and if Ukraine is destroyed then it is Russia that has to rebuild (at least parts of) it. Not to mention that Russia actually cares about not destroying parts of Ukraine (Kiev, Odessa) a lot more than the US does … so I don’t see the US changing course.

    The only way for any negotiations to happen is either enough problems at home (US) or the China axis starts to really heat up upon which it’s just a question of resource allocation. For now, the US is pressuring Europe to shoulder more of the burden of supporting Ukraine both militarily and financially, and for now Europe is going along (by Europe I mean Western Europe and the EU institutions – Poland and Baltics are happy to throw themselves at the Russia and don’t need any encouragement).

    However, that might change.

    – What happens if this winter in the northern hemisphere is much colder than the one we just had?
    – How about a crisis/collapse in the EUR or Europe’s economies?
    – What about the USD staying strong versus G7 countries but continues to lose it’s reserve status and share of global trade?
    – A possible (probable?) recession in the G7 countries (with Europe faring worse than the US) with China booming from their emergence of a 3 year lockdown, creating an opportunity for Europe to shift trade flows (even somewhat)?
    – A contested difficult 2024 US election with many domestic divisions in the US?

    …. All that while Russia continues to grind the Ukrainian army down?

    These scenarios and more are not only possible but quite probable, leading Europe to at least try to wind this down in as much a favorable way as possible – which is not much.

    The overarching mood in Russia as I understand it is
    1) The shift to the east and the global south must continue. Doesn’t mean there is never a way to work with the West sometime in the future but not in any meaningful way until Europe is out from under the grips of the Globalists/Washington which is unlikely to be complete before 2030 (2032 perhaps?)

    2) This is literally an existential problem for Russia. It is not the only one – Georgia is another – however from a strategic point of view resolving the Ukrainian problem once and for all is No.1. Peskov when commenting on the call made it clear that no pressure even from China will change that. For this to happen only a rump semi-neutral Ukraine (leaning towards Russia with Chinese investments) is the only way.

    It is also in China’s interest for the War to go on for a while longer (despite what they say). It takes the heat off them while they arm and at the same time exhausting NATO. What’s not to like?

    All this to say that I agree that there will be no peace agreement in the near future. Where I differ is the likely final state of things: a rump Ukraine, west of the Dnieper without Odessa. One caveat is if the regime shifts position radically (or is replaced by a Russia friendly regime) and the nationalists are dead and/or captured, with an exhausted population – then Odessa might stay as part of Ukraine, for now.

    N.B. Putin cares about not destroying Odessa so I can see a way for him to postpone taking it. But he cares more about securing Russia, and if Odessa in Ukraine is a threat to Russia, then so be it. US/Polish troops in Odessa as much is it is a bold move it is not useful. To be there needs to be a functional regime in Kiev. If it is collapsed, and it’s time to dictate terms, there is no legal or practical reason for the troops to stay. And if that move on Odessa is done, then Kiev is toast – Putin doesn’t care as much about Kiev. So I don’t see that landing happening and if it does then it’s just another miscalculation from NATO.

    1. The Phoenix

      Clarification: By no peace agreement in the near future I mean the next six months .. negotiations might start near the end of 2023/early 2024 with some resolution by the summer 2024 at the earliest.

    2. Doug Graves

      I agree with your analysis and suggest that Russia will not stop until the message is clear that they will not tolerate further NATO expansion. A collapse of the Ukraine will not be enough for Russia. Lithuania and Georgia, with foreign troops in country, will be on Russia’s radar. And Poland will have much to answer for.

      1. The Phoenix

        I respectfully do NOT agree. Russia doesn’t want to go farther than Ukraine. That’s the trope being used to scare naive people of the big bad wolf.

        War is Politics by other means, and when it becomes clear that NATO cannot threaten Russia anymore and the rest of the world is turning against them, and a period of domestic instability sets the reality of the situation in … the calculus will change … at which point Politics/Diplomacy will take over to resolve the other issues.

        Georgia has a considerable contingent that’s pro Russian (or at least neutral) and Lithuania is irrelevant.

        Poland is the big one here but France and Germany once they somewhat lift the boot off their necks will not tolerate Poland taking the lead in the EU. Another possibility is even Poland itself will start being more rational when it becomes clear that going on US sponsored military adventures ends badly – but I put that at low probability unless the domestic ruling class changes.

      2. The Phoenix

        I respectfully do NOT agree. Russia does not want to go farther than Ukraine. This is the trope used to scare naive people from the big bad wolf.

        Georgia has a considerable pro-Russian (or at least neutral) contingent. Lithuania is irrelevant.

        Poland’s influence when the boot on France and Germany’s neck is lifted somewhat and would not allow Poland to lead the EU into another dumb war.

        War is continuation of Politics by other means. When it becomes clear that NATO is no longer a threat to Russia and the rest of the world is turning against them, and after a period of domestic instability economic or otherwise …. the reality will set in … and the remaining issues can then be resolved with Politics and Diplomacy.

