View from Washington: Europe is facing defeat in Ukraine

12:17 25.03.2024 •

Paris: 2024 (L); 1940 (R)

Ukraine is rapidly reaching the point where the Ukrainian army, or the people, or both have to decide if staying in the war is in the country's national interest? -  writes Stephen Bryen, a former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense.

Europe is facing defeat in Ukraine but European policies are going sideways. Europe’s approach to the Ukraine issue seems to not reflect the growing reality on the ground. Growing efforts to punish Russia and promote sending troops to Ukraine appear counterproductive.

Macron is trying so hard to build a coalition to send NATO-country troops to Ukraine. At least so far, his counterparts are listening, but they are holding back. The lack of support for sending Euro-troops to Ukraine is not surprising.

From an operational perspective, it would not be easy to move NATO troops to Ukraine (beyond those already there). While they might be able to put some troops in western Ukraine, where there is no fighting, they know the Russians would use their long range missiles and air force to destroy them. The Europeans have little in the way of deployable air defenses, and if they transferred more of them to protect their troops inserted into Ukraine they would be naked at home. In fact, they already have drained their air defenses to an unprecedented degree supporting Ukraine.

Most armies in Europe are understaffed and underfunded. European land armies are tiny and inexperienced in combat. Fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq or in the Sahel is not the same as fighting a modern Russian army that is well equipped and experienced in large scale warfare.

It is noteworthy that all the western plans to defeat the Russians have failed. You need to look past the mutual recriminations and understand that "the plan" was a fantasy. If the Ukrainian offensive used a preponderance of western hardware, had exceptional tactical intelligence, thousands of drones, and endless ammunition, and still went belly-up, the future is grim. The leaked Pentagon report that showed casualties at 7 Ukrainians to every 1 Russian (or worse) was the handwriting on the wall.

The French understand the arithmetic, but Macron's "plan" is even worse than the one ginned up by the US Defense Department.

Macron hints at sending 20,000 French troops to Odesa. What would they do there? The Russians also are thinking about Odesa, and might be tempted by the idea of killing two birds with one stone. Dimitry Medvedev, now deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, and former Russian President, said on February 22nd: "We have longed for Odesa in the Russian Federation, because of the city’s history, the people who live there, and the language they speak. This is our Russian city.” French troops in Odesa would serve no military purpose other than to encourage the Russians to attack the city.

Today Europe is gripped with fear of Russia. That fear is not entirely misplaced. Marine Le Pen, who is parliamentary party leader of the National Rally in the French Assembly, in an interview on March 20th with BFM-TV (Paris) said that Russia is unlikely to attack Europe because it lacks a large enough army for the task. But her appreciation is not shared by those in power in France, Germany, Britain or Poland, no matter what brave words they tell their home audiences. They fear what will happen when Ukraine is defeated.

What is unusual is how Europe is responding to its growing fear. Instead of trying to find a way to head off a disaster in Ukraine, Europe is doubling down on trying to "punish" Russia, adding more sanctions and getting ready to take already seized Russian assets and hand them over to Kiev. The Europeans seem oblivious or even don't care how their actions will be viewed in Moscow.

Objectively there is not much Europe can really do to save Ukraine from defeat. A lot is being made of Ukraine's ammunition shortage, which is real, but little said that there isn't any ammunition to ship there. Ukraine's real problem is manpower. They have run out of people willing to serve, and morale in the Ukrainian army is starting to crack. These growing manifestations of collapse are bound to bring about political change in Kyiv.

The likely end of the Ukraine conflict will come when the Ukrainian army decides it can't keep fighting. Then the army will refuse orders from Kyiv, or it will seek to change the leaders in Kyiv. There already are examples of units refusing orders and even one platoon surrendering on the condition that these Ukrainian soldiers not be part of any exchange with Ukraine, since they know either they will go to prison or be used again on the front lines, meaning certain death.

Ukraine is rapidly reaching the point where the Ukrainian army, or the people, or both have to decide if staying in the war is in the country's national interest, or even if they can hope to survive if they keep fighting.

Europe's leaders on one level know where all this is headed in Ukraine, but they don't want to be honest either with their own people or themselves. So they are doubling down in support of a lost war, writes Stephen Bryen concludes.


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