Are there military limits to the war in Ukraine?

Bob Sheak, March 22, 2022

Introduction

Putin views the entirety of Ukraine as an historical and integral part of Russia and wants to reclaim it all. And, if total Russian control of Ukraine is not achieved, Putin wants to make sure that Ukraine never joins NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization), a concern that grows out of the expansion of NATO membership to include countries in Eastern Europe on the border of Russia.

Jen Kirby and Jonathan Guyer quote Putin on the first point saying,

“Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space,” he said, per the Kremlin’s official translation. “Since time immemorial, the people living in the south-west of what has historically been Russian land have called themselves Russians” (https://vox.com/2022/2/23/22948534/russia-ukraine-war-putin-explosives-invasion-explained).

Putin is also concerned that NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe on Russia’s border since the 1990s, especially during the US presidency of George W. Bush, threatens Russia’s national security. Note that NATO, is a military alliance that was formed by the U.S., Canada and several European nations in 1949 to contain the USSR and the spread of communism.

In an article for Wall Street Journal, Daniel Michaels identifies the six NATO member states that particularly worries Putin (https://wsj.com/articles/what-is-nato-russia-ukraine-which-countries-members-no-fly-article-5-11646236897). Michaels tells us,

“There are [now] 30 member states in the NATO alliance. Ukraine isn’t a member. The only members that were part of the Soviet Union are the Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Other countries that were part of the USSR-led Warsaw Pact and now are NATO members include Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria.” 

M.E. Sarotte, Kravis Professor of Historical Studies at John Hopkins University, has written a book documenting that, with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the unification of Germany, Russian leaders were assured that NATO would not move “one inch eastward” (Not One Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate).

Ronald Suny, Professor of History and Political Science, University of Michigan, agrees, writing,

“Recognizing the sovereignty of all states and their right to ally with whatever state they wish, NATO acceded over time to the requests of European democracies to join the alliance. Former members of the Soviet-established Warsaw Pact, which was a Soviet version of NATO, were also brought into NATO in the 1990s, along with three former Soviet republics – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – in 2004.

“The Western view is that the Kremlin is supposed to understand and accept that the alliance’s activities, among them war games replete with American tanks staged in nearby Baltic states and rockets stationed in Poland and Romania – which [and this is incredulous] the U.S. says are aimed at Iran – in no way present a threat to Russian security” (https://counterpunch.org/2022/03/03/235816). And, to top it off, Ukraine has been interested in NATO membership as well, though Zelensky has recently said that this is not now a likely development. In short, the US and other NATO members may have made a mistake in allowing the expansion to take place and unnecessarily provoking nuclear-armed Russia.

Given this historic miscalculation, there is also absolutely no justification for Russia’s invasion and genocidal onslaught on Ukraine, with devastating aerial and artillery attacks, hoping to bomb the Ukrainian population into submission, while killing and wounding many thousands, destroying infrastructure, and creating one of the worst humanitarian catastrophes in Europe since WWII.

(According to the Cambridge Dictionary, genocide is “the murder of a whole group of peopleespecially a whole nationrace, or religious group.
https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/genocide.)

Though US and its allies are sending large quantities of weapons to Ukraine, the actual fighting so far is left to Ukrainian troops and ill-trained volunteers. They have done surprisingly well in defending their country. Indeed, columnist

Max Boot things the Ukrainians defenders are “winning”

(https://washingtonpost.com/opinions/2022/03/21/ukraine-is-winning-war-russia-offensive-putin). He writes:

“Nearly four weeks into the Russo-Ukraine war, the situation is going from bad to worse for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Garry Kasparov [Russian chess master] reported on Saturday that a joke is making the rounds on what is left of the Russian Internet: ‘We are now entering day 24 of the special military operation to take Kyiv in two days.”

“The Russian offensive has already “culminated” — a military term meaning that an army can no longer continue attacking — without having achieved most of its objectives. Analysts at the Institute for the Study of War and the American Enterprise Institute, two Washington think tanks, assess that ‘Ukrainian forces have defeated the initial Russian campaign of this war.’ The war is stalemated.”

Sadly, however, Ukrainian defenders have been virtually helpless in defending against Russia’s escalating air war and artillery and the devastation, death, and displacement of civilians continues to rise.

Amid it all, Putin will, so far, only “negotiate” on his own terms: that Russia replaces the present “Nazi” government in Ukraine with one of his own choosing, that Ukraine never join NATO, and that it eliminates its military forces and implicitly rely on Russia for its national security. In other words, he demands that Ukraine surrender.

There appear no limits in Putin’s utter ruthlessness in Putin’s genocidal war in Ukraine and in his veiled threats to use chemical and/or nuclear weapons. The implication of his stated aims and actions is that he will destroy Ukraine if he cannot dominate it.

