The Russian Endgame in Ukraine and European Resistance to “Right Wing” Advances: A Thought Experiment

As most of you know well by now, the so-called European right wing made substantial, even in cases stunning, gains in European parliament elections. This would seem to take some of the wind out of the sails of those wanting to escalate against Russia. But we’ll describe a scenario below that they could pursue and even use the right wing gains to justify. In other words, as Lambert would put it, this is still an overly dynamic situation.

French President Emanuel Macron, after Marine Le Pen’s National Rally won the most votes for MEP seats, with exit polls showing 32% compared to about 15% for Macron’s allies, is taking the stunning gamble of calling snap elections. Given how poor Macron’s political instincts have been, I would not bet on this move working out well for him.

The German Greens also took a drubbing, with preliminary totals showing it fell from second place in 2019 at 20.5% to fourth place now at 12.8%. The CDU/CSU is tops at 30.9% and AfD gained from 11% to 14.9%. In Italy, Georgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy was estimated to have garnered 26-29%, besting left-wing contenders who came in at 21-25%.

In Austria, the right-wing Freedom Party came in the lead at 26.7%, but in the Netherlands and Hungary, the right wing fell short of expectations.

The Guardian summed it up: “Despite gains for the far and radical right, the mainstream, pro-European parties were on course to hold their majority.”

Nevertheless, this outcome has to add to the rising frisson over voter lack of enthusiasm for Project Ukraine despite attempts to whip up fear over the supposedly imminent Putin takeover of all of Europe. Admittedly, we are likely to see a lot of sloppy analysis over why more voters are refusing to eat centrist dog food. In many countries, the reasons are likely to be local and thus oversimplied in efforts to craft over-arching explanations. In the absence of better facts, James Carville’s “It’s the economy, stupid” is probably as good an assessment as any.

But again, crudely speaking, these “populist” right wingers are nationalist, meaning not keen about NATO adventurism and suspected Putin stooges. And European and US leaders are likely now quietly freaked out about the risk of a LePen and then Trump win. But what might they do?

It is true, as Aurelien said early on, that all the Europe can do in the long run is engage in epic sulking. Absent an escalation to nuclear war or a series of astonishingly bad military actions, Russia is comfortably on track to crushing the Ukraine military and being able to dictate terms. Even if the Collective West was not showing cracks in its former anti-Russian unity, the means are proving to wanting. Ukraine’s allies have been scraping the bottom of their weapons barrels to try to keep up supplies. Brave words about increasing arms production have not been met with anything more than paltry results, even as Russia has ramped up output considerably in major equipment categories.

As experts have pointed out, even if the US/NATO forces could keep feeding Ukraine with munitions, Ukraine is running out of men, particularly men who are anything more than cannon fodder. I have no idea how representative these images are, but the fact that there are any like this is telling:

Putin also discussed the Ukraine military force sustainability during his interview with foreign journalists:

According to our calculations, the Ukrainian army loses about 50,000 people a month—both sanitary and irreparable losses, approximately 50/50. The current total mobilization does not solve these problems. They mobilize about 30,000 people a month—mostly forcibly. There are few volunteers.

In the past two months, they have mobilized around 50-55,000 people, according to our data. But this does not solve their problems because this mobilization only covers their losses.

This problem leads to lowering the conscription age: from 27 to 25. We know from Ukrainian sources that the US administration insists on gradually lowering the threshold from 25 to 23, then to 20 years, and finally to 18 years. They already require 17-year-olds to register for the draft. This is a demand from the US administration to the Ukrainian leadership.

Putin also said, in effect, that the US would keep Zelensky around to implement unpopular measures like conscripting 18 year olds and then replace him when his perceived utility is over. Zelensky appears to have purged immediate threats, so at the moment he is comparatively secure.

The Biden Administration (not just Biden but Blinken also, who seems to be Victoria Nuland’s Mini Me) despite Putin with the passion of a thousand burning suns. They will never countenance negotiations with him or a Russian government. Macron and the leadership of NATO, the UK, Poland, and the Baltic States also show serious hostility.1

So Putin’s intel is consistent with the US and key allies refusing to back down and continuing to press Ukraine to keep fighting, no matter what the cost to Ukraine, even at the cost of more deaths and disability among Ukraine men, and more loss of territory.

However, we warned early on that Russia could win the war and lose the peace. The problem is that Putin’s big motive for launching the Special Military Operation was that the prospect of continued conflict in the Donbass and eventual installation of long-range missiles in Ukraine, whether as a formal NATO member or in some wink-and-nod unofficial status, was a direct threat to Russian security.

How does Putin achieve a cessation of a hot conflict and improve Russia’s security?

Even with Russia having a very big military upper hand, it still faces two problems. One is that the absolutism in the West seems likely to lead to Russia achieving maximum territorial gains relative to what the Russian leadership has signaled might be of interest. The West really is determined to fight to the last Ukrainian. It is already well on its way to exhausting weapons supplies.

From an administrative perspective, Russia does not want to attempt to hold hostile territory. That would seem to restrict what it would want to integrate into Russia to land a bit to the West of the Dnieper so as to secure the major cities that straddle the river, such as Kiev, Dnipro, Zaporzhizhia, and Kherson and the Black Sea coast to Odessa.

Note that Russia securing what was Ukraine’s Black Sea coast has the potential to unleash extreme Western responses. But that’s a risk for Russia to weigh, hence Putin calling Odessa an “apple of discord”. More recently, however, Putin and other leaders have been regularly describing Odessa as a Russian city. And it goes without saying that if Russia were to control Ukraine’s Black Sea access, it would control Ukraine economically.

But that does not mean the West is without resources. Even if the US/NATO combine succeeds in getting Ukraine to send most of its remaining young men to death and injury in the battlefield, shrinking their rank, ethnically Ukrainian, Russia-hostile western Ukraine will remain. Russia does not want to occupy it. But the alternatives may be worse.

With the demonized populists, particularly Trump gaining in polls, the current leadership in the US has been implementing measures to restrict Trump. From CNN in February:

Lawmakers from both parties last December may have been anticipating former President Donald Trump’s current NATO trash talk when they quietly slipped language limiting a president’s power to pull the US out the alliance into the annual defense policy bill, which passed with bipartisan support.

That sort of preemptive measure is likely to be moving to the front burner. Here is a simple spoiler. If yours truly can come up with this sort of thing, there are likely many others.

Earlier in the war, Colonel Douglas Macgregor discussed that the US could form a “coalition of the willing” which could get to about 100,000 in total, between US, Polish, Romanian, and UK commitments. Then he envisaged it as an offensive force to assist Ukraine, stressing then that it would be too small in number to have good odds of changing the course of the war (these mentions if I recall correctly were before the defeat of the great summer counteroffensive, so Russia looked weaker than it does now).

But what if the US reworks this as a strictly defensive operation, to preserve rump Ukraine? They could try to achieve their much-claimed frozen conflict by announcing the boundaries of a DMZ and then positioning coalition forces on the other side of it, in western Ukraine.

And then with the West firmly in control of this terrain and an excuse for a serious military presence, there is always the potential to install the sort of long range missiles that Russia absolutely did not want in Ukraine.

Readers are welcome to shoot holes in this idea. But Mark Sleboda, who tends to be conservative (as in “worst outcomes for Russia” biased) in his analysis, volunteered, without elaborating, that it might be best available option for Russia to take Western Ukraine, even though he had thought otherwise until recently.

Of course, as John Helmer pointed out early on, Russia could create a big DMZ, its width dependent on the range of missiles the West saw fit to use, via de-electrification. And that unlike the formation of a “coalition of the willing” could be done pretty quickly.

Please keep in mind that the point of this post is not to suggest that the West would act on any particular scheme. But the unanticipated right wing gains and Trump not being dented much (at all?) by his conviction is likely focusing quite a few minds. And one line of thought they may be pursuing is how to create facts on the ground that would impede their action.

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1 It is not clear why Macron shifted from being willing to engage Putin to hostility. Was it because Putin snubbed him by letting word get out that he found Macron’s long calls to be time wasters? Or because Macron blames Russia for France’s recent setbacks in Africa?

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