Ukraine Invasion Day 19: “Why (not) Die for Danzig?” Where are the Blue Helmets?
All wars are battles among falcons, they are never fought between hawks and doves. A UN enforced no-fly-zone would have no doves. As James Clapper said on CNN: “The game’s on”. The reality is that wars like Ukraine-Russia are fought in blood even if they can be modeled as a series of repeated games and defining its evolution can be problematic.
The UN must do more to mediate this crisis, even as Putin knows he will lose a war with NATO and hopes for favorable peace terms. Ukraine continues to resist, insisting on territorial borders in Crimea and Donbas which ultimately may prove to be lost. The post-conflict civil war will likely be worse.
In interviews with senior American and European officials in recent days, there is a consensus on one point: Just as the last two weeks revealed that Russia’s vaunted military faltered in its invasion plan, the next two or three may reveal whether Ukraine can survive as a state, and negotiate an end to the war. So far even the most basic progress, such as establishing safe humanitarian corridors, has proved elusive.
Beyond Kyiv, the northern cities of Kharkiv, Chernihiv and Sumy remain encircled, or nearly so, and continue to suffer heavy Russian shelling. Progress in the east and south, while slow, has been grindingly steady. But it also hints what a divided Ukraine might look like.
Yet the Russian attacks in western Ukraine over the past two days underscore Mr. Putin’s continued determination to control the entire country, starting with Kyiv. It remains unclear how he would find the forces to occupy it, which could require a bloody, years long guerrilla war.
“The most probable endgame, sadly, is a partition of Ukraine,” said (retired Adm. James G.) Stavridis, pointing to the outcome of the Balkan wars in the 1990s as a model. “Putin would take the southeast of the country, and the ethnic Russians would gravitate there. The rest of the nation, overwhelmingly Ukrainian, would continue as a sovereign state.”
While according to the International Court of Justice (1962) “enforcement action” remains the exclusive domain of the UN Security Council, the General Assembly has the authority to establish a peace-keeping force.
The UN must move immediately to do exactly that.
It should muster a “coalition of the willing” and craft, constitute and deploy a robust and adequately armed peacekeeping operation, using lessons learned and best practice from past operations.
This would not necessarily be a NATO operation per se, but NATO members could indeed participate.
Whether or not they do or don’t, other European, neutral, countries (Austria, Ireland, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, for example), and non-European states such as Australia, Brazil, Egypt, India, Israel, Japan, South Africa, or others, could.
The operation should include aircover adequate to protect the delivery of humanitarian aid, the protection of civilians, and the peaceful movement, evacuation, and eventual repatriation of those at greatest risk.
The air cover should have a protection mandate more robust than the precedent “UN Protection Force” (UNPROFOR) deployed during the Bosnian war, whose rules of engagement were limited to the protection of aid convoys but not civilian populations under siege.
Indeed, the peacekeeping operation, given the scope of the UN General Assembly resolution, encompassing Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders, should also have authority to eventually cover the Donbas areas of Luhansk and Donetsk and indeed Crimea.
It should also have a remit to act as an interposition force to gradually increase the physical separation of belligerent forces enabling the complete withdrawal of all invading Russian military units.
Yet Putin is playing a WWII battleplan with all the usual metaphors like the Sudetenland and the fall of the Nazis, and the introduction of foreign mercenaries only highlights realities like oligarchs who maintain their own small private armies. Even more striking is the Chechnyan dictator visiting because of his area’s troops leading the charge into Kyiv. The death of the first US journalist makes this crisis even more catastrophic.
In Battle Damage Assessments, a junior Ukraine politician revealed his location via social media, prompting an immediate Russian missile attack on a base near the Polish border. Similarly, intercepts near Kharkiv, of Russian communications show that civilians are being targeted. Encirclement continues even as logistics remain stretched for the Russians. Disinformation via the Russians crowing about a missile attack on the foreign territorial forces indicates a worry about a Ukrainian diaspora encouraging volunteers. Similarly is the Russian attempt to import Syrian fighters to augment ground forces.
- Russian forces did not conduct offensive operations northwest of Kyiv for the third day in a row.
- Russian forces did not conduct attacks toward northeastern Kyiv and prioritized reinforcing their lines of communication and logistics routes.
