Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
August 23, 2023
War is a man-made tragedy; proxy war is a tragedy made by incompetent politicians. Politicians supporting the proxy war in Ukraine still insist that war is going on fine with no end in sight. But as the two following opinion pieces pointed out, there are “fundamentals” that cannot be moved by human wills in this war that call for an end of military actions soon then talk about peace. These fundamentals include available manpower for fighting, limitations of foreign financial and military supports, and time!
Ukraine’s allies insist that it is up to the Ukrainians to make the decision and conditions for war and peace. But President Zelenskyy is only “one of the Ukrainian” whom we see making the case and presence for Ukraine around the world. Zelenskyy fires and hires generals, staffs, calls out the allies’ insufficient support. Zelenskyy has his untouchable conditions for ending the war, supported by his allies like the US and NATO. But there are no congress sessions in Ukraine: Zelenskyy declared national emergency after the war broke out in 2022. He decided that Ukraine will not disclose battle ground causalities, but it is public knowledge that the number of able fighters is decreasing fast: it is not sustainable.
Since this proxy war will determine the fate of Ukraine as a nation, is it time for Zelenskyy to hold a “public referendum” for “all Ukrainians” around the world on when and what are the Ukraine conditions for peace? Is this the “democracy” that everyone supports Ukraine fighting for?
Ukraine needs a miracle to avoid unthinkable outcome
Wed, August 23, 2023 at 3:00 AM PDT
Tragedy has almost as many definitions and meanings as it has actual examples.
In terms of foreign policy, tragedy can mean a collision of two seemingly valid principles that come into conflict. In Vietnam, the noble aim of bringing some measure of peace, stability and justice to a war-ravaged country was unachievable under the guise of preventing the spread of “Godless, monolithic communism.”
Tragedy is also inevitable when the obvious best outcome has no chance of surviving the brutal realities and harsh conditions required to end a conflict or war. Ukraine is the clearest example, as this tragedy continues to devastate that country and take too many lives of its citizens and Russian occupiers. The reasons are self-evident.
Ukraine wants its sovereignty and territory restored and Russian invaders expelled. For that to happen, at least one miracle is needed. Ukraine could shatter Russia’s defenses, forcing its army to surrender or leave. For the time being, that outcome does not seem likely. Of course, Russian morale could collapse and its army could disintegrate.
Russian President Vladimir Putin could change his mind or be replaced with a leader who is prepared to abandon this “special military operation.” As the German generals failed to assassinate or arrest Adolph Hitler, Putin seems very secure. Further, to the degree polls are reliable in Russia, Putin enjoys support from a majority of his citizens. Despite Western naysayers, unless or until Putin does leave his post, this possibility must be considered very unlikely.
NATO, or a coalition of willing members, could conclude that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is such a danger to the West and to the rule of law that military intervention is justified. NATO has the capability to eviscerate Russian forces inside Ukraine if it chooses. But U.S. President Joe Biden has exercised an absolute veto on that option, stating he has no intention of provoking World War III or deploying U.S. forces to fight in Ukraine.
Finally, external parties such as China, India or Saudi Arabia could broker some sort of a deal if one were remotely acceptable to the two warring states. The outline of such a deal is vague, although one possible option has been floated. Ukraine would be invited to join NATO in exchange for permitting Russia to maintain control of part of its territory in Donbas and Crimea with further negotiations to discuss boundaries and means to end this war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has repeatedly rejected exchanging peace and NATO membership for land. Yet, realistically, what options does he have? While the United State and NATO have promised support “for as long as it takes,” how long is that? In the United States, public consensus is eroding. Two Republican presidential aspirants have said they would end that war if elected.
In a perfect world, Ukraine deserves an outcome that reverses Russia’s illegitimate aggression, assures reparations and brings war criminals to account. The tragedy is that, barring some very unlikely event, this outcome is improbable if not impossible to achieve. Ukraine may have no choice except to continue to wage a war it may not be able to win, risking a Pyrrhic victory that could disintegrate the country.
