By Priye S. Torulagha
It is inferable that President Volodymyr Zelensky and his high-level government officials in Ukraine did not pay sufficient attention to the rift between Russia and the West concerning the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) eastwards after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact military alliance. If they had conducted a thorough strategic analysis of the issue, they would have realized the danger of being caught amidst a power struggle between two military superpowers and tactically adopt neutrality as a policy in relating to both. Perhaps, prompted by one power against the other, the Ukrainian leadership seemed to have ignored repeated Russian warnings that it would not tolerate NATO’s expansion to its borders through Ukrainian membership in the organization. Hence, after repeated threats of possible military intervention, including the seizure of Crimea in 2014 and the active support for Russian-speaking secessionists in eastern Ukraine, Russia launched a massive military invasion by sending thousands of troops and tanks into the country on February 24, 2022. It justified the invasion by saying that it is carrying out a “Special Military Operation” to protect Russian-speaking Ukrainians that were being harshly treated in a drawn-out war of attrition with the Government of Ukraine.
Of course, as a sovereign state, Ukraine has every right under international law to establish relations with the West or any country or bloc that is likely to contribute to the enhancement of its national interest. However, in international power politics, the rules are not as clear-cut as it is expressed in international law. Hence, no military superpower would tolerate another superpower coming too close to its borders. Therefore, it is inherently dangerous for a less powerful military state that shares a border with a military superpower to take actions that are likely to be viewed as provocative. It is like a deer poking the nose of a lion. Moreover, stepping into a rift between two superpowers is like a deer standing between two hungry lions. To avoid being devoured by the lions, it is necessary for countries with lesser military capabilities to apply strategic thinking at all times in order not to be caught in the middle of a conflict between superpowers.
Unfortunately, perhaps, encouraged by the promise of support from the West, Ukrainian authorities decided to stand their ground and go toe-to-toe with Russia. Spurred on by patriotic zeal, the Ukrainian military fought hard and prevented Russia from swiftly capturing Kyiv and its environs when it invaded the country on February 24, 2022. On the other hand, Russia seemed to have overestimated its ability to overwhelm Ukraine militarily when it launched simultaneous attacks stretching from the south to the north near Kyiv. Perhaps, feeling overextended after the initial phase of the invasion, Russian military forces withdrew from Kyiv and remobilized in the eastern and southern regions of the country. The Russian withdrawal from Kyiv was perceived as a Ukrainian military victory by both Ukrainian and Western military experts and journalists.
Apparently, the euphoria following the Russian withdrawal resulted in the view that the Russian military is not as powerful as it was portrayed prior to the invasion because it could not overrun Ukraine and capture Kyiv as it had supposedly planned. This perception seemed to have encouraged Ukrainian officials to believe that Ukraine is capable of not only defeating Russia by forcing it to withdraw from the country but also helping to deplete its military capability through a war of attrition and ignite a regime change to enable democracy to thrive in Russia. It also greatly influenced the Ukrainian willingness to go toe-to-toe with Russia in a grinding war in the hope of driving it out of its territory entirely.
Perhaps, if Ukrainian political and military leaders had listened to a contrary view and reflected more on the historical source of the dispute that led to the Russian invasion of the country, the war might not have taken place. Indeed, if Ukrainian leaders had taken the opportunity to listen and analyze the positions expressed by Prof. John Mearsheimer, George Kenan who calls for caution about NATO eastward expansion, and Robert Gates who cautioned about the danger of trying to incorporate Georgia, Ukraine (Carpenter, 2022, March 7).and other East European countries, the situation would not have deteriorated to the point where Ukraine is now fighting a grinding and destructive defensive war to stop the Russian attack on its territory. It seemed that Dr. Henry Kissinger noticed the Western and Ukrainian views about fighting and defeating Russia, hence he referred to the euphoria as “being swept up [in the mood of the moment]”(Timothy Bella, 2022, May 24).
Purpose of the Article
it is argued that while Russia is likely to encounter tremendous difficulties in its invasion, Ukraine is more likely to face a military quagmire because the war is being fought in its territory and not in Russia. In this regard, the purpose of this article is to explore and identify the potential factors that are likely to lead to a military quagmire for Ukraine since the war is being fought in its territory and not in Russia. The word “quagmire” is used here to describe the untenable situation Ukraine is facing in its effort to push Russian military forces out of its territory in the ongoing war.
Ukraine is most likely to end up in a quagmire because its goal of winning the war by defeating Russia is overly ambitious compared to the realities of global politics and the imbalance of military power between the two countries. Based on various statements made by President Zelensky and other top Ukrainian officials, it is deductible that the Ukrainian Government wants to (1) push Russia out of its territory, (2) possibly defeat and degrade Russian military capability, (3) possibly initiate a regime change so that President Putin is removed from power in order to democratize Russia, (4) ensure severe global economic sanctions against Russia for invading its country, (5) demand compensation for the infrastructural damage and loss of life caused by the Russian invasion, (6) conduct international tribunal to try Russians who violate human rights by committing war crimes, and (7) eventually gain membership in the European Union and NATO (Soldak, 2022, June 5).