At the same time, there is a lesson for US and European policymakers, which is that a militaristic policy in today’s world (e.g., the expansion of NATO; the existence of nuclear armed Russia) is counterproductive, unnecessarily provocative, and pays too little attention to diplomacy and negotiations.

Russia has invaded Ukraine twice this century, in 2014 and now in 2022

The two attacks in 8 years signifies the importance Putin places on Ukraine.

2014

In the interview on Democracy Now, Joshua Yaffa points out that in 2014 Russia  annexed Crimea and “launched a would-be separatist war backing rebel militias in the Donbas, leading to a war that really went on into the current day, a war that never really ended but was limited to these eastern territories in the Donbas region of Ukraine” (https://democracynow.org/2022/03/15/joshua_yaffe_russian_invasion_ukraine_curfew).

Kirby and Guyer write: “In 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, invaded eastern Ukraine, and backed Russian separatists in the eastern Donbas region.” Even before the current invasion, “that conflict had killed more than 15,000 people.” The 2014 assault, they add, was in response to “mass protests in Ukraine that toppled the country’s pro-Russian President Vicktor Yanukovych.”

Events leading up to Russian invasion in 2014

The editors of Encyclopedia Britannica provide an informative historical account of Ukrainian politics (https://britannica.com/place/Ukraine/The-Orange-Revolution-and-the-Yuchenko-presidency)

The editors identify how Ukraine has been somewhat divided between those outside and inside of the eastern Donbas region, but that Yanukovych, a favorite of Russia, had been elected president in 2004 in what was considered to be a fair election. However, subsequent elections proved to be contested and controversial. Those outside of Donbas generally favored the integration of Ukraine with the European Union and even with NATO. Separatists in the Donbas wanted integration with Russia. Protests and riots broke out in January 2014 in which the participants wanted more ties to the US and Europe.

The Britannica editors continue. 

“Yanukovych signed a series of laws restricting the right to protest, and hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Kyiv in response. Bloody clashes between police and protesters ensued, with dozens injured on each side. On January 22 [of 2014] two protesters were killed in skirmishes with police, and demonstrations soon spread to eastern Ukraine, a region that traditionally had supported Yanukovych and closer ties with Russia. Protesters occupied the justice ministry in Kyiv, and the parliament hastily repealed the anti-protest measures.” In the swirl of fractious events and the crumbling of his base, Yanukovych “fled the capital ahead of an impeachment vote that stripped him of his powers as president.”

Putin would define the ouster of pro-Russian Yanukovych as an un-democratic takeover by far-right political actors, referring to them as Nazis who wanted to repress and kill Russians living in Ukraine. Taking advantage of the turmoil, Putin annexed Crimea and supported separatists in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces of the eastern Donbas region.

Donetsk and Luhansk provinces

Masur Mirovalev provides some further background (https://aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/22/what-are-donetsk-and-luhansk-ukraine-separatist-statelets).

“Moscow-backed separatists have controlled the southeastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, known collectively as Donbas, for almost eight years [since 2014].

“But Russian President Vladimir Putin recognized them [officially] only on Monday [Feb. 21, 2022], paving the way for the official presence of Russian troops in the rebel-controlled areas that occupy about a third of Donetsk and Luhansk.

“So far, only Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Syria have joined Putin in recognizing Donetsk and Luhansk – along with breakaway Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.”

One of the issues before the Ukrainians now, in March of 2022, is whether Russia will ever give up control of the Donbas provinces or will demand a partition of the country in which the two provinces are defined as independent states. Putin will never give up control of Crimea.

Crimea

In an article of the UK’s inews, Jane Clinton addresses the questions of why Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, what happened when Putin invaded, and how NATO reacted to the annexation (https://inews.co.uk/news/world/russia-annex-crimea-why-putin-invaded-2014-what-happened-nato-annexation-explained-1424682).

She points out that that the Crimean Peninsula was transferred by then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to Ukraine in the 1950s. Decades later, “in 1991, Ukraine declared independence following an attempted coup in Moscow.” From 1991 until 2014, Crimea was recognized as part of Ukraine. However, after “Yanukovych fled to Russia in February 2014, Russia mobilized its troops to seize control of Crimea.”

This occurred amid “pro-Russian demonstrations in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol. A month later on March 16, 2014, “a disputed and internationally rejected referendum was held… in which Moscow claims 96.77 per cent of Crimeans voted to become part of Russia.” And: “Despite international outcry, Russia then formally incorporated Crimea as two Russian federal subjects – the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol – on 18 March 2014.”

At the time, President Vladimir Putin insisted Russia takeover of Crimea was undertaken “to protect ethnic Russians from ‘far-right extremists’ whom Russia claimed at the time had overthrown President Yanukovych.” This is the kind of false claim that Putin will make again in February 2022 as part of his justification for invading Ukraine. The Russian control of Crimea was and is important to the Russians because it gave them access to important ports on the Black Sea and because of Putin’s vision of creating a greater, imperial Russia.

