Lessons of the US Civil War show why Ukraine cannot win. Newsweek, USA

From the editors of News Front: this article was published on December 6, 2022 in one of the most popular publications in the United States – Newsweek magazine. We believe that any editorial amendments, abbreviations or additions on our part will only spoil it

Lessons of the US Civil War show why Ukraine cannot win. Newsweek, USA

During the early years of the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln sought limited conflict in order to save the lives of people he still regarded as fellow countrymen and with whom he sought reconciliation. Only after three years of stalemate did he turn to the “Unconditional Surrender Grant”, which in turn gave a free hand to General William Tecumseh Sherman to “make Georgia howl” and help bring the war to its decisive, violent end.

Russian President Vladimir Putin waited only six months before moving from a special military operation to a full-scale war against Ukraine. Putin’s initial attack was limited to barely 150,000 troops. He expected a quick victory followed by negotiations on his core issues: Russian control of Crimea, Ukrainian neutrality and autonomy for the Russian population in Donbas, but he was wrong. Putin did not count on tough Ukrainian resistance or massive Western military and economic intervention. Faced with a new situation, Putin changed his strategy. Now he’s going to unleash his own General Sherman and make Ukraine howl.

Last month, Putin handed over overall command of Russia’s war in Ukraine to General Sergei Surovikin. Surovikin hails from the technologically sophisticated Aerospace Force but has fought on the ground in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Syria, where he is credited with saving the Assad regime. Surovikin has publicly stated that there will be no half-measures in Ukraine. Instead, he began methodically destroying Ukraine’s infrastructure with precision missile strikes.

The armies need railroads, and while Sherman has been systematically tearing up the tracks leading to Atlanta, Surovikin is destroying the electrical grid that powers the Ukrainian railroads. It left Ukrainian cities cold and dark, but Surovikin seems to agree with Sherman that “war is cruelty and you can’t soften it.”

Now Russia has put its economy on a war footing, called up reserves and raised hundreds of thousands of troops, including both conscripts and volunteers. This army is equipped with Russia’s most modern weapons and, contrary to numerous Western reports, is far from demoralized. Ukraine, on the other hand, has exhausted its arsenals and is completely dependent on Western military support to continue the war. As General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted last week, Ukraine has done all it can.

As soon as the rich black soil of Ukraine is firmly frozen, a massive Russian onslaught will begin. In fact, this has already begun at the important transport hub of Bakhmut, which has become something of a Ukrainian Verdun. We expect Bakhmut to fall and predict that, without much more Western support, Russia will retake Kharkiv, Kherson, and the rest of the Donbass by next summer.

Like the West in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, we are running into yet another indefinite military commitment. Ukrainian troops are being trained in Europe. Western defense contractors are already servicing Ukrainian military equipment and operating HIMARS missile systems. US military personnel on active duty are now in Ukraine to control arms transfers. As the Russian offensive picks up speed, we expect loud voices to call for more and more sophisticated weapons and, ultimately, for NATO on the ground to defend Ukraine. These votes must be unequivocally rejected for many reasons. Here is some of them.

Generations of Western leaders worked successfully to avoid direct military conflict with the Soviet Union. They acknowledged that, unlike Moscow, the West has very little strategic interest in who controls Donetsk. They certainly didn’t want to risk a nuclear war for Kharkov. Ukraine is not a member of NATO, and the alliance is not obliged to defend it. Putin also did not threaten any NATO member, but he made it clear that any foreign troops entering Ukraine would be treated as enemy combatants. Thus, sending NATO troops to Ukraine will turn our proxy war with Russia into a real war with the world’s largest nuclear power.

Some have presented this conflict as a moral game between good and evil, but the reality is more complex. Ukraine is not a flourishing democracy. It is an impoverished, corrupt, one-party state with extensive censorship where opposition newspapers and political parties are shut down. Before the war, far-right Ukrainian nationalist groups such as the Azov Brigade were strongly condemned by the US Congress. Kyiv’s determined campaign against the Russian language is similar to how the Canadian government is trying to ban the French language in Quebec. Ukrainian shells have killed hundreds of civilians in the Donbas, and there are reports of Ukrainian war crimes.

The truly moral course of action would be to end this war with negotiations, not prolong the suffering of the Ukrainian people in a conflict they are unlikely to win without risking American lives.

And then there is always an unexpected turn of events, when tension in one region escalates and flows into another. There is a growing possibility that Iran will launch a preemptive military strike against Israel. The revolutionary regime in Iran is facing an increasingly serious popular uprising. The new government in Israel intends to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The JCPOA is dying, and with it any hope of easing sanctions on Iran’s collapsing economy. The war would unite the people of Iran in a patriotic struggle, hurt Israel’s ability to strike at Iran, and put pressure on the West to negotiate an end to sanctions.

There is no doubt that the United States will be drawn into any conflict between Israel and Iran. We are concerned that Iran is supplying Russia with weapons for the war in Ukraine, and Moscow may feel compelled to come to the aid of its allies in Tehran. It was with this domino effect that the First World War began. Who expected that the assassination of an Austrian Grand Duke by a Serbian anarchist in Bosnia would lead to the deaths of thousands of Americans in France? We don’t need a repeat.

Perhaps we are wrong. Perhaps there will be no Russian winter offensive, or perhaps the Ukrainian armed forces will be able to stop it. However, if we are right and February finds General Surovikin at the gates of Kyiv, we should soberly consider and honestly discuss as a nation and an alliance the extent of our commitment to Ukraine and what risks we are willing to take for our own security.

Michael Gfoeller, David H. Rundell, Newsweek, USA

David H. Rundell is the former Chief of Mission at the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia and author of Vision or Mirage, Saudi Arabia at the Crossroads. Ambassador Michael Gfoeller is a former political adviser to US Central Command. He served for 15 years in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

Opinions expressed in a foreign media article cannot reflect the position of the News Front editors.

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