        Of course that all depends on NATO not starting a kinetic WW3, else all bets are off.

        1. hk

          Yes and no, I think. Russia would prefer to limit the actual fighting to Ukraine, but the real prizes are to 1) remake the security architecture in Europe 2) gaining Germany and France as, at worse, friendly neutrals, which will necessarily mean effectively disbanding NATO. If they can get there by keeping the fight in Ukraine going, that would be a good thing for them. But if Ukraine does collapse prematurely or if the Western powers try something funny, I suspect that Russians want to have an insurance policy in form of an army pointing at the center of Europe (which I think the Russian forces in Belarus are really are). If, as I suspect, there will soon be nothing standing between them and the English Channel and if Ukraine does collapse soon despite Russia’s best attempt to keep them in fighting longer (and draining/pressuring the West in process), the threat of a Bagration II (ironic, since Prince Bagration was a Georgian) has to remain in play. (But these consideration, the need to prevent sudden Ukrainian collapse and the need to maintain an armed insurance against Central Europe probably limit the extent of Russian military commitment in Ukraine, in addition to the relative shortage of satisfactorily trained manpower on the part of Russians–not unique to Russians, I think, but every country in the world. No one is prepared for a really big scale war.).

          1. The Phoenix

            Russia’s goal is 1) in your comment. 2) is implied in it. That is what Russia was proposing in December 2021 and if negotiations started then, there would be no war now.

            Ukraine collapsing at any point is OK by Russia .. it’s the west’s reaction to that event that dictates where things go from there.

            Last time I checked Poland, Germany, and Netherlands are between Russia and the English Channel. I’m being factitious here but do you seriously think that the current Russian army (and I think they are a capable army) would march through that and the respective armies would do nothing? NATO? US? No way!

            Fact is, no army in the world is currently capable or willing to do that – and that includes Russia.

            If NATO tries something funny in Ukraine there will be a response but marching on Poland is not it. In fact, what it will do is to use previously unused tools to accelerate Russia’s timetable for Ukraine’s collapse.

            1. hk

              Germany, Netherlands, and what army? Within NATO, after sending so much of their equipment to Ukraine, there aren’t many combat capable forces left. Admittedly, a march on the Rhine from Belarus will have to come across a few more competent ones–Poles have tried hard to keep up the strength of their army. The more competent obstacle would be the US army in Poland and Germany. But these too are short on numbers and, increasingly, equipment and supplies (esp with much of the stock sent off to Ukraine.). Doubtful that Poland and Germany could put up as much fight as the Ukrainians last year and the Russians, if they do pull something like this off, will be doing so much more earnestly–last year’s invasion was, to a large degree, a diplomatic demonstration and Russians paid a fairly heavy price for it. A Bagration II will be conducted more seriously.

              Of course, the point I’m raising is not that a scenario like this is likely, but the war aims and potential theaters of war are much larger. Ukraine may be where the fighting is now, but it is not even the main theater. I think Russian troop commitments in Ukraine are, and will continue to be limited, because they expect them to be needed elsewhere–Poland-Belarus being the obvious place where Russia has already sent a large force. Polish general staff seems wary of this possibility when they warn against degrading Polish military to aid Ukraine (and the German military to a lesser degree). Given the lack of war preparations (and, to the contrary, much recent degradation) and the import of Poland as the transit hub into Ukraine, Warsaw seems far more likely target than Kiev if there is an attempt by the West to escalate massively in Ukraine, apparently with the expectation that everything will safely stay in Ukraine and not affect themselves. This seems illogical to me.

              1. The Phoenix

                The Russians in Belarus serve multiple purposes:
                1) Avoid subversion by the West of Belarus. Remember the pink (or whatever rainbow color it was) against Lukanshenko?
                2) Prevent any incursions by Poland
                3) Be ready for a strike from the North, West of the Dnieper
                4) Fixing parts of the AFU

                The reason they have held back most of their forces is not to march on Poland, but if Poland (or NATO) is foolish enough to enter Ukraine that there is someone there to meet them. Works also as a deterrent.

                So let’s say the Russians lose their mind and all semblance of rationality (which they have demonstrated that they have a hell of a lot more than us) and march onto Poland. Then what? How does it end in Russia’s favor? Strategically that doesn’t serve the purposes of getting Europe (and the rest of the world) on their side – in fact it has the opposite effect.

                The only scenario I see is if NATO goes completely nuts and raises escalations to 11 by directly attacking Russian territory. And even then, missiles – even nuclear tipped ones – are more effective. At which point it won’t be just Russia fighting (except some friends to join in) and we’ll be in full blown WW3. The Pentagon doesn’t want that. Neither does anyone in NATO. And even the crazy deranged Putin (lol).

