This is the question that everyone is asking, and those who know the situation well are increasingly worried.
In addition to the violence that it stages, any war causes deep concern, for two reasons. The first is the uncertainty about the outcome of the fighting, when this outcome carries future dangers for us, and the other is the result of possible negotiations, which would change our political or social universe. Here, the uncertainty is even greater, on the one hand because the two main belligerents, the USA 1 and Russia, are the two largest nuclear powers in the world, and on the other hand, and this is the most serious, because they don’t talk to each other .
The need for dialogue between belligerents
Until now, in all the “big” conflicts of the past, at the same time as, on the ground, fighting continued, discussions took place in parallel between the enemies, for a possible negotiated outcome. This was the case, in particular, during the Second World War, where we know, for example, the eminent role that was played by the Vatican 2 . Even if, at the time, one of the belligerents was totally defeated, there nevertheless existed, throughout the duration of the war, a “channel of discussion” such that one could think that at a certain moment, that it could stop.
Similarly, during one of the most dangerous episodes of the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the negotiation between the USA and the USSR was intense, and it was this – and not a military episode – that ended the escalation. At the time, American officials recognized that what mattered most to them was the fact that, although they disagreed, Americans and Russians had always spoken and understood each other.. Thanks to that, the situation hadn’t gotten out of hand. Without these exchanges, it is probable that the nuclear war would have taken place. Beyond the divergences – and they were very large – there were two “principles”, almost philosophical, commonly shared: one was the fact that each of the belligerents considered that he had in front of him men capable of reasoning rational, the other that the ultimate goal of the tension was to find an acceptable outcome for both sides.
It seems that, in the present case, these two principles no longer exist.
As for the Russians, they have always said the same thing: NATO’s increasingly marked approach near their borders puts them in danger . They have always asked for negotiations to be conducted so that a security architecture protects them against the risks of Western aggression. They said it long before the crisis, and they have repeated it since. Even if, since the beginning of the war, and because this discussion still does not occur, they have modified their military aims and are now seeking strategic gains by continuing their operation towards the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea, this is what their security guarantees are , to be obtained through serious dialogue, which is the heart of their concern. It is clear that this danger obsesses them, and it is easy to understand. However, this subject, whether before the crisis or since it took place, for incomprehensible reasons , has never really been taken into account .
Normally, in a “classic” conflict, as soon as the first military operations begin, either the belligerents themselves, or the “good offices” around them, propose a ceasefire , then the opening of humanitarian corridors , then if possible the consolidation of the ceasefire, the time that the diplomats do their job and find an “amicable” solution, the least bad possible. It is not “faults” or reciprocal responsibilities that prevail, but the possibility of stopping the violence.
Here, none of this seems to be engaged. No “big” voice is calling for a ceasefire. On the contrary, as the fighting unfolds, there also continues the demonization of the adversary and the martial declarations according to which “he is a criminal”, he should be “punished”, or “his defeat is possible”, if not probable. We are witnessing a permanent verbal and political escalation, contrary to the “principles” stated above. And this escalation, it must be recognized, is the work of Westerners . Everything happens as if there were a “bad guy”, Russia, who must be beaten at all costs, and a “nice guy”, Ukraine, who must win at all costs. Nothing worse than that to seek the paths of peace.
And in this deleterious conceptual framework, one of the belligerents is the first nuclear power in the world; the Europeans, who were not directly concerned, placed themselves almost in the front line; and the Americans, who are the “sponsors” of the West, are in the second line, and without direct military risk! All this makes the situation as dangerous, even more dangerous, according to some experts, than it has been since the end of the Second World War. It is this crazy configuration, where one has the impression that the decision-makers of the Western world have lost all common sense, which makes it so difficult to imagine a way out of the crisis that is not a cataclysm. However, we must try to do so.
Red lines not to cross
Let us first examine the “red lines”, those which, it seems, the belligerents do not want to cross. From there, perhaps it is possible to build plausible scenarios.
The first of these seems to be the reluctance of the Americans, and also of the Europeans, to send troops directly. If we witness, almost daily, rantings from each other, and even if Zelensky tries by all means to apply the American instructions to push for the military internationalization of the conflict , there is a long way to go. lip cut. Send weapons, yes, even if they are mostly old stocks , even if the essentials are destroyed before they even reach their recipients, and even if a good part of the American aid is not used to finance these materials, but to pay the civil servants of the country, Ukraine being totally bankrupt. Sending troops is something else entirely. The Westerners are trying, through their bellicose rhetoric, to hide this major weakness: unless they send a few dozen, or even a few hundred “advisers” in private uniform, which will hardly change the course of the war, they are not ready to engage directly. When, as is likely, there will be no more Ukrainian army within a few weeks, they will find themselves faced with a dilemma: to whom should they deliver the arms? And what to do beyond? There should be a casus belli », such that it would allow NATO to declare war directly on Russia, either on Ukrainian territory or even in Russia. This is probably what the US is looking for, but even if it is, it is doubtful that they are taking the risk of really committing themselves fully to this plan. This would require the use of European “surrogates”. Convincing them will be another pair of sleeves.
