There is a time for both. But not right now.
Putin Will Place Nuclear Weapons in Ukraine. Once he clears Ukraine of most resistance and claims possession of airfields and enough land, he will fly and transport Nukes into the newly conquered state and set them up only this time closer, and once again pointing at the West. The West will be confronted with the same scenario that exists today. Except that Putin will control more geography and be willing to use mass emigration as a weapon against Europe. This needs to stop now.
"Russia needs: Territory in the south and east to claim as its own."
Some reports say that Russia is determined to have a land-bridge to Crimea, which would likely have to go through Mariupol and cut Ukraine off from the Sea of Azov.
Mr. Last, your latest Triad forced me to sign up just to be able to respond to you. Section 1 left me gasping for air. You may guess why. Yes, I am a Ukrainian whose family is in Ukraine and lives with a prospect of dying from a dropped bomb daily.
I have a big problem with three things in your newsletter: 1. contested sky; 2. escalation and 3. 'prudential matter'.
1. I strongly feel that you, as well as a number of highly respectful voices in the US are being disingenuous and misleading at the very premise of your argument against the No-Fly-Zone. You use the term 'contested skies', a military term, not a legal definition, as if it negates Ukrainian sovereignty over its territories. As a matter of fact the Chicago Convention of 1944 states that Ukraine has 'complete and exclusive sovereignty' over its skies. The fact that Russia is bombing Ukrainian land from its jets doesn't make the sky not Ukrainian.
My husband gave a simple analogy: if a purse snatcher grabs a bag from a lady on the street it means that the bag is "contested" in the colloquial sense of the word (meaning two people are struggling for it) but does it mean that legal owner of the bag is now ambiguous and "contested" (in the legal sense) and the would-be purse snatcher has as much right to the purse as the woman? Of course not.
And despite the fact that the status of the bag is "contested (again, colloquially) we don't wait for the bag snatcher to take her bag in hopes that he won't go after other ladies. Primitive? Yes. Close to the situation? Yes. Ukrainian skies would not have been contested in the first place if the 'guarantors' (do we remember that in 1994 Ukraine gave up nuclear weapons in return for protection?) didn't allow an aggressor to violate it.
2. Escalation. There's a lot of talk about avoiding 'escalation' of the situation or starting the Third World War. Would bombing a Polish village on the border be enough escalation? Yavoriv air base that was bombed just a few days ago is 20-30 km from the border. Would blowing up a mine in Zaporizhya Nuclear Plant so that the wind could blow a cloud over the border be enough escalation? Another hundred or more children and pregnant women (does it really matter that they are not Polish or Slovak but Ukrainian) blown up enough escalation? I hope you read what happened in Melitopol. Putin already escalated. He escalated to the utmost inhumane level. But not enough for the world to respond? Going back to my simple analogy, do we hesitate to step in to help the woman because the purse-snatcher may accuse us of escalating?
3. I was shaken by your comment about 'prudential matter'. That stepping in would do more harm than help. Mr. Last, maybe it's because you don't have family there who may die from a bomb dropped on their heads tomorrow, that you feel free to make such off-handed comments. The Melitopol pregnant lady, who became the face of the inhumane bombing of the Melitopol maternity unit, didn't make it, you may have heard. Neither did her unborn child. Hundreds of Melitopol citizens, many with little children, would not have died today if the world stepped in two weeks ago, even a week ago. Where is your humanity, Mr. Last? Does it have to be your loved one for you to think about it differently?
I went ahead and paid for the right to write this comment because it is too important for you to hear. I have greatly respected the Bulwark contributors and always valued their honest and profound analysis of the issues. A lot of people read what you have to say because they trust your analysis. Mr. Last, I think you owe an apology to every Ukrainian that read your newsletter. And every Ukrainian who lost a loved one or lives in fear of losing one.
Section 1 is brilliant. Section 2 is like... fantasy land? There can be no negotiated settlement with putler, he will either continue and escalate or he will be forcibly stopped.
p.s. My strategically insightful comment better be worth it, I just paid $100 for the privilege of posting it ;).
There is always the argument that countries have legitimate self-defense interests. We have constantly seen Russian behavior (and our own, TBH) excused on that basis.
This argument always seems to ignore the legitimate self-defense interests of people who do not already have guns or nuclear weapons--you know, the people that REALLY do have such interests (unlike the people with a lot of guns and nuclear weapons).
This is a symptom or expression of the old dictum that the powerful do what they wish and the weak suffer what they must--which is both contrary to law and morality.
I would argue that the facts on the ground argue that the people with legitimate self-defense interests here are the Ukrainians rather than the Russians.
We also have the ethno-nationalist argument that is used to excuse violations of national sovereignty--the whole some people that speak the same language as us live there and should be part of us. Hitler liked that one. We saw how that worked out in the end.
