US Demands the Impossible from Zelenskyy*

*Editor’s note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.

In anticipation of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the West is increasingly more actively considering the peace negotiations that are expected to ensue. Indeed, most people in the U.S. and some in Europe are almost certain the Ukrainian army will succeed in its counteroffensive, which the West helped mastermind. The only thing in question is how big it will be. Even though practically no one, even among Anglo-Saxon hawks, believes in the possibility Crimea will be liberated, people expect a certain defeat of Russia, if only tactical. After that, peace negotiations will follow, and at which point, many Western analysts believe, Moscow will have to participate. to which, according to many Western analysts, Moscow will be forced to agree. Thus, Western strategists see the long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive as a particular way of ushering Russia to the negotiating table, that is, creating favorable conditions for Kyiv and the West before talks begin.

A recent article, “The West Needs a New Strategy in Ukraine” by Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan in Foreign Affairs, is very telling in this regard. Haass is not an analyst, but the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a key U.S. think tank. Hence, his analysis is not abstract. More so, it’s not even a policy recommendation but a fair reflection of U.S. plans.

In essence, Haass asserts that the U.S. must change its strategy even though Ukraine and its allies are winning. Of course, Haass still supports the demands to pump Kyiv full of weapons. However, he believes that “the most likely outcome of the conflict is not a complete Ukrainian victory but a bloody stalemate.” Therefore, it is necessary to prepare for the moment “when the fighting season winds down late this year, ushering Moscow and Kyiv from the battlefield to the negotiating table.” Nevertheless, Haass is among those hawks who are not afraid of an escalation of the conflict – and in general, “the West should discount Russia’s posturing.” Therefore, it is possible and necessary to supply Ukraine with weapons – and sooner or later, Moscow will give up on a military solution.

This logic is ridiculous in the sense that it assumes the possibility that the U.S. can force Russia to accept Ukraine’s withdrawal into the Atlantic camp, and that it can still force Russia to negotiate this issue. But that’s not the point. The main question is why Haass proposes to change in U.S. strategy.

Because the U.S. must convince Kyiv to negotiate peace, too! And that means breaking the promises it has already made to Ukraine: “Peace in Ukraine cannot be held hostage to war aims that, however morally justified, are likely unattainable … Even from Ukraine’s perspective, it would be unwise to keep doggedly pursuing a full military victory that could prove Pyrrhic,” says Haass.

Obviously, when the fighting season is over, the U.S. and Europe will also have good reason to abandon their policy of supporting Ukraine for “as long as it takes.”

Moreover, says Haass, “For over a year, the West has allowed Ukraine to define success and set the war aims of the West. This policy, regardless of whether it made sense at the outset of the war, has now run its course.”

So what happened? Why does the U.S. need a change of strategy? It turns out that the former policy “is unwise, because Ukraine’s goals are coming into conflict with other Western interests,” and the continuation of large-scale support for Kyiv will lead to broader strategic risks, says Haass.

What are those risks? According to Haass, the West cannot continue to supply weapons to Ukraine at the same pace. Moreover, it fears direct conflict with Russia (this slightly contradicts the main thesis of the article, but let’s not dwell on it), and the U.S. cannot continue to be so distracted from deterring China. Also, there is the risk of a split in the Western alliance, and the fact that the “policy toward Ukraine could change significantly should Republicans win the White House in the 2024 election.”

In other words, Haass, who is as much of a globalist and Atlanticist as they come, actually acknowledges all the West’s problems that critics and opponents of the global Anglo-Saxon project are talking about – and suggests referring to these concerns when explaining to Kyiv the reasons for a change in U.S. policy and the need for peace talks. But the problem is, how are the Americans going to convince Kyiv — and what will it cost Volodymyr Zelenskyy?

Haass admits that “persuading Kyiv to go along with a cease-fire and uncertain diplomatic effort could be no less challenging than getting Moscow to do so.”

The U.S., of course, will pressure Kyiv to negotiate peace by any means. Still, the main problem for the West in Ukraine right now is that it is simply impossible for Zelenskyy to refuse the demand to restore the 1991 borders. And if he does scale back the war objectives, he will be dismissed by those Ukrainians who want to achieve an absolute victory. A recent interview with Anatol Lieven (a British analyst who recently returned from Ukraine) said exactly this.

So what’s happening? The current U.S. strategy in Ukraine presumes it must help the Ukrainian army inflict at least relative defeat on Russia. Then, the U.S. plans to broker peace negotiations, freezing the conflict and the current status quo. Russia would keep the territories it already controls, while the rest of Ukraine would become an unofficial member of NATO. Thus, Russia would suffer a geopolitical defeat — since instead of preventing the westernization of Ukraine, it would need to be satisfied with a land corridor to Crimea, accepting Ukraine’s move toward the West.

However, as part of this strategy, the West shot itself in the foot by constantly and publicly supporting the plans to “liberate” all of Ukraine. Thus, the success of Zelenskyy’s whole military campaign rests on Western aid. Hence, if now, without even a hint of Russia’s willingness to abandon its objectives, the West begins to convince Kyiv that it must accept the cease-fire and give up the lost territories, it will be political suicide for Zelenskyy. And if the West decides to make such a proposal after the counteroffensive, Ukraine is unlikely to accept, whatever the outcome of its campaign. For instance, if the counteroffensive achieves some breakthrough against all odds, Zelenskyy will not agree to peace negotiations, in the belief that there is more to achieve (and the Ukrainian army won’t agree, either). However, if the counteroffensive fails, Zelenskyy won’t even be able to mention a cease-fire without the risk of being overthrown.

But this situation is about more than Zelenskyy. Rather, the problem lies in the American approach, which from the outset, is based on the mistaken belief that, in the end, the U.S. will be able to take over Ukraine — and no new tactics or strategy will fix this fundamental error.

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About Nikita Gubankov 89 Articles
Originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, I've recently graduated from University College London, UK, with an MSc in Translation and Technology. My interests include history, current affairs and languages. I'm currently working full-time as an account executive in a translation and localization agency, but I'm also a keen translator from English into Russian and vice-versa, as well as Spanish into English.

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