Revisiting Post-Ukraine

Change on the geopolitical stage may be coming faster than we thought

By Anil Madan

On April 1, 2022, I wrote a piece titled “Too Soon To Tell What The Post-Ukraine World Holds.” I noted then that Vladimir Putin’s war of destruction against Ukraine rages on. It had been going on for about a month and a half. Today, Putin’s aggression has continued for more than two years, almost twenty-six months.

Trump has declared that he could end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours. His plan includes territorial concessions of Crimea and the Donbas to Russia. Pic – News18

Putin’s attacks on Ukraine’s population, what’s left of it, and on its infrastructure continue. Russia just announced that it had destroyed a heavy drone manufacturing and storage facility in Ukraine by firing a ballistic missile. The loss of the drones and the manufacturing capability come as Ukraine is desperately short of weapons, ammunition, and soldiers. On April 9, President Zelensky said that although Ukraine produces a lot of drones which help, “it is not a substitute for air defense, it is not a substitute for long-range weapons, missiles, long-range artillery.” Approval of a bill to provide funding for aid to Ukraine remains stalled in the U.S. Congress as House Speaker Mike Johnson, kowtowing to Trump’s demands and fearful of losing his speakership, refuses to bring the measure to the House floor for a vote. If he did bring it for a vote, all indications are that it would pass with an overwhelming majority.

The Uncertain Post-War Landscape

Getting back to April 2022, I wrote: “Western media reports and pundits cheer the Ukrainians’ valiant resistance to the point of claiming that the Ukrainians are beating back the Russian onslaught and ‘winning’ the war. Whether the Ukrainians are on to victory, or these pronouncements are just wishful thinking — or even that Russia will, at a minimum, stop or be stopped — remains to be seen. On many fronts, the truth is that the Ukrainians are being pummeled by the blunt force of indiscriminate artillery shelling and airborne bombing. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby warned that Russia still has a substantial amount of its firepower available.

“As we ponder what a post-Ukraine-war world might look like, it is fair to ask if the inquiry is premature or must await the end of Russian shelling and bombing. Certainly, the war will eventually come to an end, and no matter how it ends, the world will be somewhat changed: there will be some reset of geopolitical alignments, brakes will be applied to the forces of globalization, the rules-based order, or at least our perception that there is a rules-based order to some degree will need rethinking, and perhaps tribunals will be constituted to consider accountability for war crimes most likely holding trials in absentia.

“We cannot yet define the contours that will mark the end of the war. At the most basic level, we do not know if Putin will agree to a ceasefire without significant concessions by Ukraine amounting to a de facto surrender or at the point when its cities have been reduced to ruinous rubble, its male population decimated, and its displaced women and children unable to return to their homeland and carry on their lives before a massive rebuild of infrastructure, homes, services, and civil society takes place. We do not know, except in broad generalizations what the terms of any ceasefire acceptable to the Ukrainians might be. What we know is essentially some of the Ukrainian and Russian wish lists. To underscore the point, indeed, we cannot tell if the Ukrainian leadership will survive the assault staged by Putin, nor foretell the shape of the nation that will emerge.”

I could have written that yesterday. Little has changed, yet much has changed.

Weapons and Ammunition

Obviously, Ukraine needs weapons and ammunition to fight off Russia’s attacks. The situation is getting desperate. Although European nations are trying to increase their aid and support, their capacity is limited.  Army General Christopher Cavoli, head of US European Command, the top general for US forces in Europe testified to Congress that Ukraine will be “outgunned” ten to one by Russia within a matter of weeks barring fresh supplies of ammunition and weapons from the US.

There is no guarantee that US aid will be approved any time soon or indeed, in time to make a difference. House Speaker Mike Johnson at first parroted Republican demands that approval for Ukraine aid be tied to a border security bill. When the Senate passed such a bill, Johnson, at Trump’s behest, killed it. Johnson has promised to bring the bill to a vote but also described it as “dead on arrival.” Lately, he has tried to tie approval for Ukraine aid to a lifting of President Biden’s pause on exports of LNG from the US. One of the new LNG export terminals is located in Johnson’s home state of Louisiana.

Meanwhile, Trump has declared that he could end the war in Ukraine in 24 hours. The Washington Post reported that Trump’s plan includes territorial concessions of Crimea and the Donbas to Russia. Zelensky has made it clear that Ukraine will not cede any territory to the aggressor.