On point #2 and ceasefires being the best we can hope for:
Putin attempted regime change, and has active non-cover operatives inside Ukraine trying to hunt and kill Zelenski *as we speak*. Putin has also killed thousands of innocent Ukrainians on top of having launched a prolonged static military conflict since 2014 that had racked up over 10,000 Ukrainian KIA *prior* to said attempted regime change. This is not just some normal neighbor you can just work out some kind of international divorce settlement with after they've signed a piece of paper. Remember the fucking Budapest Memorandum folks? What good was that international divorce agreement as of 2014? That's why a ceasefire is the *best* that we can hope for because the default reposition back to where we were before the full invasion three weeks ago is a frozen conflict that already had a Ukrainian body count close to double what the US saw across 20 years of prolonged insurgencies in two separate conflict zones.
Clarity in this regard is a good thing--PROVIDED that if you say something, when the time comes you do that thing. We do not need or want red lines that aren't actually red lines.
This means that there needs to be agreement and commitment on the part of those involved (which means all NATO partners--which also in practice means popular support in NATO nations for such action).
This essentially needs to be pre-approved, meaning that is as soon as X happens, Y happens in response in short order (hours at the most).
You are also going to need to be prepared for the inevitable counter-escalation--because at this point Putin is stuck and he doesn't have much choice but to counter-escalate if he has any hope of personal survival.
Here is the reality of the situation if you get involved in this escalatory cycle:
Things will continue to escalate up to the point where the military will no longer follow Putin's orders and/or the oligarchs act against him. In other words, the odds of this ending (once is starts) with Putin remaining in power are very low.
He will either be killed in a strike of some kind by NATO forces or the Russian military will mutiny (in which case things in Russia probably get pretty ugly as the security services and the military go at each other), or he will suffer some sort of "medical emergency" and die/ be removed.
At this point, the only acceptable endgame is either regime change in Russia and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine or some deal that the Ukrainians, themselves, make with Russia, with the support of NATO... or the (seemingly to me) unlikely outcome of a total Russian military victory and the Russians dictating the outcome.
I do not see the last as a high probability outcome at this point.
The BIG question: How far will the escalation go before Putin is out?
Loved this sentence, " but a successful career in agriculture, construction and catering has helped teach him how to strategise: "
That looked like my resume when I was 40, none of which qualified me to take on the Russian army. There are 2 obvious things, he is a good bullshitter and he knows his limits so he doesn't get in the way as his military folks fight the war.
The US has bilateral defense treaties with Japan and Korea, which include siting of US bases there. Why not in Ukraine?
"[Biden's transparency] helped invigorate and solidify our alliance." It did indeed, and it also helped solidify public opinion at home. In addition to which, it completely frustrated Putin's false flag tactics. Whoever thought this up deserves a big promotion. And a book deal.
I'm don't see what kind of security guarantee or alliance there could be for Ukraine outside of NATO membership. A bilateral treaty with any military power in the region will necessarily be a bilateral treaty with a NATO member. For the sake of argument, let's say that Turkey signs a defense treaty with Ukraine. So when Russia strikes again, a NATO member is fully involved, and you know that Russia would attack Turkish military assets, including ports on the Black Sea. So now it's a NATO conflict anyway.
This is not like Austria during the Cold War - the USSR didn't want Austrian territory, and there wasn't economic integration or dependency between the two states that made it imperative for the USSR to have a veto over Austria's trade relationships.
Oh, and for reciprocity's sake, would we insist that Belarus have the same status - no foreign bases, etc?
Many criticize Biden for unilaterally taking US/NATO direct defense of Ukraine off the table. But none of us know what Biden knows. There may well be solid strategic reasons for his statements (see comment below on a Chinese audience), based on intelligence that is not going to be disclosed. The chances of him speaking independently of the national security agencies is very low in this situation, the opposite of how it would be under Trump. But it is important to make it quite clear to Putin what happens if he escalates. That might not stop him, but he might choose less-kinetic escalators such as cyber war instead of nuclear Armageddon.
There doesn't seem to be much that the two sides can agree on in a treaty. I don't know that this ends until Putin falls. He's pot committed at this point.
I thought cluster munitions were against some international treaty or other. Am I mistaken?
I'm right there with you on item #2. I don't think "isolated and disarmed by treaty" is going to be something Ukraine can or would adhere to and both side know it. The best outcome at this point is that Putin's hand gets forced either by military collapse in the field or by massive domestic unrest at home.
I think the audience for the no-escalation policy is China. As long as China sees the US as behaving with restraint, it may refrain from acting to support Russia and rescue it from this mess. That leaves the Russians facing an extended quagmire that will ultimately leave them without the ability to project power if they don't reverse course. However we should be sending Zelenskyy literally every weapon he asks for and cutting off Russian oil sales, whatever the cost.
1. What happens if Russia launches a cruise missile strike on a Polish base using strategic bombers that took off from deep within Russia? That would dare NATO to launch a risky strike far from the front lines.
2. I think the Ukrainians should offer something like this: Russia keeps Crimea, self-determination for DPR/LPR (which probably keeps them in Ukraine), no NATO for 20 years but EU membership ASAP.