The Biden administration wants the Ukraine war to continue at least until after US Presidential elections next November. But there is a lurking danger that won’t be possible, especially if Russia mounts a really big offensive. For that reason there is a new plan that has been emerging. It is not in writing but it is in politics.
An example: When Zelensky decided to fire Zaluzhny, Victoria Nuland, who is directly responsible for US and NATO Ukraine policy, rushed to Kiev.
There are no photo ops with Nuland and Zelensky. She briefed the press standing outside in front of a hastily assembled table with some microphones on it.
Why did Nuland run to Kiev? Almost certainly the White House told her to get herself over there immediately in case things went south in Kiev? Apparently there was real worry that Zaluzhny might turn the army around and use it to go after Zelensky.
So far, Zaluzhny has not made a move. He still can, of course, so one supposes that Nuland was in Kiev to talk more to Zaluzhny than to Zelensky. There is no public record of any meeting, but it would seem that her job was to calm Zaluzhny down and offer him incentives to behave.
Officially Washington is saying nothing about the changing of the military guard in Kiev. The White House says it is an “internal Ukrainian” issue, not one Washington would have anything to say about.
Certainly this is pure nonsense. Washington has been manipulating Ukraine’s internal politics since before 2014, and Nuland was the spark plug to get what Washington wanted.
Nor was there any surprise about cashiering Zaluzhny. Someone has to take the blame for the failure of Kiev’s so-called counter-offensive and the waste of billions of dollars in US equipment and supplies. It also isn’t a surprise that things are getting worse now, as Ukraine will soon face the loss of Avdiivka and the Russian army, newly refurbished, will push toward the Dnieper river, aiming at Kiev.
As has been noted now ad nauseum, Kiev’s manpower situation is dire and its lack of weapons also means it is limited in what it can hope to do. But the real kicker is that Kiev’s mounting casualties, more than 1,000 per week, is biting hard in public perception that the war has gone wrong. To pull men and women into the army Kiev resorts to rough, unpopular measures, using threats and intimidation. Going to the front, untrained, is seen more and more as a certain death sentence (which it is).
Zelensky won’t negotiate with Russia because Washington is opposed to any negotiation, seeing them as a defeat for NATO. The result would be unnerving NATO and truncating Washington’s leadership of the alliance. Politically, Zelensky is more and more aligned with Kraken and other military formations who are extremely anti-Russian (and anti a lot of other things). The Russians regard them as fascists and Nazis.
But how can Kiev hold on, if Russia actually mounts a major effort in Ukraine?
An offensive is likely mostly because Putin needs an offensive to cement his next term as president. Elections are coming on March 17, and Putin’s reelection is likely because he has suppressed any real opposition. But even so, Putin needs a boost from the public, and a celebratory election would count for a lot.
This puts Kiev in a terrible bind. Once there is a real Russian breakthrough across the current line of contact, sending Ukrainian forces reeling backward, it will be nearly impossible for the Zelensky government to survive in Kiev.
Under such circumstances there are already indications of planning to move the UKrainian government westward, probably to Lviv (Lvov), which is near the Polish border. The Poles are already saying they might use their nearby air defenses to protect Lvov. Why would they say this? The reason is that they are preparing a plan to hold off the Russians by use of Polish Patriot and other air defenses, and even to send Polish brigades, reinforced by other NATO assets. The British are already preparing public opinion and openly talking about sending its Special Forces to Ukraine’s rescue.
Anyone who looks at a map must realize that the only way NATO can “invade” or “support” a Zelensky government is if it is done close to the border with Poland. That’s far enough away from Russian missiles that it will be difficult for Russia to deal with that area, unless of course there is either a de facto or de jure breakup of Ukraine, the western part staying somewhat independent, the rest subject to whatever arrangements the Russians decide to impose.
Nothing will happen if the Russians stay with the plodding, slow grind-up of Ukraine’s army. But, as noted above, the Ukraine war is reaching an inflection point for both military and political reasons.
Shifting the Ukraine government, in case of a Russian offensive, to Lviv and gaining support from Poland and the UK (no others are likely to contribute anything), buys time for Biden, although the end result either will be a war in part of Europe (Poland, the Baltic states) or a stalemate that Russia and NATO accept. Biden gets off the hook for the time being, if this scenario plays out, but even in the medium term it is a strategic disaster.
Biden, of course, is mindful he does not need, and cannot survive, another Afghanistan-like disaster.
British enthusiasm for war is thanks to pressure from Washington. It is well to remember that the British military is an unholy, underfunded and undermanned mess. The British forces lack materials, lift, and cover to do much of anything, and it is foolish to think the Russians won’t retaliate. That leaves the impression that British enthusiasm for war is simply fake news, intended to scare the Russians somehow.
Most of US Ukrainian policy has been based on exaggeration on the value of American weapons and coordination capabilities and on wishful thinking that Russian would back out of the conflict. Any look at Russian history, back to Napoleon, should have suggested that Russia wasn’t going to back out. Moreover, taking into account British bombast, one is reminded of the outcome of the charge of the Light Brigade. Will we see another Balaclava?
Nuland has created a disaster with the full backing of the Biden-Obama team. As, so far, there is no counterweight in the United States or among the NATO states, the disaster will roll on. Washington will continue to risk a war in Europe, even a nuclear war, to try and salvage the disaster of its own making.
Washington, and Nuland, are trying to rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic.