Ukraine War, April 3, 2023: Weaknesses in the strategy of the West

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To see a list of previous articles, enter “Ukraine” in the Search Box on the upper right, and you will see a list in chronological order.

To understand the broad context within which current developments in Ukraine should be considered,see

“Ukraine War, October 26, 2022: The context for analysis of current developments; The “dirty bomb” as a Russian propaganda distraction from current war crimes,” The Trenchant Observer, October 26, 2022.


1) Thomas d’Istria (Kiev), “En Ukraine, le recrutement militaire à la peine, Le Monde, le 3 avril 2023 (modifié à 15h51);

2) Thomas d’Istria (Kiev), “In Ukraine, military recruitment is a pain,” Le Monde, April 3, 2023 (2:00 pm, modified at 3:51 pm);


There is little movement of forces around Bakhmut and in the Donbas in general, so there is relatively little military action to report on a day-to-day basis.

Nonetheless, there are powerful forces at work which, though they may appear to be moving at glacial speed, may have a decisive impact on the outcome of the war.

The first is the disparate abilities of Russia and Ukraine to call up more soldiers to be thrown into the battle. Ukraine’s population is 44 million people. Russia, with a population of 145 million people has 3.3 times as many people from whom conscripts may be drawn.

Thomas d’Istria reports how this is working out in Ukraine, where the army must now rely on conscription to refill its ranks, whereas a year ago its recruitment offices were overwhelmed with volunteers. This phase now appears to be over.

Russia may be in a position to suffer a million casualties, or even killed, in a long-term war in which Ukraine definitely has a manpower disadvantage.

The second force working to the disadvantage of the Ukrainians is the failure of NATO and the West to ramp up the war production of munitions on an all-out emergency basis, which could require putting their economies on a war footing. Reports suggest Russia is increasing its war production, introducing around-the-clock shifts at factories. NATO countries have seriously depleted their stocks of weapons they need for their own defense, without taking the emergency war production measures that woukd be required to replace them within a reasonable time.

This failure is part of a much larger phenomenon shaping many aspects of the response of NATO and its allies to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. That phenomenon is a broad failure to acknowledge the gravity of the situation represented by Russia’s war against Ukraine, international law and the U.N. Charter, and indeed our entire civilization based on reason and law, and not military power and conquest.

Moreover, as the war drags out for years one cannot dismiss the possibility that China could add its enormous war production capacity to that of Russia, supplying large quantities of arms and ammunition to Moscow. This may appear unlikely at present, but the course of a war is unpredictable. Good war planning cannot proceed on positive assumptions alone.

The third factor has been the glacial pace at which modern weapons and weapons systems have been transferred and actually deployed, with trained personnel, in Ukraine. For example, the long delays in the transfer of armored vehicles to Ukraine, particularly the German-made Leopard 2 tanks, have resulted in situations where Ukraine is unable to take advantage of momentum on the battlefield, or launch counter-offensives at the most propitious moment. This appears to be the fate of the long-heralded spring offensive by Ukrainian forces.

This factor continues to play out as Joe Biden and Olaf Scholz, in particular, continue to oppose the transfer to Ukraine of modern fighter jets such as the F-16 to Ukraine. The NATO taboo on transferring jets seems, nonetheless, to have lost its force, as Poland and a few other countries are transferring Soviet-model jets to Ukraine on their own initiative.

The problem, of course, is that it is the Americans who have the muscle and the planes, and the power of veto over transfers of American fighters such as the F-16.

A fourth factor, potentially of decisive importance, has been the failure of the U.S., NATO countries and other allies, to exercise all-out pressure on the countries in the so-called “Global South” to condemn Russian aggression and war crimes in Ukraine. Some progress has been made, as the EU and the U.S. exerted some diplomatic pressure to secure approval of a strongly-worded U.N. General Assembly resolution condemning Russia on February 23, 2023. Significantly, Mexico and Brazil voted in favor of the resolution.

But they have failed to follow through with real pressure on the countries of the “Global South” to join the sanctions regime in place against Russia. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) not only abstained on the General Assemnly resolution, but seems to have taken a clear pro-Russian policy stance on Ukraine.

We continue to make military sales and provide defense assistance to countries like the UAE, and now Saudi Arabia, who are lining up with Russia against American and Western interests.

A fifth factor is President Joe Biden’s great fear of Putin and his nuclear threats, the consequences of which are great. Bien’s fear of Putin has led to his being an enforcer of Putin’s “red lines”.

These include the prohibition of any attacks on Russia proper (before the illegal annexations), which Biden has enforced by vetoing the transfer of Polish jets to Ukraine in March, by refusing to transfer the long-range (300 km or 180 miles) ATACMS artillery rockets for the HIMARS artillery units, by modifying the HIMARS so they could not fire the long-range artillery shells, and by exacting promises from Ukraine that U.S.-supplied equipment would not be used to attack Russia proper, and what appears to be U.S. opposition to Ukraine attempting to liberate the Crimea by force.

We do not know what explicit understandings Biden may have reached with Putin regarding respecting his “red lines”, whether through the secret back-channel discussions National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan has conducted with Putin’s top aides, or through other channels.

Finally, a sixth factor, moving at a slow pace but in fact a quickening one, is the developing political situation in the United States. It appears to result in part from Biden’s and Attorney General Merrick Garland’s failure to indict and prosecute Donald Trump for any of the many apparent crimes he has committed before, during, and after his presidency. Inaction by the Biden administration has in effect granted impunity to Trump and his high-level apparent accomplices for the last two years.

It is a national disgrace that the first indictment of Donald Trump was secured by the Manhattan D.A.’s Office and not the U.S. Department of Justice.

The consequences of this grant of virtual impunity to Trump and his cohorts has been to allow a large movement to threaten violence and democracy in the United States. While Garland has appointed a Special Prosecutor to investigate Trump, Jack Smith, that Prosecutor’s recommendations will have no effect unless and until Attorney General Garland decides to take action to implement them.

Given Garland’s evident disinclinition to take on Trump and his supporters, we can expect him to delay and delay in responding to Jack Smith’s recommendations, and then citing the Justice Department’s policy against taking major actions that could effect an election, to defer any indictments until after the November 2024 presidential election.

This sixth factor could potentially lead to the re-election of Donald Trump as President. Should Trump be elected, there would probably be a great decrease in the U.S. military and financial aid provided to Ukraine.

Viewing these six factors and their impact on the outcome of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, one cannot be sanguine about the outcome of that war.

To minimize the risks of such a negative outcome, urgent axtion should be taken by the U.S. and other allies including the following measures:

1) Provide Ukraine immediately with all necessary weapons and take other measures to limit the number of Ukrainian casualties in the war;

2) Immediately ramp up war production to the highest level possible, in a national emergency which may require placing part or all of the economy on a wartime footing.

At the same time, do whatever is possible to defuse the bitter emotional conflicts which exist with China, reaffirming the Shanghai Communique of 1972 and avoiding giving any support to those militating for the independence of Taiwan.

The U.S. should be tough in its actions toward China, while trying to defuse the emotional hostility which exists between the two governments. In short, the U.S. must work hard to develop areas of cooperation which may exist (e.g., climate, tariffs) while holding firm on key issues like Taiwan, Hong Kong, human rights, the Uyghurs, the South China Sea, etc.

In other words, while not putting aside the stick, the U.S. dhoukd do what it can to enhance the carrot, so as to persuade China to not even think about furnishing Russia with weapons and other munitions.

3) Weapons and munitions should be transferred to the Ukrainians at maximum speed, and the types of weapons transferred should not be limited by Biden’s enforcement of any of Putin’s “red lines”.

That means weapons capable of striking targets in Russia should be supplied to Ukraine, subject only to the restriction that they be used in accordance with the international law right of self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the U.N. Charter. Long-range ATACMS artillery rockets for the HIMARS artillery units should be supplied, while modifications to the HIMARS limiting their ability to use long-range munitions should be undone.

4) The U.S., NATO, and their allies should exercise maximum pressure on the fence-sitting nations of the “Global South” not only to condemn Russian aggression and war crimes in Ukraine, but also to join the international sanctions regimes prohibiting trade with Russia.

The U.S. Congress and the European Commission should be tasked with drawing up lists of trade, military, foreign assistance and other benefits granted to these fence-sitting nations in the “Global South”. Military sales and defense assistance, and other benefits, should be reduced in the case of non-cooperating countries.

5) Biden must be helped to overcome his fear of Putin and Putin’s nuclear threats. To help him, Congress should hold hearings into what understandings Biden may have reached with Putin regarding Outin’s “”red lines”. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan should be called to testify about the content of his “back-channel” communications with Putin’s top aides. To the extent possible, this testimony should be in open session. Particularly sensitive matters can be examined in closed session.

6) President Biden and Merrick Garland should reconsider their previous decisions not to prosecute Trump. Congress should call Merrick Garland to testify about the timing and implementation of the Special Prosecutor’s recommendations as to indicting Trump.

The long-term outcome of the war may depend on countries in the “Global South” joining in condemnatio of Russia and joining the international sanctions regimes.

Western countries must come to terms with what is ultimately at stake in this war, and then take energetic action to ensure that the West, Ukraine, and the U.N. Charter will ultimately prevail. They cannot treat the ongoing war as if it is contained. Given Russia’s nuclear weapons, it is an extremely dangerous situation which could escalate to nuclear conflict on short notice.

This is no time for complacency.

The Trenchant Observer


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