Stop the Ukrainian Meatgrinder?

Nearly eleven months ago, in August 2023, the New York Times reported that U.S. officials had estimated that some 500,000 Russians and Ukrainians had been killed, wounded, or missing in the then 18-month Ukrainian War.

Both Russia and Ukraine underreport their losses. Hundreds of thousands of additional casualties have followed in the 28 months of fighting.

In the West, the mere mention of a negotiated settlement is considered a dangerous appeasement of Russia’s flagrant aggression. In Russia, anything short of victory would be seen as synonymous with the collapse of the Putin regime.

Yet as the war nears two and a half years this summer, some facts are no longer much in dispute.

Controversy still arises over the circumstances of the 2014 overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Russia charges that the West engineered the “Revolution of Dignity”—an effort to westernize the former Soviet republic, to expand the borders of Europe right to the doorstep of Russia, and eventually to fully arm Ukraine as a member of NATO.

Westerners counter that most Ukrainians wished to be part of Europe and independent from Russian bullying—and they had a perfect right to ask to join either NATO or the EU or both despite anticipated escalating tensions.

After the heroic Ukrainian defeat of the 2022 Russian bid to take Kyiv, there have been few significant territorial gains by either side.

Like the seesaw bloodbath on the Western Front of World War I, neither side has developed the momentum to force the other to negotiate or grant concessions.

As nuclear Russian threats against Europe mount, NATO is seeking to regain deterrence capabilities by boosting defense budgets, incorporating robust frontline nations Sweden and Finland, and uniting over shared concerns about Russian aggression.

Many in the U.S. cheer on the conflict as a necessary proxy war to check Russian aggression and bolster NATO’s resistance.

But unlike third-party wars during the Cold War, now the Western client, Ukraine, is fighting directly against the chief antagonist of European NATO members.

Arming a proxy in a war waged against the homeland of a nuclear adversary is a new and dangerous phenomenon.

The West counts on supplying Ukraine with more and better weapons than a richer, larger, and more populous Russia.

But Ukraine’s problem is not so much weapons as manpower. Nearly a fourth of Ukraine’s population has fled the country.

Ukraine may have suffered some 300,000 causalities. The average age of its soldiers is over 40 years. It already lacks sufficient forces to replay the failed 2023 counter-offensive. The Russian plan of attrition is to wear down and bleed out the Ukrainian people.

In a geostrategic sense, the new alignment of Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea is starting to gain opportunistic support from illiberal Middle East regimes, Turkey, and the Islamic world in general.

The Biden administration’s respective approaches to the Ukraine and Gaza wars continue to be utterly incoherent.

It lectures our strongest ally Israel on the need for a ceasefire, proportionality, a coalition wartime cabinet, and the avoidance of collateral damage. The administration considers the terrorist Hamas almost a legitimate state.

However, Biden and the American diplomatic establishment urge Ukraine to keep fighting without negotiations. They urge Kyiv to seek critical disproportionality through superior weaponry, including hitting strategic targets inside Russia.

The U.S. has overlooked the cancellation of Ukrainian political parties and elections by the Zelensky administration. America does not seem to care about Ukrainian collateral damage to the borderlands. And it considers the Russian government a near-terrorist state.

No one in the West, at least prior to the Russian February 2022 invasion—neither the prior Obama, Trump, and current Biden administrations or the Ukrainian government itself—had considered it even possible to regain by force the Crimea and the Donbass absorbed by the Russian invasion of 2014.

Add up all these realities, and the only practicable way to avoid another near-one million dead and wounded would be a settlement, however unpopular.

It would entail the formalization of the 2014 Russian absorption of Crimea and Donbass.

Russia would then agree to withdraw all its forces to its pre-2022 borders. Ukraine would be fully armed but without NATO membership.

Both sides would agree to a demilitarized zone on both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russia would brag that it prevented its former province from joining NATO while finally institutionalizing its prior incorporation of the Donbass and Crimea.

Ukraine would be proud that, like heroic 1940 Finland, it miraculously stopped Russian aggression. It would remain far better armed than at any time in its history and soon enjoy a status similar to that of non-NATO Austria or Switzerland.

The deal would anger all parties. But it would make public what most concede privately—and stop the ongoing destruction of Ukraine and the further slaughter of an entire generation of Ukrainian and Russian youth.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness and the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. He is an American military historian, columnist, a former classics professor, and scholar of ancient warfare. He has been a visiting professor at Hillsdale College since 2004, and is the 2023 Giles O'Malley Distinguished Visiting Professor at the School of Public Policy, Pepperdine University. Hanson was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 by President George W. Bush, and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson is also a farmer (growing almonds on a family farm in Selma, California) and a critic of social trends related to farming and agrarianism. He is the author of the just released New York Times best seller, The End of Everything: How Wars Descend into Annihilation, published by Basic Books on May 7, 2024, as well as the recent  The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won, The Case for Trump, and The Dying Citizen.

