Council on Foreign Relations panel on "How Does the War in Ukraine End?"
This video from the stereotypically Establishment Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) discusses war termination in the current Russa-Ukraine War.
This was prior to this week’s visit of Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Vladimir Putin in Moscow.
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The CFR website provides a transcript.
Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Philip M. Breedlove sketches out "three possible outcomes":
 The West gives—changes its current policy and gives Ukraine what it needs to win, and Ukraine will win and set the terms of the peace.
 If we—if we remove our support to Ukraine, Ukraine will lose and Russia will set the terms for peace.
 The tough part is what happens if we keep doing what we’re doing now, which is to supply them enough to remain on the battlefield and remain viable but not enough to win. That is a much more dicey ending. And again, I think that the conditions on the battlefield then would set the table for how the peace is made. [my emphasis]
At that level of generalizations, that seems to cover the entire range of possibilities.
But I’m not clear if he really thinks option 1 would obviously mean that “Ukraine will win and set the terms of the peace.“ Of course, “what it needs” covers a broad range of possibilities, from more ammunition to an all-out NATO participation with nukes on the table.
Alina Polyakova of the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) focuses in a bit more on the current situation and the time pressures that all sides face in 2023:
[T]o my mind there’s been probably some informal consensus reached, it seems, by the alliance that let’s give the Ukrainians what we can now. And the expectation is that the Ukrainians will make some serious gains and counteroffensives with the systems they currently have through the spring and summer fighting season, and then we’re going to see where we are in the fall because, one, in the U.S., obviously, there’s an election coming up. There’s an election in the U.K., which has been another leader on the policy side. The Russians are very aware of these political dynamics, and so are the Ukrainians.
She makes sure to state the point that is a guaranteed “safe” one within the US foreign policy Blob: “the most optimum scenario not just for Ukraine but for the United States and the future of our global leadership, including ramifications and consequences in the Indo-Pacific, is a decisive military win for Ukraine.”
And maybe Vladimir Putin will voluntarily submit himself to the International Criminal Court and plead guilty on all counts?
But she seems to be making a bit more heretical point (in the Establishment context) when she describes a possible outcome than “potential escalation.” And she continues:
But I think what we’ve set ourselves up for with this current policy unless something changes is a much greater, potentially more dangerous outcome, which is protraction, because the longer this war goes on, you ask any Ukrainian and they will say the higher the chances of us losing because the Russians will double down, they’ll rebuild, they’ll throw more people at this. They don’t care how many Russians die in this war. They’ll do everything they can to hold on. So if this—if we don’t bring this war to an end this year, the chances of this going on in a forever war kind of way increase, I think, quite exponentially.
She words it as though she’s dismissing the risk of escalation. But what she’s saying here is that the war is currently a war of attrition, and Russia has the advantage over Ukraine in such a war, an advantage that increases the longer the war continues. And she even seems to be saying, in a DiplomacySpeak kind of way, that if we want to war to come to an end without massive increases in death and destruction in Ukraine we really need to find a way to wrap it up this year.
If she means we should send in NATO troops to seize Crimea and expel the Russians, well, that would be a whole different undertaking!
Charles Kupchan is not tailoring his language to give devoted New Cold Warriors a thrill running up their legs:
One is that this strikes me as a war that lies somewhere in between a vital national interest of the United States and a conflict in which we have very little skin in the game. It’s not a vital national interest because otherwise we’d have boots on the ground and we’d be talking about bringing Ukraine into NATO. Neither of those is happening, at least now. And as a consequence, we have to find that middle ground between helping Ukraine defend itself and a full-scale war between NATO and Russia. [my emphasis]
Whoa! It’s “not a vital interest” for the United States? He may start getting scolding responses from Timothy Snyder:
DER SPIEGEL: In Germany, many fear an escalation of the conflict, a world war or a nuclear strike. Do you not share that concern?
Snyder: No, I’m ashamed by that entire discussion. Fear of nuclear war is primarily about our own security. In these circumstances, when whole Ukrainian cities have been destroyed, such a worry is pathetic. It is simply embarrassing that the hypothetical prospect of the use of nuclear weapons is placed at the center of the discussion, even though unimaginable atrocities have long been taking place in Ukraine. We simply cannot allow ourselves to get talked into that position that Russia has the power to do anything it wants at any time simply because it has nuclear weapons. Giving in to nuclear blackmail means more nuclear blackmail.