To garner support from the West for its position, Ukrainian officials use terms and phrases such as “help us to save Europe,” “to have peace in Europe,” “regime change is necessary for Russia,” “Ukraine is fighting for the West,” and the need to “maintain democratic values.” The “help us to save Europe” implies that Ukraine is at the West’s front line and is fighting to stop Russia from moving further west. Thus, to stop Russia from doing so, the West must commit to supplying Ukraine with sophisticated jet fighters, drones, and long-range military weaponry to stop Russia and push it back. This line of thinking implies that if the West fails to supply sufficient powerful weapons to enable Ukraine to prevail over Russia, the West will not be safe from Russian military expansion westward. The argument about the need to maintain and sustain “democratic values” implies that Ukraine is a bulwark for democracy, hence, it is essential for the West to supply sophisticated arms to the country so that it can fight and defeat Russia to maintain Western values. This line of thinking is reminiscent of the Cold War argument involving capitalism and communism. This time, it is an argument for democracy against dictatorship or authoritarianism. The regime change argument is intended to persuade the West to believe that President Vladimir Putin is the greatest threat to Europe, hence he should be removed from power to stop him from threatening the continent. This is to encourage the West to get more involved in the conflict with the aim of working to change the regime in Russia. During the early part of the war, the Ukrainian leadership repeatedly called upon the US and NATO to institute a “No-Fly Zone” in Ukraine to stop Russian military aircraft from launching attacks. President Zelensky asked, “Is this too much to ask for, to create a no-fly zone over Ukraine to save people?” (Ray, 2022, March 28).
The Ukrainian goals are herculean for a country that is not a military superpower but shares a border with a military superpower. The leadership hopes to accomplish these goals based on outside military assistance. In other words, it wants to defeat a military superpower in a conventional war with weapons coming from outside the country.
This is not to deny the fact that Ukraine has a right to defend itself against a foreign invasion. Indeed, it is undeniable that the Ukrainians have the unquestionable right to defend the territorial integrity of their sovereign state since Russia invaded the country in contravention of international law. In this regard, while the bravery and patriotism of the Ukrainian armed forces are acknowledged, after having repulsed Russian forces from achieving a quick military victory at the beginning of the war and having been able to fight toe-to-toe in a grinding war of attrition with Russia, nonetheless, the Ukrainian goals are not reflective of the military realities on the ground and the treacherous nature of global power politics. The imbalance between the goals and the realities of international politics is likely to result in a military outcome that might be destructive to Ukraine.
First, Russia is a nuclearized military superpower. It produces its own arms and can continue fighting the war for a considerable length of time. It can sustain heavy losses and continue to fight because it has a gigantic military force. On the other hand, Ukraine is not a military superpower. It has a limited supply of arms. It depends greatly on foreign military support to sustain the war. Its ability to continue to withstand the Russian military onslaught depends greatly on the Western supply of assorted weapons. The fact that Ukraine relies on a steady supply of arms from the outside means that it is taking a tremendous risk because a gap in the supply chain will negatively impact the Ukrainian ability to withstand the Russian military attacks, even though it has been successful in knocking off Russian military facilities, including those in Crimea.
Second, having retreated from Kyiv following Ukrainian gallant resistance, the Russian forces have increasingly deployed long-range artillery guns to bombard Ukrainian positions, thereby, denying its infantry soldiers the opportunity to fight Russian troops face to face. The change in Russian strategy and tactics put pressure on the Ukrainian government to seek long-range artillery weapons to avoid being overwhelmed militarily. In response to the Russian long-range weapons, the West decided to supply similar weapons to Ukraine. Hence. the Ukrainian forces have received sophisticated long-range military equipment like the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HMARS); mortar systems; National Advance Surface-to-Air Missile System (NASAMS); Javelin and AT4 anti-armor systems; anti-radar systems; Claymore anti-personnel munitions, and C-4 explosives to counter the Russian long-range weapons (Russon, 2202, August 11).
Thus, as more sophisticated weapons are sent to the Ukrainian forces by the West, Russia too is increasing the lethality of its own weapons to match the weapons being supplied to Ukraine. Following the battlefield reports of Simon Ostrovsky and Yegor Troyanovsky, Judy Woodruff of PBS noted:
The delivery of Western precision rocket systems to Ukraine has changed the dynamic of the war, slowing Russia’s advance and lowering Ukrainian casualties along the frontlines. But Russia has increasingly resorted to using its own long-range missiles to wreak havoc on cities deep inside Ukrainian-controlled territory (2022, July 26).