Analogies do not always fit. This is not China in 1937; Munich in 1938; Korea in 1953; or Kuwait in 1990. Those who fear that a Russian victory in Ukraine will make Putin more eager to move further west do not understand that NATO possesses an overwhelming conventional military advantage over a very weakened Russian army. Hence, what is the least worst outcome for Ukraine that somehow leaves open a path for neutralizing hostile Russian intent and aspirations may prove to be the only viable one.
The vital and currently unanswerable question is what would Kyiv accept as the least worst outcome? And is Putin open to any negotiation? To prevent further tragedy, the United States must confront these questions. But will it?
In today’s highly toxic political environment, where even a scratch can become life-threatening, Democrats and Republicans of goodwill — there must be a few left — have to come together and agree on a strategy for Ukraine that reflects these tragic realities and possible outcomes, good or bad. More of the same simply defers making tough choices while Ukrainians pay the price.
As distasteful as it sounds, thinking the heretofore unthinkable may be the only way to end this tragedy that at least gives Ukraine a fighting chance to survive. And that itself is a further tragedy.
Ukraine’s army is running out of men to recruit, and time to win
Tue, August 22, 2023 at 10:39 AM PDT Opinion
The war in Ukraine is now one of attrition, fought on terms that increasingly favour Moscow. Kyiv has dealt admirably with shortages of Western equipment so far, but a shortage of manpower – which it is already having to confront – may prove fatal.
Broadly speaking, Kyiv’s highly anticipated counter-offensive has gathered much-needed momentum in recent weeks, with hard-fought gains around the strategically important village of Robotyne. If this falls, the road to the Azov sea will be in sight. If Ukrainian forces can reach the coast, they will split the land-bridge connecting Russia with Crimea, potentially routing Moscow’s troops.
Ukraine’s forces, however, are not just fighting massed defences and artillery fire. They are also fighting against time. Having first penetrated the formidable Russian minefields four weeks ago, Kyiv is desperate to exploit its early successes before mounting casualties and autumn rains destroy its fighting capability.
The summer has been wet, and the autumn months traditionally bring heavy rains which turn the soft ground of eastern Europe into a thick mud as tanks, armour and artillery churn the battlefield. This can all but halt meaningful advances, locking armies into place and buying the Russians time to add to the deeply dug trench networks and multi-layered minefields that have made retaking lost territory such hard going.
Perhaps more important, however, is the heavy toll the fighting is taking on the people of Ukraine. The Russian armed forces began the war with an official strength of one million, and a true strength estimated by some analysts at between 700,000 and 800,000.
A further two million men – former conscripts and contract servicemen – were available in the reserves, and some seven million men of conscription age (18-26) left to draw on, even before the Kremlin raised the age limit to 31.
Ukraine, meanwhile, had a pre-war population of 44 million. By the end of the first year of the war, some six million had fled abroad. The armed forces number around 200,000 active personnel, roughly the same again in reserve, and can draw on another 1.5 million fighting-age males.
It’s a brutal but simple calculation: Kyiv is running out of men. US sources have calculated that its armed forces have lost as many as 70,000 killed in action, with another 100,000 injured. While Russian casualties are higher still, the ratio nevertheless favours Moscow, as Ukraine struggles to replace soldiers in the face of a seemingly endless supply of conscripts.
Volunteers are no longer coming forward in numbers sufficient to keep the army at fighting strength: those most willing to fight signed up years ago. The latest recruitment slogan is “it’s OK to be afraid”, but there are still many attempting to dodge being drafted to fight on the front lines.
For all the difficulties the Kremlin has faced in its forced conscriptions, it still has hundreds of thousands of men to draw upon. This is a resource Ukraine simply cannot match, and one that the West cannot supply.
For Vladimir Putin, victory may at last be in sight as Western support begins to waver. If Kyiv cannot break through the Russian lines now, it may never be able to. If it runs out of willing men to recruit, the West cannot help.