                Sorry but like I mentioned earlier, no army in the world is currently capable or willing to do that – and that includes Russia.

  10. Polar Socialist

    …the last line of defense is at Slaviansk and Kramatorsk, and for reasons over my pay grade, will be easier to surmount than Bakhmut.

    From what I’ve read by the militia people who fought Ukrainian army there in 2014, the thing with this Slaviansk-Kramatorsk conglomerate is that it’s on the bottom of a valley surrounded by large hills that control them completely.

    In 2014 the AFU had to only take two of the biggest hills to force the militia units out of the cities. And those hills don’t have any urban settlements, so it’s not as heavy fighting to take them, either.

    That, of course, assumes that the defender is trying to avoid unnecessary casualties, which doesn’t seem to be the case in this war. But in principle, the attacker doesn’t have to enter the cities to control/capture them.

    1. hemeantwell

      The sense I got from Zhuchkovsky’s 85 Days in Slavyansk was that, yes, people living in Slavyansk suffered artillery bombardments through most of those days after the regime managed to sneak some artillery up on a hill south of town on May 2, the day all hell broke loose after the Odessa trade union massacre. The militia lacked the strength to drive them off, particularly maddening because on their radios they could hear drunk gunners laughing about lobbing shells into town. Still, the militia was still able to put up a stubborn and costly resistance. They were eventually driven out in the first week of July by an overwhelming infantry and armor assault.

  11. Stephen

    I agree that there is apparently no bargaining overlap. That kind of affects things. There was a very good Duran / Glenn Diesen interview with Chas Freeman over the weekend.

    He described this conflict as really being 4 wars:

    1. Proxy war U.S. vs Russia
    2. Civil war within Ukraine – which I would frame as the monist pure “Ukrainian” interpretation of statehood versus the more pluralist interpretation that recognises links with Russia. This is rather than the more simplistic Ukrainian speakers versus Russian speakers conflict that often gets referred to
    3. Ukraine vs Russian state
    4. Russia’s needs for a new European security architecture versus the existing NATO model

    We can also add that there is a fifth overarching conflict associated with the US Empire showing it is still boss in the world, as well as that these conflicts are not mutually exclusive but are interdependent with each other. But his framing made sense to me.

    In my view, a defeat for Ukraine’s counter offensive might therefore resolve point 3 above (maybe) but hard to see how it resolves the other conflicts without other seismic shifts. Russia has no real incentive to negotiate in any event at least until it sees a clear path that deals with point 4 with respect to a new European security architecture. As you say.

    Otherwise, all they achieve is what Foch referred to as the outcome after Versailles: “This is not peace. It is an Armistice for twenty years”. But in this case twenty years may be an over estimate.

    Overall, I thought Mr Freeman made very fair points. One might quibble with a few things but the basic message was very reasonable I thought. Was also balanced on Taiwan. At the end, he did seem to wonder though whether US diplomacy has actually got worse today in objective terms or whether circumstances were just more favourable in the past.

    As an aside, The Duran do seem to be interviewing a few reasonably well known former diplomats these days. I wonder if Glenn Diesen (as a serving professor in Norway) is very instrumental in teeing these interviews up.


    1. irrational

      The interview with Katrin Kneissl (former Austrian foreign minister) and Alexander Mercouris a while back was excellent.

      1. hk

        The most memorable thing she mentioned was thst the keys to successful diplomacy are good manners, attentiveness, and empathy. Something sorely lacking in modern day Western elites.

      2. The Rev Kev

        Yeah, that interview was a real eye opener. If you don’t have a competent diplomatic corps, how are you going to deal with other countries that still have a competent diplomatic corps? You can see Lavrov just wiping the deck with the people that he deals with like Blinken and Truss. Old school rules.

  12. Oh

    It’s so easy to call out the neo-cons. But the reality is that the US has been an imperialist country since WWII. NATO, under the leadership of the US. has looted, Iraq, Libya and Yugoslavia. The members of NATO share the spoils. The Ukraine war is simply an extension of the looting and plundering activities.

  13. LawnDart

    I’m not sure that Russia’s scope hasn’t shifted.

    Was the relatively sudden onset and now ongoing economic collapse of Europe forseen? Did Russia expect to expose the West as a paper tiger?

    Yes, obviously they will de-nazify Ukraine, but why stop there? If they keep taking their leisurely time, NATO may well cease to exist– at least in present form– and the rearming of Ukraine will not be an issue: whatever succeeds NATO will require a generation to arm and to develop the cohesion necessary to project formidable military power.

    I don’t think Russia or its allies can afford to let the opportunity to defang NATO slip by.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      You are misrepresenting what I said. I get testy about that sort of thing:

      …even if territorial acquisition is not a primary objective (prostrating Ukraine, whatever that looks like, and now bleeding NATO white, are).

