Ukraine Is Reaching a Hinge Moment
Plus: Meet the guy who might turn Texas blue.
On the Thursday night show, we’re going to talk about Ukraine because we are close to what may be a decisive phase of the war—for good or ill. I’m going to set the table for you today and then bring you some experts to talk about it all on TNB.
Mark it down on your calendar now: Thursday, 8pm in the East. Watch this space for location details.
Everyone knows that Ukraine is gathering itself to launch a large-scale counteroffensive. It will likely begin in the coming weeks.
We know it. The Russians know it. The Ukrainians know the Russians know it. It’s the equivalent of a goal-line stand on 4th-and-1.
I’ve gotten two opposing views of the larger significance of the offensive this week.
The pessimistic view comes from historian (and journalist and native Russian speaker) Owen Matthews on Shield of the Republic.
Matthews believes that this is Ukraine’s one chance and that after this spring, the conflict heads to negotiated endgame. Further, he believes that Ukraine is unlikely to make large gains and that the likely outcome is a Korean-style line of demarcation with no formal end to hostilities.
Zelensky has one shot. I don’t there’s going to be a spring 2024 Ukrainian offensive. I don’t think there’s going to be a winter 2023 shopping around by Zelensky. In that sense I think Putin’s calculation that the West will lose interest or will start to sue for peace is unfortunately well-founded.
He points out that in America a chunk of one of the two major parties is drifting away from Ukraine. And in Europe, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the following in an interview with Le Monde:
I know that we have to start preparing for peace, but it will depend on the balance of forces on the battlefield. Ukraine will have to take a position of strength when it comes to peace talks.
Possible translation: Zelensky should get all of the territory he can before we have to drop the curtain on this thing.
Matthews further argues that the balance of forces suggests that it will be difficult for Ukraine to take back large portions of territory for a few reasons. One of them is the imbalance of armor: Russia still has some 1,400 main battle tanks. Many of these are older or obsolete models. Many are in disrepair. But still, that’s a ton of steel.
Ukraine, on the other hand, has something like 230 modern Western tanks.
It will be hard to puncture the defensive line and then rapidly exploit a breakthrough to the Russian rear with such limited supplies of armor.
So what happens when spring of 2023 turns to winter of 2024? Matthews posits that the fundamental tension between Ukraine and the West will be the desire for justice versus the desire for peace. He argues that because of Russia’s war crimes, no democratically-elected Ukrainian leader can pursue a land-for-peace agreement. So the war will “end” with an armistice along the lines of control, even though hostilities will continue as a formal matter.
ISW’s Fred Kagan has a more optimistic view. In a conversation with Bill Kristol, Kagan argues that Russia’s defenses are not as formidable as they seem because their troop density is not especially high. “Trenches that don’t have people in them are just trenches,” Kagan says. And this is a key point because it suggests that a Ukrainian breakthrough isn’t impossible, but rather is contingent on:
An overwhelming intel advantage
Solid execution of said plan
Kagan seems to have a fair amount of faith that the first three of items on this list are achievable.
His caution, like Matthews’, also stems from the armor imbalance. Kagan says that Ukraine’s insufficient supply of tanks makes success much harder, but he believes that this weakness is not fatal and can be overcome.
I’m bringing you these two perspectives not because one is right and the other is wrong. War is a fluid. What I want is for you to have both views in your head as you watch developments in the coming weeks.
We don’t have the ability to do anything. We’re only spectators. It’s the Ukrainians who do the fighting and the dying. But we are experiencing a realignment of Europe. This change ought to shift our own thinking about global security and America’s role. And in order to make the wisest possible judgments on that, we ought to understand what’s happening on the ground as clearly as possible.
2. A Democrat in Texas
A few weeks ago Tim and I interviewed Rep. Colin Allred on The Next Level. He was awesome.
Toward the middle Tim pushed him on whether or not he was going to challenge Ted Cruz in 2024 and Allred all but said uh-huh.
This morning he made it official. You’ve gotta watch his launch video.
Apologies to Beto O’Rourke, but if you want to take down an incumbent Republican in Texas, this is the way to do it. Allred is running as a Red Dog Democrat, focusing on jobs, veterans, and above all else, Texans.
To win, Allred will have to get a bunch of Republicans to vote for him. How does he do that? He’s not running against “Republicans.” He’s running against Ted Cruz, who’s basically a podcaster and conservative influencer with a side-hustle as a U.S. senator.
Here’s what Allred told us on TNL that really resonated with me, and may resonate with a lot of Texas voters:
I am personally insulted that this guy [Ted Cruz] is doing three podcasts a week. I represent a little less than a million Texans—he represents 30 million—and I am so busy. . . .
He’s a content machine. He’s not a legislative machine.
I know that many of us feel that we have one senator here. When a crisis hits Texas, it’s going to be [Republican Sen. John] Cornyn who responds for us. It’s not going to be Sen. Cruz.
That’s how you create a permission structure for suburban Republicans to pull the lever for a Democrat.
On the one hand you have this soft, middle-aged, mullet-beard, Ivy League weirdo who spends his time shit-posting and jet-setting. And then you have a young, former NFL player who talks about nothing but the economy and jobs and serving Texans—and basically says that he wouldn’t have challenged the other Republican senator because that guy does a good job for his constituents.
The Allred case against Cruz isn’t: Don’t vote for this crazy, evil Republican.
It’s: Don’t vote for this layabout who doesn’t do his job for you.
If the national environment is at par, I think that gives Allred a real shot.
If you want to be optimistic, you’d even go this far: