The Russian invasion of Ukraine has dragged on with no end in sight. The fighting has ground to a near standstill, with thousands of lives being traded for miles of territory. The situation has delighted the political establishment in Washington, who see throwing hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers into the meatgrinder as a cost-effective method for weakening Russia.
Over the past 18 months, the White House policy has become clear: provide Ukraine with just enough arms and money to keep Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from negotiating with Russia.
Prior to the war and within the first two months of the Russian invasion, Washington and Kiev had four opportunities to negotiate with Moscow and end the war on terms that would, today, be considered favorable to Ukraine. At each opportunity, the White House refused to engage in meaningful diplomacy with Moscow and encouraged Kiev to follow Washington’s lead.
Two months into the conflict, The Washington Post frankly reported that Washington and its Western allies preferred war instead of peace in Ukraine. “Even a Ukrainian vow not to join NATO could be a concern to some neighbors,” the outlet reported. “That leads to an awkward reality: For some in NATO, it’s better for the Ukrainians to keep fighting, and dying, than to achieve a peace that comes too early or at too high a cost to Kyiv and the rest of Europe.”
Joe Biden administration official Derek Chollett, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Ukrainian Pravada and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglul have all independently confirmed that the White House was a barrier to meaningful peace talks that could have prevented the war or brought it to a swift conclusion.
In April 2022, then-UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Ukraine and delivered a message to Zelensky from NATO; even if Kiev is ready to make a deal with Moscow, the West is not. At the same time, leaders of NATO nations announced they would provide “new and heavier” arms to Kiev. That month, Washington would approve over $1.6 billion in weapons transfers to Ukraine.
In the grueling days since talks ended in March 2022, the West has dumped tens of billions in weapons onto the Ukrainian battlefield. Like the NATO-trained Ukrainian conscripts, those weapons have met their fate within days or hours of reaching the frontline.
Throughout the war, Kiev has sought long-range missiles, advanced aircraft, and tanks, and officials in Washington have repeated the catchphrase that Ukraine would be given all of the “weapons it needs” to win the war.
However, Washington has engaged in a gradual escalation of arms transfers to Ukraine. The Biden administration has ensured that Kiev has enough weapons to keep fighting and, at the same time, restrict the arms it sends to Ukraine in an effort not to provoke a direct war with Russia.
The influx of weapons likely helped Ukrainian forces stop Russian advances and even recapture some territory. The West says it supports Kiev’s stated goals, including recapturing all Ukrainian territory, but also refuses to provide Ukrainian forces with the sophisticated arms to recapture the Crimea peninsula.
The Joe Biden administration’s portrayal of Russian President Vladimir Putin as the new Hitler and the claim that any Ukrainian territorial concession would mean the destruction of the “international world order” has placed the White House in two paradoxes it cannot escape.
The first puzzle facing the West is that Kiev says the war can only end after it recaptures Ukraine, including Crimea. The Kremlin, which annexed Crimea in 2014, says the peninsula is a part of Russia and will be defended with Moscow’s full military capabilities.
So, Biden is faced with the options of provoking a nuclear conflict with Russia over control of the Crimea peninsula or telling Zelensky to negotiate with “Hitler” and make territorial concessions.
The second paradox is when, if ever, to talk with Putin. In May, The New York Times reported that debate in the White House had become amorphous and paradoxical. “The debate in Washington over potential peace talks is amorphous and paradoxical. There are even competing arguments based on the same hypothetical outcome,” the Times reported. “If Ukraine makes substantial gains, that might mean it is time for talks, some officials say—or it could mean Ukraine should put diplomacy on the back burner and keep fighting.”
It appears the White House has decided the best option is the status quo, let the fighting go on without allowing either side to prevail. This has required Washington to consistently provide Kiev with increasingly sophisticated military equipment without provoking Russia into a direct conflict with NATO.
The ongoing counteroffensive perfectly illustrates this point. After Kiev’s fall counteroffensive stalled after early successes and the death toll mounted, Washington needed positive news from Ukraine and began talking up the spring counteroffensive.
For months, Western officials publicly sold the idea that Ukrainian forces could retake another chunk of territory. However, Ukrainian and American officials privately acknowledged Ukraine did not have the troops or military assets needed to defeat the fortified Russian defenses.
Still, Washington viewed a successful counteroffensive as politically necessary to continue keeping the American public onboard with sending billions in aid to Ukraine. So, Kiev relented to Washington’s demands and sent hundreds of thousands of poorly trained troops into heavily mined Russian defensive lines.
As retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Daniel Davis explained in a recent article, thousands of Ukrainian troops being sent to their deaths were predictable. “Ukraine also suffers from a chronic lack of air defense capacity, inadequate numbers of howitzers and artillery shells, insufficient electronic warfare systems, a dearth of missiles, and perhaps most crucial of all, barely 25 percent of the de-mining capacity needed.” He wrote in 19FortyFive, “Thus, when Ukraine launched its offensive across a broad front on June 5th, it should have surprised no one in Kyiv, Washington, or Brussels that they ran into a Russian buzzsaw.”
In April 2022, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said Washington elected to wage the proxy war to “weaken” Russia. Since, several administration and elected officials have repeatedly asserted the war has been a boon for America. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called for more aid to Ukraine, explaining how it strengthens America while noting no Americans have died in the war.
Steven Moore, a powerful Republican politico, said he was enlisted by the party’s leadership to convince the caucus that aid to Ukraine was crucial. “If you’re a fiscal conservative, you know this is a great use of taxpayer dollars. And not one single American soldier has had to die,” Moore argued to the GOP caucus.
There is a near-universal blackout of the mounting death toll among Ukrainian soldiers. During the battle in Bakhmut, former U.S. soldiers fighting for Kiev said new soldiers were dying within hours of reaching the front lines. A Ukrainian citizen recently told The Washington Post that most soldiers from her town die within two or three days of reaching the battlefield.
The massive losses and minimal gains have blunted Ukrainians’ morale. Early in the war, recruitment centers overflowed. However, Kiev is now relying on a general mobilization of nearly all men to fill its ranks.
The conscription program created a plague of corruption, as many young men—hoping to avoid killing and being killed in the war—paid bribes to officials for medical waivers and illegal transportation out of the country. The corruption was so pervasive that Zelensky elected to fire the heads of all local recruitment centers and pressed charges against dozens of officials.
In a recent article, Micheal Vlahos observed, “Ukraine was a nation of perhaps 33 million in early 2022. Today, a quarter of that already-diminished country’s population has fled to the European Union, and another quarter is in the now-Russian oblasts or residing as new migrants in the Russian Federation itself. Ukraine, at 20 million, ranks somewhat bigger than the Netherlands, and somewhat smaller than Taiwan.” He continues, “Yet in casualties-to-population terms, Ukrainian military losses, after more than 500 days of war, are approaching those sustained by Germany in World War I over more than 1,500 days. This is a catastrophic attrition rate…that can break an army and a nation.”