2 Years After Invasion, US Hopes to Strengthen Ukraine for ‘Negotiation’ With Russia

2 Years After Invasion, US Hopes to Strengthen Ukraine for ‘Negotiation’ With Russia
Smoke rise from an air defense base in the aftermath of an apparent Russian strike in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Feb. 24, 2022. (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP Photo)

WASHINGTON—Two years after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration is reconsidering the likelihood that the war will end in a negotiated settlement.

Ukrainian leadership claims that it seeks the total recovery of its occupied territories in the east. Russia claims that it seeks the total demilitarization of Ukraine and the creation of a neutral state to buffer Russia from NATO.

Neither side is close to achieving those objectives, however; nor are either likely to become so, according to several experts.

For their part, U.S. officials are optimistic that the war has bled Russia badly enough that a negotiated settlement may yet preserve Ukraine’s democratic government and sovereignty.

The proof, according to Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, is in Russia’s losses.

“Ukraine has taken off the battlefield 21 naval ships, 102 Russian aircraft, and 2,700 Russian tanks,” Ms. Nuland said at a Feb. 22 talk at the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank.

“In case Americans are still asking themselves if all of this is worth it for us, let’s remember: without sending a single U.S. soldier into combat, and investing less than one tenth of one year’s defense budget of the United States, we have helped Ukraine destroy 50 percent of Russia’s ground combat power.”

For all the slaughter, however, even senior officials like Ms. Nuland are forced to acknowledge that Ukraine has all but run out of U.S. support, and is stuck in a brutal stalemate that more resembles the horrors of war in the early 20th century than the 21st.

Describing the line of control in eastern Ukraine as a “meat grinder,” Ms. Nuland said that Russia appeared content to simply wait for U.S. support to Ukraine to die out completely.

“Artillery men today are fighting with only 10 to 20 155mm shells per day to defend themselves,” she said.

“[Russian leader] Vladimir Putin … thinks he can wait Ukraine out, he thinks he can wait out all of us. We need to prove him wrong.”

With that in mind, Ms. Nuland said that any pause in the fighting, even a permanent one, would need to be negotiated to ensure that Mr. Putin would not simply use the time to “rest and refit” for another invasion.

“Putin has already failed at his primary objective,” Ms. Nuland said. “He thought it was going to be a cakewalk. He thought he’d be in Kyiv in a week. He thought the people in the east in cities like Kharkiv would say, ‘Yes, we’d like to be Russian.’ And none of that happened.”

“Now, he’s in this grinding war of attrition.”

US Aims to Boost Ukraine’s Position Before Peace Deal

The Biden administration has long said that it will back Ukraine until the embattled nation achieves victory. But now, even it is admitting that the war will end in a negotiated settlement, and that the best it can likely do is give Ukraine a better hand for when negotiations begin.

“Wars generally end in a negotiation of some kind but we are not going to pick that moment for Ukraine,’ Ms. Nuland said.

“Ukraine will make those decisions for itself. It needs to be in a strong position and Putin needs to see that this will just get worse for him before he will move at all at the table.”

To date, Ms. Nuland said, Russian overtures to diplomacy have focused on the United States and wholly ignored Ukraine, with most offers suggesting that Russia ought to keep all of the territory it currently occupies.

“[Putin’s] current offer is, ‘I keep what I’ve got and we’ll talk about the rest that’s currently yours.’ And that’s not sustainable,” she said.

“That’s always the Russian way: Everything about Ukraine without Ukraine.”

Those discussions go back to 2014, she added, with Russia’s annexation of Crimea and a limited invasion of eastern Ukraine.

Despite reiterating that starting negotiations will be up to Ukraine, Ms. Nuland clarified that the United States is prepared to offer diplomatic assistance to Ukraine if and when it chooses to pursue a negotiated settlement to conclude the war.

“There is certainly a negotiation to be had when Ukraine is in a stronger position and we’ve made clear that if our help is needed we’ll be there,” she said.

“[But] I worry that as long as Putin is in power, he will never give up the basic goal, which is to subjugate Ukraine.”

To be sure, Ukraine is in a much stronger position than it was two years ago. It has taken back more than 50 percent of the territory seized by Russia in the opening months of the war and, as Ms. Nuland points out, inflicted losses on Russia that will take many years to recover from.

Most of that progress, however, was made by this time last year. Ukraine’s much-hyped counteroffensive has stalled since then, and it has slowly been forced to bleed its own Western-supplied arms in an effort to hold on to what it has.

Ensuring that it does not lose more, Ms. Nuland said, would require continued funding from the United States.

“We can’t allow Putin to succeed in his plan to erase Ukraine from the map of free nations … democracies everywhere will be in peril.”

US Funding Stalls

That funding is slow in the coming, however, and may never materialize.

While many Americans support direct security assistance to Ukraine, that support is waning amid a general weariness of two years’ of war coverage, geopolitical crises in the Indo-Pacific and Middle East, and a national security catastrophe at the nation’s own southern border.

