Is Ukraine war at a turning point?
Published on jornalmudardevida.net on Nov. 21, 2022. Translation: John Catalinotto.
Lloyd Austin and Mark Milley said: Ukraine cannot expect a military victory.
The information released in recent days about the war in Ukraine, although fragmentary and even contradictory, seems to point in one direction: the U.S. is pressuring Ukrainian leaders to accept negotiations with Russia.
If this is confirmed it will be a significant shift in the position of the U.S. and the West in relation to the course of the conflict — apparently supporting the positions of countries like Turkiye or China, which have always advocated a negotiated solution, as well as Hungary or Serbia, which have resisted the European and U.S. policy of sanctions against Russia and of pouring oil on the flames.
What could be at the basis of this possible turning point?
‘Seizing the opportunity’
Not everything is clear at the moment; and not everything is going in the same direction, as far as the position of the West is concerned. It starts in the U.S. ruling circles themselves. The most explicit position was that of the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General Mark Milley, who strongly advised the Ukrainians to seize the opportunity created by the slowdown in operations dictated by the autumn/winter.
Milley stated that Ukraine could not claim a military victory, noting that winter may present an opportunity for diplomatic compromise. “When there is an opportunity to negotiate, when peace can be achieved, one has to seize it. You have to seize the moment,” he said. (Politico, Nov. 14)
Three days later at a press conference held at the Pentagon, Milley seemed to want to substantiate his point, saying exactly: “The probability of a Ukrainian military victory defined as kicking the Russians out of all of Ukraine . . . the probability of that happening anytime soon is not high, militarily” — and hence he envisages the possibility of a “political solution.” (RT, Nov. 17)
Despite seemingly contradictory White House positions, everything leads one to believe that the recent trip to Kiev (Nov. 4) by Joe Biden’s National Security Advisor and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s meeting with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (Nov. 12), while reaffirming U.S. support, will have been aimed at gauging the mood of the Ukrainian leadership and preparing the ground for a change of direction.
Days after these contacts, the head of the CIA, William Burns, was to meet in Turkiye with the head of Russian intelligence, Sergey Narishkin, in order to, in the cipher language of these things, “keep the channels of contact open” between the two powers. The initiative came from the U.S. side, the Kremlin said. (Al Jazeera, Nov. 14)
A White House spokesperson confirmed these contacts and added that in “recent weeks,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Chief of Staff Mark Milley had spoken with Russian counterparts Sergey Shoigun and Valeri Gerassimov “to make sure there’s no miscalculation” between Russians and the U.S. (Statements to Bloomberg News quoted by RT, Nov. 15)
Commenting on these facts, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, present at the G20 summit, considered them “an extremely relevant development with regard to the future.” (Al Jazeera, Nov. 14)
From all this movement, one can deduce that Milley’s statements were only issued after thorough contacts, at various levels, with Russian officials. The concerns expressed by the leaders in Kiev can be perceived, not only because of the latent change of course, contrary to everything they have been saying, but also because they are exposed as mere pawns of the United States in its confrontation with Russia.
Change of tone in the corporate media
The top U.S. press clearly got into the campaign, reporting that the White House was privately convincing Ukrainian officials to show openness to peace talks with Russia.
The pressure, said the Washington Post in particular, is intended to prevent Ukraine from losing the support of countries where public opinion becomes hostile to the war, because it does not see a near end to the conflict. A U.S. official representative told the newspaper, “Fatigue is a real issue for some of our partners.” (Washington Post, Nov. 5)
In the wake of the missile strike incident in Poland, and in the face of Volodymyr Zelensky’s insistence, against all evidence, on blaming the Russians, a Fox News commentator [Tucker Carlson] accused the Ukrainian president of intending to “immediately lead the U.S. into a third world war.” His claims, he said, “are not only untrue,” but “it’s a lie that could cause the deaths of millions of Americans.” So, he concluded, “You have to ask yourself, is it time to stop backing this guy?” (Fox News, Nov. 17)
It seems, therefore, that several of the pillars on which U.S. and NATO propaganda has been based are showing signs of cracking. Neither the “unity” of the West is as solid as it has sought to show, nor is the “defeat” of the Russians on the horizon, nor do the gains of the Ukrainians allow them to dream of a victory, nor will Zelensky remain the leader of record in Kiev if he does not strictly respect U.S. interests.
Regardless of the results of all this maneuvering coming from the top of the U.S. hierarchy, two or three things remain in sight.
Kherson and the rest
The idea has been confirmed that the Russian withdrawal from Kherson was the result of a negotiation between the Russians and the Americans, with the purpose of smoothing out the negotiating ground. This is the only way to understand why the displacement of 115,000 inhabitants of the city, 40,000 soldiers and 5,000 pieces of military equipment, took place with hardly a shot being fired.
Even if the loss of the city represents a political defeat for the Russians, it is far from being a military defeat — all the more so because it allows the displacement of tens of thousands of troops to other combat fronts.
This reinforcement and the 300,000 new troops recently mobilized are, in the opinion of military specialists (for example, [Portuguese] Major Generals Agostinho Costa and Carlos Branco), a contingent that may give the Russians an offensive power capable of reversing the course of operations observed in the last two months. The Russian bombing campaign targetting electricity infrastructure and energy sources, which compromises the supply lines of the Ukrainian troops located at the front in Ukraine’s eastern regions, will contribute to this possibility.