The international community did not and does not now recognize the Russian takeover of Crimea. In 2014, the EU and US imposed sanctions on Russia. Some in Crimea face discrimination and economic difficulties. According to Clinton, Ukrainians, Crimean Tatars and other ethnic and religious groups continue to face cultural discrimination, education in Ukrainian and Crimean Tatar languages is restricted, wages have been cut back by 30 per cent to 70 per cent, tourism, a main industry, has suffered, and Crimean agriculture production has declined as Ukraine cut off supplies of water through the North Crimean Canal.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine began early on February 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin launched what he called a “special military operation.” In fact, it was a full-scale invasion, from the ground and from the air. According to a report by Vox journalists Jen Kirby and Jonathan Guyer, the attacks occurred on three fronts, from Belarus in the North, from and on the eastern Donbas region, and from Crimea in the South (https://vox.com/2022/2/23/22948534/russia-ukraine-war-putin-explosives-invasion-explained).

Joshua Yaffa, contributing writer to The New Yorker, was in the city of Kramatorsk in the Donbas when Russian missiles struck the city on the first day of the invastion(https://democracynow.org/2022/03/15/joshua_yaffe_russian_invasion_ukraine_curfew).

“I was woken up at 5 a.m. [March 24, 2022] to the thunderous sound of missile strikes hitting the city of Kramatorsk in the Donbas, where I was at the time. And when I woke up at 5 a.m. to the sound of these missile strikes hitting nearby, I opened my phone and looked at the news and saw, on the one hand, that Putin was delivering this early-morning speech in Moscow declaring the start of what he called a “special military operation,” but what in fact was clearly an invasion and clearly a war, and that strikes were happening all over the country, in Kharkiv, in Kyiv, even in the west of the country, the areas that few thought the Russian invasion would reach.”

The invasion had been anticipated

The invasion had been anticipated by Ukrainians for months, as the Russians had built up their forces along the border to 150,000 troops and tanks in prior months.

Then Putin ordered the invasion and quickly escalated the ground and air attacks over the ensuing weeks. The bombs from aircraft (and drones) and missiles, launched from within Russia, gave the invading forces the capacity to strike targets anywhere in Ukraine. In support of Ukraine, the US and its allies are shipping massive volumes of military equipment to Ukraine, though, as noted earlier, are unwilling to support a “no fly zone” initiative. The Ukrainian President Zelensky has pleaded for support from the US to contest Russia’s air war, but to no avail. Meanwhile, there are efforts to find other ways to contest Russia’s devastating air war without engaging US or European forces directly.

As the situation exists in March 2022, Putin seems to be motivated by two possible eventualities, that is, either Ukraine gives up its independence and submits to Russia’s demands, becoming a puppet state, or his forces continue the ravaging of the country. President Zelensky, his government, and most Ukrainians are so far unwilling to give in to such demands. They want Russian troops out of the country, the bombardment to end, though they are willing to compromise on Crimea while negotiating on the fate of the Donbas.

While there are periodic negotiations between Ukraine and Russia and they are scheduled to continue, the negotiations have yet to yield any positive results. Most recently, Russia has demanded that the Ukrainian government surrender Mariupol, which has been under deadly siege. According to Radio Free Europe (https://rferl.org/a/ukraine-ignores-mariupol-deadline-russia-seige/31762847.html),

“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy remained defiant as Kyiv [the Ukrainian capitol] rejected a Russian ultimatum to surrender Mariupol, saying Ukraine could never give up the strategic port or other cities, including Kharkiv and the capital.

“In comments to local media on March 21, Zelenskiy accused Moscow of trying to ‘destroy’ his country. ‘Ukraine cannot fulfill Russian ultimatums,’ he said. ‘We should be destroyed first, then their ultimatum would be fulfilled.’

“He said the Russians wanted Ukraine to ‘hand over’ the cities of Kyiv, Kharkiv, and Mariupol but that neither the Ukrainian people ‘nor me, as president, can do this.’”

So, the Russian attacks continue, creating a crisis in Europe like that associated with the horrors of WWII.

Meanwhile the US, with far-ranging international support, has instituted economic sanctions on Russia that have already had severe impacts on the Russian economy and people. But they have yet to deter Putin’s war.

The unbridled destruction and death

As the war continues, towns and parts of cities have been devasted, Ukrainian civilians, especially children, women, the disabled, and the elderly have been injured, killed, or turned into over 3.5 million refugees leaving the country for Poland and other Eastern European countries.

Jan Laptka and Alicja report on March 20 for Reuters on data compiled by the U.N. refugee agencies (https://usnews.com/news/world/articles/2022-03-20/flow-of-ukrainian-refugees-testing-limits-of-central-europe-capacity). Most of the Ukrainian refugees are going to Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and Hungary, though now these countries are finding it increasingly difficult to shelter and feed them.