      1. Don

        I’m confused: I read LawnDart’s comment as standing alone, neither representing nor misrepresenting anything or anyone. But it is late here, and maybe I’m missing nuances…

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          It comes off as a reaction to the post. “I’m not sure” is taking issue with something said, and if no source is mentioned, that means by default it’s the post.

  14. spud

    if the russians do not cut nato off from the black sea coastline, it will go down in history as one of the largest military blunders in the world, right long Napoleons and hitlers invasion of russia.

    i am sure there is already secret nato infrastructure in Odessa now. just waiting for the inevitable day of glory.

  15. tevhatch

    Xi – China can help Ukraine rebuild
    but what if zElenskyi mob family has already sold off everything to Western vulture funds? The idea that China will rebuild rail-roads, ports, electric grid, etc but allow Western corporations to have veto over China’s goods moving over the road part of belt and road? Perhaps Xi was positioning to be a spoiler on sales of certain assets, but I don’t think he’ll get much effect.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Possession is 9/10ths of the law. And as they say in Dune, “He who can destroy a thing controls a thing”. Russia can make Ukraine uninhabitable by destroying key parts of its grid. It looks to have been wrecking it before to force Ukraine to defend it…but this repeated exercise has given Russia an excellent idea of how the grid works and what Ukraine can fix.

      Only Russia makes the key components. Ukraine can get only so much in equipment from former Warsaw Pact states. Impossibly costly to rewire to Western make. So Russia can absolutely control Ukraine economically if it carefully wreck the grid so it also won’t take forever to restore it. Not sure this can be done efficiently but I have a hunch it has been studied.

      A new government can repudiate old agreements, especially if it can allege corruption or coercion.

      And we saw in Greece that efforts to sell infrastructure, beaches, hotels failed. No one wants to buy in a war zone.

      1. tevhatch

        I was thinking more about winning the peace, I don’t believe at all that China is going to attempt to support Ukraine during this war. I guess that if Ukraine is reduced to a rump state, then the Russian and Independent parts could nationalize anything zElenskyi sold off before leaving the scene / departing earth, since WTO rules will be moot for Russia now.

        Separately Stalin ordered the transfer of old soviet grid technology to China, so there are quite a lot of shared standards and older equipment designs all the way up to 500 kv A/C transmission, and under Yeltsin/Putin joint standards for newer technologies such as UHVDC were put in place. I had the privilege of engineering on several Russian/Chinese projects in both nuclear power and electric power distribution on both sides of the border. I suspect it will take both Russia and China’s shared capacity if there is any serious attempt to quickly rebuild the industrial base, without impacting their mutual domestic needs.

        1. Greg

          I think China would love to secure rights to a swathe of the excellent farmland in Ukraine, but I think Russia would never let that happen. Russia would of course happily sell the product of the farmland to China for a good price for as long as that was convenient.

            1. Greg

              How exactly do you foresee western sanctions interrupting trade between Russia and China?

  16. JE McKellar

    The line from the Duran was that the war was meant by the Anglo-Americans to “Keep Russian out, keep the US in, and keep Germany down.” Oddly enough, the Russians might actually agree to much of that project. Let me put a few different threads together:
    1. No defensible border. The Soviet Union faced the same problem after WWII, and their solution was to fill Eastern and Central Europe with heavily-armed client states as a buffer. Didn’t work in the long run.
    2. Ukraine is actually fielding its third army now, not its second. The first army was Soviet-era Ukrainian equipment, second army was Soviet-era equipment scrounged from the depots of all the former Warsaw Pact-turned NATO militaries. Third army is now Western-made, mostly Cold War-era surplus, with a sprinkling of new manufactures. Where will the fourth army come from?
    3. Economic links between Germany and Russia. Germany needs Russian energy, both countries need access to the Black Sea (Sevastopol guards the Volga, Odessa the Danube). Neither country wants to pay for a massive military build-up.

    So the logical solution isn’t a new cold war, but a thorough demilitarization of Central and Eastern Europe. Germany stops making weapons, the US sells overpriced junk to Poland and Finland, and Russia keeps its tanks in mothballs east of the Dnieper. US nukes are banned from within 1000km of Russian borders, and Russia gives up their tactical nukes.

    This isn’t exactly what Biden et al wanted way back in 2014, but it keeps Russian out of Europe, hobbles Germany, and keeps the US MIC in control of NATO. It’s a repeat of the Treaty of Versailles. a negotiated peace before utter collapse and humiliation.

    1. Karl

      Good post. It’s a sane path to a negotiated settlement. Too sane for our leadership, I’m afraid.

