McManus: The war in Ukraine could become a long, frozen conflict

According to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s grand plan, this was the harsh winter that would split Ukraine and its allies in the West.

This did not happen.

Putin unleashed missile attacks on Ukraine’s cities and its electric grid, but Ukrainians fixed their transformers and fought on.

Putin unleashed a mercenary force, the Wagner Group, that used convicts to try to take over the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut. They are still trying.

Putin cut off natural gas supplies to the West, hoping to freeze comfortable Europeans into abandoning Ukraine. But the European winter was one of the warmest on record. Gas prices are lower than they were before Russia invaded Ukraine.

Rather than abandon Ukraine, the United States and its allies are sending in more aid: Patriot missiles and Bradley fighting vehicles from the United States, Challenger tanks from Britain, and armored vehicles from Germany and France.

This does not mean that Ukraine will win. The Winter War is at a stalemate, with little territory handed over.

President Volodymyr Zelensky’s promise that victory is coming may be good for morale, but it remains premature.

Putin told foreign visitors that he was planning a war that would last two or three years. He says he is confident his larger forces can hold out against Ukraine and its allies.

Both sides are preparing for new attacks this spring.

Russia is training an estimated 150,000 recruits for new offensives, drawing on its seemingly unlimited manpower.

Ukraine is waiting for those new weapons from the West, including anti-aircraft missiles and armored vehicles that are more advanced than any they have now.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J.

Pentagon officials say the goal is not only to enable Ukraine to defend itself, but to drive Russia out of the territories it occupied last year.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura K. Cooper told reporters, “We are preparing Ukraine to be able to move forward and regain territory.”

U.S. officials do not believe that Ukraine is likely to regain all of the territory that Russia has occupied; They do not count on the Russian army to collapse.

Instead, they hope that Ukrainian successes on the battlefield will convince Putin that the war has become a losing proposition and that it is time to negotiate an armistice. If negotiations begin, the United States wants Ukraine to bargain from a position of strength.

But there is a problem with this optimistic scenario: Neither Russia nor Ukraine seem eager to make concessions.

Putin has refused to cede any of the five Ukrainian regions he has annexed to Russia, even though four regions are not entirely under Russian control.

He cemented Zelensky’s position that Russia should give up every inch of Ukrainian territory including Crimea, which Putin seized in 2014. Public opinion polls have found that a strong majority of Ukrainians support these demands.

All of this leads some foreign policy experts to conclude that the most likely outcome is not a military victory or a negotiated peace, but a “frozen conflict.”

“Instead of assuming that war can be ended through victory or talks, the West needs to think of a world in which conflict continues with no victory and no peace in sight,” said Ivo Daalder of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and James Goldger of the American University wrote in Foreign. Affairs last week.

They noted that “not all wars end – or end with lasting peace settlements.”

For example, they cite the Korean War, which formally continued despite the 1953 armistice; The 1973 war between Israel and Syria produced only the “disengagement agreements”. and Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and other parts of Ukraine, a clash that had largely frozen before last year’s invasion.

A freeze will not resolve the underlying conflict. It will not be the resounding defeat of Putin’s aggression, as Ukrainians and their allies around the world hope.

Ukraine might rightly worry that such an outcome would give Russia time to regroup, re-equip its shattered army and try again.

This could mean that the United States and its allies will need to continue massive support for Ukraine – to enable it to defend against the next Russian invasion and rebuild its economy. Daalder and Goldgeier propose a formal NATO security guarantee for Ukraine, even if the country is not accepted into the alliance as a member.

Their proposal adds to the strategy of stabilizing Ukraine and containing Russia, such as the policy of containment that the United States applied to the Soviet Union during the 45 years of the Cold War. With luck, Ukraine and the West will be able to wait out Putin and seek accommodation with his successors.

Such a strategy would be costly, and even dangerous. Frozen conflicts aren’t always problem-free; Just look at Korea, Syria and Crimea.

The plan would require Americans to subsidize aid to Ukraine for years or decades, even as Republicans, once the anti-Soviet Resolve Party, complain about the cost.

But foreign policy is often a less-than-ideal choice—and a cold war is less destructive, perhaps even cheaper, than a hot war.

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