The populations displacement is greater within Ukraine. Jessica Corbett reports “the Global Protection Cluster (GPC)—a network NGOs, international groups, and U.N. agencies—said Friday [March 18] that nearly 6.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) are now seeking safety within the country’s borders” (https://salon.com/2022/03/20/10-million-ukrainians-now-displaced_partner).

The two populations of refugees add up to about 10 million persons out of a population of 44 million, meaning “nearly a quarter of all Ukrainians are now displaced either inside or out of the country.”

There are, furthermore, an additional over 12 million people who “are estimated to be stranded in affected areas [e.g., Mariupol] or unable to leave due to heightened security risks, destruction of bridges and roads, as well as lack of resources or information on where to find safety and accommodation.” The stranded population is not officially counted as displaced, but are forced to exist in the most dreadful – and ultimately unsustainable – conditions.

Moreover, the Russian attacks have already destroyed at least $100 billion worth of infrastructure, which, Corbett reports, severely impacts “the country’s internal food chain—as well as the global supplies of wheat and other grains, because of disruptions to production and exports.” And in some cities, such as Mariupol and Sumy, residents face critical and potentially fatal shortages of food, water, and medicines.”

As the Russian war continues, the number of displaced and desperate people continues to rise. The infrastructure, whole neighborhoods, hospitals, schools, museums, roads, and bridges are being destroyed, and, despite foreign humanitarian aid, there are, as noted, growing shortages of food, water, and all the basic necessities of life.

In an article for The Washington Post on March 14, Ruby Mellen and her colleagues describes some many incidences of the increasing devastation wrought by Putin’s military forces

(https://washingtonpost.com/world/interactive/2022/ukraine-before-destruction-photos/?itid=hp-top-table-main). Here are just a few examples from the article.

  • In less than three weeks, Ukraine’s apartment buildings, once warm homes to families and pets, have become impossible to live in. Infrastructure that once served millions, has become inoperable, unusable. City centers full of shoppers have been reduced to rubble. Hospitals meant to provide care and sanctuary have become scenes of destruction.
  • Moscow’s shelling of civilians and apparent disregard for cease-fires and humanitarian corridors has sparked international outrage. On Wednesday [March 9], a maternity hospital in Mariupol — a city strategically important to Russia — was bombed, killing at least four people, including a pregnant woman. Children and medical workers were among the more than a dozen injured.

Mariupol, Ukraine

  • The World Health Organization said it had verified 24 attacks on health-care facilities….
  • As Russia continues to bombard the seaside city, aid groups warn many residents are without water, food or medicine.
  • Experts say that the casualties and immediate destruction of these attacks are just the beginning of the humanitarian toll.
  • “The brutality of war isn’t in the immediate moment of violence, however horrific it may be. It is in the reverberation of these violent moments through time,” said Mark Kersten, a researcher at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. “That suffering lasts much longer than the time it takes us to look at an image and turn away.”

Homes destroyed

  • Some of the buildings hit are in residential areas, where analysts have noted there are no military targets nearby. Strikes on houses or apartment buildings often render the structure unlivable, leaving many displaced.
  • Once a building is struck, said Maria Avdeeva, research director of the European Expert Association, a nonprofit think tank, “people don’t have heat or power. It’s not possible for people to stay there.” In Kharkiv, where Avdeeva is based and has been documenting the destruction, temperatures remain below freezing most of the time, further increasing the danger for those without shelter.

The threat of a wider war

Jake Johnson reports that on March 13 Russian bombs struck a Ukrainian military base in the western parts of the country near Poland (https://commondreams.org/news/2022/03/13/russia-bombs-ukrainian-military-base-near-border-nato-member-poland). He writes:

“Russian forces on Sunday bombed a Ukrainian military facility located just 22 miles from the border of NATO member Poland, killing at least 35 people and injuring dozens more.

“Prior to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the facility hosted NATO drills and U.S. troops used it to train Ukrainian forces on the deployment of anti-tank missiles and other weaponry. The base has been described as ‘a vital link in the pipeline to get weapons from NATO allies into Ukraine.’

“It’s unclear whether there were any foreign instructors at the complex at the time of the strike early Sunday morning [March 13], Reuters reported. Just two weeks before Russia launched its invasion, the Pentagon withdrew around 160 U.S. military trainers from Ukraine.

“‘Russia has attacked the International Center for Peacekeeping and Security near Lviv,’ Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine’s defense minister, wrote on Twitter. ‘Foreign instructors work here. Information about the victims is being clarified. This is a new terrorist attack on peace and security near the E.U.-NATO border.’”

On March 14, Russian missiles exploded bombs on Novoyavorivsk, Ukraine, just 12 miles from the Polish border, in an attempt or threat to destroy weapons shipments from the US and Europe, according to a report by Nicholas Niarchos for The Nation magazine (https://thenation.com/article/world/russia-novoyavorivsk-attack-base). The target is a giant base that “known as the International Peacekeeping and Security Center. At 390 square kilometers (approximately 150 square miles), it is one of the largest such facilities in the region; the base can host almost 1,800 soldiers, but the Ukrainian government hasn’t disclosed how many troops were there at the time of the explosions.”