Photo: BUCHA, UKRAINE - APRIL 06: A man pushes his bike through debris and destroyed Russian military vehicles on a street on April 06, 2022 in Bucha, Ukraine. The Ukrainian government has accused Russian forces of committing a "deliberate massacre" as they occupied and eventually retreated from Bucha, 25km northwest of Kyiv. Hundreds of bodies have been found in the days since Ukrainian forces regained control of the town. (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Notable Replies

  1. It’s strange how a proxy war in eastern Europe has turned into a proxy war here in the US. Anyone advocating a ceasefire and peace agreement is immediately labeled a puppet of Putin, as if the seeking of a peace agreement is somehow anti-American. Merely talking to Russia about its reasons for the conflict is seen as a treasonable act. Just ask Tucker Carlson.

    We never should have gotten involved in the first place. More than that, it was US actions following the fall of the Iron Curtain that led directly to this conflict. And it seems those whose hands are deepest in the mud are the ones trying the hardest to cover up or excuse those actions by waving the bloody shirt. It is disgusting.

    I’m also disgusted by everyday Americans who belittle our involvement in the war’s causes when, instead of confronting our complicity, charge anyone bringing up the issue as traitor. How blithely they are willing to fight to the last Ukrainian to prove their patriotism.

    This war has upended longstanding alliances and threatens the world’s once stable economies. The US dollar, once the premier world currency, is fading away as the BRICs nations form their own settlement currency. Few realize how far reaching this change will be. And even when told, dismiss it out of hand as somehow being worth it to preserve Ukrainian sovereignty. What about our own sovereignty? What about our own financial well being? As our cities, infrastructure, and borders crumble about us, we spend billions to protect a country most could not even find on a map?

    As much as I appreciate France’s assistance during our own Revolutionary War, how many realize that the financial drain on France, in their support, led to the fall of the French monarchy and the bloodbath affectionately called the establishment of the First French Republic?

    The war in Ukraine could end tomorrow by simply turning off the spigot. This won’t happen though. The MIC is making far too much money on this for peace to happen. Complicit Washington has their hands in the cookie jar as well. They do not give two figs about the Ukrainian people. They are mere means to a financial end.

  2. Avatar for task task says:

    If there is anything that consistently represents my opinion as to what the Biden Administration has achieved it is two obvious things. Both of these are about damage. The SCOTUS decision, yesterday, that failed to prevent the government from putting pressure on the media because Roberts and Barrett, as part of the majority, were not provided with proof of damages is stunningly wrong. However, on the other hand, there is no shortage of proof as to the damages, which never occurred while Donald Trump was President, that occurred on Biden’s watch. And such damage shows no sign of abatement despite the late actions of the Administration to make it appear differently to voters. First is the number of dead that would still be alive in three continents and second is the unaccountability for eighty-five thousand missing children that vanished after passing through the southern border. The SCOTUS, thinking the way the majority just did, if such a case were before them, considering the uncertain whereabouts of the children, would bolster their wrong opinion. Absent habeas corpus, no standing could be offered by any complainants concerned about any harm. But we know differently. As the body count continues to rise in the Ukraine, Russia, Israel and in Gaza, and is expected to begin in Taiwan, do we need any more proof of failed leadership? Of course the Administration will say it is because of Trump’s policies and, even if it wasn’t, that there is still no proof it would not have occurred had Trump been President instead of the Obama proxy Joe Biden.

    The way to halt the Ukraine debacle is economic. Oil, as energy, is the same as gold, or currency. It is the sole ingredient needed to maintain a war, win a war or negotiating a cease fire. All energy production and availability should be controlled by the United States and such availability needs to be, as much as is possible, made unavailable to Russia, China and Iran. At the very least we can flood the world market with energy that is available and cheap so that Russia and Iran will not continue to enjoy the windfall profits the Biden Administration has enabled them to enjoy that funds the armies and weapons of war.

  3. Avatar for task task says:

    Without the ostentatious Ukrainian withdrawal debacle and the removal of Iranian oil sanctions it would be hard to imagine how any of this carnage would have begun. Obama/Biden leadership is all about making America weak. Without a strong, and dependable America a vacuum was created. What they have done is even worse. Obama wants America to be like other nations. That is being achieved. It always was about international DEI or the perception of such. So now, we have become internationally, just as we have become domestically. Incompetence is not only running America and the world it is also sharing the positions of power with EVIL.

  4. The Biden Administration is on the verge of approving a plan that allows private military contractors (PMVs) to operate inside Ukraine. Ostensibly, it is to set up repair stations to fix broken US hardware “in country” to get the equipment back up on the line quicker. It is the camel’s nose under the tent. In my opinion, it is the MIC looking for the first American casualties as excuse to bring the war to new levels of US involvement. These people are evil.

  5. EB, complicit Washington doesn’t give two figs about the American people, either. We’re nothing more than hosts to the parasites in DC who are bleeding us dry, censoring our voices, and terrorizing dissenters. To say we are in an abusive relationship with our government would be an understatement.

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