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Opinion | The Costs of a Long War in Ukraine


The next phase of the Ukraine War, a new Russian offensive and a potential Ukrainian counterattack, seems inevitable in late winter or early spring. The escalation logic prevailed, the common belief that there could be no peace agreement until the other side understood that they could not win.

Mykhailo Podolyak, a key adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky, outlined Ukraine’s hopes for how to end this escalation. recent interview with Bruno Macaes for The New Statesman. Macaes summarizes: “Russia will embark on a number of small offensive actions within a short period of time. “A lot of manpower will be lost. Then it will face a significant set of setbacks.” This would lead to Russia’s downfall: Great cities would be lost, some sort of military collapse would ensue, and then there would be “uncontrollable political transitions” within the Union itself. Russian state.

Podolyak does not predict that all of this will happen this spring, suggesting that the timing depends on Western support. But with that support escalating, if he’s right about the possibility of an outright win we should see the start of it in the impending campaign, with a real territorial shift in favor of Ukraine and signs of turmoil inside Russia.

If that’s what we’re going to see, then American strategy will need to focus on the dilemmas of success: The danger from Russia’s desperate nuclear gamble, the spillover from any Any internal Russian power struggles and possible dangers from a successor are still more nationalist than the regime.

But if we see no sign of the fulfillment of Podolyak’s prophecy, if the mutual escalation again leads to a stalemate (I’m framing the dire but hopefully unlikely scenario where the Russians threaten Kyiv… again), then analysts predict a long war will look more scientific. And the Biden administration will need to decide whether a bitter conflict lasting into 2025 and beyond is in the national interest of the United States.

in one new paper from RAND, Samuel Charap and Miranda Priebe make a strong case that the answer should be no. There are benefits to the United States from a protracted struggle, they admit. If a permanent war were to gradually play out Ukraine’s way, many Ukrainians would be liberated from Russian occupation and a post-conflict Ukraine would be more economically viable. A protracted war would impose continued punishment on Russia for its aggression, strengthen the norm against cross-border aggression, and it would encourage our European allies We increase military spending and continue to decouple Western economies from Russian energy, both of which are clearly beneficial. for the benefit of the United States.

But for those benefits, you have to factor in the big costs. A protracted war would perpetuate the current dangerously increasing risk of NATO-Russia conflict and the nuclear crater indefinitely into the future. A protracted war that requires a constant flow of money and weapons threatens to deplete American military resources at a time when we are escalating our competition with China.

A protracted war has killed scores of people, both Ukrainians and Russians, and threatens to leave a post-conflict Ukraine in a worsening demographic and economic condition. A protracted war is a drag on global economic growth and its continued impact on energy and food prices will take lives in Europe and in poorer countries around the world.

And a protracted war leaves the United States ill-equipped to pivot, not only to the threat from China, but to any other surprises the 21st century may be about to come.

To the authors – and, I suspect, for the Biden administration – the possibility of these risks extending into the 2020s makes a strong case for de-escalation. But of course, any de-escalation requires Russia to be willing to negotiate and make real concessions, which has not been made clear so far. So the question is whether there are credible US moves that actually make negotiations more likely, rather than just encouraging Moscow to wait for us.

Charap and Priebe propose several such possibilities, attempting to link together different peace-oriented policies. The promise of long-term US support for Ukraine’s security, through regular aid and some form of reassurance in the event of further Russian aggression, may have something to do with Kiev’s willingness to open new diplomatic channels. Negotiations. Putin’s promise to lift some sanctions on the regime may have something to do with Russia’s willingness to accept concessions Ukraine might accept. The goal will be to show Kyiv some limits to our patience while offering to stabilize our relationship and show Moscow some potential advantages for achieving peace without concessions. before any establishment.

All of this is easier said than done, especially given the moral asymmetry in war, where any solution without Russian surrender would necessarily concede something. something for the evil invader.

But if the next phase of the war suggests that such a compromise is needed for peace, it would be better to seek it sooner rather than after many more seasons of suffering and death.

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