Here’s more from Niarchos’s reporting.

“shortly after 5:30 in the morning, residents started to hear explosions. Eight missiles slammed into a military base where, until early March, British troops had been involved in joint training programs with Ukrainian forces. In recent weeks, foreign fighters joining Ukraine’s foreign legion were based there. More than 20,000 foreigners, including a number from the United States, have joined the Ukrainian Foreign Legion. Up to 1,000 foreign fighters were staying at the base, according to The New York Times. Preliminary reports put the number of dead at anywhere between nine and 39. Some 57 were said to be wounded. It was unclear Sunday morning if foreign fighters had been killed in the strike.

“Halfway into the third week of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the attack on the base near Novoyavorivsk—just 12 miles from the Polish border—is the closest strike on NATO territory since the beginning of the conflict. It occurred near the city of Lviv, which is a transit point for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing the Russian advance, and a base for foreign journalists and diplomats. In Poland, anti-Russian sentiment is running high, and any perceived attack on Polish forces or territory risks drawing NATO into a wider war with Russia.

“The strike came a day after Moscow’s foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, warned the United States on Russia’s Channel One not to transfer weapons to Ukraine, and said that convoys with weapons for Ukraine could be targeted. He did not specify whether such strikes would take place only on Ukrainian soil.

“According to the Ukrainian government, some 38 missiles were fired at Novoyavorivsk from across the Belarussian border, and eight breached Ukraine’s air defenses. Two days ago, Russian missiles struck targets outside the nearby cities of Lutsk and Ivanofrankivsk.”

Russian war crimes

In an article for The Washington Post, Claire Parker describes the internationally-recognized meaning of “war crimes” (https://washingtonpost.com/world/2022/03/03/russia-ukraine-war-crimes-explainer). The concept originated in the Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II, and were subsequently “spelled out in international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court in 2002 to prosecute individuals responsible for war crimes, along with crimes against humanity and genocide — themselves complex terms with their own set of legal parameters.”

In these treaties, “[w]ar crimes include the deliberate targeting of civilians; attacks that cause disproportionate civilian casualties given the military objective; and attacks on hospitals, schools, historic monuments and other key civilian sites.”

Parker continues.

“Zelensky…alleged Friday that Russia’s launch of a projectile that caused a fire at a nuclear power plant in southeastern Ukraine was a ‘war crime.’ The Rome statute specifies that intentionally launching an attack that will cause ‘widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment” could be a crime, depending on the circumstances.” Additionally,

  • The use of certain weapons, including chemical ones, is also prohibited.
  • Cluster munitions, which scatter bomblets indiscriminately and leave unexploded duds that pose dangers to civilians after the conflict, are banned by many nations — but not Russia and Ukraine. Russia’s alleged use of those weapons in Ukraine, as well as ‘vacuum weapons,’ isn’t automatically illegal, Schabas said. That determination depends on whether Russia took steps to avoid harming civilians.
  • There’s also a separate legal category of crimes against humanity, which includes mass murder, enslavement and torture.”

The accumulating evidence seems to warrant the conclusion that Putin and the Russian military are engaged in “war crimes.” David Miliband gives an example ((https://democracynow.org/2022/3/10/irc_david_miliband_on_russian_shelling).  

“Yes, I think we’ve got a classic siege situation compounded by indiscriminate use of missile and bombing tactics of civilian infrastructure, including the hospital that was bombed yesterday [in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on March 9], which is obviously completely contrary to international law. I think it’s also important to remind people that the water supplies have also been cut off and the electricity as well. So, this is a strangulation of the city. It seems that the Russian army is trying to make an example of this city. It’s a punishment campaign that is going on, a collective punishment campaign, that was tried in Aleppo and was tried in Grozny. When people talk about flattening a city, that’s what you are seeing at the moment.”

The UN General Assembly has condemned Russia over the Ukraine invasion

In late February, according to a report by NPR’s Peter Granitz and Joe Hernandez, the UN Security Council addressed the issue of whether to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (https://npr.org/2022/03/02/1083872027/u-n-set-to-hold-vote-that-would-demand-russia-end-war-in-ukraine).

The organizational structure of the United Nations is unique and cumbersome. The UN Security Council has ultimate power in the international organization. It only takes one of the permanent five members of this 15-person agency to prevent any action. Russia vetoed the proposed condemnation of the war (of itself), while 11 nations supported it and China, India, and the United Arab Emirates abstained. The five permanent members include: the US, UK, France, Russia, and China.

