Voices on all sides—U.S., Ukraine, Russia—assure us that a major break in the military situation in Ukraine is imminent. Even as the Russian forces (RF) advance steadily in the area of Bakhmut and Avdivka, the Ukraine army (UA) is said to be poised for a last-ditch major offensive, driving toward Crimea on the southern front, which it must launch and must win.
It’s impossible to know what’s true and what’s feint about all this, and one can never be certain of the outcome once armies start blowing each other up, but I feel comfortable saying that: 1) There will be a Ukrainian offensive. The Ukrainians will throw everything they have into it and will make immediate territorial advances. 2) It is very unlikely that Ukraine will advance far enough to seriously threaten to re-take Crimea, and impossible that it will drive Russia to capitulate. 3) It is likely that the UA will exhaust itself, that enormous, irreplaceable, quantities of its manpower and materiel will be destroyed, and that the massive Russian force that has been held back until now will begin its own offensive that will be able to advance at will. It will be evident and undeniable that there is no longer any military impediment to the RF moving as far west in Ukraine as it wants.
I understand that surprises can come from many directions—incompetence of key commanders, political pressure from citizens in various countries, immediate NATO intervention, etc.—but I think it’s important to address the predicament that last outcome—a decisive military defeat of Ukraine—will create. That outcome will be an urgent crisis for the US/NATO/Kiev, requiring immediate decision and action. It’s also the outcome they expect and fear, and for which they are already considering their choices.
All it takes to understand how much they fear and expect that outcome is to read carefully the many statements and analyses of Western leaders and pundits, as well as of Zelensky and Ukrainian officials, which, even when optimistically glossed, express in detail their anxiety about the depletion of Ukraine’s manpower and of its and the U.S./NATO’s supplies of ammunition and materiel, and their desperation about Ukraine’s chances.
There are too many such statements to cite, but one of the most striking and cogent is an Asia Times article by the pseudonymous “Spengler,” who attended “a recent private gathering of former top US soldiers, intelligence officials and scholars with resumes reaching from the Reagan to the Trump administrations”—i.e., a cross-section of the permanent Deep State.
The participants in that meeting expressed what I think is now the dominant attitude about the Ukraine situation in U.S. foreign policy and military circles. They have “a gloomy assessment of Ukraine’s prospects for victory against Russia.” They know that “Ukraine seems less likely to defeat Russia, even if the West makes the maximum effort and risks escalation,” given that “the entire army that NATO trained between 2014 and 2022 in preparation for a Russian attack is dead, and recruits are being thrown into battle lines with three weeks of training.” They also, “overwhelmingly,” “leaned towards escalation in the form of providing additional weapons to Ukraine,” including, possibly, “a ‘foreign legion’ of fighters from other countries.” Indeed—and here’s the impossible-to-overstate danger—despite knowing that Ukraine cannot win, “The great majority of participants favored risking everything for absolute victory over Russia.”
So, here’s what I foresee and fear:
Sometime this year, probably before the end of summer, the Ukrainian army will be decisively defeated, Russia will establish full control of the four oblasts (Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia) and there will be no Ukrainian force left capable of reversing that or of stopping a Russian advance to Kiev.
At that point, in order to avoid either accepting a world-changing defeat or entering into direct war with Russia, all the U.S./Western voices who have been adamantly excluding the possibility of a ceasefire, Antony Blinken included, will suddenly start calling for one. They will be joined, they hope, by other global actors (by China, they especially hope) and antiwar voices, who will, without strong objection from the West’s Blinkens, see this as a welcome concession to those antiwar activists’ sincere and long-standing demands to stop the killing. Indeed, the US/NATO ceasefire proposal will be saturated with pacifistic concern and what will be easy to portray—given the radical shift in tone—as reasonable compromises. Actually, it will be their Plan B to continue the war they have lost. “Absolute victory,” postponed.
It will go something like this:
Let’s pause the fighting and everyone go to their corners. Both sides will stop all military attacks. We (the US/NATO/Kiev) will indefinitely suspend any Ukrainian request to join NATO. We will not contest your (Russia’s) control of and claim to Crimea and the four oblasts. Nor will we formally recognize it. We’ll leave “final status” issues to be determined in a negotiated “peace process.” You will not move your military forces one inch west of line x and will not interfere in the internal politics of Kiev. To oversee and enforce this cease fire, we will introduce a contingent of international peacekeepers and establish a no-fly zone over Ukraine west of line x. Can’t we all just get along?