  17. marcel

    I always tend to go back to beginnings.
    Russia proposed a global security agreement back in december 2021, and I think that still stands (NATO back to its 1997 borders, no foreign troops/armament anywhere), and ‘threatened’ at the time with politico-military measures.
    Russia entered Ukraine to save Donbass from genocide (MoA has a nice recap of the lead-in to this civil war).
    So Russia will ‘free’ those 4 oblasts, which have “officially” requested to join Russia and are now Russian territory. Any step beyond those borders will paint Russia (towards “the Rest”) as an agressive invader no better than “the West”. So I don’t think they will go for Odessa nor Kiev or any city.
    Now when (not if) the Ukrainian army crashes in the offensive, people in the Odessa oblast might raise, kick Azov out, and request independently to join Russia, rather than staying with a destroyed Ukraine. But it will be their initiative, not Russia’s to join the Russian Federation.
    For the same reason, I don’t think Russia is after Zelensky. It is up to the Ukrainian people (or what remains thereof) to choose their leader.
    But if they want to sue for peace, they will have to mete out some hard justice, or subcontract it to Russia. People know who organised the Maidan killings, the Odessa massacre or the Donbass shelling.
    So when this war is over, Russia might come to an agreement with Ukraine on how to build the future, but will then use other steps to force US/Nato into some decent behavior. The US is so exposed and so left without means, that Russia can pick its targets.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Russia is already positioning itself to have more options.

      Putin said very early on the longer the war goes on, the more Russia will raise its demands.

      Lavrov has already said that Russia will need to secure its borders (as in including those of the oblasts in light of Western shelling ranges. That’s a minimum of 70 km more with HIMARS. If they upgrade to the 300 km range missiles, Russia’s territorial needs will increase.

      The West will never give Russia a security agreement. We explained above why that won’t happen and Russia can never trust it given Proroshenko, Hollande, and Merkel not only admitting but even being gleeful that they skookered Russia with the Minsk Accords.

      Putin does not repeat mistakes. The admission of duplicity over Minsk was also well reported in the Global South.

      The inability of the West to provide a credible security agreement means Russia will have to create security as best it can via facts on the ground on the Ukraine. That would seem to mean ultimately installing a well controlled puppet regime or reducing Ukraine to Greater Kiev per the Medvedev map.

      1. Polar Socialist

        Medvedev Telegrammed (?) this Saturday that the only option for Russia seems to be to destroy Ukrainian Armed Forces totally, install pro-Russian government in Kiev and then hunt down the Ukrainian “ethno-nationalist” no matter where they run, no matter how long it takes.

        That, of course, is not the official stance, but the man is in the top four of the Russian government. So what he says has some weight.

        And yes, Russian/Soviet/Russian approach to security negotiations has often been very straightforward and utilitarian: the first offer is the best one the other side will get. There may be tinkering and bargaining before signing, but only regarding the details.

      2. chuck roast

        In light of all the backhanders Putin has gotten from the collective west since 2007, he seems to have become very clear-headed…goal oriented too. I regularly think about his stated goals at the outset of the SMO: 1. demilitarisation, 2. neutralization and 3. denazification. How this whole thing will play out I wouldn’t guess, but with the exception of denazification, these goals are both in view. How he will denazify this knuckle-head country is beyond me.

        My greatest concern is the coming Great Banderite Diaspora to Calgary and Chicago. And they would make such great concentration camp guards. The virtuous bourgeoisie in my neighborhood with their fraying blue and yellow flags should each be made to take one. I can only imagine their table manners. Fidel would call them Gusanos. Works for me.

  18. John Webster

    All of this commentary is useful and (mostly) right BUT what it misses out is the feeling in Ukraine. If I was Ukrainian (and not a Nazi) I would be really, really angry that Zelenskyy had led me into an unwinnable war that has cost the country dearly in lives and treasure. I would want his head. And the country is near collapse. You need to add this possibilty to the discussion above. I do accept, though, that the Banderistas in the west of the country will NEVER give in and they have been played by the CIA and MI6 since the end of the second war to undermine first the USSR and now Russia. Dealing with them is a massive political problem that can only be tackled when the Ukrainian army has been defeated and when it is possible to drive a wedge between the monists and the pluralists. I think (and hope) Russia will prevail BUT there will be no short term fix. The only alternative to this is dividing the country up. Most Ukrainians seemed to accept negotiating land for peace (Crimea and some devolution for Luhanks and Donetsk) following the MInsk agreement and so voted overwhelmingly for the turncoat Zelensdkyy in 2019. When he didn’t deliver his popularity collapsed and so he (in effect) opted for escalating the conflict. Confidence in the current Ukrainian leadership could collapse again. Keeping the war going if there is a collapse in confidence for Zelenskyy would be difficult propagandawise – and western electorates would certainly notice this.

    1. Greg

      It may be Russian propaganda, but many of the videos of disgruntled Ukrainian soldiers I’ve seen have “going after the traitors in Kiev once we finish on the front” as a core theme. Along with patriotism and willingness to fight for their country, there is a lot of anger at the leadership that led them to this point.

  19. Bsn

    I love the next to last map in the Financial Times article. It shows that (nearly) twice as many refugees went to Russia as opposed to all other states in Europe. That shows where their hearts are, or were. But it also implies, many less votes in favor of Russia in any upcoming elections.