Despite some defeats on the ground, it should not be forgotten that the Russian Federation still holds nearly 20% of the territory that was Ukrainian before Feb. 24, and nothing has suggested that it will lose it. It is not Zelensky’s speeches that can change this reality.
Between the beginning of the conflict and the present, Russia has destroyed the Ukrainian army that existed in February, which had been trained and equipped by NATO since 2014, including its incorporation of the notorious Nazi militias.
Those fighting for Ukraine now are new armed forces, also trained and equipped by the West. They have been recruited, let’s not forget, from a naturally more exhausted and impoverished population. Nothing says they can’t have the same fate as the former.
The Ukrainians’ recruitment potential is, in fact, much more limited than those of the Russians. In a protracted war, the Russians will always have the upper hand. And as long as the war is waged at the expense of Ukrainian sacrifice and strictly on Ukrainian territory — as the U.S., the EU and NATO want and repeatedly emphasize — Russia will inevitably have a strategic superiority in the conflict.
Russia is not being hit on its own territory (excluding the annexed regions). It does not need to employ all its military resources, and it can manage time to grind down the Ukrainian response.
Ukraine: shattered and overwhelmed
In addition to the physical destruction resulting from the fighting, Ukraine’s economy is devastated. Gross domestic product has contracted by 35% by 2022, on top of the fact that Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Europe: By the end of 2020, long before the conflict started in February, 45% of Ukraine’s population was living in poverty. (World Bank data, October 2022)
On top of that, the debts accumulated by U.S. and European “aid” — to be paid by endless generations of Ukrainians — reduce the country to the status of vassal of the generous allies, who pushed it into the war and encourage it to continue.
The misery induced by the dragging on of the war, the perception that the future offers nothing good, the notion that the next generations will inherit a destroyed country, will surely be factors in the demoralization of the Ukrainian population, no matter how cynically the West praises their “sacrifice.”
Signs of ‘fatigue’ in the West
The growing demonstrations in many European countries against the effects of the war — famine, lack of goods, energy shortages, detour of social resources, wage cuts, in the name of a warlike policy imposed on populations without the right to reply — may soon turn into demonstrations against the war itself, as soon as these populations realize the direct link between one and the other.
The political weakening of the European powers may be closer than one imagines, as one can deduce from the above concerns about “fatigue” affecting Europe in particular. And this will mean, for the U.S. and its allies, an added factor of isolation — in this case, internal — to add to the reluctance with which the majority of the world’s population confronted the sanctions against Russia, rejecting them.
We are not wearing the uniform of the U.S. military and government. But at least this set of factors, which an objective observation of the conflict highlights, certainly did not escape the U.S. military staff when it concluded, contrary to all that has been asserted so far by the West, that Ukraine cannot expect to win the war.
In the field of possibilities
If this position proves valid, and if negotiations go ahead, it will be interesting to observe the arguments of the Western actors. They will surely try to prove that they have won a victory, even in the face of inevitable Ukrainian concessions that are negotiated to a settlement that suits the real contenders: the U.S. and Russia.
If that happens, Europe and Ukraine will finally see clearly the role of sacrificial lambs which they have played in all this history at the hands of the U.S., at least since 2014.
Let us not forget the incendiary fanfares of European Commissioner Josep Borrell that the war would only end with the full military defeat of Russia and the expulsion of all its troops, an idea that the Portuguese Foreign Minister, João Gomes Cravinho, thought was very good — and he repeated it.
Then there are the words of another factotum, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who (in a moment of overzealousness) revealed that a Russian victory would be a defeat for NATO and therefore could never occur — thereby putting NATO, not Ukraine, at the center of the stage, and establishing an equation undesirable for any Western negotiator forced to compromise.
We may see an effort by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Sholtz to tiptoe around the table as champions of peace. They will certainly try to disguise their cowardice and constant prevarication — telephoning Vladimir Putin but yielding to Biden’s demands, sitting quietly as their own allies sabotage Nord Stream, paying monopoly prices for U.S. oil and gas, standing idly by as Europe is destroyed economically, consenting to the very fragmentation of the EU they claimed to be “the axis” of.
It will also be interesting to see how the entire gang that has been clamoring for Zelensky and war-to-the-end journalists — commentators, “international relations” specialists, military personnel, former ministers, former ambassadors, NATO and U.S. embassy spokespersons, warmongers, anti-Putin fanatics and all the rest — will swallow what they have been saying unabashedly, when the U.S. (and behind them, the European) leadership evaluates the consequences of “eternal” support for Ukraine and declares that times have changed.
Only then, perhaps, will all these characters realize that the repeated promise to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes” really means the time needed for the West to consider that the time has come to find an understanding that suits it, while avoiding greater evils.
The greatest evils [for these rulers] are the collapse of Western economies, the revolt of impoverished populations, the political crisis undermining capitalist parliamentary systems, the breakup of the European Union — and the possibility that three-quarters of the world will bet on a course of development centered on new international institutions sustained by powers such as China, Russia or India.