Drawing Red Lines on Ukraine

How is Russia’s war against Ukraine going to end? Will Ukraine win, and how do we define a Ukrainian victory? Will Russia prevail, and if so, what will it have gained?

By Anil Madan

How is Russia’s war against Ukraine going to end? Will Ukraine win, and how do we define a Ukrainian victory? Will Russia prevail, and if so, what will it have gained? Is there any hope for a negotiated settlement?

In June 2021 just prior to the NATO summit, President Putin said the West will not be allowed to cross Russia’s “red lines”—and if it does, Russia will respond “harshly, quickly and asymmetrically.” But what red lines? Essentially, that Ukraine must not be allowed a path to NATO membership.

The US and European NATO countries ignored this declaration of Putin’s red lines. They repeated the mantra that application for membership in NATO is a decision for each country to make and for all NATO members to agree.

In November 2021, Putin warned NATO against deploying its troops and weapons to Ukraine. Once more, he said this was a red line for Russia and would trigger a strong response.

Putin complained that NATO’s expansion to the east threatens Russia’s core security interests. And he lamented that NATO missiles deployed from Ukrainian territory could reach Moscow in five minutes.

“The emergence of such threats represents a red line for us,” Putin said. “I hope that it will not get to that and common sense and responsibility for their own countries and the global community will eventually prevail.”

Repeating his frequent brags, he said that Russia’s development of new hypersonic weapons was a response to these growing threats.

As Russia’s buildup of troops along the Ukrainian border presaged an invasion, President Biden threatened that Russia would face swift and severe costs if it invaded Ukraine. As we know, Biden had two conversations with Putin during which he threatened the imposition of severe sanctions if Russia invaded Ukraine and that he also stated publicly that a “minor incursion” would not invite such sanctions and that the US would not send its troops into Ukraine or engage Russia’s forces. These were more highlights with a yellow marker than red lines drawn by a President.

Now, it is four and one-half months into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and we are back to talking about red lines. About ten days ago, the anchor on a Russian TV channel known to broadcast the Kremlin’s propaganda, warned that if the US were to supply Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRS) “they will clearly be crossing a red line and we would have witnessed an attempt to provoke a very harsh response from Russia.”

Putting aside either a case of poor translation from Russian to English, and also putting aside Russian paranoia about President Biden’s intentions, it is clear that Biden has striven to avoid confrontation with Putin.

But perhaps therein lies the problem. As President Zelensky calls for more offensive weapons to defend his country, Putin escalates the bombing and shelling. The US and NATO, while professing support for Ukraine, play the reluctant savior. Meanwhile, Ukraine is being pummeled and destroyed, bit by bit. President Biden says that the United States does not plan to supply Ukraine with long-range missiles for potential damage to Russian territory: “I will not send anything that can be used to shell Russia,” Biden said when asked if he planned to send long-range missiles to Ukraine.

It is a big ask of a country facing an existential threat to refrain from using weapons capable of inflicting damage on the enemy that would deny its existence. If Ukraine cannot inflict damage on the Russian weapons that are inflicting damage on Ukraine, what is the point?

Amid this ongoing carnage and chaos, we have calls for a negotiated settlement despite the fact that the Russians, Putin in particular, show no inclination to negotiate. After all, their demands that Ukraine cede territory and abjure forever membership in NATO, in effect remain vulnerable to another Russian invasion, are unlikely to be met. The Russians are not about to give up the Ukrainian territories that they have seized, and the Ukrainians are not about to concede an inch of territory.

Perhaps things will change if Putin were to guarantee Ukraine’s sovereignty and that Ukrainian society will be allowed to reconstitute itself and survive. This means a rebuilding of Ukraine’s destroyed cities and infrastructure. But this is against everything that Putin says is in Russia’s security interests. Moreover, any such effort will take all of the seized Russian assets to fund and perhaps more.

What are the chances that Russia, facing no external threat from NATO or the US, will acquiesce? Certainly, it is possible that Russia will be humiliated in its Ukrainian adventure as it already has been to some extent. But it is too early to say that this is over. Russia still has the capability to destroy more of Ukraine. And perhaps even win a victory of sorts especially if this war drags on into next winter when logistics and supply constraints hit the Ukrainians hard.

Meanwhile, the destruction will continue. With the US and NATO countries essentially standing by and content to supply Ukraine with weapons that are not outcome determinative, nothing will change.

The calls for a negotiated settlement invariably devolve to having Ukraine concede some of its territory to Russia. Recently, an Italian proposal called for eventual sanctions relief for Russia. In Davos, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger called on Ukraine to cede territory to Russia and to begin negotiations immediately. Last week, President Macron said that Russia should not be humiliated.

What is missing in all these well-meaning initiatives is the recognition that it takes two sides to negotiate an agreement. Putin shows no signs of wanting to negotiate. Given that his slow destruction of Ukraine’s cities, people, and culture, is unlikely to engender a more forceful show of support from the US and NATO, why would he?

This makes the well-meaning initiatives meaningless. And the destruction of Ukraine all but inevitable


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 10 June 2022

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