"US admits to pushing Ukraine into a fight it can't win"
By Aaron Maté, Substack (July 29, 2023)
A US "windfall" in Ukraine comes at an unfathomable cost.
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Nearly one month into Russia’s invasion, the New York Times quietly abandoned any pretense that the US aim was to defend Ukraine and bring the war to a quick end. The White House, the Times reported, “seeks to help Ukraine lock Russia in a quagmire without inciting a broader conflict with a nuclear-armed adversary or cutting off potential paths to de-escalation.”
Eighteen months later, the desired quagmire has been achieved. This is due not only to a massive influx of NATO weaponry, but a Western blockade of every tangible path to de-escalation, most notably the April 2022 Ukraine-Russia peace deal that Boris Johnson nixed.
With a Russian quagmire the overriding goal, the US and its partners have adopted an attendant disregard for the tens of thousands of Ukrainian lives sacrificed for the task.
In the war’s early stages, only the most outwardly enthusiastic proxy warriors, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham, could candidly admit that US support ensured that Ukraine would “fight to the last person.” With Ukraine now struggling to mount a widely hyped counteroffensive, the prevailing indifference to its human toll is more widely acknowledged.
As the Wall Street Journal newly reports:
“When Ukraine launched its big counteroffensive this spring, Western military officials knew Kyiv didn’t have all the training or weapons—from shells to warplanes—that it needed to dislodge Russian forces. But they hoped Ukrainian courage and resourcefulness would carry the day. They haven’t.”
It is unclear how Western officials could have “hoped” that Ukrainian “resourcefulness” would make up for the training and weapons that they did not provide. A war zone, after all, is not an episode of MacGyver or the A-Team, and Ukraine’s adversary happens to be one of the world’s most powerful militaries. The operative Western definition of “Ukrainian courage”, however, is not hard to discern: a willingness to use Ukrainian soldiers as cannon fodder.
“Senior U.S. officials,” the New York Times reports, have “privately expressed frustration that some Ukrainian commanders... fearing increased casualties among their ranks” have recently “reverted to old habits — decades of Soviet-style training in artillery barrages — rather than sticking with the Western tactics and pressing harder to breach the Russian defenses.”
The Times did not ask these same US officials whether it is appropriate to express “frustration” at the decision of another military – the one we claim to support – to avoid “increased casualties” among its ranks. But Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian defense minister, asked an equally salient question of his US counterparts: “Why don’t they come and do it themselves?”
Frustrated US officials are well aware of Ukraine’s toll. According to the New York Times, Western states now estimate that Ukraine lost about 20 percent of its weaponry in the first weeks of its counteroffensive, a “startling rate of losses... as Ukrainian soldiers struggle against Russia’s formidable defenses.” Oddly, the Times omits any mention of losses in Ukrainian lives – a tacit admission, perhaps, that the human casualties are even more startling.
As is also increasingly admitted, all of this was foreseen. “U.S. Defense Department analysts knew early this year that Ukraine’s front-line troops would struggle against Russian air attacks,” the Wall Street Journal notes. Or as the Washington Post puts it: “Privately, U.S. military officials concede that their expectation from early this year, described in leaked intelligence documents, that Ukraine is likely to make only modest gains in its counteroffensive has not changed, despite public pronouncements seeking to downplay fallout from the disclosure.”
In other words, US “public pronouncements” have entailed lying to the public to “downplay fallout” of fueling a knowingly catastrophic and futile war. The participants in this deception include Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who declared in March that the Ukrainian military had “a very good chance for success,” despite privately being told the opposite.
One reason for Ukraine’s current woes, as President Biden recently admitted to CNN, is that “the Ukrainians are running out of ammunition,” and “we're low on it” as well. Another major factor, a classified Pentagon assessment noted in February, was Ukraine’s “inability to prevent Russian air superiority.” Or as a senior European official now warns, “everyone worries that the Ukrainians will run out of ammunition and air defenses.”
“America would never attempt to defeat a prepared defense without air superiority, but they [Ukrainians] don’t have air superiority,” John Nagl, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and professor at the U.S. Army War College, observes. “It’s impossible to overstate how important air superiority is for fighting a ground fight at a reasonable cost in casualties.”
According to the Pentagon, NATO’s latest influx of heavy weaponry will not change the tide. Speaking at a Washington security conference this month, John Kirchhofer, chief of staff at the US Defense Intelligence Agency, claimed that the Ukraine war is at a “stalemate” and that “none of these” newly provided weapons – including Storm Shadow missiles and cluster bombs -- “are the holy grail that Ukraine is looking for.”
Accordingly, the Wall Street Journal notes, the unlikelihood of “any large-scale breakthrough by the Ukrainians... raises the unsettling prospect for Washington and its allies of a longer war—one that would require a huge new infusion of sophisticated armaments and more training to give Kyiv a chance at victory.”
For Washington, perhaps that prospect is not unsettling. According to veteran Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, the Ukraine war has already yielded a “triumphal summer” for the NATO alliance.
“The West’s most reckless antagonist has been rocked,” Ignatius writes. “NATO has grown much stronger with the additions of Sweden and Finland. Germany has weaned itself from dependence on Russian energy and, in many ways, rediscovered its sense of values.”
Accordingly, “for the United States and its NATO allies, these 18 months of war have been a strategic windfall, at relatively low cost (other than for the Ukrainians).”
Indeed, it is quite easy to reap a “windfall” from 18 months of war when the US is not itself fighting it. It has instead sacrificed future generations of an entire nation, whose worth is so devalued that their unfolding catastrophe is openly reduced to an afterthought.