Endgame: Hail Mary in Ukraine
The West's Black Sea fetish continues to trump Ukraine's need to end the war.
Foreign Policy recently published a hawkish article: The Shortest Path to Victory in Ukraine Goes Through Crimea, exhorting any remnant Ukrainian forces to regroup and once again heroically hurl themselves towards the Crimea. With the war in Ukraine all but lost, journals such as Foreign Policy feel no need to represent reality. They can continue to push hawkish narratives, and when the entire war enterprise falls apart—and Ukraine loses it sovereignty and much of its territory to Russia—these journalists can smugly declare that the defeat was not their fault since they never once published any defeatist material.
The article contains a mixture of truth, lies and bad advice. It is important to take the time to triage these ideas in order to clarify the current reality in Ukraine. But before conducting that analysis, the West’s grand strategy in Eurasia must be explained.
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The Grand Strategic Context—Zbigniew Brzezinski’s Vision for Eurasia
Understanding of the West’s grand strategy in the Ukrainian war is the first step towards divining the direction future events will trend. In the simplest terms, America’s grand strategy is to restrict Russian access to the Black Sea and to as much as possible turn this body of water into a NATO lake. The clearheaded and articulate geopolitical strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, who could be called “The Blue State Kissinger”, since he was the favoured geopolitical advisor to many in the Democratic Party, set down these principles in his masterpiece, The Grand Chessboard. In his book, Brzezinski sets the stage for understanding the motivations behind today’s conflict by describing the negative impact Ukrainian independence had on Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s:
Most troubling of all was the loss of Ukraine. The appearance of an independent Ukrainian state not only challenged all Russians to rethink the nature of their own political and ethnic identity, but it represented a vital geopolitical setback for the Russian state. The repudiation of more than three hundred years of Russian imperial history meant the loss of a potentially rich industrial and agricultural economy and of 52 million people ethnically and religiously sufficiently close to the Russians to make Russia into a truly large and confident imperial state. Ukraine's independence also deprived Russia of its dominant position on the Black Sea, where Odessa had served as Russia's vital gateway to trade with the Mediterranean and the world beyond.
The loss of Ukraine was geopolitically pivotal, for it drastically limited Russia's geostrategic options. Even without the Baltic states and Poland, a Russia that retained control over Ukraine could still seek to be the leader of an assertive Eurasian empire, in which Moscow could dominate the non-Slavs in the South and Southeast of the former Soviet Union. But without Ukraine and its 52 million fellow Slavs, any attempt by Moscow to rebuild the Eurasian empire was likely to leave Russia entangled alone in protracted conflicts with the nationally and religiously aroused non-Slavs, the war with Chechnya perhaps simply being the first example. Moreover, given Russia's declining birthrate and the explosive birthrate among the Central Asians, any new Eurasian entity based purely on Russian power, without Ukraine, would inevitably become less European and more Asiatic with each passing year.
The loss of Ukraine was not only geopolitically pivotal but also geopolitically catalytic. It was Ukrainian actions—the Ukrainian declaration of independence in December 1991, its insistence in the critical negotiations in Bela Vezha that the Soviet Union should be replaced by a looser Commonwealth of Independent States, and especially the sudden coup-like imposition of Ukrainian command over the Soviet army units stationed on Ukrainian soil—that prevented the CIS from becoming merely a new name for a more con-federal USSR. Ukraine's political self-determination stunned Moscow and set an example that the other Soviet republics, though initially more timidly, then followed.
Russia's loss of its dominant position on the Baltic Sea was replicated on the Black Sea not only because of Ukraine's independence but also because the newly independent Caucasian states— Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—enhanced the opportunities for Turkey to reestablish its once-lost influence in the region. Prior to 1991, the Black Sea was the point of departure for the projection of Russian naval power into the Mediterranean. By the mid-1990s, Russia was left with a small coastal strip on the Black Sea and with an unresolved debate with Ukraine over basing rights in Crimea for the remnants of the Soviet Black Sea Fleet, while observing, with evident irritation, joint NATO-Ukrainian naval and shore-landing maneuvers and a growing Turkish role in the Black Sea region. Russia also suspected Turkey of having provided effective aid to the Chechen resistance.
Notice that in the first sentence of each paragraph Brzezinski describes a Russian “loss.” Simply invert this word to “gain” and one can immediately understand both the Russian motivation to “take back” Ukraine and the American desire to block this from ever occurring.
