Vladimir Putin.

O'SHEA: Decision Time In And For Ukraine

When Ukraine’s top military commander spoke last November of a stalemate in the war, most people understood this to mean that the conflict was frozen, with neither side capable of advancing. The Russians couldn’t plunder any further, and the Ukraine liberation drive was at a standstill.

This standoff situation invited talk about a declaration of truce a-la-Korea or Cyprus and a call to the United Nations to facilitate some kind of treaty that wouldn’t please either side but would end the war that has caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of fighters, as well as large numbers of civilians.

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However, there was no serious talk about a truce, and negotiations of any kind were not on either side's public agenda.

Jens Stoltenberg.

Jens Stoltenberg.

If, somehow, an end to the war was proclaimed, Russia could claim to have grabbed tens of thousands of square miles of rich farmland, and millions of Ukrainians in the captured territories would be forced to bow their knee before the hated bosses in Moscow.

Putin has shown that his apparatchiks completely control the media and every apparatus of power in that country, so his assertions about “legitimate” Russian ownership of Ukrainian territory going back over ten centuries are guaranteed to be promulgated as the official line.

The stalemate assertion underestimates the fact that Russia is in a more muscular military position than the relatively weaker situation in Kyiv. Since the invasion over two years ago, the Russians have destroyed thousands of homes, schools, and hospitals while razing entire towns, taking out Ukraine’s largest nuclear power plant, and crippling its economy.

Russia, a military superpower, has fought the war so far without resorting to full mobilization. It would be wrong to think of the stalemate as revealing a military equilibrium between two similar forces. There is no doubt that in terms of shells, and number of soldiers, Russia is pulling well ahead.

Ukraine and the Russian occupied portion of the country.

Ukraine and the Russian occupied portion of the country.

No wonder that when pseudo-journalist Tucker Carlson asked Putin during an interview if Moscow would settle for the current status quo, the Russian leader repeatedly demurred, refusing to say yay or nay. In that interview and in other pronouncements, Putin mocked the Ukrainian counteroffensive: “If things go on as they are, Ukrainian statehood may be dealt an unendurable blow.”

Allowing for his predictable bluff and bluster, Putin’s real message contends that he can keep what he has grabbed and gain more against what he views as a divided, distracted and tired Euro-American coalition.

However, Western European countries, with the exceptions of Hungary and Slovakia, are firmly on Kyiv's side. Recently, the EU donated 50 billion euros to help with their civilian needs over the next four years, and the French and German presidents made unbending statements of support.

These leaders accept that the pussyfooting of their counterparts in the 1930s led to the horrors of Nazism. A coherent case can be made that if the democratic prime ministers and presidents in those days showed a solid and united front, Hitler would have thought twice about his bulldog expansionism.

Nearly all the European leaders realize that failure to stop Putin in Ukraine would not only allow the clicking heel from Moscow to dominate that territory but would also invite further Russian expansionism. Would Poland or one of the Baltic states be next?

The Ukrainian forces, numbering around a million, have one major advantage over their Russian counterparts: they are fighting to repulse a foreign army that invaded their country in February 2022. Their culture and pride are on the line. If they lose, they will forfeit their self-respect and freedom and will be treated by Moscow as a defeated, subservient people.

A future dominated by foreign tyrants is seen as a fate worse than death and avoiding this provides what Shakespeare called “a spur to prick the sides of their intent” on the various battlefields. By comparison, the Russian invaders are mere mercenaries who just want to return home.

When Putin invaded their country, he expected Kyiv to fall to his superior forces within a few months. Instead, he found a determined and daring local army that matched the Russian onslaughts on every front.

Ukraine has a large defense industry that was known for its corruption before the invasion. This recalcitrance has been purged, and the arms industry is now operating efficiently. It makes its own shells and heavy artillery and is stepping up its production of armored vehicles and missiles.

The Ukrainians have a sophisticated capacity for producing drones that can reach close to 700 miles into Russian territory, where they have recently destroyed a giant oil refinery and some vital infrastructure projects. Their military leaders see an increasing use of these devastating weapons as a big plus for their side. Of course, the Russians have a higher number of drones, and, unfortunately, they are reputed to achieve greater accuracy.

Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, doesn’t hide his admiration for Vladimir Putin. If elected in November, American aid for Kyiv will end, and he suggests that he will weaken America’s involvement with NATO. He aspires to strongman rule, expressing his esteem not only for Putin but equally for the dictators in China, North Korea, and Hungary.

Enter Jens Stoltenberg, the respected Norwegian secretary general of NATO. He is worried about the stalling of President Biden’s commitment to deliver $60 billion in military aid to Kyiv despite the approval of the U.S. Senate and the support of a clear majority in the House of Representatives. He shakes his head in disbelief that a democracy could be so ineffective.

The NATO leader, who is firmly in favor of the Ukrainian resistance to the Russian invasion, realizes that continuing Washington's indecisiveness could result in further Russian advances, especially if the Republicans take over the White House. And so he is floating a new and vigorous NATO policy.

He wants to secure a five-year military aid package of up to $100 billion to shield Ukraine from what he dubs “the winds of political change” that a Trump presidency would surely mean. This money would be administered by NATO with the support of all 32 members of the military alliance. Unlike the current arrangement, where the United States provides the leadership, NATO would be primarily responsible for implementing this massive weapons provision program from its headquarters in Brussels.

The details of this proposal are being discussed by Stoltenberg, whose leadership term ends in October, with all the NATO members, and he hopes to get it approved at the leaders’ summit in Washington in July.

For President Biden and nearly all of the NATO leaders a Russian victory in Ukraine would be a massive setback for the democratic agenda in Europe. It would mean that in the 21st century Russia could invade a smaller independent Western country and force it into subjection. Will they allow this to happen?

Gerry O’Shea blogs at wemustbetalking.com