Cracks Appear in the Western Alliance As Fatigue Sets In
US credibility falls
The western narrative, accompanied by media censorship that had no precedent even during the high noon of the Cold War, obliterating or blocking contrarian reports and accompanied by a relentless information war, created an overpowering impression from the outset of the Ukraine conflict that Russia was doomed to fail in its special military operations.
Speculation was rife that there would be, inevitably, a regime change in Russia as popular disaffection cascaded to explosive extents against the leadership over the country's entanglement in a deleterious war that destroyed people's lives and ruined the economy.
Cracks have appeared in the western alliance as fatigue is setting in. European economies are entering recession, thanks to the blowback from curbs against Russia.
This narrative was as much delusional as ensuing from a colossal failure of intelligence in the West as regards the Russian military strategy and political intentions. By March, when the Russian forces withdrew from Kiev and the northern regions in an intriguing manoeuvring, US President Joe Biden went on a victory lap in Poland and, within hearsay of the Kremlin, proclaimed the downfall of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
However, in reality, the conflict had only reached a tipping point, but in a different way. That Russia could not afford to lose the war or that its infinite capacity for the long war history testifies to was never in doubt. This is an existential confrontation for Russia, whereas, for the US and NATO, this is the endgame of a military plot that was planned and executed since 2014 to weaken Russia, as the alliance's secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg recently admitted candidly — or, likely blurted out. A country can survive geopolitical setbacks and still rise, as Russian Federation has done. But a defeat at the hands of Napoleon or Hitler would have meant a different course of history for Russia. This is the crux of the matter in the Ukraine conflict, from a historical perspective.
The triumphalism in the western narrative clouded rational thinking. In reality, the rational choice for the US was to end the conflict, when the delegations of Ukraine and Russia met in Istanbul and thrashed out an agreement (actually initialled), which met Moscow's expectations at that point in time — stipulating at its core Ukraine's demilitarisation and neutral status and recognising the two breakaway Donbass republics at the prevailing administrative boundaries and recognising Crimea as an integral part of Russia.
It would have been a settlement Washington could live with, but instead, inebriated by the heady thoughts of meting out a crushing defeat to Russia and forcing a regime change in the Kremlin, the Biden administration reined in the puppet regime in Kiev and scuttled the Istanbul pact.
The conflict thereupon moved to the next stage, which led to the Russian victory in Mariupol and control over the Sea of Azov; and, the launch of the offensive to push back the Ukrainian forces all the way back to the administrative boundaries of the Donbass, as they had existed prior to the coup in Kiev in 2014.
With the latest victories in Severodonetsk-Lysychansk agglomeration and the imminent attack on Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, the last defensive line of Ukrainian forces in the entire region in the weeks ahead, a new tipping point is shaping up. The conflict is threatening to dent the credibility of the Biden administration and the standing of NATO. Logically, Washington should seize this tipping point and call it a day. But it is highly unlikely to do that.
The Biden administration fears that the emergent situation would expose the limits to US power before the world audience and a resurgent Russian would double down on the geopolitical plane, and the tide in favour of a multipolar world will become irreversible — and, with that the inexorable rise of China as the number one superpower. Second, cracks have appeared in the western alliance as war fatigue is setting in and European economies are entering recession, thanks to the blowback from sanctions against Russia, whilst, on the other hand, Russia is settling down to a 'new normal'. This would have serious future implications for the US' trans-Atlantic leadership and impact European politics.
Third, there is high risk that the ground beneath the Anglo-American feet in Ukraine would dramatically shift in the event of a settlement at this juncture — for, in addition to the terms of the defunct Istanbul pact, Russia is now sure to demand not only the recognition of the 2014 administrative boundaries of Donbass but also an unassailable land corridor linking Crimea to the Russian hinterland through the integration of a broad swathe to the north of Crimea, including Kherson and possibly Zoporozhia. Russia would also demand repeal of western sanctions.
Obviously, the regime in Kiev would collapse if it were to accept such terms of surrender. On the other hand, the entire agenda behind the CIA coup in 2014 in Ukraine would also unravel. For Biden, who was intimately associated with the 2014 coup as President Obama's hatchet man in the cesspool of Ukrainian politics, this would cause great distress politically and even scotch his re-election bid in 2024, if the demons from the attic walk up the stairs, especially his son's multimillion dollar business with bio-labs in Ukraine.
Biden is inclined to let pass the incoming tipping point too, and carry on with the present trajectory. This is also what the various interest groups and war profiteers in the US and within the Ukrainian regime will expect. To be sure, a gravy train is running when an advanced western artillery system costing millions is offered in Ukraine's black market for $1,20,000! The world community may have to await the next tipping point, sometime in autumn.
Ambassador M.K.Bhadrakumar is retired from the Indian Foreign Service.