However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as its access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia. Ukraine's loss of independence would have immediate consequences for Central Europe, transforming Poland into the geopolitical pivot on the eastern frontier of a united Europe.
After years of Russian complaining about NATO’s eastern expansion, a victory in Ukraine will result in a Russian western expansion right up to NATO’s borders in Eastern Europe. Poland in particular will go back to being a borderland between the Western and the Russian worlds. A defeated Ukraine will become engulfed into the Russian world (Русский мир) Some Ukrainian regions may retain nominal independence, but similar to Belarus, they will be deeply embedded with both Russia and the BRICS+ multipolar alliance.
What’s undeniable is that the war in Ukraine is not about democracy, freedom and liberty or any other abstract “moral-candy”. No, the war has always been about the concrete goal of maintaining the US Empire by keeping Russia down and unable to dominate the Black Sea. The US is acting just as any previous global hegemon would do. As the US fights to suppress Russia, the question is not moral but one of strategy. By hyper-focusing on Russia, has the US not empowered a far more dangerous empire-slayer, China?
Zbigniew Brzezinski wrote his book in 1997. Subsequent events have borne out his thoughts. Throughout the early 2000’s the US and in particular the Bush dynasty and the Carlyle Group, intervened in and influenced the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, which just happens to have a Black Sea coastline. In April of 2008, at the conclusion of their Summit in Bucharest, NATO issued the following statement:
NATO welcomes Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO. Both nations have made valuable contributions to Alliance operations.
Just a few months later, in August of 2008, Russia invaded Georgia and captured a large portion of its Black Sea coast, where recently Russia announced the construction of a permanent naval base. Russia’s invasion of Georgia resulted in just enough political control over this small Black Sea state that Georgia will not be joining NATO anytime soon. If Georgia were to ever again start militating to join the Western alliance, they might find their small remaining coastline disappearing under an onslaught of Russian tanks—a fate which may await all of Ukraine depending on their attitude in the coming negotiations with Russia.
In late 2013, Ukraine’s democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a trade agreement with the EU and instead reached an economic deal with Russia. To the West, this move represented a Russian “take back” of Ukraine. To counter this potential loss, early in 2014 the West instigated a coup d'état and installed a pro-Western puppet government, thus returning Ukraine to the Western camp. Russia, alert to the threat this posed to their Black Sea port in Sebastopol, responded with an invasion of the Crimea to secure this crucial naval base. The ensuing years featured an ugly struggle in the Donbass and Ukraine sliding further and further into Western arms.
In the Fall of 2021, Russia massed troops on their Western border with Ukraine. In the midst of rising tensions, Russia issued an ultimatum to the West which included the following maximalist demands:
A legally binding guarantee that NATO would not admit any new members, especially Ukraine and Georgia, and that it would not deploy any additional troops or weapons in the existing member states.
A revision of the 1997 NATO–Russia Founding Act, which regulates the military activities and cooperation between NATO and Russia, and a withdrawal of NATO's infrastructure and capabilities from the territories of the former Soviet Union.
A recognition of Russia's special interests and role in ensuring security and stability in the post-Soviet space, and a respect for its sovereignty and territorial integrity, including over Crimea and Donbas.
A moratorium on the deployment of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles in Europe, and a dialogue on strategic stability and arms control.
These proposals were summarily rejected by the West and Russia launched their invasion of Ukraine in February, 2022. Arguably Russia’s minimalist goals were to permanently secure Crimea and to achieve a neutral Ukraine, as evidenced by the terms of the Istanbul Accords of April 2022, which were ultimately rejected by the West.
After the failure of negotiations in the Spring of 2022, Russia shifted gears and launched a slow and clunky war of attrition to bleed Ukraine of manpower and the West of weaponry. Both of these goals are now close to achieved.
The stage is thus set for Western commentators. After twenty months of truth-denying cheerleading for Ukraine, combined with incessant denigration and devaluation of anything Russian, some Western commentators are suddenly being awakened by buckets of cold reality being thrown in their faces. With the trendlines set for a devastating Western defeat in Ukraine, some “experts” are now lowering expectations and preparing their audiences for bad news.
Other Western observers, seeing no reason to accept reality, calculate their careers will be advanced by continuing to reinforce the long-established conventional narrative that Ukraine can and will win this war. These unrepentant war-hawks know that inaccurate extremism in defense of the narrative is no vice. The recent article in Foreign Policy under examination falls into this category. Nevertheless despite its flaws, it is crucial to parse its areas of interest.