To which Russia will respond something like this:
Nope. There will be no Minsk 3. We reject any attempt by the parties that are losing, and only because they are losing, to again postpone the resolution of this conflict forever. Our objectives are clear and remain: We require that the Kiev government permanently renounce any objective of joining NATO; that it remove extant NATO military infrastructure, separate from the NATO alliance, and declare itself a neutral country; that it formally recognize Crimea and the four oblasts as part of Russia (could have been two if you hadn’t stopped negotiations last year); and that it reconfigure its political and social policies to eliminate the dominance of murderously Russophobic, fascist, Banderite nationalism. We will require any ceasefire for negotiations and any settlement to be explicit, signed, and overseen by a trustworthy third party—i.e., not the U.S., the EU, the UN, or any party dominated by “the West” or other declared enemy. (China? India?) We will fight on until we achieve those objectives, and we will treat any international ground or air armed forces introduced into or over the territory of Ukraine without our agreement as enemy combatants and legitimate military targets.
I am convinced this is the situation we are heading into. I think the US/NATO/Kiev side will be forced to make a proposal like this, and the Russian side will not (and would be foolish to) accept it. Russia will fight on until the capitulation of Kiev, and the U.S./NATO or their confected “foreign legions” will have to enter as direct combatants, with likely use of tactical nuclear weapons, or accept an existential defeat.
Please note how Blinken, et. al., are establishing the framework that will work to their benefit when this situation arises. They are adamantly refusing a ceasefire now because they know they will be desperately needing one soon. They are setting themselves up to be in the politically advantageous position of looking like the reasonable, compromising party when they finally
demand agree to a ceasefire and the Russians refuse. See, we’re the peacemakers; Putin is the warmonger. We are agreeing to the ceasefire that China and Western peaceniks wanted; Russia is insisting on continuing the war. Who can blame the “international community” now for bringing in “peacekeepers” and instituting a no-fly zone—just to stop the killing? You know, like Libya.
The point is to get those “foreign legions” and foreign air forces in—preferably as “peacekeepers” rather than overt combatants, but with a similar purpose: to avoid inevitable defeat by establishing a kind of Korean-stalemate-meets-Israel-Palestine-“peace process.” The U.S.’s favorite “peaceful resolution”: A Zombie war, sustained by a constant infusion of arms and money until it can be fully revived.
One of the main elements in that set-up—one which has been swallowed whole by Western antiwar voices—is the notion that, in that situation, the U.S. will be accepting a ceasefire that China has called for. When antiwar voices today say: “Why doesn’t the U.S./NATO/Kiev go along with China’s ceasefire proposal?” they are naively reciting a script being written by Western politicians and media in preparation for the day when they do want a ceasefire.
There is no “ceasefire proposal” or “peace plan” from China, in the sense of a concrete plan of immediate action to stop the fighting, and the Blinkens who are ostensibly rejecting it know that. They are suggesting a fictitious “ceasefire” proposal that they can reject as it gathers the support of pacifistic antiwar voices, so they can replace it, when the time comes, with the real “ceasefire” they are planning for, having pre-emptively co-opted that antiwar sentiment. OK, you got what you and China want. Let’s give peace a chance.
The U.S. has no intention of accepting a putative ceasefire proposed by China; it has a plan for demanding one of its design and to its benefit. But it will want you to think it is doing the former.
Whatever criticism it deserves, the U.S. is not right now preventing a ceasefire. When Antony Blinken says: “For some, the idea of a ceasefire may be tempting, and I understand this, but if it amounts to …, this will not be a just peace,” he is—with the ellipsis filled in appropriately—articulating the position of Russia, as well as of the U.S/NATO and Kiev. No party to this conflict wants a ceasefire now, and none will until one of them thinks it’s necessary (probably because it’s losing).
