A strong effort was made by Washington and some NATO partners to see if Zelensky could be put on a peace track with Russia. The effort failed, and Zelensky’s visit to the UN and Washington is aimed at creating support to continue the war and achieving a commitment from Congress to approve another $24.9 billion in assistance and new weapons for Ukraine’s arsenal.
Just before leaving Kyiv, the Zelensky fired six deputy defense ministers, alleging corruption. His action was designed to backstop the Biden administration which is accused of providing money with no strings to Ukraine, much of which disappears. The administration has blocked any auditing of money for Ukraine.
In the past it was the United States that opposed any peace process, but that opposition was before US and NATO weapons’ arsenals were emptied and before the attempt to overthrow Vladimir Putin failed. Trying to compensate, Washington and NATO armed up Ukraine to break through Russian defenses. A real breakthrough did not happen, and Ukraine chewed up most of its strategic reserves. Two important brigades, the 25th Air Mobile and the 82nd Air Assault, lost so many men and so much equipment on the Zaphorize front, much of it supplied by NATO, that they became combat ineffective and were withdrawn.
The Ukrainian offensive continues to grind on, consuming more equipment and manpower. Reports say that Ukraine is losing more than 1,000 men a day –sometimes close to 2,000– with little to show for it. The US and some of its NATO partners let it be known they didn’t approve of Ukraine’s military tactics, although for the most part the tactics were built around NATO computer simulations and massive intelligence support.
Just about everyone (China, Brazil, the Pope, South Africa, Egypt, Senegal, Congo-Brazzaville, Comoros, Zambia, and Uganda, Denmark, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia) who can offer a peace plan has done so or offered to mediate (Israel, Denmark, Türkiye). A few of these made initial progress, negotiations led by Türkiye and Israel.
Ukraine’s official position has the following key elements:
1. Ukraine will not negotiate with Vladimir Putin, but apparently will talk to Russians sometimes. This is supported by a Ukrainian Decree, signed into law by Zelensky.
2. Ukraine will not surrender any territory under any circumstances. This applies to Crimea and the Donbas although in earlier negotiations Crimea was on the table.
3. Ukraine demands that all Russian troops leave Ukrainian territory and that war criminals, including Putin, be put on trial.
4. Ukraine demands security guarantees from NATO or membership in NATO. It also demands membership in the European Union, but EU membership has run into roadblocks. The US allegedly is “working on” security guarantees, but the effort appears stalled or paused.
Meanwhile Ukraine is demanding long range weapons to attack Russian territory. The latest request is for ATACMS (MGM-140), a tactical ground-launched ballistic missile with a range of 300 km and for the German-Swedish Taurus (KEPD-350) air launched cruise missile with a range of 500 km. Taurus would augment Stormshadow, already in Ukraine’s inventory and adapted to the Su-24.
Neither the US in the case of ATACMS or the Germans in the case of Taurus have agreed to supply them, at least not yet. However, Victoria Nuland, the Deputy Secretary of State, has been urging to bring the war increasingly to high value targets inside Russia. If she wins the internal debate, ATACMS will go to Ukraine.
All of this appears to be influencing Russia’s war objectives. Most of the fighting focuses on Russia’s defending territory in Donbas, Zaphorize, Kherson region and Crimea. But Russian leaders are talking more and more about replacing the Ukrainian government and expanding the war to key cities such as Odesa. To do that Russia would have to mobilize more forces and backstop with more equipment, which may stretch it too far. On the other hand, any war expansion would be daunting for Ukraine that is low on manpower and supplies. How resilient the current government in Ukraine is, no one knows. How many front line troops Ukraine can commit to the war front is not clear.
There is also growing unhappiness in the United States with continuing the war. Objectively the war has reinforced the China-Russia alliance and drained military resources, leaving the US at a disadvantage in Europe and in Asia. A good example is HIMARS. The US has delayed supplying HIMARS to Taiwan, which needs the system. Even the Marine operators on Okinawa are husbanding what HIMARS rounds they have. It will take time to have enough HIMARS to support our allies, but if Ukraine keeps throwing them at the Russians there will be few for others.
Meanwhile many other arms deliveries to Taiwan are delayed because of Ukraine. 155mm howitzers, for example, are delayed for at least a year.
Zelensky may persuade Congress to ante up more money for the war. But this could also be his last hurrah. He may get a slimmed down package and sent away. It is unlikely he will return.