In an article for Reuters, Humeyra Pamuk and Jonathan Landay report that, on March 2, the U.N. General Assembly, in which over 190 nations have membership, took up the issue and in historic vote condemned Russia for its invasion of Ukraine (https://reuters.com/world/un-general-assembly-set-censure-russia-over-ukraine-invasion-2022-03-02).

The resolution, deploring Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, was passed in an emergency session supported “by 141 of the assembly’s 193 members.” Voting against the resolution, “Russia was joined by Belarus, which has served as a launch pad for Russian invasion forces, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria,” while thirty-five members, including China, abstained.” Such resolutions, however, are non-binding, but “they carry political weight, with Wednesday’s vote representing a symbolic victory for Ukraine and increasing Moscow’s international isolation.” Even Russia’s traditional ally Serbia voted against Russia. Pamuk and Landay quote Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky who said in a tweet that the vote’s passage showed that “a global anti-Putin coalition has been formed and is functioning.”

Ukrainian military resistance

At the same time, with increasing arms from the US and Europe, the Ukrainian army has been able to win some battles and limit the advance of and even push back Russian troops in some places. For example, as of March 19, they have kept the Russian army from overtaking Kiev. Outside of perhaps separatists in the Donbas region, Ukrainians have certainly not greeted Russian troops as peacekeepers coming to save the country from an alleged repressive, genocidal government, as Putin claims. Rather, they view the Russian invaders as a ruthless, brutal enemy aimed at creating a Russian puppet state completely submissive to Russia, a colonized economy, and a citizenry stripped of all rights. They understandably hate and fear Putin.

There are limits to US/European assistance

Sanctions, yes

Jen Kirby and Jonathan Guyer (cited earlier)provide an overview of US-led sanctions.

“The US and its allies have only amped up the pressure since then. On February 25, the EU and US imposed sanctions on Putin himself. On February 26, the US and European countries announced an agreement to cut some (but not all) Russian banks off from SWIFT, the global messaging system that enables most international transactions, which will make it very difficult for Russia to make transactions beyond its borders. (Japan also signed on to SWIFT actions on February 27.) The US and its allies have said they will target Russia’s central bank, specifically its foreign reserves that Moscow needs to help support its currency. The US has continued to add penalties, including joining other countries in closing US airspace to Russian aircraft, and sanctioning more than a dozen oligarchs.

Yes to military assistance

Military assistance from the U.S. and Europe has been essential to the Ukrainian defense of their country. Travis Tritten considers how the arms flow is being managed (https://military.com/daily-news/2022/03/04/global-weapons-pipeline-ukraine-being-managed-us-european-command.html). Here is some of what he reports.

“The military’s U.S. European Command has become the organizer of a global coalition of nations sending weapons and security aid to Ukraine as it fends off Russia’s efforts to conquer the country.

“The command, based in Germany under Air Force Gen. Tod Wolters, is coordinating shipments to the war zone from 14 countries.

“Ukrainians, who so far had managed an effective resistance to the Russians, are already well-trained on equipment such as anti-tank weapons and had been able to distribute the aid where needed on the front lines as of Friday, a senior U.S. defense official said.

“‘I think all of us have been tremendously impressed by how effectively the Ukrainian armed forces have been using the equipment that we’ve provided them,’ the defense official said. ‘And I think Kremlin watchers have also been surprised by this, at how they have slowed the Russian advance and performed extremely well on the battlefield.’

“The aid from the U.S. and others has included Javelin guided anti-tank missiles, which could put Russian armor in jeopardy, and reportedly Stinger air defense missiles to take out Russian piloted aircraft or drones. Countries have also been sending small arms, body armor, helmets and food rations.”

“The U.S. and NATO have bolstered forces along the alliance’s eastern European flank, including Poland, Romania and the Baltic states, but have made clear that they will not intervene militarily in the conflict.”

“President Joe Biden has approved more than $1 billion worth of security aid to be drawn from the U.S. military arsenal and sent to Ukraine over the past year. About 70% of the latest tranche of $350 million in aid was approved by Biden last week [early March] had already arrived in the country, and most of the remainder was expected to be delivered within the next week.”

“Last week, both Germany and Sweden announced they would join other nations in sending weapons to Ukraine. Berlin, which previously prohibited such aid, pledged 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger missiles, and Sweden said it would send 5,000 anti-tank weapons, along with other military aid, according to Reuters.”

Jeremy Scahill considers the “unprecedented weapons transfers to Ukraine” as having a double-edge impact, that is, in aiding the Ukrainian resistance but also in prolonging the war and attendant destruction and mayhem (https://theintercept.com/2022/03/10/ukraine-russia-nato-weapons). The sad reality is that, unless the Ukraine government surrenders, or until, if ever, there is a negotiated settlement, resistance is all there is. Still, Scahill’s points are worth considering.

He gives some background on US military assistance to Ukraine under the Biden administration before and since the current Russian invasion started.

“Even before Russia’s recent invasion, the Biden administration had begun a process of increasing lethal aid. In his first year in office, Biden approved more military aid to Ukraine — some $650 million — than the U.S. had ever provided.” The military aid was justified to help the Ukrainian military forces prepare for further Russian military advances into the country. According to the New York Times, cited by Scahill, “[o]ver the past year…the Biden administration has approved $1.2 billion in weapons for Ukraine.”

After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Scahill writes, “the guardrails came off: an ‘unprecedented’ additional $350 million weapons package was pushed through. There is now wide bipartisan support in Washington for an immediate and aggressive $13.5 billion effort to ship American arms and other assistance, including humanitarian aid, to Ukraine. The package will also cover the cost of additional deployments of U.S. military assets and troops to the region.” The weaponry going to Ukraine includes “Javelin antitank missiles, rocket launchers, guns, and ammunition [which] have already made their way onto the battlefield. The shipment of weapons “also includes Stinger antiaircraft missiles from U.S. military stockpiles, mostly in Germany.”

According to Scahill, “More than a dozen other NATO countries and several non-NATO European nations have started or expanded their weapons shipments to Ukraine. In a significant move, Germany broke with its long-standing policy of not sending weapons to conflict zones. As part of its initial package, Berlin is moving some 1,500 rocket launchers and Stinger missiles and potentially additional Soviet-era shoulder-fired Strela missiles. The European Union has also broken its own resistance to providing lethal assistance and entered the arms market with a commitment of nearly half a billion dollars in weapons to Ukraine. EU treaties prohibit the use of budgetary money for weapons transfers, so the union tapped funds from its “off-budget” European Peace Facility. ‘For the first time ever, the EU will finance the purchase and delivery of weapons and other equipment to a country that is under attack,’ said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. ‘This is a watershed moment.’

NATO has also issued a warning to Russia, namely, “that any Russian attack against the supply lines facilitating the flow of weapons to Ukraine will trigger an invocation of Article 5 of the NATO charter [a declaration of war], thus raising the specter of military action against Russia. Moscow, which has already labeled the sweeping sanctions imposed by the U.S. and its allies a declaration of ‘economic war,’ has warned that nations sending weapons to Ukraine ‘will be responsible for any consequences of such actions.’”

Despite the large flow of weapons, Scahill points out, the weapons “will not be sufficient to defeat Russia militarily,” though it will enable Ukrainian forces to engage “in a protracted armed insurgency and war of attrition that may produce echoes of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.” If the latter, then Ukraine could be reduced to rubble.

Scahill quotes Russian expert Anatol Lieven on the consequences of a lengthy war of resistance, how it would demonstrate that Russia cannot dominate the entirety of Ukraine militarily, and never lead to stable Russian rule.

“‘For it is now obvious that any such pro-Russian authorities imposed by Moscow in Ukraine would lack all support and legitimacy, and could never maintain any kind of stable rule,’ Lieven wrote. ‘To keep them in place would require the permanent presence of Russian forces, permanent Russian casualties and permanent ferocious repression. In short, a Russian forever war.’ He argued, ‘The Ukrainians have in fact achieved what the Finns achieved by their heroic resistance against Soviet invasion. The Finns convinced Stalin that it would be far too difficult to impose a Communist government on Finland. The Ukrainians have convinced sensible members of the Russian establishment — and hopefully, Putin himself — that Russia cannot dominate the whole of Ukraine.”

No to US or NATO soldiers in the fight

Jen Kirby and Jonathan Guyer address this issue in one section of their long and informative article for Vox (https://vox.com/2022/2/23/22948534/russia-ukraine-war-putin-explosives-invasion-explained).

“The United States has said it will not involve troops in any Ukrainian conflict, though more US military aid to Ukraine is on its way and the US has shored up its presence on NATO’s eastern flank. On February 24, the Pentagon said it would send 7,000 additional troops to Germany, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on February 26 that he was authorizing ‘up to $350 million’ in additional military aid to Ukraine, including ‘further lethal defensive assistance to help Ukraine address the armored, airborne, and other threats it is now facing.’

Such aid, according to a February 26 tweet by State Department spokesperson Ned Price, will be provided ‘immediately’ and include ‘anti-tank and air defense capabilities.’ Other European and NATO countries are also stepping up their assistance, including Germany, which reversed a long-standing policy of not sending lethal aid to conflict zones.”

No to a “no fly zone”

Ukrainian President Zelensky has continuously called for it. Interviewed on Democracy Now, Joshua Yaffa, contributing writers for the New Yorker, is questioned about the issue of the no-fly zone (https://democracynow.org/2022/03/15/joshua_yaffe_russian_invasion_ukraine_curfew).

—————-

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, the increasing calls for a no-fly zone. And it’s clear why the West doesn’t want this. A direct confrontation could lead to a nuclear war. You have Zelensky about to address the U.S. Congress on Wednesday. Can you talk about this and the road you think needs to be taken right now?