Snyder is a good historian and has done some solid work on the development of authoritarianism. But comments from him like this makes me wonder if he understands even the basics of how nuclear deterrence works. It would be completely irresponsible for the US leadership carelessly accept a serious risk of nuclear war for goals that are “not a vital interest“ of the US.
NATO is backing Ukraine in the war. But Ukraine is not a formal NATO ally. And is not likely to be for many years even if the war gets resolved very soon.
Snyder elsewhere argues that more-or-less all hope for the rest of the current century rides on Ukraine winning decisively.
Kupchan also states, “the key goal here is a defensible, secure, prosperous Ukraine. It’s not necessarily that Ukraine with a hundred percent of its territorial integrity, and I fear that we could lose Ukraine in trying to save Ukraine.“ He wants Ukraine to remain “a viable country. And that’s a question mark for me when the Ukrainian economy has already shrunk by 30-plus percent and its infrastructure and cities continue to get hit.”
And he adds, “I think we as Americans—foreign policy community in Washington—need to be careful not to overstate the stakes. I hear on a daily basis this is the frontline of democracy, this is the last defense of the rules-based international system.”
Oh, Timothy Snyder is going to be really unhappy with him!
Breedlove and Polyakova go on to insist that Crimea has to be retaken or all is lost. Without that, Polyakova says, Ukraine “will not be a viable country.” So maybe when she talks about getting the war over with this year, she apparently means militarily seizing Crimea. And she all-but-explicitly criticizes the Ukrainian government for even suggesting there might be a settlement without reconquering Crimea. Then she seems to be saying afterwards that Ukraine has been too hardline on diplomacy, and also not hardline enough, or something. I’m not sure she’s thought this through very well.
Kupchan isn’t buying it:
And I disagree with General Breedlove and Alina that a Ukraine that doesn’t have Crimea is not sustainable. Ukraine didn’t have Crimea since 2014, and it was doing OK. I mean, it wasn’t ideal. There was a boiling or low-grade conflict in Donbas. But the country was doing OK. So I don’t think we should set certain kinds of visions that if we achieve this, everything will be great and Russia will behave itself. And if we don’t get back to the—or, let’s say, the 1991 borders, then Russia will just be coming at us again. Russia’s going to be a troublemaker forever, or at least as long as Putin is alive. And as a consequence, I think we have to ask: How can we end this in a way that is consistent with a strong, viable Ukraine, whether or not it’s 100 percent of Ukraine? [my emphasis]
Kupchan is the only one of the three panelists who comes out of this event not sounding like he’s interviewing for a job as an arms lobbyist.
Breedlove is currently listed as a member of the Board of Advisors to the hawkish Center for a New American Security, once headed by Victoria Nuland and heavily funded by defense companies.Polyakova's Center for European Policy Analysis is also funded (as of 2021) by the US State and Defense Departments and some military contractors including Lockheed Martin.
How Does the War in Ukraine End? 03/15/2023. Council on Foreign Relations YouTube channel. (Accessed: 2023-24-03).
How Does the War in Ukraine End? Council on Foreign Relations website 03/15/2023. <https://www.cfr.org/event/how-does-war-ukraine-end> (Accessed: 2023-24-03).
Snyder, Timothy (2023): "In Russia, Will Is Placed over Reason" (interviewers: Ann-Dorit Boy und Eva-Maria Schnurr). Spiegel International 09.March.2023. <https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/historiker-timothy-snyder-zum-ukraine-krieg-in-russland-steht-der-wille-ueber-der-vernunft-1678197359-a-063f199f-2112-4874-abf2-cfc017b93e88> (Accessed: 2023-24-03).
Snyder, Timothy (2023): Why the world needs Ukrainian victory. Substack 01/23/2023. <>(Accessed: 2023-24-03).
Philip Breedlove. Center for a New American Security. <https://www.cnas.org/people/philip-breedlove> (Accessed: 2023-24-03).
Center for European Policy Analysis. Wikipedia article 11/20/2022. <https://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Center_for_European_Policy_Analysis&oldid=228157898> (Accessed: 2023-24-03).