DANIEL VAUGHAN: On The Second Anniversary Ukraine Needs A Miracle In This War

 February 26, 2024

February 24, 2024, marked the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine. The conflict now enters its third year. As I've written in previous columns, Ukraine is losing the war. The first year began with a resounding success, with Ukraine pushing the Russians back. Now, what do you do as Russia tries to smother Ukraine into submission?

Politico reports Ukraine's current strategy is simple: survive 2024, hoping for a possible counter-offensive in 2025. That's the optimistic strategy. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy admitted this week that 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers had died in the conflict.

His number is, naturally, much lower than what U.S. intelligence believes. "A New York Times report in August cited U.S. officials as putting the Ukrainian death toll at close to 70,000. The same report said as many as 120,000 Russian troops had died during the war."

The propaganda isn't anything to be surprised about - both sides need to state different numbers to boost morale at home. Stating correct numbers is an aid to the enemy. In these conflicts, survival is more important than truth.

The Institute for the Study Of War (ISW) released an analysis that observed: "Russian officials and state media largely refrained from publicly discussing the two-year anniversary of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, likely in an effort to avoid addressing Russia's failure to achieve its stated war aims at significant human costs."

They also noted that while the Russians had the option of a second mobilization to surge troops into Ukraine, they were unlikely to do that right now. Public sentiment is against such a mobilization. ISW cautioned, "Putin may, however, become less concerned about public sentiment after his reelection in March 2024 and determine that Russian force generation requirements outweigh the risks of widespread domestic discontent."

The election point is critical because while Ukraine is looking at surviving 2024, we know Putin will get more leverage starting in March. The Russian "elections" are scheduled for March 15-17, 2024. With Putin murdering his opposition, reelection is all but assured.

In short, we're two years into a war, and Putin is getting refreshed political power at home. Further, while new sanctions have been announced, there's little evidence at this stage that Biden's attempts at an economic squeeze on Putin have worked. That's not to say you can't point to severe adverse impacts on the Russian economy. But those tools aimed to end the war, not prolong it.

William McGurn wrote in the Wall Street Journal that while the popular narrative is that Biden is pro-Ukraine and Trump is against it, there's little difference between them.

He writes, "But when it comes to the failure to spell out a strategic argument, the two are one. As a result, the military-aid package has largely been fought over issues unrelated to Ukraine, such as funding for border security. Meanwhile, Democrats sound like hawks, Republicans sound like doves, and U.S. policy slides into strategic incoherence."

Biden is much like Obama in that they talk a big game with regard to Russia and Putin, but they've managed to get everything wrong. It was Obama who watched as Putin took over Crimea. Biden watched an identical buildup that led to the Ukraine war. Obama infamously told everyone in 2012, when Mitt Romney warned of Russian aggression, "The 1980s called, they want their foreign policy back."

We're dealing with the fallout from a combined 12 years of mistakes. Trump was in the middle of that, for sure. But Putin did not invade during Trump's tenure. He waited. When Biden entered office and we got a continuation of the Obama-era foreign policy, we suddenly dealt with a larger version of what happened with Crimea.

Trump's failures in Ukraine are more direct. His rhetoric that this is something that can be solved quickly or that we can retreat into isolationism is utterly disconnected from reality. Isolationists may believe we can leave the world alone, but the world does not want to leave us alone. It's not a small planet, and it shrinks every day as technology grows.

I detail those failures to look at the present. We cannot ask Ukraine to bear the brunt of the humanitarian calamities and death toll to keep the Russians back. This isn't about getting them supplies, though they need that desperately. It's about manpower and giving them something to go back to.

Anatol Lieven is on the right path when he writes, "This does not mean that Ukraine should be asked to formally surrender these lands, for that would be impossible for any Ukrainian government. But it does mean that—as Zelensky proposed early in the war with regard to Crimea and the eastern Donbas—the territorial issue will have to be shelved for future talks."

We're trying to get Ukraine to a point where they can live to fight another day. We're in this spot because no one in the Biden administration can paint a path toward "victory." They can't define victory or describe a way of getting there. We're supposed to endlessly pump resources into Ukraine until the last man or woman falls dead, apparently.

Biden must negotiate peace. Truthfully, he should have done this many months ago. That he's waited until Putin has the upper hand is an abomination. If he wants to flip the script, he'd have to surge so much resources into Ukraine that they can't help but push the Russians back. But we're not doing that either.

This middling position of neither victory nor defeat only leads to more death. And if that's the path, we need to negotiate an end to this war right now. It's the only responsible path. And while doing that, we should pray for a miracle because Ukraine needs one in the worst way imaginable.

" A free people [claim] their rights, as derived from the laws of nature."
Thomas Jefferson
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