- Russian and proxy forces successfully captured several towns north of Mariupol in Donetsk Oblast on March 13, the only offensive ground actions of the day.
- Ukrainian protests in occupied Kherson are likely expanding.
- Russia is diluting its international deployments in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh to reinforce operations in Ukraine and pulling additional forces from Russia’s far east.
- Ukrainian intelligence reported Russia will deploy preexisting pro-Assad Syrian units to Ukraine, in addition to previously announced plans to recruit new Syrian and Libyan mercenaries. These forces are unlikely to enable Russia to favorably change the balance of forces around Kyiv in the next week but may provide a longer-term pool of low-quality replacements.
- Russian ballistic missiles killed 35 Ukrainians at the Yavoriv military training center near Poland in a likely effort to interdict Western aid deliveries to Ukraine—following up on the Kremlin’s March 12 announcement it will treat international aid shipments as military targets.
Russia is increasingly pulling forces from its international deployments to reinforce operations in Ukraine, though these deployments are unlikely to shift the balance of forces in the coming week. The Ukrainian General Staff reported on March 13 that 800 personnel from Russia’s 102nd Base in Armenia deployed to an unknown location in Russia on March 9-10 in preparation to deploy to Ukraine. They also reported that Russia is recalling elements of its peacekeeping deployment in Nagorno-Karabakh to replenish losses in Ukraine. Russia will likely draw further forces from its international deployments in Armenia, Tajikistan, and Syria to replace losses in Ukraine. The Ukrainian General Staff separately reported that Russia plans to deploy 1,500 troops from Russia’s 40th Naval Infantry Brigade (of the Pacific Fleet) to Belarus via rail at an unspecified time.
Ukrainian intelligence provided further details on Russia’s initiative to deploy existing pro-Assad units to Ukraine and recruit additional Syrian and Libyan mercenaries on March 13. Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that Russia is recruiting mercenaries from Syria and Libya and will pay them around $300-$600 monthly. Russia reportedly opened 14 recruitment centers in Syria and will transport mercenaries to the Chkalovsky airbase in Moscow Oblast after they receive training. The GUR reported that Russia has already gathered “thousands” of Syrian troops, mainly those specialized in heavy artillery and sniper weapons, from the National Defense Forces and 5th Corps—two Russian-backed pro-Assad units. Russia can likely redeploy its established Syrian proxy forces in the National Defense Militia and 5th Corps on relatively short notice, dependent on its airlift capacity. However, even hurriedly trained Syrian and Libyan mercenaries will likely take weeks or months to deploy to Ukraine and will likely be of lower quality than the already poor Russian forces in Ukraine. Russia is unlikely to successfully mobilize the reinforcements and replacements necessary to favorably change the balance of forces around Kyiv in the next week but may successfully generate a longer-term pool of low-quality replacements.
— SHAPE_NATO Allied Command Operations (@SHAPE_NATO) March 13, 2022
— Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24) March 13, 2022
— Russians With Attitude (@RWApodcast) March 13, 2022
— Business Ukraine mag (@Biz_Ukraine_Mag) March 13, 2022
“[authoritarian] rulers cannot share their power—not inside the country, not with external forces.”
In the wake of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, we have witnessed an inspiring and spirited resistance by Ukrainian soldiers and civilians under arms. According to experts and observers, these soldiers and armed citizens have already altered the trajectory of the war in Ukraine: blunting the spear of the Russian attack; surprising Russian defense planners; and rallying European countries—including more cautious ones like Germany—to stand more firmly behind Ukraine, impose harsher economic sanctions on Russia, and even agree to boost their defense spending. Indeed, U.S. secretary of state Anthony Blinken opined that Ukraine might “win” the war over time given that its forty-five million people are “ardently fighting for their future and their freedom that does not involve Russia having its thumb on Ukraine.” Historian Lawrence Freedman highlighted the bravery of Ukrainian civilians protesting the occupation of Kherson and Melitopol, observing how they “remain resolutely Ukrainian in their loyalties.”
