WP: In Ukraine, the risk isn’t stalemate. It’s defeat

An unspoken, unspeakable potential endgame in the Russia-Ukraine war is suddenly being uttered out loud: Kyiv is at risk of losing.

An unspoken, unspeakable potential endgame in the Russia-Ukraine war is suddenly being uttered out loud: Kyiv is at risk of losing — and suffering unimaginable carnage and consequences, stresses ‘The Washington Post’.

The fact that Ukraine’s fate is hanging in the balance arises not from its inability to recapture territory from entrenched Russian forces, nor from the related fact of the Biden administration’s foot-dragging in providing the Ukrainian military with the weapons it needed, nor even from Russia’s advantage in sheer mass and resources.

Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, told a Washington forum last week that the “big risk” is that Kyiv’s troops could “lose this war.” That message should jolt policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic. The danger, as Ukraine’s top general warned publicly last month, isn’t simply stalemate. It is that Ukrainian forces, running low on equipment, might be compelled to fall back, shorten their defensive lines and abandon territory.

It’s essential to think about what Ukraine’s defeat means, because it would be as much a strategic disaster for the United States and its NATO allies as a tableau of terror for Ukraine.

A complete Ukrainian military collapse is unlikely, at least in coming months. Kyiv’s armed forces remain well-led and motivated, and they are husbanding equipment to prepare for shortfalls. But it is equally unlikely to expect a negotiated cease-fire with Russia that would maintain existing battle lines. To believe in that seemingly anodyne outcome is to misjudge Putin — again.

The Institute for the Study of War, a think tank, wrote in an assessment this week that “Russia does not intend to engage in serious negotiations with Ukraine and… negotiations on Russia’s terms are tantamount to full Ukrainian and Western surrender.”

In fact, Putin’s main advantage is strategic patience — the capacity to wait out what he is confident is finite Western political will and resources to sustain Ukraine, buttressed by his indifference to Russia’s staggering casualties. In the end, he believes, Ukraine will be forced to capitulate.

If he is right, the timetable of that ending would be accelerated if Congress and the E.U. fail to approve fresh support. That would leave Ukraine’s government unable to maintain basic services, and its military increasingly short of artillery ammunition, air defense capability and other equipment. Ukraine’s already badly battered front-line forces would become more brittle.

That grim scenario would be a staggering blow to Western prestige and credibility, revealing that pledges to back Ukraine for “as long as it takes” were empty.

A failure on that scale — let alone actual defeat in Ukraine — would have much more lasting repercussions than Kyiv’s inability to break through Russian battle lines. It could raise the curtain on a new era of aggression by authoritarian states, unchecked by the world’s diminished democracies.

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