President Joe Biden gave an address to the United Nations General Assembly on September 20th. The speech was a disaster. Putting aside Biden’s slurred words, the message from Biden is there will be no compromise at all when it comes to Ukraine.
Here is what he had to say:
“Russia believes that the world will grow weary and allow it to brutalize Ukraine without consequence. But I ask you this: If we abandon the core principles of the UN Charter to appease an aggressor, can any member state feel confident that they are protected? If we allow Ukraine to be carved up, is the independence of any nation secure?
“The answer is no. We must stand up to this naked aggression today to deter other would-be aggressors tomorrow.
“That is why the United States together with our Allies and partners around the world will continue to stand with the brave people of Ukraine as they defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity – and their freedom.”
By saying that the US will “not allow Ukraine to be carved up” Biden is claiming that there can be no territorial compromise in respect to Ukraine.
Virtually every peace plan put forward by numerous parties has foreseen territorial compromise as the only way a solution can be found. Even the Minsk Agreements, which Ukraine signed in 2014 and again in 2015, allowed for compromise on territory.
Ruling out territorial compromise is a message that already is understood in Russia. Russia is fighting the Ukraine war because, in its view, it wants to (a) protect the Russian speaking population of Ukraine and (b) to keep NATO out.
NATO’s presence in Ukraine is a Russian red line.
In respect to the first, protecting the Russian speaking population, this applies to the recently annexed parts of Ukraine, Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaphorize and Kherson. Previously Russia declared Crimea part of Russia and held a plebiscite accepting the annexation.
As a practical matter, there is no chance that Ukraine has any ability to retake any significant part of these annexed areas. Almost all the fighting along the contact line, especially since the start of Ukraine’s counter-offensive, has been about a Ukrainian attempt to break Russia’s first line of defense protecting these territories. Today there is a consensus that the counter-offensive has failed to achieve any meaningful results other than to kill tens of thousands of Ukrainians and chew up billions of dollars of western military assistance.
Biden had nothing to say about NATO and Ukrainian membership, even though for Russia this has been a red line from the start, and it was NATO’s buildup of Ukrainian forces that triggered the Russian invasion in the first place. The Russians declared many warnings to the United States and NATO about NATO’s presence in Ukraine, as late as more than a month before Russian troops crossed into Ukrainian territory. The US and NATO refused to have any discussion with Russia on the subject.
Ukraine has not been put in NATO formally, mostly because some NATO members oppose the idea, especially the Germans. They do so because if Ukraine was put into NATO, Russia would attack NATO itself, bypassing the pesky Ukrainians. That would mean war in Europe.
Biden did not discuss any peace process other than saying that Russia can do what Zelensky has demanded, namely leave Ukrainian territory and accept punishment of its military and civilian leaders for alleged war crimes.
Meanwhile the US and its allies have been working overtime to destabilize Russia by promoting attacks from Ukraine on Russian territory, assassinations and bombings in Russia, and sabotage inside Russian territory. These measures have triggered calls in Russia for the use of nuclear weapons as a way of terminating the Ukraine war and erasing Ukraine from the map.
Russia continues its military buildup, including enlarging its army and producing more weapons and ammunition. NATO and the United States’ massive support for Ukraine has changed the strategic landscape in Europe. From Russia’s point of view, it is involved in a war against NATO with Ukraine as the proxy. There is, unfortunately, a point where the proxy fails and where the war’s backers decide to put their own troops on the front line. There already are NATO “advisers” in Ukraine, as US “advisers” once were in Vietnam before the US sent in the Marines and the Army.
If Biden is reelected, it is almost a certainty he will send in US troops to try and “save” Ukraine. In turn that will mean war in Europe.
The situation in Ukraine is very dicey. Ukraine first lost Bakhmut, now it has lost its counter-offensive. Ukraine is now employing draconian measures to get more fighting men (and women), but there is growing resistance. Should Russia decide the time has come for a big offensive of its own, Ukraine will collapse.
The Russians will probably calculate if they need to launch any large scale operation beyond the active defenses they currently deploy. Part of that calculation is the remaining strength of Ukraine’s army. Part of it will be political. Should Biden be defeated next year, the door may open for negotiations with the United States, something the Russians say they want.
One of the questions is how long Russia can accept attacks on its territory. These attacks play into Putin’s hands because it helps him politically by getting support for the Special Military Operation. The US wants to step up these attacks, as Victoria Nuland has made clear. Such measures are not going to tame the Russians. To the contrary, the Russians will put even more pressure on Ukraine, and may start to strike US and NATO assets elsewhere.
Unfortunately Biden’s speech was a disaster from the point of view of finding a peaceful solution for Ukraine. Probably the speech was intended to help his reelection. It remains to be seen if he accomplished that by taking a hard line position on Ukraine.