Such a development simply increases the level of destruction and killing of people in Ukraine, thereby, compelling the country to ask for more sophisticated weapons. Consequently, the more Ukraine uses sophisticated long-range weapons, the more Russia will do the same and the attendant result is going to be the further destruction of Ukraine. The scenario that Ukraine faces concerning its demands for more sophisticated and long-range weapons is like the movie titled “Every Which Way but Loose”. It cannot prevail as far as the battlefield is in its territory because the fighting will simply lay the country to waste. Thus, Mexico’s President Lopez Obrador is right in encouraging Western nations to stop supplying weapons to Ukraine since it is the Ukrainians who are bearing the brunt of the escalation of the war. He said the West’s supplying of arms to Ukrainians is equivalent to saying “I’ll supply the weapons, and you supply the dead. It is immoral. How easy it is to say, ’Here, I’ll send you this much money for weapons, Couldn’t the war in Ukraine have been avoided? Of course, it could.” (“Mexico president slams NATO on Ukraine,” 2022, June 13).
Perhaps, to avoid its weapons and soldiers from being targeted by Russian forces, it is alleged that Ukrainian forces hide their weapons in civilian neighborhoods. Amnesty International, issued a report after two months of investigation “accusing the Ukrainian military of stationing its troops and artillery near hospitals, schools and residential buildings in ways that may amount to war crimes” (Hayda, 2022, August 5). Such tactics will simply contribute to the deaths of a high number of civilians.
Third, if for any reason, Russia feels overwhelmed due to massive Western military support for Ukraine, it has the nuclear option to threaten the entire Europe or even the world. Due to this possibility, the United States, France, Britain, Germany, and other members of the European Union and NATO might not want to supply certain weapons that are capable of threatening Russia to the point where it begins to think about the need to use nuclear weapons. Indeed, it is the fear of igniting a 3rd World War that compelled the United States and its NATO allies to reject the Ukrainian demand for the institution of a “No-fly zone”. It was amazing that the Ukrainian government really wanted NATO’s jet fighters to engage in a dogfight with Russian jet fighters through the enforcement of a ‘No-fly zone” and ignored the fact that such a clash would have resulted in a 3rd World War with the possible deployment of nuclear weapons.
Fourth, it is impossible for Ukraine to fight and defeat Russia based purely on arms supplies from the outside. The reason is that as the tempo of the war increases, the more arms Ukraine will need from the US, Germany, Britain, France, Poland, and other Western countries. Since the weapons are coming from the outside, it takes a while for the arms to arrive at the theater of war. The gap between when the weapons are promised and the time that they get to the battlefield creates a logistical problem for Ukrainian fighters. The gap will always exist as far as the war continues. On the other hand, Russia depends largely on its own weapons, even though it has negotiated to obtain drones from Iran. This means that Russia will continue to deploy weapons as quickly as possible since it shares a border with Ukraine and is not challenged by logistical problems as much as Ukraine in transporting its weapons to the battlefield.
Fifth, due to the fact that Ukraine depends on weapons from the outside to resist the Russian effort to carve out the eastern and probably the southern regions of the country, it is not free to use the weapons as much as it might want because the countries supplying the weapons set conditions to limit the range that Ukrainian forces can fire them to avoid escalating the war to the point of involving NATO directly. In other words, the US and its Western allies do not want to expand the war to the extent that threatens the national security of Russia, which could prompt it to nuclearize the conflict. A nuclearized war will turn into a 3rd World War with a devastating effect on the globe. The Western restrictions on the use of long-range weapons are going to limit the ability of Ukrainian fighters to counterattack Russia with the aim of compelling it to withdraw from Ukraine. With the restrictions, it is doubtful that Ukraine can prevail over Russia.
Sixth, since the battlefield is currently concentrated in Eastern Ukraine, the arms flowing into Ukraine from the Western world must pass through Western Ukraine to get to the Eastern region of the country. This creates a distribution problem because the Ukrainian military units stationed along the route from the West to the East of the country are most likely to keep some of the critical weapons for themselves instead of forwarding them to the troops on the battlefield in the East. Moreover, as the weapons head to the East, their numbers are reduced as various military units along the way take some of them to fortify their own positions. Therefore, by the time the arms actually get to the East where actual fighting is taking place, the fighters will end up with an insufficient number of weapons even though they need most of the weapons to counter massive Russian artillery bombardment. If the units fighting in the East do not get adequate arms, frustration might set in to dampen morale. Already, some Ukrainian fighters have expressed frustration that they are not getting enough firepower to counter the massive Russian firepower. Neil Hauer of the CBC wrote about the feelings of a Ukrainian soldier who said:
“[Kyiv] has not sent us any new weapons — and they’re not going to,”
“Everything new and fancy has been reserved for those other places: Kyiv, Kharkiv, the big cities. Headquarters thinks, ‘Well, you [in the east] have been fighting the Russians for eight years already. You’ll be fine.’” (Hauer, 2022, June 8).
Thus, Russian forces are likely to gain the advantage in the availability of weapons being deployed over the Ukrainian forces in the East since it is a military superpower, meaning that it produces arms in large quantities.
