Amidst preparations for long Ukraine war, peace may come quickly

Jan 12, 2024
Ukraine Country on Blue, Yellow Map with Dove Silhouette Icon. Ukrainian Map with Pigeon Symbol of Freedom, Peace. Ukraine Territory Shape with Border Pictogram. Isolated Vector Illustration

It is possible now that peace could come to Ukraine rather faster than most Western analysts are predicting, but this will only be only on terms acceptable to Russia.

Last month in Pearls and Irritations, I reviewed the stage reached in the Ukraine military conflict. I suggested that the conflict would continue until Russia was ready to end it on negotiated terms that will protect Russian national security in years ahead. I predicted that:

“Russia in my view has no alternative but to continue to fight this war using its present prudent reactive tactics all along the front, in the hope of Kiev coming to its senses; to go on mobilizing and improving its weapons advantages at home; and to continue to try to minimise civilian casualties and infrastructure losses on both sides. Russia has effectively won this tragic war. It must not let itself be fooled by a political change in Kiev manipulated by Washington and London, trying desperately to snatch some sort of diplomatic victory out of their military defeat in Ukraine. Russia has learned not to trust American false peace overtures.”

Developments over the past month are consistent with these predictions. In what is now a complex picture of Western truth, lies, and cynical shape-shifting, the US/NATO disinformation narrative slowly and reluctantly crawls towards reality. Within Ukraine itself, the political mood is shifting significantly. We are at a moment when basic questions are quietly being asked in Kiev and Washington about Ukraine’s future.

‘And what rough beast, its hour come at last, slouches towards Jerusalem to be born?’

That rough beast is looking more and more like the blunt and popular Ukrainian Army Commander in Chief, General Valeriy Zaluzhny.

President Zelensky is becoming more dispirited and irrelevant: he knows that the Washington imperium sees him as a spent figure and is losing interest in him. The charisma is gone, only the sulky resentment is left.

The Washington imperial elite is now urgently focussed on Middle East dangers and opportunities. The powerful Zionist lobby in the US appears bent on helping Netanyahu find ways to widen to war to Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Iran, and is trying to wrongfoot Iran into looking like the aggressor. Washington is sick of the Ukraine war, knows it can go nowhere good for US now, and wants to wrap it up in a way that the US does not lose face.

Up to a point, Russia is prepared to ease Washington’s diplomatic path to peace.

The Economist – always a good reflection of US-UK strategic thinking for public consumption – tells us that both Ukraine and Russia are war-weary, having taken massive casualties of their best fighters, and both running out of essential munitions. The mood in both countries, says The Economist, is for defensive, life-preserving war. True in the case of Ukraine, but utterly false in the case of Russia where public morale is good, mobilisation and training is well ahead of what is currently militarily necessary, and the military production lines are humming along nicely.

Along the front, Ukraine is no longer mounting suicidal media-driven offensives. Zaluzhny has scaled back a militarily pointless lodgement at Krynki, on the Dnieper east bank near Kherson. Zaluzhny is clearly trying to husband the lives of fit Ukrainian fighting men who are increasingly scarce. He is retrenching towards defensive positions along the long front. Russia is advancing where it is economical of life (on both sides) and Russian weapons to do so. The front remains essentially stable and there are no signs that Russia is preparing for major costly offensives. This is being masked by a steady diet of announcements of small territorial gains, and of Ukrainian desertions, defeatist talk, etc.

In recent days Russia mounted a major air missile attack on key military and infrastructure targets in Kiev and other large Ukrainian cities. Casualties were low. It has led to midwinter power cuts and blackouts. It was a reminder of what Russia can do to Ukraine.

The Ukrainian war party in Kiev – intelligence chief Kyrylo Budanov would be a key figure still – continues with Western agency help to mount audacious attacks using missiles, drones and saboteurs on civilian targets deep inside Russia (as far as Chelyabinsk in Siberia). Severe loss of civilian life was caused in Donetsk and in Belgorod. The Economist politely commends this as ‘guerilla warfare’. Moscow condemns it as terrorism.

I surmise that peace precursor discussions through mediators in neutral sites e.g Turkey are already informally underway. Russia’s red lines are being tested and reaffirmed; no rump Ukraine NATO membership or protective affiliation under any circumstances, political neutrality for rump Ukraine (but EU membership would be acceptable to Russia), language rights for Russians in Ukraine, denazification of the worst Banderist elements in Ukrainian politics, restored good-neighbourly relations with Russia and Belarus, final abandonment of Ukrainian claims to Crimea and the four annexed provinces. Russia can expect tacit Hungarian, Polish, Romanian and Slovakian acceptance of such an outcome.

Russia will be negotiating from strength. But it will still be a complex and challenging diplomatic negotiation both at the Moscow-Washington and Moscow-Kiev levels.

Russia wants the US and its NATO satraps finally to butt out of Ukraine but is prepared to ease their path diplomatically. On this basis I suggest Moscow will be prepared to help Kiev to negotiate a post-1945 Finlandisation model of sovereign neutrality and retention of a citizen army, but with acceptance of substantial loss of former territory (as Finland then lost in Karelia).

There will be an obvious tradeoff between how cooperative Ukraine will be in such peace negotiations, and how much territory Ukraine will be forced permanently to sacrifice. Will the final Russia-Ukraine border remain on the present frontline, or will it extend to the province capital cities of Zaporizhie and Kherson, now still part of Ukraine? Will it even extend to the provinces of Odessa and Kharkov? Nobody yet knows.

My sense is that Russia would settle for the four prewar provinces in full, as long as the postwar relationship of the two countries is set fair for stability. Russia wants a friendly postwar Ukraine more than it wants to acquire Odessa and Kharkov, however tempting those territories might be. To the extent that Russia continues to face an unfriendly postwar Ukrainian rump state, annexation of Odessa and Kharkov will be more strategically attractive and may be deemed essential to future Russian security.

Everything now depends on what happens in Kiev in coming weeks, and on how helpful or unhelpful a role Washington and its key NATO /EU lieutenants (especially Stoltenberg, Von der Leyen, and Borrell) choose to play in helping, hindering or simply standing aside from any political transition in Kiev.

There are realist politicians in Kiev who could provide core elements of a new more pragmatic regime: I would include as examples Zaluzhny himself – still a popular and trusted figure despite Ukraine’s military reverses, Arestovich, and the Klitschko brothers. Some form of transfer of power away from Zelensky and diehard Russophobe fanatics like Oleksiy Danilov and Kyrylo Budanov would be necessary. The transfer could be bloody or bloodless. Much depends on Washington.

The mood in realist political circles in Ukraine now is fatalistic and despondent. Anti-Russian fanatics are falling silent. There is no enthusiasm left for prosecuting this suicidal war against Russia. Realistic Ukrainians know in their hearts that their war on behalf of the US has been lost, and they now want simply to save what they can of the national patrimony. They are coming to despise how their present political leaders let their countrymen be used as cannon fodder by the US. The Middle East strategic flashpoint around Gaza that is preoccupying Washington is their opportunity.

Peace, when it comes, may come quickly. Meanwhile, expect both sides to continue to talk big publicly of their being ready for a long war. In Russia’s case, it is true.

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