Analysing the Article
A pall of pessimism hangs over Western supporters of Ukraine. With Kyiv’s counteroffensive underperforming most observers’ expectations, a fatalistic attitude bordering on defeatism has set in from Washington to Berlin. NBC News and the German tabloid Bild reported last month that U.S. and European officials were deliberating about an end to the war. As Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told two Russians posing as African officials in a prank call: “We are near the moment in which everybody understands that we need a way out.”
The truth is that there is no easy way out. Moscow has repeatedly made it clear that it will only accept Kyiv’s surrender, and the latter’s underwhelming ground offensive will only have emboldened the Kremlin. The only way to force Russian President Vladimir Putin from his objective is to give Ukraine the means to beat him on the battlefield.
The easy way out is indeed for Ukraine to surrender. Moscow has never stated, “it will only accept Kyiv’s surrender,” the Russians, with a cynical eye towards appeasing the Global South, have always called for negotiations. Ukraine itself has outlawed any negotiations with Russia. Of course the reason Russia wants negotiations is to both undermine Ukrainian fighting morale and to divide the Ukrainian ruling elite into factions.
It is only half true that the only path to Ukrainian victory, “is to give Ukraine the means to beat him on the battlefield” but the author is making an erroneous assumption that the West possesses such means or has any will to provide what meagre arms stock remain. After offshoring its industrial base, the US is now struggling to arm itself, let alone supply Ukraine and Israel. But Ukraine is facing devastating manpower shortages and so even in the unlikely event pallets of Western weapons were shipped to Ukraine, there are not enough trained soldiers to make use of them.
This is not an impossible task, but it requires the United States to keep its nerve, recognize the stakes, and identify the best path ahead.
A successful U.S. strategy for the war in Ukraine should begin by recognizing that Moscow is uninterested in any genuine cessation of hostilities. We already know that Putin views cease-fires as instruments of war. From 2014 to 2022, as Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba has pointed out, Russia agreed to 20 cease-fires in Ukraine—and promptly violated every one of them. Putin may float another such deal in the coming months, but it would only serve one purpose: to give his forces a respite before resuming hostilities.
Russia has absolutely no desire for a ceasefire. Ukraine is on the ropes in terms of manpower while the weak West’s industrial capacity has suffered a knockout. It is delusional to speculate that Putin may seriously “float” such an idea. Such a “timeout” would only provide Ukraine with a period to mobilize more women and teenage boys and for the West to scour the world for spare munitions.
It is also unrealistic to think Putin would be content with control over the five regions of Ukraine that he has already annexed: Crimea, Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia, only the first of which he fully controls. Of course, the West could attempt to pressure Ukraine into ceding large territories and millions of Ukrainians to Russia in hopes of appeasing Putin, even though Kyiv would fiercely and justifiably resist such a move. It would destroy the relationship with Kyiv, tank morale throughout Ukraine, and raise doubts about U.S. commitments around the world. It would embolden Putin to pocket his gains and press onward.
It is indeed unlikely that Russia would now be satisfied with only conquering these five regions of Ukraine. The Russian appetite for conquest grows every day the war continues. The sentence, “of course, the West could attempt to pressure Ukraine into ceding large territories and millions of Ukrainians” is ambiguous. Is the author suggesting Ukraine cede even more territory than the aforementioned five regions? If Ukraine offered to sweeten the deal by also ceding the Odessa, Nikolaev, Dnepropetrovsk and Kharkov regions—and to accept neutrality towards the West—Russia may then allow for nominal Ukrainian sovereignty in the remaining regions of rump Ukraine.
But the West has no need to “pressure Ukraine” verbally to end the war. All the West has to do is cut off arms and financial flows (which they are in the process of doing) and Ukraine will figure out all on its own how to cede territory to Russia.
Such a gambit might make sense if Ukraine were on the brink of collapse and blind to its own peril, but it is nowhere near that point. Ukrainians are convinced of the need to resist Russia by force of arms and have achieved real success in doing so. Kyiv still has reservoirs of power that it is willing to commit to the fight. To give up on Ukraine now would be entirely premature.
The author gives himself away here: “Kyiv still has reservoirs of power that it is willing to commit to the fight.” There is a popular meme that the US is willing “to fight until the last Ukrainian.” The only serious untapped reservoirs of Ukrainian manpower are women and teenage boys. In addition there are the spawn of the wealthy Ukrainian elite, but these privileged youth will never be drafted. It’s as if the West are calling for a near genocide of Ukraine. One could argue the people of Gaza almost have it easier in terms of percentage of population killed compared to the disaster the West is imposing upon Ukraine. The difference being that Ukrainians have agency and in many cases have enthusiastically marched to their deaths. The current difference between the Gazan and Ukrainian death tolls is eerily reminiscent of Henry Kissinger’s famous offhand remark that, “it may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.”