Seventh, another problem that bedevils the Ukrainian military concerning the shipment and transportation of weapons to the front is that elite military units in the cities are always more likely to get some of the sophisticated arms coming from Western nations. On the other, the militias or less integrated military units are less likely to get some of the most sophisticated and lethal weapons because they are undervalued since they do not belong to the regular units of the armed forces. In fact, the members of the Territorial Defense Force have repeatedly expressed frustration that the overall military planning for the war does not seem to take them into consideration as part of the regular fighting forces, hence, deserve some of the most effective long-range weapons. They complain that they do not get supplies on time, thereby, exposing them to the devastating long-range Russian artillery attacks. Some members of the Territorial Defense Forces have alleged that it is a matter of the haves and the have-nots in the sense that the Regular Army gets most of the weapons and they are left with the remnants because they are treated as irregular military units. They are the have-nots because they are not viewed by the Military High Command as part of the regular armed forces. Neil Hauer of the CBC again quoted the frustrated Ukrainian soldier who said:
You have to understand that there are two castes in this country,” he said. “There’s the upper caste, and then there’s us: the lower caste. We are just pawns. Nothing more. The upper caste gets the money, and we get the command: ‘Forward!’
“That’s how it’s always worked here [in Ukraine],” he said, before emphasizing that he doesn’t expect anyone to believe him.
“No one here wants to hear the truth,” said Nikita. “They just want the beautiful story of how Ukraine is united. But here, we’re f–ked.” (Hauer, 2022, June 8).
Thus, while the political and military leaders keep painting a rosy picture of how Ukraine will emerge victorious, the soldiers who are fighting the brutal war of attrition seem to have different feelings about their experiences on the battlefield.
Eighth, the battlefield is in Ukraine, not in Russia. This means that the fighting will continue in the country and not outside the country. The consequence is that the weapons used by both sides will impact Ukraine negatively since its infrastructures are going to be destroyed in the fighting. As far as the battlefield is in Ukraine, Russia has no compulsion to stop the war because its territory is not being devastated as Ukraine. Its citizens do not have to flee en-masse to escape the destructive bombardments while millions of Ukrainians must flee to other countries. It is Ukrainians that are bearing the brunt of the war. Consequently, Ukrainian counterattacks can be as devastating to the country as Russian offensive attacks since Ukraine is at the receiving end. Hence, it was not surprising when an explosion, either coming from Russian or Ukrainian forces destroyed a prisoner of war camp (Correctional Colony #120) in which 50 people died in Olenivka, a Russian-controlled town in Donetsk Province (Bigg & Varenikova, 2022, August1). Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the blast, thereby necessitating an independent investigation to determine the culprit.
Ninth, as Ukraine bears the brunt of the fighting, it means that thousands of both civilians and soldiers might need medical services. If the war does not end soon, the country might run into a situation where medical services become limited, thereby, exposing wounded soldiers and civilians to the possibility of death as the Russian long-range guns inflict serious damage on the people and the infrastructure. If medical services become incapable of taking care of the wounded, morale of the Ukrainian fighters would be affected. Already, some fighters on the eastern front have expressed concern about the lack of sufficient medical services to take care of wounded soldiers. Again, it must be noted that Russia can send its wounded soldiers home for urgent medical care because Russia is not the theater of war. As far as Ukraine is the theater of war, the country will run into a critical emergency medical shortfall as medical facilities are destroyed by the bombardments.
Tenth, as the West sends more weapons to Ukraine to equalize the balance of military firepower with the hope that Ukraine prevails over Russia, the war could drag on endlessly, turning it into a war of attrition. A war of attrition is not militarily advantageous to Ukraine since the country is the theater of war. Consequently, a war of attrition simply translates to more suffering for the Ukrainian population as both sides slug it out. The battle over Mariupol which dragged on for months before Russia eventually forced the Ukrainian forces to surrender repeated itself in Severodonetsk until the Ukrainian government ordered its troops to withdraw to avoid Russian encirclement. Already, Russia has captured Lysynchansk in a grinding exhaustive war after forcing the Ukrainian fighters to withdraw to avoid being surrounded. Basically, a war of attrition or a protracted war is simply a game plan for more destruction and suffering by Ukrainian civilians.
Likewise, to succeed in pushing Russian forces out of the country, Ukrainian forces would have to destroy many of Ukraine’s infrastructures in a grinding process that is going to further devastate the country. The civilian population would feel like going through hell twice. If Ukrainian forces actually succeed in driving Russian forces out, Russia will counterattack to save face, thereby, exposing Ukrainian civilians to another hell of grinding war.
Eleventh, the more Western countries supply sophisticated military weapons to Ukraine, the more they get involved in the conflict, thereby turning it into a Russia versus NATO war. Already, Russia has warned that it might end up targeting Western weapons being sent to Ukraine. For instance, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned “We warned the United States that the orchestrated pumping of weapons from a number of countries is not just a dangerous move, it is a move that turns these convoys into legitimate targets,” (“Russia says it could target Western arms supplies to Ukraine,” 2022, March 12).
Western officials are aware of the risk of escalating the conflict as they supply more sophisticated weapons to Ukraine. US officials noted the risk by saying,
“We have concerns about escalation and yet still do not want to put geographic limits or tie their hands too much with the stuff we’re giving them,” (Stewart and Ali, 2022, May 26). Thus, Western countries are on a tightrope. If they fail to supply enough weaponry, Ukraine will crumble very quickly to end the war. Such a development would be interpreted as a defeat for the West. On the other hand, if they supply extensive sophisticated weapons to Ukraine, the country might militarily threaten Russia to the point where it might decide to use more dangerous weapons, thereby escalating the conflict into a Russia versus NATO War.
Twelfth, Ukrainian officials must be strategic in their thinking and not allow their emotions to influence their decisions. The more the officials insist that they want to fight and defeat Russia, the more they are creating opportunities for arms manufacturers and suppliers to create conditions to make the war unstoppable so that they can continue to sell their weapons and make tremendous profit out of the unfortunate situation. In other words, Ukrainian officials should not forget that any war, regardless of its justifiability and necessity, always provides an opportunity for arms dealers to sell arms. Therefore, the more the war drags on, the more arms producers and dealers will continue to make tremendous sums of money while the country is incrementally destroyed through a war of attrition.
Thirteenth, if the Ukrainian government insists that it must continue to fight until Russian forces are driven out of the country, the more it will create opportunities for new weapons to be tested in the country. In other words, the Ukrainian government is basically setting the stage for the country to be used as a testing ground for new weapons that have been recently developed. Resultantly, government officials that insist on fighting until military victory is achieved against Russia are indirectly encouraging various countries to test the effectiveness of their newly developed weapons. This means that Ukrainian civilians who remain in the country could be afflicted with medical conditions that were unknown before as new weapons are deployed and tested on the battlefield inside the country.
Fourteenth, a war of attrition means that not only will Ukraine pay dearly through massive infrastructural destruction and displacement of its population, but the world’s economy too is negatively impacted. The reason is that as Western economic and financial sanctions severely impact Russia’s economy, it will respond by making it difficult for Ukraine to export its agricultural products, thereby, reducing the level of grain supply to the world market. The insufficiency in grain supply to the world market will lead to food shortages in many parts of the world. The attendant consequence of this development is that hunger and a downturn in the world economy can take place. In addition, the shortage in grain supply might actually boost Russia’s economy as the prices of various crops, especially wheat goes up, thereby increasing the demand for Russian grain to make up for the shortfall in Ukrainian supply. Even the recently negotiated agreement to allow the export of Ukrainian grains is merely a temporary measure since the war will determine future possibilities for the continuing exportation of Ukrainian grains.
Moreover, as the war drags on, Ukrainian farmers will not be able to plant various crops this year. This means that the shortage of grains in the world market will extend to next year when the existing supplies run out.
Fifteenth, economic sanctions will not deter Russia from trying to achieve its goal of weakening Ukraine. Since President Putin feels that the West has no regard for Russian concerns by expanding NATO eastwards, he too might not want to end the war until the West calls for a serious negotiation to end the conflict. It is predictable that the more the West continues to impose economic and financial sanctions on Russia, the more Russia will continue to militarily pound Ukraine with destructive capability to inform the West that the sanctions will not prevent it from accomplishing its goal. The unfortunate thing is that this war is strange since Ukraine is not free to attack Russian territory in order to counterbalance Russia’s attack on its territory.
Moreover, the more sanctions the West imposes on Russia, the more Russia is likely to restrict its supply of gas to European countries, especially during the coming winter to enable the Europeans feel the effects of the sanctions that have been imposed on it. Likewise, the economic sanctions are going to create hardship throughout the world. Even Western citizens are already experiencing the pain that the sanctions have wrought. Since Russian leaders know that the sanctions have an equal opportunity negative effect on the citizens of the Western countries that impose the sanctions, President Putin will not be deterred to continue his plan to weaken Ukraine. It should be noted that despite years of US sanctions against Iran, the country continues to pursue its strategic goals and objectives. Even Venezuela has been able to gallop along despite severe sanctions. Thus, if middle-range countries like Iran and Venezuela can survive years of sanctions, then, Russia can do the same by telling its citizens to look inward and develop ways of rendering the effects of the sanctions less painful.
Sixteenth, as Western nations continue to provide financial assistance to Ukraine to maintain its social welfare system and infrastructure, the more Russia will continue to attack various parts of the country to reduce the effects of the financial assistance. It could be said that the recent attack on Kyiv was probably to inform the West that as far as its security concerns are not being addressed, Ukraine will pay dearly. For instance, the bombing of the shopping mall in Kremenchuk in central Ukraine that killed about 20 people was probably intended to inform the Ukrainians that they will not experience peace as far as the issues which led to the war are not resolved (Lewis, 2022, June 27). Of course, Russia denied that it attacked the mall, and instead claimed that it bombed an arms depot in the area. It could also be said that the attack on Kyiv on the day that the Group 7 nations were holding a meeting in Germany was intended to inform the West that resolutions made at the meeting will not deter Russia from continuing its effort to achieve its goals in Ukraine. It was surprising that on the same day, the Russian military even launched an aerial bombardment of various parts of Ukraine to let the Ukrainians realize that the West will not be able to protect them (Seldin, June 26, 2022).
