There have been a number of articles of late that have made the case that the only thing we can all do now in Ukraine is to back the Ukrainians all the way to victory.
The basics of the argument are:
The war has involved so much violence on both sides that neither side has any disposition to deal. Further, both sides view any sort of deal making as literally fatal to their nation.
Ukrainians view any deal with Russia as simply kicking the can further down the road. Some sort of DMZ (De-Militarized Zone), a la the Korean Peninsula, would just mean a temporary ceasefire while Russia armed up and tried again. Even pushing Russia out of Ukraine’s 1991 borders is only a partial solution. Ukraine must be armed up, and wrapped up inside an alliance that is powerful enough that a future Russia, no matter how desirous it might be to have Ukraine, will be unable to rationalize a future war in the face of the might of the NATO alliance.
So, Ukraine MUST win, AND Ukraine MUST become a member of NATO, or some future alliance that guarantees the presence of a military capability that can deter and if necessary defeat any future Russian force.
Anything short of that means Russia will simply rearm and come back later for Ukraine.
Can Ukraine do that on its own? No, and it understands that. But, it must have an integrated air defense system that covers all the major cities and items of strategic value, it must have a modern Air Force, and it must have a modern army capable of integrating into the forces of the alliance. In a country the size of Ukraine (almost the size of France (or Texas)) but a GDP less than 5% that of France, that will entail a military far more expensive than one they can afford given the pre-war Ukrainian economy. Post war, with all the problems they now face, it will be many years before they can afford that robust a defense; which means NATO (or “the Alliance”) will need to provide money and forces to augment Ukrainian capabilities.
Said differently, to Russia, the threat will grow.
But what about Russia?
From Russia’s perspective the above scenario alone is catastrophic. But there are several pieces to it: the loss of Crimea and the loss of eastern Ukraine would obviously not be, in and of themselves, catastrophic. Russia survived quite well from 1991 to 2014 without Crimea or eastern Ukraine.
But the political dynamics of that loss, coupled as it would be with the movement of NATO to less than 400 miles from Moscow, the de facto loss of control of the Black Sea, and the damage done to the Russian army and Russian military writ large would, per the experts, result in a change in government and, according to many knowledgable sources, the likely breakup of Russia. In short, Russia MUST win or both the Russian government and the Russian state itself will cease to exist, leaving perhaps some rump Russia and a host of smaller states, some with very few people and a great many resources, easy pickings for a greedy China.
It would be, according to these sources, and apparently to Russian leadership, a truly existential loss.
So, two countries locked in literally existential struggle; a war in which only one of the countries involved will survive the end of the war.
It’s worth remembering that for the past 18 months we have been assured by this or that éminence grise the that there is “a very low probability” that Putin will use nuclear weapons as he has very little to gain and the use of nuclear weapons would make him an international pariah. And, it would destroy the very thing he is trying to gain: Ukraine. And, in fact, they are quick to point out that Russia sets a very high bar for the use of nuclear weapons.
But what does Russia say about nuclear weapon use, what is the bar, even when some have suggested that Putin was threatening to lower it? This is the Russian doctrine, before any lowering of the threshold that Putin may have considered:
“The Russian Federation shall reserve the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the event of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.”
It has been noted that this is indeed a very high bar, higher than the bar the US uses to frame its nuclear use doctrine… “When the very existence of the state is in jeopardy.”
Which is, per the experts, exactly where we now find ourselves…