Similarly, though a supplemental bill to provide Ukraine with $60 billion in security assistance over the coming years passed the Senate with bipartisan support, it has stalled in the House, where House Speaker Mike Johnson has refused to hold a vote on the issue unless funding is allocated for U.S. border security.

Some in the United States, including former President Donald Trump, have suggested that Europe should contribute more to its own defense, and blamed a perceived lack of defense spending in Europe for Ukraine’s reliance on the United States.

That view largely conflates problems face by NATO half a decade ago with the present though.

Indeed, since Russia’s 2022 invasion, almost every NATO nation has increased defense spending and then some, with some nations like Poland now spending over 4 percent of their GDP on defense, which is more than the United States.

Similarly, Europe has committed $150 billion in assistance to Ukraine, whereas the United States thus far has sent a little over $74 billion.

The situation, Ms. Nuland said, is leading to widespread “angst” among the United States’ European allies, who now consider the United States to not be meeting its own share of the global security burden.

“The EU just passed $54 billion in new assistance … Europe and our global partners are well outstripping us, including on the economic support pieces of all of this,” she said.

“You see a lot of money in Europe now going to build up their own defense industrial base to replace what they sent to Ukraine.”

War Not ‘Ending Anytime Soon’

Given the House’s recalcitrance towards supplemental Ukraine spending, Russia is unlikely to initiate any serious negotiation for an end to the war, according to Sam Kessler, a geopolitical adviser at the North Star Support Group risk advisory firm.

That makes the coming months particularly important for both sides in terms of securing advantage ahead of a potential settlement.

“At this point, it doesn’t seem like the war will be ending anytime soon, even if the Ukrainians find themselves in this awkward situation,” Mr. Kessler said.

Whatever ends up coming out of this current stage of the war and the buildup efforts by both sides, it may greatly impact or impair one’s diplomatic leveraging at a potential peace settlement process in the future.”

Both sides, Mr. Kessler said, are seeking economic and military capabilities that will allow them to launch larger campaigns than they have in the past in the hopes of breaking the current stalemate.

That means Ukraine’s need for security assistance will not only continue but will likely increase—something that the Russian leadership knows and is acting on.

“The advantages are in the Russians’ favor at the moment,” Mr. Kessler said. “However, both sides are attempting to rebuild their forces for much bigger offensive capabilities than what we’ve seen …”

“At this point, it seems the Russian long-term strategy of holding out in hopes that Western aid for the Ukrainians diminishes or gets held up is working in their favor.” Though the Ukrainians are “holding their own throughout a stalemate,” he added, the lack of more aid would “greatly impact” Kyiv’s ability to conduct future offensives.

To that end, Russia’s “war chest” remains a key difficulty, as Moscow has resources enough to conduct more operations than Ukraine over a number of years.

In all, Mr. Kessler said, the decision to negotiate or press the attack may come down to whether either side can meaningfully break the current stalemate this summer.

“This alone may impact an eventual peace process. But we’re not quite there yet,” he said.

“It will depend on whether this really is a stalemate or both sides are just trying to bide their time while trying to prepare and rebuild their militaries for future offensive and defensive capabilities and operations.”

Paul Crespo, president for the Center for American Defense Studies think tank, agreed with that assessment.

According to him, Ukraine’s current hardships are the fault of an early unwillingness by the Biden administration to provide Kyiv with advanced weapon systems.

“While Biden has poured incredible U.S. resources into Ukraine, his unwillingness to provide the right weapons to Ukraine, at the right time, also helped create a stalemate,” Mr. Crespo said.

“Without continued western support, Russia has far more manpower and resources to fight an extended war than Ukraine.”

Still, he suggested that a significant gain by Ukraine, such as the isolation of Crimea or successful strikes deep within Russia, could secure increased support abroad.

Otherwise, he said, a negotiation to end the war could be in the cards as early as next year.

“Barring a significant increase in western support, Ukraine is fighting to keep the ground it has gained since 2022,” Mr. Crespo said.

“Without a significant Ukrainian victory … a negotiated settlement before next year becomes increasingly likely.”

Mr. Kessler added that the eventual outcome of the war will decide much more than just lines on a map—it will also directly affect the security of the United States and its allies.

Russia’s current occupied territory provides it with key ports, increased grain production, and even nuclear energy facilities, all of which would grant it long-term strategic advantage in the global stage.

Yet, while the United States may worry about the future consequences of those advantages, Mr. Kessler said that Washington and Moscow would nevertheless have to find common ground to confront emergent issues throughout the world that affect them both.

“The war between Russia and Ukraine, and the manner it is conducted by all sides involved, will have a long-term effect on the United States’ ability to project power and influence in other areas of geostrategic concern,” Mr. Kessler said.

“Washington and Moscow have a long history dealing with each other during times of conflict and tensions. Both sides know that they need to eventually work and communicate with each other on other geopolitical issues and concerns that are happening in other parts of the world too.”

From The Epoch Times

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