The question is for how long the West can continue to insist that Putin’s invasion was a “strategic error.” If Russia is able to conquer the rest of the Donbas and also overrun large parts of southern Ukraine, that line of argumentation begins to lose relevance.
Spodaj je nekaj pasusov iz članka v Der Spieglu, ki širi dozorevajoče spoznanje, da Rusija dobiva vojno za ozemlja v Ukrajini in da bo to stanje nekoč treba pripoznati v mirovnem sporazumu. To je tudi očitno intimno mnenje vladajočih politikov v Nemčiji, Franciji in Italiji. Le še ZDA insistirajo na tem, da mora Rusija to vojno izgubiti. Oboje se kaže v spodnji sliki, v dramatičnem nesorazmerju vojaške pomoči, ki jo ZDA dajejo Ukrajini (okrog 42 milijard evrov do sedaj) ter drobtinicah pomoči, ki jo dajejo posamično in skupaj EU države.
Behind the scenes, NATO allies have begun wrestling with the question of what war aims the alliance should support, and which it should not.
Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron are very clearly opposed to setting the bar too high for Putin. They certainly don’t want the Kremlin leader to win, but they are even less interested in risking a direct conflict with a humiliated and unpredictable nuclear power.
In Berlin, a number of leading politicians were concerned when U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at a conference with allies at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany in late April that Ukraine doesn’t just have to win the war against Putin, but Russia also has to be weakened to ensure that it is more difficult for the Kremlin to invade neighboring countries. The “Win and Weaken” strategy, as it quickly came to be known in Washington, was enthusiastically welcomed in many Eastern European countries.
But it was in diametrical opposition to comments made by Scholz and Macron. The German chancellor has never even uttered the word victory, and in contrast to U.S. President Joe Biden, he has also shied away from labelling Putin a war criminal.
Macron, for his part, said in an early May speech before European Parliament that the temptation to “humiliate” Russia must be resisted. In recent years, Macron has repeatedly sought to pursue dialogue with Moscow, and the French president has also spoken on the phone with Putin on numerous occasions since the beginning of the war – with nothing to show for it.
All Eyes on Washington
Neither Macron nor Scholz were able to prevent Putin from marching into Ukraine, and thus far, the Russian president has shown no particular urge to engage in serious negotiations. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said a few weeks ago that negotiations will only be engaged in on the basis of military results.
Which is why all eyes are now on Washington, the source of by far the largest contributions to the military buildup of Ukraine. The Americans have sent state-of-the art drones, artillery and anti-tank missiles – and plenty of money. Officially, Biden has never sought to water down the words of his defense secretary. A week ago Friday, U.S. NATO Ambassador Julianne Smith said at a conference in Warsaw: “We want to see a strategic defeat of Russia. We want to see Russia leave Ukraine.”
Behind the scenes, though, leading officials like National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and CIA chief William Burns have said in closed-door meetings with allies that the words of the Pentagon chief have been overinterpreted. Instead of a victory on the battlefield, they say, Washington is more interested in forcing Putin to understand that he cannot win the war.
That is a line that leaves plenty of room for interpretation and which avoids pushing Putin into a corner. It is also a reaction to the gloomy reality on the eastern front. Ukraine may have achieved astounding successes early on in the war and managed to push Russia back from many areas. But in contrast to the beginning of April, Western intelligence services now agree that a rapid Ukrainian victory is extremely unlikely. Putin, they say, is now pursuing a strategy that is far more astute than the poorly planned advance on Kyiv seen in the first days of the war.
Russia’s war aims, to be sure, are far more limited that they were initially, even in eastern Ukraine. Instead of completely encircling the Ukrainian troops in the Donbas, a goal that Russia quickly had to discard, Putin’s army is now focusing its attentions on the eastern tip of the Donbas in the area of Sievierodonetsk. Over the weekend, the Russians continued to up the pressure in the region, and on Monday, reports emerged that the first Russian troops have now entered the city.
The strategy Putin has pursued in the Donbas has involved heavy artillery fire against Ukrainian positions before then slowly advancing. Supply lines have also been firmly established. Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, estimates that Russia is currently able to send up to 300 tons of munitions to the front every day – sufficient for a huge amount of firepower. At the same time, says the German government, Western sanctions on the import of Russian energy have not proven as painful as hoped. India alone more than doubled its oil imports from Russia from March to April. A leading German official says that the Russian war machine will only begin sputtering once the embargo results in a lack of important electronic parts necessary for modern weapons systems.
The CIA has produced similar scenarios. According to the U.S. intelligence agency, Putin is preparing for a slow and brutal war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine. Because the Kremlin chief is completely isolated from any form of critical advice, experts believe that he thinks he will be able to continue to conquer territory in the coming months. Militarily, the U.S. is prepared for a protracted conflict. When defense ministers from more than 40 countries gathered for a video conference last Monday, the focus was not just on the rapid deliveries of armored vehicles and howitzers. U.S. Defense Secretary Austin also requested allies to begin planning for a war that could stretch out over several years.
The German government shares that gloomy outlook. For a breakthrough, one side has to have a 3:1 advantage over the other, a dominance that neither the Russians nor the Ukrainians can muster. Which means that most signs now point to an extended and bloody standoff. Experts in Berlin believe that Putin will only sit down to the negotiating table once it becomes clear that there is no more land left for him to win. It is an analysis that is consistent with what top Russian officials are saying. Nikolai Patrushev, head of the Russian Security Council, said last Tuesday that Russian troops are not “chasing deadlines,” when asked about the slow pace of the invasion.
Putin has apparently now identified a minimum goal of conquering all of the Donbas, the protection of which served as one of the justifications of the war in the first place. Of the two parts of the Donbas area, Russia has almost completely taken the Luhansk region and around half of the Donetsk region. Furthermore, the Kremlin looks intent on officially annexing those areas of southern Ukraine that it has occupied in recent weeks. “Russia is here forever,” said Andrey Turchak, leader of the United Russia party, during a recent visit to Kherson. A new decree from Putin has enabled the rapid distribution of Russian passports to residents of the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, another indication that Putin is intent on moving rapidly to solidify control.
The question is for how long the West can continue to insist that Putin’s invasion was a “strategic error.” If Russia is able to conquer the rest of the Donbas and also overrun large parts of southern Ukraine, that line of argumentation begins to lose relevance. Any negotiated solution that might emerge at that point, many observers fear, would likely be little more than an extended cease-fire for Putin – after which he would simply continue his war against Ukraine, just as he did after taking his initial steps in 2014. As a result, calls have grown louder in Washington for taking a more assertive stance against Moscow and for getting Europe to support it as well.
The goal of weakening Russia is correct, says John Herbst, the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine. Putin, he says, is committing horrific war crimes in Ukraine. “When countries like Germany or Italy now say we have to find an off ramp for Putin or even a face-saving solution, that is utterly wrong.”
In Berlin, by contrast, there are fears that an extended war of attrition could lead to a fracturing of the alliance against the Kremlin. “Putin is trying to ensure that the West tires of the war to the point that the focus shifts to the significant economic consequences of the sanctions,” says a senior German intelligence official. He believes that the consensus could even begin to crumble as early as this summer. Last Wednesday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke openly about her worries of war “fatigue,” which could lead, she says, to a situation in which the European public begins focusing its attentions on other issues.
Vir: Der Spiegel