“Such a gambit might make sense” means that the US understands that in the end Ukraine will lose large swathes of territory. But in the meantime the author wants to kill off as many surviving Ukrainians in a sort of demographic scorched earth policy. It is true that Ukrainian have proven themselves to be exceedingly brave and talented fighters, especially considering the ancient weapons the West has been providing them. And so it makes sense the US doesn’t want this human fighting potential to fall into Russian hands and in twenty years to be facing Ukrainian brigades on the plains of Poland.
In 2022, Ukraine achieved major victories, liberating nearly half of the territory which Russia had occupied since the start of its full-scale invasion. If this year’s ground offensive proved less successful than anticipated, it has much to do with U.S. dithering in providing key weapons, such as the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and Dual-Purpose Improved Conventional Munitions (DPICMs). This allowed Russia valuable time to dig in.
Yes, in 1942, the German Army also achieved major victories. But the tide turned in 1943 which is where we are in the Ukraine war. 1944 was a particularly painful year for the Wehrmacht and 2024 will see a similar fate for Ukraine. There are no wonder-weapons that will turn the tide.
Moreover, Washington’s prohibition on Ukraine’s use of Western-supplied weapons to strike Russian territory further handcuffed Kyiv. As one of the authors of this piece wrote last spring, before Ukraine’s counteroffensive began: “If Ukraine’s counteroffensive stalls, or even fails, it’s no excuse to end support. On the contrary, it would be a time to learn from mistakes, keep the weapons flowing and the training going and prepare Ukraine for the war’s next phase.”
During a war, both sides have the right to attack their enemy’s territory. This means that in 2003, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had to inalienable right to attack the mainland United States in response to the US launching Operation Iraqi freedom. Just because Russia markets their invasion as a “special military operation” does not alter the fact that Russia and Ukraine are at war and that Ukraine has the right to attack every square centimetre of Russia.
The question is whether the US wants to set the precedent that it is just fine for a great power to arm their proxies with powerful weapons. Maybe Russia will take the cue and arm the Yeminis, Hezbollah, Iran or even Hamas with missiles that can take out Tel Aviv? Or will Russia and China arm Venezuela with missiles capable of reaching major US cities in case of an American attack on Venezuela? Because if the US supplies Ukraine with weapons capable of hitting Russian territory, then these same rules will apply if in the coming months if the US attacks Venezuela. President Nicolás Maduro will have every right in the world to launch Russian or Chinese supplied missiles towards Miami if his nation is at war with the US.
That phase begins now.
In this new phase, the West should consider bolder and more creative options for supporting Ukraine. Rather than search for off-ramps that don’t exist, it should focus its efforts on moving Ukraine closer to victory with a sustained focus on Crimea, which retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges has rightfully described as the war’s “decisive terrain.”
Without the liberation of Crimea, Ukraine will never be safe. The occupied territory is the key staging ground and resupply base for Russian operations in southern Ukraine. As a first step, Ukraine must deny Russia the freedom to operate from Crimea.
Ukraine has spent the past half year trying to liberate the Crimea. Russia clearly understands the Americans are running the show and have a one-track obsession with capturing the Sebastopol Naval Base. Any Russian with a modicum of historical knowledge knows this is nothing new and the British and French also launched a ruthless and bloody war of conquest against Russia in the 1850’s to capture Sebastopol. This explains why there is a highly prestigious boulevard in the center of Paris named after Sebastopol.
That’s why Kyiv’s forces have repeatedly targeted Russia’s highest-value asset there: the Kerch Bridge, which serves as the essential transportation link connecting the Russian mainland to the peninsula. Twice, Ukraine has successfully hit the bridge. In October 2022, an explosion collapsed a portion of its westbound vehicle section and damaged a parallel rail line. In July 2023, a second Ukrainian strike temporarily destroyed another section of the bridge, limiting its operations for some time.
The Kerch Bridge is not a vital military transportation route and even if Ukraine managed to destroy it forever it would not modify the logistics of the war enough to make any difference to the ultimate outcome. But its destruction would give American war hawks a consolation prize. Yes we lost the war, Ukraine is a devastated wasteland, but at least we demolished Putin’s bridge, along with Germany’s pipeline.