Seventeenth, Ukrainian authorities should have it at the back of their minds that if a war of attrition continues, it could reach a tipping point where many European citizens are forced to spend more money to get necessities. This, in turn, could force many of them to put pressure on their governments to negotiate with Russia to stop the war, whether Ukraine likes it or not. In other words, the ability of many Western nations to support the Ukrainians could be determined by the reaction of their citizens if the economic situation in their countries becomes unbearable, especially during the winter. In such circumstances, many NATO members might end up acting like Hungary which has taken steps to open a channel of communication with Russia by refusing to adopt some of the harsh economic sanctions instituted against the country. It is a fact that despite the harsh sanctions, some Western countries, including Germany continue to do business with Russia to maintain its energy supply in order to reduce the burden on its citizens. Michael Hirsh quoted a former Europe Specialist in the US State Department, Edward Fishman, as saying: “Putin is continuing to make at least a billion dollars a day selling oil and gas, and the lion’s share is from Europe. Individual European countries are sending military assistance to Ukraine but it’s dwarfed by payments they’re making to Russia for oil and gas” (Hirsh, 2022, April 22). Despite the sanctions, some Western countries continue to rely on Russian energy supplies because they are trying to shield their citizens from feeling the brunt of the harsh economic sanctions.
Eighteenth, it is quite possible that some NATO countries might hesitate to supply additional weapons to Ukraine if the war drags on to a point where their own stockpiles are being depleted. The reason is that every country likes to maintain its national security by reserving some essential military weaponry for self-defense, in case of a military emergency. Evidently, if Ukrainian officials keep asking for more arms supplies from the West to continue a protracted war, a tipping point could be reached whereby some countries might simply stop responding to Ukrainian demands. If that takes place, the coalition between the US and some European countries might be frayed as the US is pressured to bear the brunt of supplying weapons as other countries resist doing so in order not to deplete their own stockpiles.
Nineteenth, it is a strategic flaw to underrate the capability of Russia to withstand hardship necessitated by the harsh economic sanctions and the West’s continuing supply of arms to Ukraine to bleed the Russian military forces through a war of attrition. The reason is that each time Western countries supply more sophisticated weapons to Ukraine, the more President Vladimir Putin will justify the invasion of Ukraine by informing the Russian populace that it was necessary to take the “special military operation” in order to thwart the Western desire to set up shop at the Russian border by aligning with Ukraine. Such a narrative might convince many Russian nationalists to identify strongly with the aspirations of President Putin the way Stalin was able to galvanize support during the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union during the 2nd World War. Nationalistic support will spur President Putin to continue the war, further adding to the suffering of the Ukrainian people since the battlefield is in Ukraine and not in Russia. Furthermore, such a development could polarize Russian society to the extent that those citizens who do not identify with the war could be treated as Western saboteurs and forced to flee or go underground after being accosted by the nationalists. It should not be forgotten that President Putin had said during the early part of the war that Russians who opposed the invasion of Ukraine are “scums and traitors,” and indicated that true Russians would “spit them out like a gnat that accidentally flew into their mouths” (Cohen, 2022, March 27).
Twentieth, it is a strategic flaw to look down on the capability of the Russian military to sustain a grinding war as the West continues to supply arms to Ukraine to bleed Russia with the aim of reducing its capability. For instance, a Western assessment of the Russian military in late June noted “The Russian military will soon exhaust its combat capabilities and be forced to bring its offensive in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region to a grinding halt, according to Western intelligence predictions and military experts” (Sly, 2022, June 25). The reason is that the battlefield is in Ukraine and not in Russia. Since Ukraine is the theater of war, Ukrainian soldiers are more likely to feel overwhelmed than Russian soldiers even though they are really feeling the intensity of Ukrainian counterattacks. The probability of Ukrainian forces being overwhelmed is because while the Russian forces can retreat tactically as they did in Kyiv and later remobilized on the Eastern front, the Ukrainian military forces have no room to maneuver in such a manner because any tactical retreat in order to remobilize will create territorial spaces for the Russian forces to advance further into Ukraine. In fact, in Severondonetsk in the Donbas region, after protracted fighting for two months, Ukrainian forces were ordered to retreat to save the unit from totally being encircled by Russian forces. Unfortunately, as soon as the Ukrainian troops retreated, Russia claimed victory by capturing the city (Trofimov, 2022, June 24). As far as Ukrainian forces are fighting a defensive war to protect their territory, they cannot freely retreat and remobilize since doing so would allow Russian troops to take more ground in Ukraine. Consequently, Ukrainian troops have less option than to continue to fight until they win or become totally exhausted or are trapped, as had happened in Mariupol. It is understandable that the Ukrainian authorities did not want what happened in Mariupol to repeat itself in Severodonetsk, hence they ordered the fighters to retreat to avoid being encircled and captured. It should also be noted that the Ukrainian authorities also ordered thousands of Ukrainians to evacuate from Donetsk following the Russian taking of Luhansk in July (Quinn, 2022, August 1). To avoid the same fate, Russian forces will continue on the offensive in order to prevent a Ukrainian counterattack that might force them to retreat. This means that having taken the city of Severodonetsk, Russian forces will continue to push forward in an offensive posture by pushing Ukrainian forces backward since they are fighting defensively.