JOSHUA YAFFA: Sure. What is really striking to me is how many ordinary people in Ukraine are talking about a no-fly zone. So many of my interviews, so many of my meetings across the country over these past weeks, knowing that I was American and work for an American magazine, this was the first thing that many people wanted to talk about. And it was just really fascinating the degree to which this idea has spread among the Ukrainian people. Not just people in the military but ordinary people I met, for example, at the grocery store, wanted to talk to me about a no-fly zone.

I think that’s a manifestation, among other things, of Zelensky himself mentioning this so often in his addresses and really creating the groundswell of momentum, both inside Ukraine and internationally, to try and push for this measure, which of course would have an effect. This is not just a symbolic measure, but, I think, a real one, given the fact that much of the violence Russia is perpetrating on Ukraine is coming from the air. Another question is how much is coming from — delivered by fighter jets and bombers versus missile strikes. It’s one thing to have a no-fly zone that would not permit airplanes to fly; another is to protect against missile and rocket attacks, which are a more difficult technical thing to block than bringing down aircraft.

But in talking about what a no-fly zone would entail, I think it’s important we remember the technical military details of what we’re talking about here. A no-fly zone is not a kind of magical spell you cast over the skies of Ukraine so planes can’t fly. It is the commitment to use military force to shoot down those planes. It is an act of war, essentially. And I think that it’s, therefore, understandable why the Biden administration is wary, if not refusing, to commit itself to essentially enter the war.

That is what installing a no-fly zone would mean, or at least that is what implementing a no-fly zone would entail. It would entail American military strikes against Russian military targets. That is effectively the United States entering the war. And I think that there are understandable reasons, first and foremost, as you mentioned, the desire to avoid a nuclear exchange….

—————-

How will it end?

The Russian onslaught may not end for some time. At present, it does not look as though there is a negotiated settlement in sight. Without a negotiated agreement to end the war, then the rain of horrific destruction and death on Ukraine will likely intensify.

One scenario

There is a chance that the sanctions and mounting Russian casualties from the war will at some point in coming weeks or months undermine Putin and his coterie’s legitimacy among members of Russia’s high-military command and, coupled with the economic effects of the sanctions, force Putin or his replacement into serious negotiations.

However, it is difficult to imagine that even then Russian negotiators would be willing to give up the two provinces in the Donbas and Crimea. And they would insist that the Ukraine remain “neutral,” that is, never become a member of NATO. And perhaps that would insist that Ukraine eliminate any military capacity (missile launchers) that could strike Russia and stop accepting military arms from the US and Europe. Such an agreement would seriously compromise the national independence and integrity of Ukraine but end the destruction and death.

In return, the Russian invaders would agree to withdraw from Ukraine and end the war. The terrible genocidal destruction would end. And they would also expect US-international sanctions to be reduced.

Future relations between Russia and the US and Europe would depend on whether NATO continued to build up the military forces of its eastern European members and continue to be viewed as a threat to Russia’s security.

The war crimes issue would probably not lead anywhere as long as Russia is a viable state.

Scenario Two

The Ukrainian resistance, the ongoing US/Europe military assistance, finding ways to counter the air and artillery attacks of Russia, the effects of increasing Russian military casualties, the effects of the sanctions on the Russian population, the links between families in Ukraine and Russia, all such development might lead to negotiations that favor Ukraine.

In this set of circumstances, Ukraine may be able to retain a state that is independent of Russian domination, though it is unlikely that the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces and Crimea would be returned to Ukraine. And Ukrainian authorities would have to agree not to join NATO. But the bloodshed would end, refugees would be able to return to their country, and, with the help of international assistance, the rebuilding of the devastated country would commence. Military assistance would give way to economic and humanitarian assistance.

Scenario Three

The negotiations lead nowhere, the war and its attendant destruction escalates,

the US/Europe give into public pressure about the rising carnage in Ukraine to support a “no-fly zone.” This is followed by military clashes involving Russian and American air force aircraft. If Russia is losing, it may use tactical nuclear weapons. And this will be the beginning of a nuclear war – and the end of civilization.

Concluding thoughts

This side of a direct military war involving the US/Europe and Russia, however the war in Ukraine unfolds, there is now the making of a new Cold War. In response to Putin’s vision of a creating a new Russian empire, the Biden administration has decided to send troops to NATO countries on or near Russia’s border. And there are now calls in the US Congress and from others to increase even more the already enormous military budget.  

The downside of such policies is that other pressing challenges in the US would be short-changed like “pandemics, climate change, and racial and economic injustice,” and, like the first Cold War, the US would likely become more involved in shoring up “friendly” regimes, democratic and autocratic, against presumed Russian – and Chinese – “threats.”

Perhaps, though, like a lightening flash from the sky, the US will have the luck, the political will, and the diplomatic ingenuity to find a way toward peace.

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