Wednesday, April 06, 2022

We Now Have a Paired Box Canyon War

We are not a direct combatant in the Russo-Ukraine War, but we and our NATO allies are not neutral parties either – we are somewhere in between. We are feeding weapons to the Ukrainians to defend themselves from Russians and their allies.

Even more than material aid, we are shaping the information space, economic environment, and diplomatic terrain as it relates to Russia. Let’s look at the last part.

Why diplomatic? That is because the diplomats are the ones who can help end this war sooner more than later. The longer a war goes on, the longer there are opportunities for error or design to spin a small war in to a larger war. 

Even putting the recent evidence of generalized killing of civilians discovered in the withdraw of Russian forces from the north of Ukraine - if one can - we in the West may have already closed a barely operable door to a diplomatic solution as long as Putin is in power.

“A dictator, bent on rebuilding an empire, will never erase the people’s love for liberty,” Biden said at the end of a sweeping speech in Poland. “Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia, for free people refuse to live in a world of hopelessness and darkness.”

For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,” Biden said.

“This guy is brutal, and what’s happening in Bucha is outrageous,” Biden told reporters, referring to a town near Kyiv where numerous civilians were found dead, some bearing marks of torture or execution. The Ukrainian government said it has counted more than 400 civilian deaths so far in the suburbs of the capital city.

Biden previously branded Putin a “war criminal” in remarks March 17, but at that time the White House said he was speaking personally and not outlining a formal U.S. position. Six days later, the U.S. formally accused Russia of war crimes and said it was collecting evidence to help prove it.

To the Russian ear when dealing with the West there are two event that even before the US President made his remarks made any negotiation iffy once the war began.

First in the Clinton Administration we had the Dayton Accords:

On Nov. 1, 1995, the conference began. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović, Serbian President Milošević, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, and representatives from the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the European Union (EU) met at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio, a site chosen to reduce the ability of participants to negotiate via the media rather than the bargaining table. The peace conference was led by Holbrooke and cochaired by EU Special Representative Carl Bildt and First Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Igor Ivanov.

…and what happened to Milošević?

Milošević was indicted in May 1999, during the Kosovo War, by the UN's International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity in Kosovo. Charges of violating the laws or customs of war, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions in Croatia and Bosnia and genocide in Bosnia were added a year and a half later.

… On 11 March 2006, Milošević was found dead in his prison cell in the UN war crimes tribunal's detention centre, located in the Scheveningen section of The Hague, Netherlands.

They also remember what happened in Libya.

On December 19, 2003, long-time Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi stunned much of the world by renouncing Tripoli’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs and welcoming international inspectors to verify that Tripoli would follow through on its commitment.

Following Gaddafi’s announcement, inspectors from the United States, United Kingdom, and international organizations worked to dismantle Libya’s chemical and nuclear weapons programs, as well as its longest-range ballistic missiles. Washington also took steps toward normalizing its bilateral relations with Tripoli, which had essentially been cut off in 1981.

…and what happened to Gaddafi?

Finding a trail of blood, NTC fighters followed it to a sandy culvert with two storm drains. In one of these Gaddafi was hiding.

Accounts here differ. According to some fighters quoted after the event, he begged his captors not to shoot. Others say he asked of one: “What did I do to you?” But it is what happened next that is the source of controversy.

What is certain from several of the clips of video footage – most telling that shot by Ali Algadi – is that Gaddafi was dazed but still alive, although possibly already fatally wounded. The question is what happens between this and later images of a lifeless Gaddafi lying on the ground having his shirt stripped off and propped in the back of a pickup truck and the next sequence which shows him dead.

Here the accounts differ wildly. According to one fighter, caught on camera, he was shot in the stomach with a 9mm pistol. According to doctors not present at his capture and ambulance staff, Gaddafi was shot in the head. Some NTC officials have said anonymously he was “killed after capture”, while others have said he was killed after capture in a crossfire.

We still don’t know for sure, but one thing is clear – regardless of what promises were made in 2003, the West came after him anyway in 2011.

Putin and the Russians know both these stories well. Only someone lost in a DC think-tank bubble or on some international studies panel discussion at an intellectually stagnant graduate school would think there is anything at the first week of April that would encourage Putin to negotiate anything – or would reward a Western political leader to want to negotiate with him towards a peaceful end to this war.

The West has put itself in a box canyon where anyone who suggests a negotiated settlement that leaves Putin in power or gives the Russians any former Ukrainian land is quickly called an apologist for Putin/genocide, or any other name you can think of.

Across the trail there is Putin and the Russians is another box canyon of their own creation. Regardless of what operational plan they started with, they have a new one now. Not only is Putin’s status at risk in Ukraine, but the Russians’ national mythology of the last two decades are on the line as well. 

Some hope that the Russians will “escalate to deescalate” with an invigorated offensive in the east and south of Ukraine. That is wishcasting. I think the Russians will escalate to win. They don’t have a choice.

The Ukrainians are in little mood to negotiate as they see what the Russians did in the territory around Kyiv. That door was opened recently, but I don’t see how that cracks open again.

As long as Putin is in power and the Ukrainians still hold at least Lviv, Galicia, and the Ukrainian Carpathians, we should expect this war to last for a while. The Ukrainians don’t have a choice.

Each month, the opportunity for an expanded war by accident or intention grows. Soon, the Ukrainian mud season will end, the soil will firm up and summer – the season of maneuver – will be upon us.

By design, or just plain stumble, everyone should come to terms with the fact that the opportunity for a short war or negotiated peace that everyone can live with but not be happy with may have passed us by.

This war will be decided the old-fashioned way … or at least one or a combo of a few of the old fashioned ways.

The USA and her NATO allies will have to keep feeding the Ukrainian war effort regardless of what happens, we don’t have a choice.

The longer the conflict goes on, there is a risk that already existing cracks in the alliance will grow. Who would benefit from that? 

If Ukraine pulls out a win on her terms, the West wins.

If Russia pulls out a win on her terms, the West will not just lose – it runs the risk of fracturing in the process.

Each week the stakes grow … and we seem intent on demolishing any bridge, off ramp, or face-saving exit for anyone. 

Perhaps that was unavoidable once the Russians crossed the border. We don’t know. You can’t change the past, the present is, and the future is yet unwritten.

Pray for luck, because no one’s plans seem to be working as thought.

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