Less than a month ago, in mid-March, the Financial Times (FT) reported that an estimated 330,000 soldiers had been deployed in Ukraine. But it also noted that Ukraine needs and expects to recruit 500,000 more soldiers in 2024. A new law authorizing a draft has been controversial. Some politicians argued fiercely against a proposal to lower the recruitment age to 25, saying it would be suicidal for the nation to send its youngest into the trenches.

The FT also noted that when Russia first attacked, many Ukrainians volunteered to defend their country. But that pool has been exhausted and a large proportion of the men of fighting age are unwilling to be deployed to the front.

In February, Zelensky announced that Ukraine had suffered 31,000 deaths among its troops, but the estimate is apparently low and the actual number about twice what is reported.

End of America…

Two years ago, I noted that “there is the cadre of pundits, some cheerfully and others fearfully, marking the end of America as a world power and an end to the Western notion of a rules-based order.” I suggested that we not put too much stock in the premature declarations of the end of American power. But it may well be that we are seeing the end of the American era.

On Tuesday, Secretary of State Blinken expressed great concern about supplies of arms to Russia from China, North Korea, and Iran, while emphasizing the urgent need for more U.S. aid to Kyiv. North Korea has reportedlysent dozens of ballistic missiles and more than 10,000 containers of munitions and related supplies to Putin since September.

Two years ago, I wrote: “Most importantly, no one could have predicted that Putin would undertake a brutal war of attrition against a people he professes are no different from his own countrymen. This kind of aggression and indiscriminate bombing were surely not in anyone’s calculus, certainly not in the imagination of any armchair pundit. On the other hand, it seems almost a given that … to bring an end to the Russian bombing and shelling, Ukraine will have to pledge neutrality and abjure NATO membership.”

On the 75th anniversary of the formation of NATO, Blinken reiterated that Ukraine will become a member of NATO. Back in 2008, at the Bucharest summit, NATO members declared that Ukraine would join the alliance. In 2023, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, as he prepared to leave his position, declared: “Ukraine will join NATO. It is not a question of if, but of when.”

Last month, the Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, met with Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Orban claims that Trump told him he will force the war to end because “he will not give a penny” to help Ukraine. A Trump spokesperson dismissed Orban’s statement as false. Trump’s spokesman offered the somewhat dubious explanation that Trump didn’t want to publicly contradict Orban after entertaining him at his Floridaclub and admiring his toughness and anti-immigration positions. According to the report, the Trump person spoke on condition of anonymity — no surprise there. I will caution readers that no one has profited from treating anything Trump or his people say as true.

My thought two years ago, that Ukraine would have great difficulty surviving the Russian assault is reinforced by the developments recounted above.

Trump’s plan for territorial concessions

If Trump’s plan to force territorial concessions is abhorrent to Zelensky and the Europeans and most Americans are correct that Putin simply cannot be allowed to prevail, it is difficult to see how extant European and US policies are designed to reach that result. Indeed, Trump’s position is contrary to the US-Ukraine Charter on Strategic Partnership that was renewed on November 21, 2021, three months before Putin’s attack. That document declared: “The United States does not and will never recognize Russia’s attempted annexation of Crimea and reaffirms its full support for international efforts, including in the Normandy Format, aimed at negotiating a diplomatic resolution to the Russia-led armed conflict in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine on the basis of respect for international law, including the UN Charter.”

At the same time, the US-NATO-European position that Ukraine will become a NATO member does not address Putin’s security concerns, no matter how baseless they may be.

Earlier in 2022, I criticized Biden’s approach of declaring that the US would defend every inch of NATO territory, thus leaving the clear impression that an invasion of Ukrainian soil would not trigger a US defense of that country. For some reason, Biden seems to have taken it as gospel that Putin would resort to nuclear weapons if the US and its allies confronted his illegal invasion directly. Biden’s current policy remains a muddle. Trump’s approach is short-sighted appeasement of Putin. But Putin has shown no death wish. To the contrary, he is a survivor.

China, North Korea, Iran, and Putin have truly formed yet another “axis of evil” that views as acceptable an attack on the territorial integrity of a sovereign nation and what is effectively becoming, as I said then, a genocide of the Ukrainian people.

As we move on, if it is true as the FT reports that “a large proportion of the men of fighting age are unwilling to be deployed to the front,” one can only wonder how firm the resolve of the NATO countries will be to defend a country whose young men don’t want to defend themselves. Trump supporters will jump on that as an excuse for not supporting Ukraine.

Change on the geopolitical stage may be coming faster than we thought.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 12 April 2024

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