A long war in a divided world

Hussein Haridy
Sunday 4 Sep 2022

With the US pouring more and more weapons into the country, it seems that the West is intending to fight a long-term war in Ukraine.

 

Wednesday 24 August was a day of “great celebration” in Kyiv and the Western world that comprises no more than 55 countries out of the 193 member states of the United Nations. The occasion of the much-hyped Western media coverage of this particular day was the celebration of the independence of Ukraine.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, warmonger par excellence in the context of NATO and Western strategy against Putin’s Russia in the war in Ukraine, made an unannounced visit to Kyiv on the same day. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has shown that he is a master performer throughout the war, announced that his country had been reborn in a “slicky produced address,” as the New York Times put it in its edition of 25 August.

As if by sheer coincidence, US President Joe Biden announced on 24 August that the US had decided to provide Ukraine with an additional military assistance package worth – please hold your breath –$3 billion. In a statement, Biden said that this new assistance would allow the Ukrainian forces to buy “air-defence systems, artillery systems, munitions, and to counter unmanned aerial systems and radars to ensure it can defend itself over the long term.” 

Usually, the expression “long term” means a period more than three years ahead. I shudder to imagine the calculations, and their consequences for international security and the economy of the West, that went into the pouring of weapons and military equipment and expertise, particularly US and British, into Ukraine. 

The aid announcement on 24 August is part of the $40 billion assistance package that the US Congress approved back in May.  It is interesting to note that the $3 billion in new US assistance to Kyiv will go to the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows the government of Ukraine to buy weapons and military equipment directly from US manufacturers.

Pentagon spokesman Pat Ryder, quoted in the New York Times on 25 August, said in a news briefing on 24 August that the new assistance package announced by the US president represents the beginning of a “contracting process to provide additional priority capabilities in the mid and long term to ensure that [Ukraine] could continue to defend itself.”  

If this is the thinking in Washington, London, and some other European capitals, particularly among the Baltic states and in eastern Europe, in Poland for example, then the Ukraine war could drag on for heaven knows how long and at least until a new US administration is installed in the White House in January 2025. What comes to mind is former US president Donald Trump returning to the Oval Office while Russian President Vladimir Putin is still in power.

In the meantime, one day after Biden’s announcement on 24 August concerning new US military assistance to Ukraine, Putin announced that he had ordered the Russian armed forces to increase its manpower by 10 per cent by next year, increasing the size of the Russian army to 1.15 million in an increase of almost 140,000 soldiers. 

Some Moscow watchers have interpreted this decision as being meant to avoid a general mobilisation in Russia. Others believe that Moscow expects the war in Ukraine to drag on for a long period and one that is difficult to predict.

On the other hand, The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on 29 August that Russian volunteer battalions are preparing to deploy to Ukraine, including a major new ground forces formation called the Third Army Corps. Its mission, according to WSJ, is to provide support to an expected new Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine and reinforce Russian forces in the south with the objective of holding off a possible Ukrainian counteroffensive.”

US Undersecretary of Defence for Policy Colin Kahl said this week that “Putin’s assumption” that he can win “the long game” was another Russian “miscalculation.” Six months after the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine, there is still the question of whether the West and NATO want to defeat Russia militarily on Ukraine’s killing fields or whether they simply want to deprive Russia of a clear military victory.

The answer to this question can be determined by analysing what former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, currently vice-president of Russia’s National Security Council, has said about the long-range HIMARS missiles that the US has delivered to Ukraine. Medvedev said that there was a difference between the 70 km missiles, the range of the missiles currently possessed by the Ukrainian military, and the latest missiles that have a range of 300 to 400 km.

The US administration has so far denied the latter missiles to the Ukrainians in a far-sighted decision intended to avoid direct military confrontation between US and Russian forces. This is something that both the US and Russia have wisely avoided.

But the longer the Ukraine war drags on, the riskier it becomes. It goes without saying that any doubts about how independent the government of Ukraine is in waging this war and in identifying its final objectives should have been dispelled by now. The Ukrainian president has recently vowed to “liberate” the Crimea, an objective he did not bring up during the first five months of the war, saying that the Ukrainian war would only end when all Ukrainian territory captured by Russia had been “liberated.”

Short of deploying NATO forces side by side with the Ukrainian army in fighting Russian forces in Ukraine, no military expert would expect Ukraine to achieve such a military objective anytime soon, if it is ever able to attain it.

When the war in Ukraine ends, and it will end at some point, it would be better if it ends without winners or losers for the sake of European security and international peace and security in the long term.


* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 September, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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