On the other side, Putin knows all this perfectly well. He knows that, as long as the conflict does not directly overflow Ukraine’s borders, he himself is relatively protected against such internationalization. For this reason, and even if he regularly warns Westerners against the risks of nuclear escalation of their positions, he remains cautiously, for the moment, within the limits of the country. While he could have easily destroyed the stocks of weapons stored near the border on the Polish side, he carefully avoids doing so, precisely so as not to open the door to such an escalation. We can also think that it is for this reason that he committed so few troops to this operation, 150,000 men, or no more than 7% of his army, a challenge to attack a country of 600,000 km . It must be very careful, and keep sufficient reserves for a possible extension of the conflict on its own soil. And even if probably Sweden, and especially Finland, may soon be accepted into NATO, he will be careful not to attack them directly, strongly and immediately, despite the new threat that will weigh on him .
Above all, he must solve his problem with Ukraine and, for that, he must first crush the army. After that, the political configuration will have completely changed, because he will be able to dictate his conditions. For this reason, it does not matter to him to strip his troops in less strategic parts of the country (and even in Kharkiv). It does not matter to him that the international community is agitated, that the speeches are inflamed, that Zelensky expresses himself again and again, that the noria of world leaders are lining up in kyiv, that the nth round of sanctions is voted. It does not even matter that the allies are building, through the permanent delivery of “small” weapons to disorganized or mafia groups, a “Lebanonized” and now ungovernable country, especially in its western part (the part of East will eventually be integrated into Russia). He pursues a very specific goal and only one: it is in front of the Donbass that the case will be decided, and nowhere else.
When we get there, he thinks, we’ll have to talk. And opposite, the camp begins to crack.
Failure of the American strategy
Indeed, it is clear that the American strategy, on all fronts, has fizzled. On the military level , the sending of materials does not seem, at least so far, to have been as effective as hoped. Economically , the series of sanctions has not brought Russia down. On the contrary, rising prices and inflation will weigh on European economies more and more. Compared to this, the expenditure of billions of materials in vain will soon appear as a major tactical error made by our governments. Finally, on the diplomatic level, the US failed to isolate Russia. Most countries in the world did not follow. On the contrary, it is the Western bloc that appears isolated, and even more so if we consider that, thanks to the sanctions imposed, an alternative global payment system is gradually being put in place, which would cause the USD to lose its monopoly.
Moreover, Putin knows that the Western democratic system is inherently fragile. He can’t resist the pain for long. Already, Italy is starting to backtrack. While at the beginning, the European leaders all went to war, flower in hand, Marshal Von der Leyen in the lead, to the tune of “Bad Putin, we’re going to kill you”, things, and the ‘opinion in the first place, can backfire very quickly. In this case, the “backpedals” will be as fast as the initial declarations. For this reason, the Russian leader did not seek to “punish” Westerners, by cutting off their gas at once, which he could easily do. He feared that opinions would then take sides against him,. On the contrary, it “tightens the knot” very gradually, leaving opinions and governments to weigh, face to face, the result of the untimely actions of the latter, not previously concerted with their peoples. If discord settles here, and spreads, it’s won for him .
And even in the USA, the thing can happen. Indeed, Putin knows it, the campaign of the mid-terms will be the pretext of an intense debate. If, as Biden certainly hoped, this would have been, in the event of victory, the opportunity to strongly raise his popularity rating, which has been compromised for two years, on the contrary, if failure is announced, it could to be for him a real political Berezina. It was to camouflage (even more than to ward off) this threat that he voted in ever-increasing military budgets. But, for many American observers, this headlong rush will be seen as a form of panic. Already, some high-ranking soldiers are expressing doubts about the relevance of such a strategy. Faced with this, if he has to win his battle of Donbass fairly quickly, for the rest, Putin has only to wait. And the longer he waits, the more the Western position will appear to be tactically ineffective and exorbitantly expensive. Time plays 100% for him.
What outcome to consider?
What can happen in the final? Three things must be considered in such a case: the position of strength or weakness of the parties involved, their composure and their determination.
As for the position of strength, as long as he wins his battle, it will be on Putin’s side. He will be the military, economic and diplomatic winner. Solidly supported, what is more, on a largely acquired internal opinion, he will face weakened and divided adversaries.
As for composure, everyone can agree on the fact that the Russian does not lack it! This is undoubtedly its main quality. Faced with him, Western leaders have only shown their weaknesses: in relation to their American mentors, their tactical choices, media pressure, their own opinions. Apart from Orban, none is really solid.
Determination is the main point. But it is, for sure, on the Russian side, because it is their very survival that is at stake. For Putin (he said it again and again, and it must be believed), the question of Ukraine is existential . In this case, we can think that he will go all the way . He can’t lose because the nuclear militarization of his near backyard would be the end of Russia . So if he loses, it will be a cataclysm.
In front of him, the USA, for the moment, do not want to lose either, but, unlike the Russians, they can lose. If so, what will happen to them? A good commercial operation finally, where they will have been able to test the weakness of Europe, and the ways and means to its future butchering.
For the rest, a political failure? They have seen others, since Vietnam: in Afghanistan, in Syria. They are still there. They will rise. The advantage of democratic systems is that they are flexible. They erase shame easily. Biden will be consigned to the dustbin of history, and his successor, possibly Trump, will use this opportunity for a sweeping sweep of the ‘deep state’, which he was unable to do in his first term. Great America will be a little chipped, its ego will take a hit, as well as its monopoly and its gangster practices (like the outsourcing of its law), but it will probably be better off. For us Europeans, this will be the great unknown: either the pretext for a jump, or an acceleration of the fall
But all that is if things go well.
(This piece is courtesy Courier of Strategists).
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