Opinion | The U.S. Has Made a Coldly Logical Decision in Ukraine. So Has Russia.

As the Ukrainian military makes rapid progress in the fall campaign, concerns about Russian nuclear retaliation are linked to the long-standing American interpretation of Russian strategic theory:escalate to de-escalate,” the idea of ​​using a limited nuclear strike to increase the risk of conflict is so high that your adversary has no choice but to haggle, regardless of their usual advantages.

In the months since, the return of a war of attrition and many refuse Russia somewhat alleviated the worries about the nuclear. But the “escalate to de-escalate” theory is still relevant to the situation in Ukraine, because it seems to inform both US and Russian strategies – conventionally, not nuclear – for the campaign. spring.

Note that I spoke of US strategy, not Ukraine. Ukraine’s desired strategy remained the same, understandable enough, for the entire war: escalate to win. Kyiv wanted as many weapons as possible that the West could send, they wanted to take back every inch of their territory and did not want to accept terms that would yield anything to the Russian invaders.

This attitude is shared by many hawkish voices in Europe and the Americas, who continue to plan for Victory of Ukraine and the overthrow of Vladimir Putin. But it may not be shared by the Biden administration, or at least not shared by key decision-makers.

Yes, the official White House position is that Ukraine will receive our support all the way to victory. But the cautious approach that President Biden and his team have taken to arming could radically change the balance of the war, nudge encouraged Kiev to show openness in negotiations, concerned about overinvesting in our costs Asia commitment – all of which indicates that the White House’s closest goal is a favorable armistice, not the total defeat of Russia.

To achieve that imagined peace, however, you need to convince the Russians that a real armistice — as opposed to another “frozen conflict,” in which war ends but peace was never officially established — it was in their interest, that if they kept the war smoldering, they would continue to lose people and material at a brutal rate, destabilizing the regime.

One hope is that Ukraine’s counterattack last fall and Europe’s ability to successfully withstand the winter months so far will be decisive in pushing Moscow to accept this reality, and even towards formulating its own proposals (certainly unrealistic at first) for a negotiated solution. .

But instead, the Russians seem not only to dig deep, but to prepare for their own new attack. This, in turn, explains why the Biden White House and our European allies are cautious – and with certain German hesitation – to turn the tide of escalation, allowing for a tank build-up. and heavy armor flows into Ukraine.

So far, this is not a policy designed to completely overwhelm a Russian mobilization or drive the Russians out of Ukraine. It was a policy that seemed intended to stave off any new attacks, potentially cost the Russians more ground, and to show Moscow that it could not win a fierce war more easily than it could. hope to win a short war initially. It’s an escalation that assumes the Russians need a little more convincing, and then they’ll be open to de-escalation that we can’t achieve.

But a similar logic seems to be driving Russia’s strategy as well – that is, we can see through the dark glass between us and Russia’s intentions.

From Russia’s hypothetical point of view, Ukraine’s interests in the fall and Europe’s resilience in the winter have made military success all the more urgent. There is no point in formulating peace proposals as long as the Ukrainians are convinced that they can achieve a complete victory, and they believe it more than ever.

So it is only when that hope is shattered by force that an agreement accepted by Moscow begins to emerge. This is forced to demonstrate militarily that total stalemate is the best Kyiv can hope for, that American and European support may be enough to hold the ground, not win it back. thoroughly. And such evidence can only be produced through escalation, with the hope that de-escalation awaits on the other side.

Hawks would counter this analysis by noting that we have no evidence that Russia actually wants real de-escalation at any stage without conquest. (Therefore, the hawkish case for a more maximal commitment, driven by America’s regime change.) Doves would object that I am overestimating the Biden White House’s genuine desire to achieve an award. law and underestimate the extent to which U.S. policy is being set by war fever, military-industrial orders, or a waning liberalist romance with a distant nationalism. sticky rice. (Hence, the moderate case to cut back or deny more military aid to Kyiv.)

But the reason to view the situation the way I have described it, with both Washington and Moscow imagining themselves escalating towards a peaceful resolution, is a familiar historical situation. A war broke out, expected to end quickly, but instead there was a stalemate, and both sides believed that increasing their commitment to the conflict would bring it to an end. faster under more favorable conditions.

This mutual trust is not a matter of romance or fantasy or simply madness (though of course those forces are involved). Instead, escalation is accepted as a coldly logical decision, as the only logical course of action.

And beyond such rationality, you get closer to the absurdity of fighting for years in a war that neither side can fully hope to win.


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