China knows this, and has not made any proposal for everybody to put aside their fundamental interests and objectives and stop fighting now. Here is the entirety of China’s position on “Ceasing Hostilities,” and the only mention of “ceasefire” within its 12-point “Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis”:
3. Ceasing hostilities. Conflict and war benefit no one. All parties must stay rational and exercise restraint, avoid fanning the flames and aggravating tensions, and prevent the crisis from deteriorating further or even spiraling out of control. All parties should support Russia and Ukraine in working in the same direction and resuming direct dialogue as quickly as possible, so as to gradually deescalate the situation and ultimately reach a comprehensive ceasefire.[my emphasis]
This, like all of the 12-point position paper, is a general statement of principle, not a plan of action. It is as neutral, diplomatic, and non-committal as language gets. I have no idea how anyone got a “peace plan” out of this. (Unless it suits their purpose to find it.) Like it or not, China is carefully avoiding telling either party specifically when and how to stop fighting. Urging “restraint” so as to “ultimately” reach a ceasefire is not the call for immediate ceasefire that wishful-thinking antiwar activists would like China to be making, and that forward-thinking neocons want you to think they are rejecting.
There’s recently been talk of China teaming up with Brazil to craft a Ukraine “peace plan”—more speculation and wishful thinking that mean nothing specific in the moment. From other statements and actions, we know that China is developing a valued relationship with Russia. But China is being very careful in its diplomatic language regarding the conflict in Ukraine not to explicitly take a side or push a plan that takes a side. If and when China feels it needs explicitly to propose an actual plan, it will do so, and it’s unlikely to need Lula for that.
Everyone wants China to be on their side. At this point in their delusion, some neocons may think, when they propose their ceasefire, that China will go along with the idea that it’s China’s own. When China doesn’t (as it almost certainly won’t), the neocons will definitely present that as evidence that China, like Russia, is a dishonest warmonger, abandoning its “own” imputed peace plan. Again, a line that everyone now saying, “Why doesn’t the U.S. go along with China’s ceasefire proposal?” is helping to set up.
So, again, whatever ceasefire the U.S./NATO/Kiev proposes when faced with the prospect of imminent defeat in Ukraine will not be a Chinese plan, but an American neocon gambit. It’s unlikely that China would help to force such a thing on any of the parties. China would more likely play a significant role in resolving this conflict as the third-party overseer of the negotiated conditions of Ukraine’s surrender, under the Russian position.
Please note another important element of the different proposals that will be put forth in this situation: The most difficult demand from the Russian side, which almost requires them to move on Kiev, is the call for “de-Nazification.” It’s the demand that will be most resisted as “political interference,” since it does, indeed, require “regime change” in the deepest sense. I’ve said before how nearly impossible it will be in western Ukraine, where fascistic, Banderite ideology is entwined in Ukrainian nationalism, has deep historical roots, and has become ascendant since 2014.
But here’s the thing: No matter how impossible it is, it’s necessary—for the American ceasefire plan as well as for the Russian project.
Everyone understands that no government in Kiev, even if the U.S. can’t or won’t stop it, will be able to make and keep the capitulatory settlement Russia demands unless the armed fascist forces are purged. But it’s also the case that no government in Kiev will be able to make and keep the kind of ceasefire agreement the U.S. will claim it wants unless the armed fascist forces are purged.
The American ceasefire will be a hard sell to Ukrainian fascists. They will be in no mood to accept any long-term deferral of fighting. They are at least as eager as Russia to resolve this promptly, and must by now be as doubtful as Russia of America’s long-term reliability. They have seen how the Americans upend a country and then go home. They can also see the growing antiwar pressure on European governments.
The fascists will kill Zelensky or any leader that accedes to the kind of extended de facto concession of territory in such a plan unless the U.S. assures them it’s another ploy to build up for a future assault before long. If there is no purging of the fascists in Kiev (which will take a battle), the Russians will know that’s exactly what the U.S. has done.
So, if Russia doesn’t force “de-Nazifying” regime change in Kiev, the U.S. will have to—for either’s plan to succeed. Russia and the U.S. know this. Russia is facing it. The U.S. is not. Which is one major reason why Russia cannot trust a U.S. ceasefire agreement.
This is what I foresee: A failed attempt to suck Russia into a forever stalemate-peace process that rearms and resuscitates a twice-defeated fascist Ukraine, dressed up as the “compromise” ceasefire that everyone (said China) was calling for. As Emmanuel Todd says: “No more than Russia, [America] cannot withdraw from the conflict, they cannot let go. This is why we are now in…a confrontation whose outcome must be the collapse of one or the other.” The war will go on until one party (Ukraine) accepts defeat. Or the world is incinerated in a nuclear exchange.
It’s a nasty piece of work, this Ukraine beast. It is killing the world we’re familiar with, and there will be no reviving its corpse.