The Consequences of “For as Long as It Takes”

Photograph Source: House FloorCast – Public Domain

There were two predictable consequences of the repeated standing ovations recently accorded to President Zelensky of Ukraine by the U.S. Congress.

For Ukrainians, they will confirm the official Ukrainian perspective that, with the world’s preeminent military power irrevocably committed to offering unlimited miltary and economic support, perpetuating the war will be worth all the sacrifices which doing so will entail.

For Russians, they will confirm, dramatically, the official perspective that Russia is at war with the United States and NATO, not with the manipulated “brotherly people” of Ukraine, that this war is existential for Russia and that Russia cannot afford to lose this war.

These reinforced perspectives will render any hope of ending the deaths and destruction in Ukraine and the collateral damage to the rest of the world at any time in the foreseeable future even more dim than they originally were.

During President Zelensky’s whirlwind visit to Washington, President Biden reiterated his six-word mantra that the United States will support Ukraine “for as long as it takes”, while remaining, perhaps constructively, ambiguous as to what he deems “it” to mean.

Whatever “it” may mean, four inevitable consequences of perpetuating this war “for as long as it takes” should be indisputable:

1. More Ukrainians and Russians will be killed.

2. Ukraine and its economy will suffer more destruction.

3. American weapons manufacturers will rake in more profits.

4. European economies and European citizens will continue to suffer serious and intensifying pain.

These are the least bad consequences of perpetuating this war. Matters could spiral out of control and produce far worse consequences.

It is easy to understand why the ruling élites in the United States, which, uniquely, are deriving benefits, both geopolitical (a weakened and more subservient Europe) and financial, from this war, would wish to perpetuate it.

It is difficult to envision benefits for anyone else, including Russia and Ukraine, from perpetuating it.

As students of history are aware, wars are not fought only on battlefields, by the competitive slaughter of soldiers, but also on economic and information fronts. A major factor in uselessly prolonging wars has often been the delusional belief of both sides in the veracity of their own disinformation and propaganda about how well the war is going and their prospects for “victory”. The world appears to be witnessing yet another example of this historical phenomenon at a time when, with both sides literally digging in, an effective stalemate, with only marginal gains for either side, is far more likely than a resounding “victory” for either side.

While it is currently difficult to imagine any near-term end to the deaths and destruction, two long-shot hopes may be worth considering:

1. Either Russia or Ukraine proposes a ceasefire-in-place followed by negotiations. If, as currently seems most likely, the other side were to reject such an offer, it would be clear which side would then be responsible for the further deaths, destruction and collateral damage to the rest of the world, with obvious benefits for the proposing country. If, as seems less likely but is not inconceivable, the other side were to accept such an offer, the deaths and destruction would end and the conflict would be re-frozen on somewhat different territorial lines of control than those existing on February 24.

2. Russia formally announces that it has no territorial ambitions regarding internationally-recognized Ukrainian territory beyond the borders of the five Russian-majority regions which are now constitutionally part of the Russian Federation after their respective referendums and annexations. Doing so could constructively defang US/NATO claims that Russia seeks to swallow Ukraine whole or reestabish the Russian empire and might constructively lead to serious thinking, both among Ukrainians and among the citizens of NATO countries, as to whether seeking (with no serious likelihood of success) to maintain western Ukrainian rule over the Russian-majority regions of eastern and southern Ukraine is really worth the further deaths and destruction which such an effort would guarantee.

In both potential instances, it is worth recalling that, when the recent four annexations were proclaimed, a senior Russian official stated publicly that precise borders remained to be determined.

Ever since the United States and NATO contemptuously dismissed Russia’s requests for serious negotiations toward a new mutual security architecture in Europe, under which all countries could feel secure and no country would feel threatened, and Russia responded by extending diplomatic recognition to the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics and launching its invasion, there has been no hope for a “good” or “just” ending to this eminently avoidable war.

One must hope, notwithstanding President Zelensky’s worshipful reception by the U.S. Congress, that wiser minds will increasingly focus on realistic, if inevitably imperfect, ways of bringing the deaths and destruction to an end.

John V. Whitbeck is a Paris-based international lawyer.