In his latest Wall Street Journal column Walter Russell Mead is flailing around, seeking a plan to secure victory for Ukraine in its war against Russian aggression:
Having failed to deter Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine in the first place, the Biden administration badly overestimated the effect of Western sanctions on Russia. Once it was clear that sanctions wouldn’t force Russia to end the war, and after several failed efforts to tempt Russia with “off ramps,” Team Biden cooked up Plan Stalemate. The West would dribble out enough aid to help Ukraine survive, but not enough to help it win. Ultimately, the Ukrainians would lose hope of victory and offer Mr. Putin a compromise peace. The White House would spin this as a glorious triumph for democracy and the rule of law.
Some will criticize this as a cynical strategy, but the real problem is that it is naive. Mr. Biden seems to be clinging to the idea that Mr. Putin can be appeased—parked, if you prefer—by reasonable concessions. And so, the White House thinks, if Ukraine offers reasonable terms, Russia will gladly accept them.
Here’s the kernel of the piece:
But what if, when Mr. Putin senses weakness, he doubles down? What if a few thousand square miles of Ukrainian territory matter less to him than inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Biden administration and demonstrating the weakness of the West?
Mr. Putin has recovered from his early stumbles in Ukraine. Russia has more than doubled its forces there since the war began. Despite early setbacks, Russia has developed capabilities and tactics that have improved its troops’ effectiveness on the battlefield. The unconventional (if morally repugnant) decision to send released prisoners to fight in such places as Bakhmut and Avdiivka means that Russia was able to degrade some of Ukraine’s best combat units while preserving its own best units for battle elsewhere.
Russia has increased weapons production and is now manufacturing ammunition an estimated seven times faster than the West. It has mitigated the effect of Western sanctions. It is strengthening military and strategic links with Iran, and thanks to Iranian protégé Hamas, Western attention has shifted from Ukraine toward the Middle East.
We have more than one problem in ensuring a victory for Ukraine. The first is that we are unable to produce munitions as fast as Ukraine needs it. Here’s an illustration of why that might be:
The short version is that U. S. industrial production has been flat for the last 25 years. Given the time, investment, and commitment we could reserve that. It won’t happen overnight. A question for the interested student: can we dramatically increase industrial production and “go green” simultaneously?
The second problem is that Europe can’t supply Ukraine fast enough, either. From the editors of the Wall Street Journal:
Ukraine fires some 6,000 to 8,000 shells a day. Its soldiers need large quantities of the 155mm artillery shells that are a NATO standard and can be used in howitzers from the U.S., France, Poland, Germany and Slovakia. Yet foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell said on Nov. 14 that the EU had reached only “30% of the overall objective” for ammo deliveries.
As of mid-November the EU had provided Ukraine with some 300,000 rounds of ammunition, but that supply came from existing stocks, according to a recent brief by the European Parliamentary Research Service. The European Defense Agency has also signed at least eight contracts with defense firms to procure an additional 180,000 155mm rounds, but these haven’t yet been delivered.
Regardless of political will, Europe’s ammunition promise is “unlikely to be fulfilled” because of the “lamentable state of the defense industry,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said this month, according to the newspaper Ukrainska Pravda. European military spending declined sharply after the Cold War. Rebuilding capacity will require investment in new facilities, machines, and worker recruitment and training.
The third matter is even more grim. Our efforts to date have not brought Russia to its knees. If anything Russia is stronger than it was a year ago. That sounds like we’re going in the wrong direction to me.
Ukraine’s definition of victory, repeated frequently, is a return to the pre-2014 borders and security assurances against future Russian attacks. Is there any level of effort on our or the EU’s part that will produce that? I don’t believe so. IMO control of Crimea is a vital national interest for Russia which they won’t abandon as long as they are able.