The million-dollar question about what is happening in the Ukraine crisis concerns the motives for the change in the Western position – and the transition from political support and limited formal military support for Ukraine – to a vigorous attempt to mobilize military efforts and resources to provide significant and direct military support to the Ukrainian side.
This issue is reinforced by the fact that the change in the Western position coincides with a speech by US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in which he spoke of the possibility of defeating Russia in Ukraine if it has the right weapons and equipment.
We have also seen British Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey say that British-supplied weapons being used by Ukraine against military targets in Russia was “not necessarily a problem.” Heappey said it would be perfectly legitimate for Ukraine to attack Russia’s logistics and supply lines. He acknowledged that weapons provided by the international community had the potential to reach Russia.
“There are lots of countries around the world that operate kit [weapons and equipment] that they have imported from other countries. When those bits of kit are used we tend not to blame [the country] that manufactured it, you blame the country that fired it.”
Despite the British prime minister’s attempt to soften the statement by stressing that his country did not want the conflict in Ukraine to cross its borders, Russia has accused London of inciting attacks on its territory. It warned against “attacking decision-making sites in Kyiv” despite the presence of foreign advisers.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said her government could give the green light to attacks on NATO members supplying arms to Ukraine, adding that Britain was among those countries. Western observers as well as parliamentary and political circles have argued that the statements reflect greater Western involvement in a proxy war against Russia in Ukraine.
Other experts see it as a reaction to Moscow’s changing posture in the fight. Russia has recently attacked border areas between Ukraine and some neighboring countries, such as Romania. A Russian missile hit a strategic railroad bridge connecting Ukraine’s Odesa region with neighboring Romania.
THERE HAS also been tension on the southern coasts of Ukraine and Moldova since a senior Russian military official stated that the Kremlin’s goal was to secure not only eastern Ukraine but the entire south. In my view, one thing preventing the Ukraine crisis from finding hope for a political solution is the lack of clarity about what Russia wants and what the West wants.
Russia, which started with seemingly limited tactical goals, is seeking to achieve larger and broader strategic goals in Ukraine. This shift is primarily related to the events of the military operation on the ground, which revealed a miscalculation of Ukrainian strength and potential obstacles.
The attitude of Western countries towards the Russian military operation – especially in the form of strict sanctions against Russia and the cautious and calculated military and logistical support to Ukraine – has evolved into openly sophisticated arming and equipping.
It is not about defending Ukraine, but about defeating the Russian army and helping the besieged country achieve a military victory – theoretically difficult, precisely because since Russia is a major nuclear power, it could eventually come to use a tactical nuclear weapon.
The conflict in Ukraine not only ended the scenario of NATO’s approach to the Russian border and discouraged other countries from considering joining the military alliance, but also completely changed the rules of the game – establishing new rules for relations between Russia and the West in general and NATO in particular, and giving the conflict an undeniable ideological dimension.
While debates about the Kremlin’s attacks on Western democracies cannot be ignored, the opposite is also true. Regardless of the validity of these considerations, the conflict has become zero-sum, and compromise or sharing of interests and gains in the Ukraine crisis is unacceptable – at least so far.
Everyone remembers President Joe Biden’s so-called “slips of the tongue” in which he spoke of the need to topple President Vladimir Putin. He said in Warsaw that Putin “cannot remain in power.” Despite Biden’s official “correction,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin rephrased the president’s remarks, talking about the possibility of defeating Russia if equipment and weapons are provided to Ukraine.
DEFEATING PUTIN militarily basically means the end of his rule or Russia’s total containment within its borders, effectively putting an end to Moscow’s role as a strong strategic adversary of the US. Austin, who spoke of a new phase of the Ukraine war, also did not talk about a new phase of the US position; he talks a lot about defeating Russia now.
“The first step to victory is the confidence that we can win,” he said after his and Blinken’s meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “We see that they can win; they can win if they have the right equipment.” Austin said the US hoped to exhaust the Russian military in Ukraine to deter it from further invasions in the future.
“We want to see Russia so weak that it can’t do the things it did like invading Ukraine. It lost a lot of military capabilities, a lot of soldiers, and we don’t want it to be able to quickly rebuild its capabilities,” he said.
The above statement means that, according to the US Secretary of State, Russia’s defeat practically means that the Russian army is completely exhausted and that Putin can no longer think of waging war outside the borders of his country, especially in the neighboring former USSR countries.
This is the main gain for the US, which certainly wants not only to defeat Russia militarily, but to inflict a total and humiliating defeat on the Russian state, leading to its long-term reclusion. All this will not leave Putin’s political future untouched, and will likely end his era as president.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a speech in the House of Commons that “we must simply do everything we can collectively to ensure that Vladimir Putin fails, and fails comprehensively.” Although Johnson declined to press for regime change in Russia, he echoed Lloyd Austin’s idea of crippling it.
The writer is a UAE political analyst and former Federal National Council candidate.