Twenty-first, the war is viewed here as a quagmire for Ukraine because it is a middle-ranged military power that is fighting a conventional war with a super military power. The unfortunate thing for Ukraine is that it shares a border with Russia that has enormous military resources to engage in a grinding protracted conventional war. To go on with this war, Ukrainian political and military leaders put their hope on Western nations to continuously provide military assistance to them to continue to fight Russia in their own country. The Ukrainian hope is a very big gamble because if the war drags on, the country will experience massive destruction as the Russians increase the lethality of their firepower in order to offset whatever weapons that the West supplies to the country. Indeed, if Western nations supply sophisticated long-range weapons, Russia will deploy its own sophisticated weapons, including the massive utilization of the air force to blast every imaginable target in Ukraine. In fact, Russia has already begun to do that. Hence, its air force bombed Kyiv recently to cause enormous damage. Yurii Ihnat, the spokesperson of the Ukrainian air force stated that Russia used its Tu22M3 long-range strategic bombers to attack Kyiv with four to six missiles (Lister, Kesaieva and Ravindran, 2022, June 26).
Twenty-second, the war is also viewed as a quagmire for Ukraine because the Ukrainian political and military leadership allowed itself to be persuaded to believe that it can fight a war with Russia and win. It was this belief that led the leadership to insist that it will fight to drive Russian forces from the country and even suggested the need for a regime change in Russia. The Ukrainian leadership was particularly carried away by the euphoria generated by the narrative that its forces were able to knock out a sizable portion of Russian military forces from Kyiv, thereby, making it impossible for Russia to achieve a quick military victory. The euphoria made it difficult for the leadership to realize that the war is being fought in Ukraine and not in Russia, meaning that the country will face enormous destruction as the war becomes protracted. Suriya Jayanti aptly noted:
It has been said that, given how massively Ukrainian troops were believed be outmatched early in Russia’s invasion, not losing the war is itself a form of victory for Ukraine. The difference between expectations and the surprising resilience of Ukraine’s military makes it easy to misinterpret the current situation in Ukraine’s favor. But not winning is still not winning. Ukraine is in far worse shape than commonly believed and needs, and will continue to need, a staggering amount of aid and support to actually win (Ukraine is in worse shape than you think ( 2022, May 14).
Twenty-third, as part of the tendency to undervalue Russia, some Western experts and journalists suggested a regime change in Russia to save democracy and eradicate authoritarianism. For instance, David J. Kramer wrote:
The best hope for democracy in Russia—and all of Eurasia—is for the international community to support Ukraine in its efforts to defeat Vladimir Putin.
The stakes for Ukraine, Russia, and the entire globe, for that matter, are enormous. If Ukraine can deliver Putin a fatal blow for his disastrous decision to launch a wholly unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Russia’s neighbor, it would be not only a victory over Putinism but a huge and much-needed boost to democracy around the world (2022, May).
It is arguable that the narrative advanced by some Western experts persuaded the Ukrainian political leadership to accept the view that the Putin regime must be changed in Russia to democratize the country and promote democratic values throughout Europe. This perception prompted the Ukrainian Government Adviser, Liubov Tsybulska and former President Petro Poroshenko to insist on a regime change, apart from pushing and defeating Russia militarily. Those who insist on not only defeating but effecting a regime change in Russia forget that the efforts to change regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Syria ended disastrously. Russia is a very huge country, in terms of landmass and is a military superpower. An effort to change the Putin regime could turn the entire Eastern European and the Baltic regions into Iraqi and Libyan chaotic situations. It should be recalled that part of the rationale for justifying the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was to remove President Saddam Hussein from power. A Massive force was used during the initial attack to create a “shock and awe” psychological effect that was designed to compel the Iraqis to give up military resistance. Well, the Iraqi war lasted for about ten years and caused about two trillion dollars with thousands of people killed (Crawford, 2020, February 6). It should also be reminded thatNATO decided in 2011 to carry out a regime change in Libya. Here again, the effort ended disastrously like Iraq and the country has since been thrown into chaos. Although Col. Muammar Gaddafi was killed, the regime change resulted in the massive looting of Libyan arms by non-state armed groups. The arms stolen from Libya led to the destabilization of many African countries, including Burkina Faso, Mali, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, and so on and so forth.