    1. marcel

      That map is based on UNHCR data. But if you go look at the data, you’ll see that numbers are updated roughly at least every month – except one: data for Russia has not been updated since October 3rd, 2022.
      TASS mentioned back in December 5 million refugees.
      Imagine that FT article with updated figures: almost 2/3 of refugees went to Russia (“the enemy”).
      That map might explain why UNHCR is no longer updating Russian figures.

  20. HH

    This discussion ignores the enormous capacity of the U.S. public amnesia machine. Who speaks about Afghanistan today? That disaster dwarfs the Ukraine debacle, and there were no consequences for the usual suspects. The neocons will abandon Ukraine and move on to provoking a war with China, another disaster they will walk away from. America is being poisoned by its addiction to militarism, and there is no political will to recover.

  21. Aurelien

    Let’s remember that it takes two (or more) willing players to have a negotiation, and you only get a seat at the table if you fulfil one of two criteria. The first is that you have something you are prepared to give, that somebody else wants, in return for something they are prepared to give, that you want. The second is where you have some knowledge, expertise or just influence, such that you cannot be ignored. Otherwise, you don’t have a negotiation, you have an imposed settlement, which I think is where we are headed. Oversimplifying slightly, the US and the Europeans have nothing that the Russians want which they can’t get anyway, and in turn they have nothing to ask for that the Russians have any interest in giving. Sanctions, for example, will have to be lifted anyway at some point, and all the Russians have to do is wait. Any negotiation presupposes that, at least potentially, there is a Venn diagram effect where interests overlap. I don’t see that here.

    So I see the US, in particular, being played out of whatever follows the end of the fighting, and I think this will be very difficult for Washington to accept. The persistent myth that Washington is an indispensable and omnipresent actor in all international crises is about to be exploded, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. I think the psychological effects of that are potentiallytially catastrophic for the US politico-military class.

    1. Lex

      Do you think the politico-military class is realizing this? I guess my worry might be that either they do realize it and so will do whatever inadvisable thing they can think of to avoid confronting the reality. Or, they don’t realize it and when it’s unavoidable the reaction will be inadvisable.

      1. Karl

        I think this may help explain why Putin is “slow-walking” the advance of troops (as, imho, seems to be the case). Prolonging the war enables the slow seepage of truth into our leaders’ very thick and over-calcified (non porous) skulls. Overcoming cognitive dissonance by osmosis takes time.

        Good escalation management –as Ritter calls it — is achieved when the unavoidable confrontation with reality is cushioned against shock, such that it evokes a rather jaded US reaction when it finally comes: “Oh, well. Whatever. We did the best we could, but the Ukrainians didn’t use our aid very well.”

        We’re not there yet. But it won’t be long.

  22. Revenant

    What is the benefit to Russia in taking Odessa, that it cannot get by simply blockading it?

    No need to risk capital ships, a PLA style fleet of fishing boats and irregulars would be enough while Turkey controls the Bosphorous entry and no non-Turkish NATO vessel will be admitted. Bulgaria and Romania would be there anyway so they do not change the consideration here.

    If there is Ukrainian sabre rattling, drone amd missile attacks, mines etc. then the price might be Turkish domination of Russian shipping ex Black sea (because the US cannot attack its own) under Russian escort, or more likely multinational convoys under joint Russo-Turkish escort.

    For Zelensky, this is as bad as having Odessa occupied. What use is a port to nowhere?

    Provided Russia can suppress Ukrainian missile attacks etc then what can Zelensky do?

    1. Greg

      The primary benefit is in closing the entire coast so Russia controls all large scale export, but you could argue that a blockade controls it (although its hard to tax via a blockade).

      The secondary benefit is connecting Russia by land with Transnistria, so that Moldova/Ukraine can’t mess with it as easily. Holding Transnistria via a landbridge also to a certain extent mitigates what additional threat NATO bases in Moldova can pose to Russia.

  23. John k

    Biden has made no effort to get out while there’s enough time for the us pop to forget.
    That Russia is winning, or has won, will be inescapable and fresh in minds November 2024. And trump saying these wars are stupid will also be in voters’ thinking.

    1. SocalJimObjects

      Biden alone has killed more people through his Covid policies than the amount of lives lost in the Ukraine war up to this point, and yet he remains the leading candidate for next year’s election. Sure many people have forgotten about Covid, but I suspect the number 1 issue next year will be the economy.

  24. cobequids

    Has anyone seen any more confirmation of the extent of the supposed Kinzhal attack on a deeply-buried Ukrainian command bunker with NATO staff killed? The only primary reference that I have seen is from Gilbert Doctorow, who I believe said that he picked it up from a talk/panel show on Russian TV. Others have referenced Mr Doctorow’s report, but I have seen nothing independent of this.

