A friend asked me about recent US noises about Ukraine and Russia coming to a negotiated solution. I figured I’d write it out here. So what does this tell us?
We are NOT going to see an “appeasement” peace. A Russian retreat back to pre-war lines would be the absolute minimum offer on the table. As a simple example, Russia would have to give back Mariupol, Melitipol, and all the other territory it took this year. Everyone in the West understands we can’t have another Munich. Whatever result will have to be (and look like) a Russian defeat.
Putin likely won’t (yet) accept the offer on the table. He is still trying to exit this conflict with some face-saving win. Keeping Mariupol, for example. Otherwise, he’d prefer to shift to a “frozen conflict” with static front lines.
The Ukrainians will do all they can to prevent a frozen conflict along a static front line. They have a window here to 1), recapture territory. 2). degrade the Russians further (which the US will be happy to keep funding).
- They will keep punching. Keep the war hot. They punched through Russian lines around Kyiv, Khakhiv, Lyman, and now Kherson. The next punches could be towards Mariupol or Melitipol, but also through Luhansk or Donetsk (cutting off Mariupol and Melitipol).
- Those punches will aim to open a path into Crimea. I don’t even have an armchair general guess at what that looks like on the ground. But Ukraine wants Crimea back. They understand they can’t take it by slow siege. They either take it in the next 6-12 months or (likely) not at all.
So the War will still go on (for a while). Into 2023, but not beyond.
- Putin still can’t/won’t accept the minimum peace offer the US would put on the table.
- Ukraine will be grabbing back as much territory and destroying as much Russian hardware and (trained) troops as it can. Untrained conscripts are a truly sad but necessary part of that killing, but Ukraine and the US are after the officers and NCO’s.
- The US will keep funding the war (for a while)
The question is when Putin (or his successor) is willing to accept a “no appeasement” peace. That is hopefully sometime in 2023.
The US “peace” noses mostly tell us two things.
The US is feeling close to achieving its war objectives. These are…
- …the destruction of the Russian military as an effective fighting force
- …Russia’s permanent relegation to 2nd tier power status.
The US is ambivalent about duration – not signing up to…
- A long drawn-out, “high intensity” war in general. A frozen conflict is OK, but we can’t keep this pace up indefinitely.
- A bloody, grinding Ukrainian push into Crimea specifically
What about Ukraine’s objectives? Ukraine’s objectives are more expansive. They want Crimea back. They desperately want to avoid a frozen conflict hobbling the country for the next 10 years like it did the last 10. They also want a genuine invitation to join “the West” – with all the economic and security benefits this implies.
Full membership in Europe and the West is probably enough for now. Ukraine has paid enough in blood to deserve it. If Ukraine gets rich fast enough, Crimea will eventually be begging to re-join it… Lets just hope they don’t corruption their way out of a golden opportunity.
Ukraine also understands its artillery shells now come from the US, so they understand the limits to their ambitions. I’d guess those limits are measured mostly in time (months, not years) and somewhere around the Crimea border.