Therefore, when some individuals speak about regime change in Russia, they are really biting more than they can chew because the consequence of effecting a regime change in Russia can result in the massive destabilization of Eurasia. Russia is neither Iraq nor Libya but a state with thousands of nuclear weapons. If regime change in Iraq and Libya was not managed effectively, resulting in incessant power struggles among competing armed groups, does anyone imagine what might happen if an attempt to change the regime fails in Russia?
Twenty-fourth, while conditions one through twenty-third demonstrate the likelihood of Ukraine experiencing a military quagmire, it does not mean that Russia will not experience any hardship in the war. In fact, Russia has already paid dearly for the high number of casualties among its troops. Likewise, some of its prized naval ships and aircraft have been destroyed by Ukrainian forces. Additionally, economic sanctions are biting devastatingly on the Russian economy, financial resources, and global relationships. Yvonne Lau noted:
But all is not well with the Russian economy. The Western sanctions and
widespread corporate exodus from Russia since Feb. 24 have ravaged the Russian economy – and its future prospects look even bleaker, according to a new report from Yale University researchers and economists led by Jeffrey Sonnenfeld.
As of Aug. 4, over 1000 companies, including U.S. firms like Nike, IBM, and Bain consulting, have curtailed their operations in Russia….The international retreat is morphing into a larger crisis for the country: a collapse in foreign imports and investments…Russia has descended into a technological crisis as a result of its isolation (2022, August 4).
Apparently, if the war drags on, Russian military forces would be degraded in terms of personnel and materiale due to the grinding nature of the fighting. Likewise, the political stability of the Russian state could be threatened as opposition to the war increases. However, despite the bleak prospects in the event of a drawn-out war, the Russian situation might not be as bad as that of Ukraine. Hence, Ukraine is more likely to experience a quagmire than Russia due to the fact that the war is being fought in Ukraine and not in Russia. Most of the destructions and killings are taking place in Ukraine. The country’s economic engines of production have been seriously disrupted and winter is coming.
Twenty-fifth, apart from the concern that the war could escalate into a 3rd World War is the fear that an accidental attack on one of the nuclear plants in Ukraine could lead to a massive meltdown with disastrous consequences for Europe and some parts of Asia. Already, there is concern that a shelling near or at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant damaged three radiation sensors and injured a worker at the plant. Due to the implications, both Russia and Ukraine traded blame as to which country was responsible for shelling the plant. Concerned about the danger, the United Nations has called for an independent investigation to check the degree of damage to the nuclear plant and determine which country was responsible for launching the attack (“UN chief calls for access to nuclear plant after new attack,” 2022, August 8). This war is really very dangerous, and it is not a good idea to extend it tactically through a war of attrition.
It is obvious that it is disadvantageous for Ukraine to continue to slug it out toe-to-toe with Russia which is a military superpower. Russia has the advantage of the economics of large military scale to continue to attack Ukraine as the West supplies more deadly long-range weapons to the country. Indeed, the more the West supplies weapons to Ukraine without actually sending thousands of troops to get involved to fight, the more Russia is going to destroy Ukraine through bombardment from the ground and air. Moreover, since the battlefield is in Ukraine and not in Russia, the more the Ukrainian authorities insist on fighting to drive away Russian forces from their territory, the more Russia is going to take more territory and divide the country into two. Likewise, as the war drags on, Russia could end up literally turning Ukraine into a landlocked country by cutting it off from the Black Sea completely.
The only way to end this war is for the Ukrainian leadership to realize that the cost of totally driving Russian forces away from its territory would be tremendous. It is necessary to realize that the more the war continues the more the country will be destroyed, and more people will be killed while millions of Ukrainians will end up as refugees for a long time. Therefore, the Ukrainian leadership should tone down its goals, listen to President Lopez Obrador of Mexico and seriously consider the suggestion made by Dr. Henry Kissinger during the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland. He suggested that Ukraine should cede some land to Russia to end the war. To do so, he encouraged Western nations to persuade the Ukrainian leadership to negotiate with Russia. Dr. Kissinger’s suggestions should be taken seriously because this war can easily escalate into a global conflagration if either Russia or NATO miscalculates to provoke a higher level of confrontation. Thus, Ukrainian goals such as asking for reparation and war crimes trials can be negotiated through the United Nations.
Those who insist that Ukraine must win the war in order to save democracy are indirectly suggesting that the Ukrainians should sacrifice themselves needlessly. The reason is that it is impossible for the country to win the war against Russia without direct NATO participation. If NATO gets involved directly, the result will be a 3rd World War because of the possibility of nuclear bombs being used. Thankfully, the US, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Poland, and other European countries are aware of the danger. This explains the reason arms are being supplied to Ukraine with great caution to avoid escalating the situation. Indeed, the situation is very scary. The UN should work with other neutral countries to encourage a negotiated settlement of the conflict.
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