    If true, this should be terrifying for anyone posted to command and control centres.

  25. Jack

    I love reading the comments when Yves posts an article like this. Make me think and provides clarity. One commenter said he always goes back to the beginning. Yves said in so many words that you have to listen to what the Russians say. They mean it. I listen regularly to Ritter, MacGregor, Johnson, and read MoA, Indian Punchline, and Doctorow. Simplicius the Thinker is also one of my favs. So here is what I think after distilling everything that has occurred over the past year.

    1. Russia is in great shape. Their economy is growing, they are a net exporter, the ruble is strong, inflation is low. It has gotten to the point that they don’t need the West. Russia is an autarky, and it seems that except for some spare parts that are in short supply (the shortage of which they are apparently resolving) they don’t need anything from anybody.
    2. They don’t trust the West and have turned their backs on it for now, probably for the long term.
    3. I think Russia cares little for what the USA intentions are in Ukraine. I believe they are taking their time because NATO is burning up all of their equipment and ammo in Ukraine and that suits them just fine. Remember one of the main goals when all of this started; demilitarize Ukraine. And by attriting Ukraine Russia is also working on establishing the new security structure they desire in Europe.
    4. Barring some low level idiot making a mistake, I believe the possible use of nukes is way overstated. My feeling is that even if Biden authorized it the US military would refuse. Never mind the immense pressure that would be brought to bear by industry on the WH and the EU if they even thought something like this was being considered. Nobody wins if a nuke goes off and everyone loses. Putin basically nullified any thought of this when he moved nukes to Belarus.
    5. De-nazification. Russia will go to Kiev I believe. Maybe as far as Lvov. Not to stay, but to wipe out the Nazis. Its one of the stated goals of the SMO. They will also want to make sure that Ukraine has no possibly of gaining nukes.
    6. Odessa. I think Russia will eventually take it, though it isn’t a key goal right now. Establishing a land bridge to Transnistria solves a lot of security problems for them and turns Ukraine into a rump state.
    7. Ukraine is on its last legs militarily. Everyone everywhere confirms they are running out of ammo, artillery as well as anti-air. Like Ritter says, if you don’t have ammo you are done. That’s why he is saying its over by the end of summer. Keep this in mind. Russia now has the ability to completely destroy Ukraine and everyone in it almost immediately. They have close to 300,000 troops just sitting in reserve. But I don’t think they want to destroy Ukraine as much as they want to alter the security structure of Europe.
    8. Finland joining NATO was a huge mistake for the West. Russia hasn’t said much about it, but it reinforces their belief that NATO has to go, or be so severely weakened that it is irrelevant. See #7.

    Finally in the long term, Russia isn’t going to matter much to the US. In a few years, probably as soon as 2024 or 2028, our country (the US) is going to tear itself apart. We will have so many problems and there will be so much unrest that we will turn inward. The elite made a huge mistake using identity politics to distract people after 2008. It’s blown up in their faces. And like the Brits, the US doesn’t have competent people in charge anymore. The bureaucracy is weak and incompetent. The economic alarm indicators are sounding and no one seems to be doing anything. And what if another pandemic hits? I hate to sound so glum, but what is happening now in this country really scares me.

    1. Karl

      I’ve been tumbling to exactly the same conclusions, both as per Ukraine and the U.S. domestic situation. We are headed for some kind of denouement. And we aren’t alone: the UK, France and Germany seem to be facing a similarly precarious future.

    2. britzklieg

      from the free dictionary:

      “The wheels are coming off.”

      The wheels are coming off: something is going terribly wrong; a situation is devolving into ruin or chaos.

      Following weeks of scandals and political misfires, it has become clear that the wheels are coming off the presidential candidate’s campaign.

      After losing my job and getting kicked out of my apartment, it just feels like the wheels are coming off.

      See also: coming, off, wheel
      Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2022 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.


  26. Susan the other

    Russia wants security guarantees. That was once done by creating demilitarized zones, but military aggression is not the thing causing insecurity for NATO. That is financial aggression – the BRI,SCO,EAEC financing operations for clearing trades and doing better loans. So instead of a demilitarized zone, what NATO needs is a definancialized zone that functions as a clearinghouse/watchdog to guarantee there is no commingling of the two systems. But that assurance also makes the West the junior participant, at least for now. A hard pill to swallow. It’s just that the alternative looks worse and the war is therefore worse that pointless.

    1. John k

      This war is clearly showing nato is a paper tiger not worth current expenditures, much less doubling the contributions from a poorer eu already cutting worker and social benefits. I don’t see how it has any future at all after the war ends. Granted us may try to keep it going… but trump is not a fan.