Ukraine has also repeatedly struck Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, including its headquarters in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol. Over the past 20 months, Ukraine has damaged or destroyed at least 19 Russian vessels and struck military facilities on the peninsula with missiles, including Russian air bases and air defense systems. As a result, the Russian Navy has essentially been driven out of the western Black Sea.
Ukraine has launched repeated drone and missile strikes towards Sebastopol to little of no effect as Russian air defense shoots down a high percentage of these missiles and drones. Nevertheless, Russia has taken the strategic decision to pull back most of its fleet out of Ukrainian missile range. This is not a naval war and Russia has no need to have its fleet in the western Black Sea. The West is so desperate for victories that when Russia prudently pulls back, trading land or sea for safety, the West presents these as Ukrainian victories. In fact Ukraine is wasting limited resources and manpower feeding the Western fetish for attacking Crimea. These resources could have been better spent in more strategically crucial areas. In addition, since Russia understands the Western obsession with Sebastopol, they can prepare for attacks in that direction, negating any chance for Ukraine to capture an element of surprise
A Strategic Hail Mary
The article concludes with the author calling for the military equivalent of a desperate Hail Mary pass. For non-Americans, a Hail Mary pass is a desperate play that occurs in American football in the final seconds of the game (or half). The team facing defeat heaves the ball downfield, where there is only a miniscule chance of achieving success and turning defeat into victory. These plays do occasionally succeed in sports, and there is little to no risk in launching them since a defeat is a defeat and a failed Hail Mary pass doesn’t make the defeat any worse. In war, by continuing the fight and angering Russia, the terms of the defeat will only get worse the more Hail Mary attacks Ukraine launches. And there is no chance for any of these assaults to create a Ukrainian victory at this late stage.
Ukraine has the political will and creativity to launch a major campaign against Crimea, but it is up to the United States to ensure it succeeds. While the details should, of course, be left to Ukrainian military planners, a Crimea campaign would likely consist of three phases.
Ukraine has been attempting to do this for the past year. The more Ukraine tries the same offensive moves, the better Russia gets defending against them.
The first phase would be to isolate the peninsula. To that end, the West should prioritize arming Ukraine with the weapons that it needs to destroy, or at least incapacitate, the Kerch Bridge. Rendering the only direct connection between Russia and Crimea inoperable would put enormous pressure on Russia’s other route to Crimea, which runs through the so-called land bridge—the long stretch of occupied Ukraine along the Black Sea coast.
In the extremely unlikely event that Ukraine actually demolished the Kerch bridge, Russia could resupply Crimea by ship. After all, the Kerch Bridge only opened in late 2019 and Russia managed to supply Crimea before that. The bridge is primarily used for civilian traffic.
That means Washington should also assist Ukraine in targeting key transit nodes along that route, including the Henichesk, Syvash, and Chonhar bridges that connect occupied Crimea to Kherson Oblast. Ukraine needs to be able to put constant pressure on these targets and stay one step ahead of Russian engineering units.
Again, Russia is not reliant on ground transportation, Crimea has plenty of ports.
The second phase of a Crimea campaign involves making the peninsula’s naval and air bases unusable for Russian forces. This requires urgent and plentiful deliveries of ATACMS, including variants with a unitary warhead and 190-mile range. With pressure from Washington, Berlin can be persuaded to also supply the German-made Taurus, a powerful air-launched cruise missile with a range of about 300 miles.
Now we are entering fantasy land. Perhaps with nuclear missiles Ukraine could destroy each and every naval port and airbase in Crimea. With the puny conventional missiles the West is sending, and factoring in Russia’s effective air defense systems, this goal is unachievable.
So far, Ukraine has had some success striking Russian ships, air defense batteries, electronic warfare platforms, airfields, and headquarters in Crimea using repurposed Soviet-era S-200 air defense missiles, as well as British Storm Shadow and French SCALP-EG air-launched cruise missiles. The S-200s, however, are less precise than more modern systems, and the Storm Shadow and SCALP-EG cruise missiles, like the Taurus, must be air-launched, limiting their use so long as Ukraine does not control the skies.
The word “some” is doing a lot of work in the first sentence of this paragraph.
What’s more, Britain, France, and Germany only have small stocks of these weapons. This is why providing ATACMS—which exist in large numbers—is so important.
