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Ukraine:  To win or not to win

Presently there is a significant and important difference between the Biden administration’s objective / desired outcome of the war in Ukraine and that of Ukraine’s President Zalensky.

The president’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CNN recently that: “We will continue to take every step we possibly can to help the Ukrainians succeed on the battlefield and to improve their position at the negotiating table and to make the Russians pay also through increasing costs of sanctions for what they are doing to the people of Ukraine.”  Is this another way of saying to the Russians and the Ukrainians:  Russia you can keep what you’ve conquered and Ukraine you should give up the areas the Russians have conquered?

Ukrainian President Zalensky’s frustration was apparent in a recent speech when he asked: “What is NATO doing?  Is it being run by Russia?  What are they waiting for?”  He said Ukraine needs “tanks, planes, antiaircraft defense and anti-ship missiles.  Our allies have these resources, but the prefer to allow them to collect dust in their warehouses.”

Since he made these remarks, the British have announced that they are providing 100 armored vehicles and anti-ship missiles.  Does this indicate a split in NATO’s desired outcome of this conflict? 

When the Russians invaded Ukraine most of NATO, probably led by the US, has expressed this overarching fear of escalation and the use of nuclear weapons.  NATO, and the Biden administration, has feared that escalation would be the Russian way of disengaging if it was losing.  Published Russian nuclear doctrine does discuss escalation to deescalate.  In other words, Russia would use tactical / theater nuclear weapons to create conditions favorable for it to withdraw its forces and terminate a conflict.  The Russians would use nuclear weapons, declare victory and withdraw from the conflict if they were losing.  This after thought in the Russian doctrine has scared the alliance.  (I wrote about this a year ago.  Most analysts called this doctrine both foolish and irresponsible.)

Zalensky and the Ukrainians want to win and recover ALL of their lost terrain.  Obviously, the Biden administration does not see Russia surrendering the Crimea which it stole during the Obama years.  But the anti-ship missiles that are going to be provided by the Brits might suggest a much different objective for the Ukrainians.  (This is the first hint of an alliance difference on objectives.)

With the Russians trying to secure lands on the eastern border and the southern Crimean parts of the Ukraine the nature of the warfare could change.  The terrain is much more open and conducive to armored/mechanized warfare.  Additionally, the new commander of the Russian forces is known as “the butcher of Syria.”  Just his appointment is designed to “scare” NATO that the brutality will increase in the Russian occupied or sought parts of the country.  “The battle for Donbas will remind you of the Second World War, with its large operations, maneuvers, involvement of thousands of tanks, armored vehicles, planes, artillery,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said following a meeting of NATO foreign ministers last week. 

Without the aid that he is seeking it may be difficult for Zalensky’s forces to win such a set of battles. However, I am more optimistic about Ukraine’s chances than I was two months ago.  The Russian ground forces that we are seeing in Ukraine are nothing like the force that I trained to fight for 25 years of my Army career. Logistically and tactically, they don’t seem to be able to conduct sophisticated ground combat operations.  Some time back I suggested that one of the outcomes of this war would be the Russian creation of a national training center on the US model at Fort Irwin.  The need for this is becoming more apparent every day.

But I digress.  Since the beginning of the cold war in the later 1940s the US and then NATO has sought ways to defeat the Soviet Union.  This finally happened with the fall of the Soviet empire in 1990.  It has been replaced by the Russian Federation, which under the leadership of Vladimir Putin has sought to reestablish the Soviet Union.  The sad shape of the Russian ground forces provides a strategic opportunity that it is almost impossible to ignore.  ‘Almost impossible” because this is what the Biden administration is trying to do—ignore the reality that the Russian ground forces could be destroyed.  The destruction of the Russian ground forces would provide at least 10 years for the west to seek to modernize Russia into the country that optimists thought would result from the fall of the Soviet Union.  To create this opportunity the Ukrainian people and their armed forces must be given the wherewithal to do more than negotiate some form of cease fire.  They must defeat the Russians on the battlefield that is Ukraine, in short, they must WIN.

Will NATO seize this strategic opportunity?  If so, it will have to pull the US with it.  Ukraine has the initiative can it be exploited? To reduce NATO’s fear of the Russians escalating it must put its own nuclear forces at an increased level of readiness so as to signal Russia that deterrence is still the name of the nuclear game.


  1. Norm Boyter says:

    Amen, Bruce. Well written and justifies your conclusions and recommendation. Suggest you send to WSJ.


  2. […] (Ukraine: To win or not to win) I wrote that the Biden administration and the Zalensky administration in Ukraine had different […]


  3. […] have written recently about the strategic objectives in Ukraine.  At that point the choices were to win or not to […]


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