  27. carolina concerned

    It appears to me that the Ukrainian invasion is aimed at American neoliberals. Reports seem to indicate that Putin despises, distrusts, and has no respect for the Bush/Clinton coalition of neoliberals that sabotaged the post-Soviet Russian liberationists who had been promised help and guidance with building a new Russia after their surrender of the Soviet empire. The neoliberal coalition was extended by the Obama/Biden alliance. I appears that Putin is trying to strike a blow to the neoliberals at a time when they have made themselves vulnerable by a stream of historically bad decisions.

  28. Willow

    Russia did conduct a winter offensive, it was against Ukraine’s air defence. Winter an ideal time because even if the units don’t engage its easy to pick up their heat signatures as they idle on standby. To undertake the big arrow moves Russia needs air support to attack deep into Ukrainian territory. Which is now possible.

    I expect Russia to capture oblasts west of Kyiv and then ‘hand them back’ as part of a ‘peace settlement’/demilitarised zone. Which will appeal to the Global South and elements within Europe. Keeping Kyiv and defending Kyiv to Mohyliv-Podil’s’kyi line which is a shorter than currently defended. Ensures capture of Odesa and links Transnistria. Leaves the crap country to a rump Ukraine based around Lviv which will be a huge financial drain on Western economies.

    Prigozhin vocally and openly complaining about a lack of resources suggests the opposite is true. Trying to coax Ukraine into trying one last throw of the dice so there’s nothing left for when the big moves begin.

    1. Greg

      I too have come to the conclusion that if Prigozhin says something, I should start from assuming the opposite is true. Now we know that likely Surovikin is running the Wagner military operations, Prigozhin is a PR/political figure. He makes political statements, and much of it is disinformation preparatory to later strategic moves.

      My current interest in this field is the comments he has been making about the huge number of weapons (“Supply a million men!”) sitting around in Soledar. Smells like a trap for a Ukrainian army that needs weapons desperately.
      Similarly, complaints about a shortage of artillery ammunition which are again met with an ‘official’ Russian MoD release on the crazy amount of ammunition being supplied to Wagner? That seems like it’s trolling Ukrainians who are running dry, rather than a real Russian problem.

  29. TomW

    We started with a unified but internally divided entity…and are going to end up with a divided Ukraine, with the surviving political entities internally unified, but bordering competitors. The fighting is simply over the details. The various maximalist aspirations are increasingly unlikely.
    The first thought is that likely outcomes increasingly become narrower and narrower. And that it is more and more blood, for what will appear retroactively as very little potential gain. The biggest question is whether Russia bites off more territory than it can permanently defend. However Russia has already shown a reluctance to sacrifice too much for territory they dont plan on holding.
    The US never cared very much, other than to to attrit Russia. And its fairly transparent initial position, was to goad Russia into over extending and creating a permanent insurgency in Russia controlled Western Ukraine. There is no simple negotiated settlement. Both sides in the conflict seem to have chosen attritional strategy, and seemingly want to simply duke it out on the (by now) reasonably fixed front lines. It ends as the combatants run out of resources.
    The entire conflict is mostly a nothing burger. Has anything important changed? Not really. NATO’s real role was always to contain security competition between European Nations. And that is compelling enough for it to continue in some form.

  30. rudi from butte

    From Recent Dimitri Orlov. I think it simply answers the question.

    “Not all Westerners are so fooled by their own propaganda as to consider Ukrainian victory inevitable; some are even considering what to do in case of Ukrainian defeat. And what springs to their fevered minds is negotiation. The Russians are entirely open to negotiation, provided their already stated demands are met in full: a demilitarized and militarily neutral Ukraine, all Ukrainian war criminals (those who’ve been killing and torturing civilians all these years) tried in accordance with Russian law, NATO rolled back to its 1997 borders and the countries it pulls out of henceforth militarily neutral, the lifting of all sanctions, the return of frozen Russian assets and confiscated Russian property. Once that happens, we should all feel immensely grateful to the Ukrainians (who, by then, will probably all claim that they are once again just some Russians) for averting World War III, nuclear Armageddon and the end of all life on Earth.”

  31. Insouciant Iowan

    Given prospects of a failed Ukraine spring/early summer offensive and the inability of the collective west to keep Ukraine in ammo, I suspect both the Ukranian armed forces and government will collapse. Zelenky and his ilk will be replaced by a government that can attract reconstruction money. That’s been in the works among the likes of the Atlantic Council and CSIS for some months.
    Zelensky’s chief economic contribution has been wrangling monumental contributions of arms and aid from the collective west. Much of this went to the black market; this is a primary feature of the entire scam. Anyway, the collective west can no longer supply what’s needed and the AFU is so reduced as not to have anyone to use the trickle that can be supplied. AFU’s neutered and the black market dries up. Zalensky will be done. He’s out either on a slab or in luxury digs far, far away.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      If the Ukrainian government collapses, then any reconstruction contracts handed out will be at Russian discretion – China will be the main beneficiary, and Russia as much as their economy can manage. The Ukraine will be paying for decades. Lots of write-offs in the west.

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