The US has been discussing providing Ukraine with ATACMS forever and has so far refused to do so. Pure speculation, but it may have something to do with the specter of Russia responding by providing powerful missile systems to Israel’s enemies in the Middle East.
The third phase of a Crimea campaign consists of striking key facilities inside the Russian Federation. Russian forces pushed out of Crimea must be denied safe haven on the other side of the border, where they would otherwise regroup to launch their next attack. The United States has restricted the use of U.S.-supplied weapons to targets in occupied Ukraine; instead, Washington should assist Kyiv in developing and manufacturing its own capabilities to strike Russian naval and air bases in Rostov Oblast, Krasnodar Krai, and other regions of Russia located across the sea from Crimea or bordering occupied Ukraine.
Ukraine has already launched minor successful attacks against Russian bases, ports, airfields, and headquarters in these nearby regions, including Novorossiysk, Tuapse, Temryuk, and Taganrog. These attacks should be supported and encouraged. Russia also continues the unfettered movement of Iranian military supplies and smaller Russian naval vessels from the Caspian Sea to the Sea of Azov through the Volga-Don Canal. This makes the canal fair game as a target.
Similarly, if claims that Russia is establishing a new naval base in Abkhazia, a Russian-occupied region of Georgia, are accurate, this facility would also be a legitimate target. Why should we require Ukraine not to hit the Russian military bases from which Ukraine is being relentlessly pummeled?
As discussed above, since Ukraine and Russia are at war, by right all of Russia is “fair game.” But just because Ukraine has a right to attack Russia does not necessarily mean it is smart for them to do so, or for the US to encourage them. Ukraine attacking Russia with Western weapons means that all of Israel, Europe, and the United States become “fair game” and where Russia / China can supply serious weaponry to the West’s enemies in the case of war.
U.S. policymakers should recognize that the shortest and most direct path to victory for Ukraine runs through Crimea. Ukraine must be armed, trained, and equipped with the campaign for the peninsula in mind. Just as Russia’s war on Ukraine began with the invasion of Crimea in 2014, so too will it only end when Ukraine eventually regains control there.
The author can only hint in this paragraph about a Ukrainian ground campaign in the Crimea because the idea of it is now beyond ridiculous. Even if the author’s three fantasy stages are completed, Ukrainian forces will still have to break through deep and powerful Russian defense lines guarding the approaches to Crimea. After a long offensive in 2023, Ukraine only advanced a few kilometres—but at a huge price in manpower and Western arms. And in recent days most of this territory has been recaptured by advancing Russian forces.
Recommending that Ukraine take “the shortest and most direct path” displays the author’s ignorance of military strategy. Israeli strategist Edward Luttwak, in his masterpiece Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace, describes the paradoxical logic that must be employed to win a war. Luttwak gives the example of an army choosing between two roads upon which to travel to reach their enemy. One road is well-paved, wide, relatively flat, short and direct. The other road is unpaved, rutted, circuitous, five times the distance, mountainous and dangerously steep. In peacetime the paved road would be the obvious choice. But as Luttwak explains, during wartime, logic reverses:
Only in the paradoxical realm of strategy would the choice arise at all, because it is only in war that a bad road can be good precisely because it is bad and may therefore be less strongly defended or even left unguarded by the enemy. Equally, the good road can be bad precisely because it is the much better road, whose use by the advancing force is more likely to be anticipated and opposed.
The soundness of Luttwak’s principles have been on full display this summer as Ukraine, under Western tutelage, has repeatedly taken the most direct, and therefore most militarily difficult road, to the Crimea. When strategists in the coming years study the reasons for Ukraine’s defeat, this bull-headed frontal attack to take the Crimea, which destroyed any chance of surprise, must rank as a primary cause.
This butch and hawkish article ends with a whimper, the author is not even able to exhort an eventual Ukrainian victory.
For Washington, a clear eye on the campaign for Crimea is an antidote to doom and gloom. By adjusting its strategy, the West can help Ukraine make crucial progress, weaken Russia in the Black Sea, and chart a path to ending this long and bloody war.
The best outcome the author can hope for is not victory, but to instead meekly hope for Ukraine to make “crucial progress.” The real goal of the article is to “weaken Russia in the Black Sea” but at the cost of many Ukrainian lives and worse armistice terms in the coming peace negotiations. Unfortunately for Western policy makers, the stark truth is that the most likely result of the Ukraine War is that the Black Sea will revert to being a Russian lake. The longer the war continues, the more secure Russian domination of the Black Sea will become.