The war in Ukraine is rapidly reaching a crucial point with the Russian forces inexorably drawing ever closer to complete control of the Donbass. Once the Donbass is completely under the control of the Russians it is an open question as to how much further into the state of Ukraine they will advance. At the present time they show no inclination to stop their advance and will probably continue until they control the whole of the coastline region up to and including the city of Odessa.
The tactics of the Ukrainian forces are difficult to determine from a rational point of view. They seem bent on a currently suicidal path, with their forces attempting to defend seemingly impossible positions. The rational choice would have been for them to have retreated weeks ago when they still had the option of doing so. Instead, they appear committed to carrying out the irrational demands of the Ukrainian president to stand and hold their ground, irrespective of the massive losses they are suffering and the manifest absurdity of their position.
The current figures suggest that Ukrainians are losing up to 1000 men per day, either killed, wounded or captured. Their president seems intent however, on insisting that they stay and fight, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that such an approach is suicidal at best. Zelensky seems to believe, or at least to hope, that his ever more extreme demands for American weapons will magically save the day. There are a number of reasons why this tells one more about the extent to which he has lost touch with reality, than it does about a feasible plan for Ukrainian victory.
The first reason is that the United States simply does not have the weapons available that Zelensky is demanding. The second reason is that even if those weapons could be supplied, it would take weeks, if not months, before Ukrainians were sufficiently trained in their use to be an effective weapon against the Russians. The third reason is that the Russians are capturing and/or destroying any weaponry that the Ukrainians receive faster than they can be replaced.
In a rational world the Ukrainians would be admitting that their cause is hopeless and suing for peace. That time has passed. It was a possibility that the settlement might have been achieved following the meeting between the parties in Istanbul in March of this year. Zelensky agreed to the terms of a settlement at that meeting. The agreement lasted as long as it took for the Ukrainian side to return to Kiev.
There are various accounts as to what caused the Ukrainians to change their mind and to continue fighting instead of achieving a peaceful settlement of the conflict. The most plausible account is that the British, in the form of the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was strongly opposed to the settlement and persuaded the Ukrainians to resile from the agreement that they had reached.
This was a decision completely contrary to Ukrainian interests. It seems that Boris Johnson is the last person left in the United Kingdom who believes that the Ukrainians have any prospect of success. A far more realistic view has recently been broadcast in the United States by lieutenant colonel Daniel Davis. Speaking on Fox News, Colonel Davis said there was no rational basis on which to believe the war could be turned around. There was similarly no rational basis to the belief that the Ukrainians could seriously harm Russia, let alone win the war.
That is a rational view that is in marked contrast to the views taken by Boris Johnson. Johnson seems obsessed in his views which begin with a profound dislike of Russia and colours all else in his thinking. Johnson’s own position in the United Kingdom seems increasingly tenuous. He recently survived a no-confidence vote in his own party, but the consensus is that he received only a reprieve that will not save him in the longer term. Many commentators give his prime ministership only weeks more at best.
The problem is that any of Johnson’s likely successors have a similar irrational dislike of Russia. The change in leadership in the United Kingdom would not necessarily equate to a change of policy.
Johnson’s irrationality was recently matched by that of Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba who talked of an imminent Ukrainian victory in the war, and the eventual recapture of both the Donbass and Crimea. It is this level of unreality that is causing the Ukraine government to insist that its fighters keep fighting the Russians, although they are now losing 1000 per day in dead, wounded and captured.
It is now probably too late for a negotiated settlement of the war. Anything the Ukrainians might say will simply not be believed. The Russians have vivid memories of the 2015 Minsk agreement which the Ukrainians agreed to but never implemented. In this they were aided and abetted by Germany and France, two other signatories of the agreement that had been signed. With this history it is scarcely surprising that the Russians no longer have any faith in whatever the Ukrainians might say.
It reinforces the maxim that the best guide to a person’s behaviour in the future is their conduct in the past. Ukraine has simply forfeited any claim they might have had to being believed. The most brutally realistic portrayal of the future is that Ukraine will be dismembered with different parts falling to Russia, Poland and possibly Hungary. Any shell that is left after these countries have taken their piece remains to be seen. Zelensky has recently banned nine opposition parties (an act of undemocratic behaviour that has gone totally unmentioned in the West), so he clearly sees himself with some role in the residue of Ukraine that remains. Whether the right-wing fanatics who really rule the country share that vision remains to be seen. It is frankly to be doubted.
The whole sorry Ukrainian saga still has some way to run. What is certain is that the end result will bear no resemblance to the absurd anti-Russian fantasies that currently substitute for real political thinking in the West.
James O’Neill, an Australian-based former Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.