The Biden administration and the West are doing a better job in supporting Ukraine and resisting Russian aggression. They deserve credit for overcoming some of their earlier hesitations and policy errors.
Joe Biden no longer seems to be paralyzed by fear of how Vladimir Putin will react if provoked by Western military moves. The U.S. has supplied Ukraine with highly-effective HIMARS long-range artillery, and approved its use in attacking targets in the Crimea and in Russian and “separatist” occupied areas in Luhansk and Donetsk provinces.
Ukraine’s allies have come out even more firmly in support of Ukraine’ goal of regaining full sovereignty over areas within its territory, i.e., which it occupied prior to the Russian invasions of 2014. In doing so, they have expressed increasingly strong support for upholding the U.N. Charter and international law principles of the prohibition of the use of force, and the non-recognition of territorial gains achieved by military conquest.
This strengthening of support is a signal advance over the weak and at times equivocal support of these principles expressed in the earlier stages of the war, when even Henry Kissinger at first sounded open to territorial “concessions” as part of a ceasefire or peace agreement. He later issued a clarification stating that he had only been speaking about a ceasefire agreement.
While commentators give voice to concerns about “war fatigue” and the determination of Ukraine’s allies to stay the course, even in a long and drawn-out conflict, in practice there has been no slackening of military and economic support. If anything, the solidarity of the West in supporting Ukraine has become stronger.
Turkey and the United Nations have successfully brokered an agreement with both Russia and Ukraine that is allowing grain exports through the Black Sea to resume and continue. Turkey has reiterated its support for the return of the Crimea to Ukraine, and the international law principles involved.
Even at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Russia appears ready to allow a United Nations team from the IAEA to conduct an inspection of the facility, which could help stabilize an extremely volatile and dangerous situation.
On the battlefield, Russia continues to have a formidable superiority in weapons and men. However, the HIMARS long-range artillery are making a difference, permitting strikes far behind Russian lines at weapons and supply depots and military command centers. Ukraine’s attacks in the Crimea, in particular, whether with HIMARS or other weapons systems, may be having a significant impact on Russian morale.
Ukraine has been touting an upcoming counter-offensive to retake Kherson for some time now, as Russia adds to its forces in the region, but apparently lacks the forces to undertake the counteroffensive right now. On the other hand, the Russian forces in the region on the West side of the Dnipro River have had their supply lines hit and to some extent cut as the Ukrainians have taken out several key bridges, leaving the Russians dependent on ferries and pontoon bridges for the resupply of their troops.
On balance, Western support of Ukraine appears to be holding firm, despite the numerous scenarios under which it could weaken in the future. Russia retains a military advantage but Ukraine, after losing all of Luhansk province, has been holding firm.
Ukrainian president Wolodymyr Zelensky has affirmed that there can be no negotiations so long as Russian troops occupy Ukrainian territory. Ukraine and the West will not accept territorial “concessions”—giving up territory conquered by military force—to secure a ceasefire or peace settlement.
The prospect is for a long war.
As this Observer looks into a crystal ball, in the long term the only possibility of a negotiated settlement would now appear to be one based on a 50- or 99-year lease to Russia of the Black Sea Fleet facilities in the Crimea, in exchange for a long-term gas supply agreement at concessionary prices.
Simply stating these possible peace terms underlines how the Ukrainian position has hardened, given relative success on the battlefield, and how far away peace remains.
The Trenchant Observer
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