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Ukraine, three months in
On the wisdom of winning gracefully
Russia has already lost its war in Ukraine.
If the United States gets too greedy, we might lose it too.
As wars go, this one is moving fast up the list of all-time disasters. In three months, Vladimir Putin has managed to make every Ukrainian hate Russia and push Finland and Sweden into NATO’s loving arms. And, oh yeah, demonstrate his military weakness to the entire world. The new symbol of the Russian Army is the paper tiger:
Yep, odds are that Putin’s tumors are advancing faster than his T-72s. Russia even managed to lose the guided missile cruiser that is the flagship of its Black Sea fleet, impressive considering that this conflict has been conducted essentially entirely on land.
Alas, Vlad the Bad is not yet ready to admit defeat. So his glorious army has fled the Kiev suburbs and is contenting itself with shelling and rocketing at eastern Ukrainian villages in the hope of dismembering peasants too old to flee.
This new civilian-killing strategy - if one can call it a strategy - is… immoral. At best.
What it is not is an existential threat to the West. Or even Ukraine.
At this point, Russia has little hope even of making significant territorial gains. If it tries to annex provinces, it will face an endless insurgency led by an intact Ukrainian government that has shown its fighting spirit has access to technology not just equal to but superior to that which Russia can field.
For Russia, such a conflict wouldn’t be another Afghanistan. It would be worse. It would be Russia’s version of Vietnam, where the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong inflicted far greater casualties on American soldiers than the Taliban ever did.
As goes the war, so goes its architect.
The Vladiator’s increasingly rickety and sparse public appearances suggest his sell-by is fast approaching. If the Russian “democratic process” doesn’t take of him in the not-too-distant future, his body may. (Or, just maybe, we’re seeing a case of why not both? There’s no poisoning like slow poisoning!)
Vlad’s successor is unlikely to be in the running for any Humanitarian of the Year awards. But whoever he is, he (yes, I’m guessing Russia’s next supreme leader will be a he/him) will have one great advantage over Putin. He will not be responsible for this Chicken Kiev misadventure. Thus he will have more freedom to declare victory and go home.
Under the circumstances, the prudent move is obvious.
Let Russia continue to grind its army into dust while offering quiet support to the Ukrainian soldiers and paramilitaries doing the job. Say nothing about “regime change” in a country with 4,477 nuclear warheads, give or take.
Do not under any circumstances broadcast the way we are helping the Ukrainians kill senior Russian military leaders. And, oh yeah, do not make any commitments to Ukraine that we can’t undo.
Unfortunately, our fearless leaders and the bright national security boys who serve them cannot keep their mouths shut.
For once I agree with Thomas “Always Wrong” Friedman, who wrote last week:
When American officials start to brag in public about playing a role in killing Russian generals and sinking the Russian flagship, killing many sailors, we could be creating an opening for Putin to respond in ways that could dangerously widen this conflict.
Even Uncle Joe’s teensy little eyes can see the problem here. Of course, Joe didn’t help the cause in March when he blurted out that Putin “cannot remain in power.” Umm, Joe:
A) He can.
B) Nunya bidness.
Did I mention the four thousand four hundred and seventy seven nuclear warheads?
Nor is this war cost-free for ‘Merica. Those of you who don’t drive big rigs or heat your homes with oil may not have noticed what has happened to diesel prices of late. Allow me to be the bearer of bad tidings:
Fossil fuels: they’re only a problem until you run out.
Right now the market is suggesting we have a real risk of actual diesel shortages, as in pumps running dry. Which wouldn’t be good for anyone who needs anything delivered by truck. Like, oh, grocery stores.
AND THIS IS HAPPENING IN MAY! NOBODY NEEDS HEATING OIL IN MAY! THIS IS WHEN WE’RE SUPPOSED TO BE BUILDING STORAGE FOR THE WINTER MONTHS. WHICH IS NOT HAPPENING.
The reasons for the shortage are complex, and rest assured it couldn’t have happened if we hadn’t let Re-Greta Thunberg set global energy policy for the last five years. (Well, not global. The Chinese and Indians weren’t messing with no autistic Swedes.) But the Russian invasion is the proximate cause, and the sooner we can reach some kind of grown-up solution to this short-term energy disaster, the better.
Grown-up solution does NOT mean Putin or Russia profit from this awful little excursion. It does not even mean status quo ante. But it does mean that we stop bragging about how many Russkies we’ve killed and stop talking about war crimes and genocide. To use that term because Russian snipers acted out is to demean the Holocaust and the Armenian genocide and the Tutsi slaughter - you know, actual genocides.
Most of all, it means we need to stop talking about regime change (one person I know actually told me he favored a 1945-style end to this war. Unconditional Russian surrender! Is that before or after the ICBMs launch?)
We - and by we I mean the Ukrainians, so not really we - are winning. Let’s not blow it by bragging too much and putting the Russians in a position where they feel they have to double down.
Realpolitik. It’s a thing.