On the end game – Christian Esch, Matthias Gebauer, Martin Knobbe, René Pfister, Jan Puhl and Britta Sandberg in Der Spiegel:
‘Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began more than three months ago. Since the end of the Cold War, nothing has united NATO as much as Vladimir Putin’s war. He gifted the alliance with a new sense of purpose and self-confidence, along with two new accession candidates – Sweden and Finland.
Now, though, the unexpected military successes of the Ukrainians have triggered a new dispute within the Western alliance. Putin, it seems safe to say, is not going to be able to take over all of Ukraine. He also won’t be able to install a puppet government, as he had hoped to do. But how does a war launched by a nuclear power come to an end?’
‘Behind the scenes, NATO allies have begun wrestling with the question of what war aims the alliance should support, and which it should not.
Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron are very clearly opposed to setting the bar too high for Putin. They certainly don’t want the Kremlin leader to win, but they are even less interested in risking a direct conflict with a humiliated and unpredictable nuclear power.
In Berlin, a number of leading politicians were concerned when U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said at a conference with allies at the Ramstein Air Base in Germany in late April that Ukraine doesn’t just have to win the war against Putin, but Russia also has to be weakened to ensure that it is more difficult for the Kremlin to invade neighboring countries. The "Win and Weaken" strategy, as it quickly came to be known in Washington, was enthusiastically welcomed in many Eastern European countries.’
‘Which is why all eyes are now on Washington, the source of by far the largest contributions to the military buildup of Ukraine. The Americans have sent state-of-the art drones, artillery and anti-tank missiles – and plenty of money. Officially, Biden has never sought to water down the words of his defense secretary. A week ago Friday, U.S. NATO Ambassador Julianne Smith said at a conference in Warsaw: "We want to see a strategic defeat of Russia. We want to see Russia leave Ukraine."
Behind the scenes, though, leading officials like National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and CIA chief William Burns have said in closed-door meetings with allies that the words of the Pentagon chief have been overinterpreted. Instead of a victory on the battlefield, they say, Washington is more interested in forcing Putin to understand that he cannot win the war.’
‘But in contrast to the beginning of April, Western intelligence services now agree that a rapid Ukrainian victory is extremely unlikely. Putin, they say, is now pursuing a strategy that is far more astute than the poorly planned advance on Kyiv seen in the first days of the war.
Russia’s war aims, to be sure, are far more limited that they were initially, even in eastern Ukraine. Instead of completely encircling the Ukrainian troops in the Donbas, a goal that Russia quickly had to discard, Putin’s army is now focusing its attentions on the eastern tip of the Donbas in the area of Sievierodonetsk. Over the weekend, the Russians continued to up the pressure in the region, and on Monday, reports emerged that the first Russian troops have now entered the city.
The strategy Putin has pursued in the Donbas has involved heavy artillery fire against Ukrainian positions before then slowly advancing. Supply lines have also been firmly established. Germany’s foreign intelligence service, the BND, estimates that Russia is currently able to send up to 300 tons of munitions to the front every day – sufficient for a huge amount of firepower. At the same time, says the German government, Western sanctions on the import of Russian energy have not proven as painful as hoped. India alone more than doubled its oil imports from Russia from March to April. A leading German official says that the Russian war machine will only begin sputtering once the embargo results in a lack of important electronic parts necessary for modern weapons systems.
The CIA has produced similar scenarios. According to the U.S. intelligence agency, Putin is preparing for a slow and brutal war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine. Because the Kremlin chief is completely isolated from any form of critical advice, experts believe that he thinks he will be able to continue to conquer territory in the coming months. Militarily, the U.S. is prepared for a protracted conflict. When defense ministers from more than 40 countries gathered for a video conference last Monday, the focus was not just on the rapid deliveries of armored vehicles and howitzers. U.S. Defense Secretary Austin also requested allies to begin planning for a war that could stretch out over several years.’
‘The Chancellery noted with a fair amount of gratification that Ukrainian President Zelenskyy has been far more conservative in his stated war aims than many of his own people. During a video call early last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Zelenskyy was asked if he felt that a reconquering of the Crimea was realistic. He responded that doing so could cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers, and said that such a price plays a role. And at the moment, not even the Americans seem prepared to arm Ukraine to the point that it could launch a battle for Crimea – much less Scholz, whose government still hasn’t even managed to fulfill its promise of delivering Gepard tanks to Ukraine. Kyiv isn’t the only capital to have noticed the shortcoming; the rest of Eastern Europe has as well.’
Read the article here.
Aside from Germany, we have some better ideas of the end game.
A war that will go on for several years, a war of attrition. Problem is, as has been noted, that the fragile Western cooperation against Putin might not survive.
Also the outcome of a long war might not necessarily be good for Ukraine and the West.
Also, the question remains: what does winning mean? Even Zelensky is not willing to sacrifice too many of his soldiers for Crimea.
The war between Iraq and Iran lasted eight years, between one and two million people died. The war ended without a clear winner and without any important territorial changes.
Just to get an idea what a war attrition might look like.