Indeed, despite existing differences between eastern and western parts of Ukraine and Russian president Vladimir Putin’s controversial remarks about Ukrainian identity in speeches and essays, Ukrainians retain a strong sense of belonging to a sovereign and distinct state. Last summer, Putin opined that there was no historical precedence for the existence of modern-day Ukraine; the country was only recently established in its present boundaries by the Bolsheviks (who he claims robbed Russia of its historic lands). Then in his February 21, 2022, speech, during which he recognized the independence of Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, the Russian leader accused the Bolsheviks and specifically Vladimir Lenin of creating what he calls “Vladimir Lenin’s Ukraine.” Soviet policies are blamed for artificially creating distinctions between three nations: Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian, out of one Russian nation. But while elites in Moscow claim that Russians and Ukrainians are the same people, historians argue that what the Russians really mean is that Ukrainians are actually Russians. According to Harvard historian Serhii Plokhy, whatever bonds may exist between the two—including symbolic memories of joint resistance to Nazi invasion in the summer of 1941—are being destroyed by the Russian troops who are now playing the role of invaders. Rather than stopping or reversing Ukrainians’ sense of identity and commitment to the sovereignty, Plokhy believes that this tragedy is “strengthening the Ukrainian people’s sense of identity and unity, while endowing it with a new raison d’être, new narratives, and new heroes and martyrs.”
One China perspective:
I. Predicting the Future of the Russo-Ukrainian War
1. Vladimir Putin may be unable to achieve his expected goals, which puts Russia in a tight spot. The purpose of Putin’s attack was to completely solve the Ukrainian problem and divert attention from Russia’s domestic crisis by defeating Ukraine with a blitzkrieg, replacing its leadership, and cultivating a pro-Russian government. However, the blitzkrieg failed, and Russia is unable to support a protracted war and its associated high costs. Launching a nuclear war would put Russia on the opposite side of the whole world and is therefore unwinnable. The situations both at home and abroad are also increasingly unfavorable. Even if the Russian army were to occupy Ukraine’s capital Kyiv and set up a puppet government at a high cost, this would not mean final victory. At this point, Putin’s best option is to end the war decently through peace talks, which requires Ukraine to make substantial concessions. However, what is not attainable on the battlefield is also difficult to obtain at the negotiating table. In any case, this military action constitutes an irreversible mistake.
2. The conflict may escalate further, and the West’s eventual involvement in the war cannot be ruled out. While the escalation of the war would be costly, there is a high probability that Putin will not give up easily given his character and power. The Russo-Ukrainian war may escalate beyond the scope and region of Ukraine, and may even include the possibility of a nuclear strike. Once this happens, the U.S. and Europe cannot stay aloof from the conflict, thus triggering a world war or even a nuclear war. The result would be a catastrophe for humanity and a showdown between the United States and Russia. This final confrontation, given that Russia’s military power is no match for NATO’s, would be even worse for Putin.
3. Even if Russia manages to seize Ukraine in a desperate gamble, it is still a political hot potato. Russia would thereafter carry a heavy burden and become overwhelmed. Under such circumstances, no matter whether Volodymyr Zelensky is alive or not, Ukraine will most likely set up a government-in-exile to confront Russia in the long term. Russia will be subject both to Western sanctions and rebellion within the territory of Ukraine. The battle lines will be drawn very long. The domestic economy will be unsustainable and will eventually be dragged down. This period will not exceed a few years.
4. The political situation in Russia may change or be disintegrated at the hands of the West. After Putin’s blitzkrieg failed, the hope of Russia’s victory is slim and Western sanctions have reached an unprecedented degree. As people’s livelihoods are severely affected and as anti-war and anti-Putin forces gather, the possibility of a political mutiny in Russia cannot be ruled out. With Russia’s economy on the verge of collapse, it would be difficult for Putin to prop up the perilous situation even without the loss of the Russo-Ukrainian war. If Putin were to be ousted from power due to civil strife, coup d’état, or another reason, Russia would be even less likely to confront the West. It would surely succumb to the West, or even be further dismembered, and Russia’s status as a great power would come to an end.
— Mateusz Fafinski (@Calthalas) March 13, 2022
— Barbara Monaco (@barbramon1) March 12, 2022
— Jacobin (@jacobin) March 13, 2022
— Molly Jong-Fast (@MollyJongFast) March 13, 2022
— Eerik-Niiles Kross (@EerikNKross) March 13, 2022