It has been 16 months since Russia began the second phase of its war against Ukraine. The invasion has basically been a stalemate since Russia failed to achieve its objective of decapitating Ukraine’s leadership in the early days of the invasion. Western powers have characterized the broader invasion of Ukraine’s territory as a brutal violation of international law, but they haven’t acted like it.
The West continues to squabble over the right level of support as casualties mount and Ukraine’s infrastructure is reduced to rubble. The lackadaisical approach of both the United States and Russia, along with truly baffling rules of engagement, have ensured a protracted conflict that will have a devastating impact on Ukraine and the region at large.
The longer the war continues, the more absurd the rules of the conflict become. Under the guise of preventing Russian escalation, the United States, Germany, Great Britain, and other allies have consistently disagreed over the level of armaments to send to Ukraine. There have been disagreements about whether to provide long-range missiles, tanks, and fighter jets.
And while the West continues to vacillate on the kinds of weapons it provides, it still imposes restrictions on the weapons it does provide, making victory more difficult for Ukraine. The latest example of this has been the United State’s response to recent drone attacks in Moscow. US representatives have stated that they do not support Ukrainian attacks inside of Russia, and reiterated that point after drones struck a wealthy Moscow neighborhood earlier this week.
Again, the US has leaned on the spector of Russian escalation to defend a ludicrous position. Ukraine has been described as a “key regional strategic partner,” and the US has invested over $1 billion in weapons and other support in Ukraine’s defense. But the US refuses to allow Ukraine to expand its offensive operations to actually hurt Russia instead of simply defending the territory it hasn’t already lost.
It seems that the United States and its allies want Ukraine to fight against Russia, but not actually win. President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine has made this point at every opportunity he can when speaking publicly to the Western alliance. The pattern of delivering aid and arms with no end in sight recalls the proxy war era of the Cold War, where regional conflicts in Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa dragged on for years or even decades with no clear advantage. In the meantime, millions of people died in meatgrinders between sides who had just enough ammo to keep fighting, but not enough to end the fighting.
Russia itself seems uninterested in winning and is contributing to this miserable state of affairs as well. It has so far avoided measures such as full mobilization or deploying greater amounts of weapons and material to take a decisive advantage in Ukraine. President Vladimir Putin has relied instead on mercenaries, convicts, and others to fill out the lines being mowed down in Ukraine, in an apparent attempt to shield average Russians from the cost of this terrible war.
This is a strategy with which the United States is familiar. During the Iraq/Afghanistan wars, the US relied heavily on mercenaries working for companies such as Blackwater, and multiple deployments of its all-volunteer force. The average American didn’t feel the impact of those conflicts in the same way that they did during the Vietnam War, and that compartmentalization of war allowed it to drag on for two decades – all the while Americans, Iraqis, Afghans, and others perished at a steady clip. Ukraine and Russia seem to be headed for the same.
War is terrible, and the ideal solution would be an immediate end to hostilities and a return to the borders Ukraine and Russia shared before the war in Crimea began. But just because the two sides are not there yet does not mean that we should condemn the people of Ukraine to a protracted conflict that will cause more damage. Either the Western allies or the Russians need to pull the trigger and win this war, not just fight it indefinitely. There is going to be suffering and death as long as people believe that force is a legitimate means to an end. If that’s the case, then let’s get this sorry affair over with.