Russian – Ukrainian War: Is there a way out?

More than two years since the Russian military attack on Ukraine, ten years since the “Maidan” revolution, the annexation of Crimea, a conflagration of the US, NATO, and EU against Russia and China, and some countries just waiting to become the “laughing third party,” it...

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Russian-Ukrainian war

More than two years since the Russian military attack on Ukraine, ten years since the “Maidan” revolution, the annexation of Crimea, a conflagration of the US, NATO, and EU against Russia and China, and some countries just waiting to become the “laughing third party,” it seems to be time for both sides to cut their losses and come to a settlement instead of prolonging a conflict by appealing to moralistically overloaded values. Even a peace agreement favorable to Russia would come for her at a very high price; even a peace agreement favorable to Ukraine would come for her at a very high price.

The military situation at present

Russian operations in 2022 aiming at a quick overrun of Ukraine, especially attacks against Kiev and Kharkov, had been defeated. Some larger areas in the South were occupied and a stable land bridge to Crimea established. In 2023, the Ukrainian counter-offensive failed. Since autumn of 2023, Russia is on the offensive, obviously trying to put the Ukrainian army through the meat-grinder. In 2024, a decisive breakthrough seems to be possible but depends on a strategic decision by the supreme political leadership.

The grand picture of a classic conventional war between equal and more or less (or presumed) similar forces – something which did not really happen since 1973 or 1991 – has completely changed. The artillery is again the “Queen of the battlefield” (far longer reach, intensified density of fire, much larger firepower, very quick in movement, identifying valuable aims and calculating fire orders for the guns). The artillery has always been the favorite weapon and branch of the army both for the Czars and the Soviet leaders. Drones, cruise missiles, supersonic rockets, and all kinds of electronic warfare and intelligence & surveillance are also prominent. After starting weak – not surprising if you look at the history of Russian wars – the Russian army has learned and picked up, as has the Ukrainian army, but the latter now has the disadvantage of depleting its human resources. The question arises which Western army has now the same or similar war experience as the Russian army? An old saying goes: One day in real war teaches more than one year of exercises in peace. NATO seems to have depleted its arsenals by delivering weapons, ammunition, and other military material. The question at present is: Is NATO able to turn within a reasonable time its member states into effective war economies, fill up its military arsenals, and turn its armies into effective fighting machines?

Compared with the last war – 1991 2nd Gulf War, where Warsaw Pact military machinery fought against NATO military machinery and the former proved definitely inferior – admittedly, the Iraqi army was far from being up to scratch, but even so – the weapon and military systems employed by Russia appear fine and not really inferior to Western systems. The loudly lauded Abrams and Leopard II tanks did not really make an impression on the battlefield.

The political set-up

NATO (minus Turkey) plus NATO-friendly neutral states in Europe, plus Australia, NZ, Taiwan, maybe Japan, and South Korea form a community; on the other side, Russia is assisted by China and other BRICS states. BRICS extended its membership in 2023. A lot of non-aligned states in South and Middle America, Africa, and the Arab world, and Eastern Asia are definitely not interested in taking sides. The phrase “The world against Russia” is an illusion.

A short view on the sanctions, of which around 19,000 may exist

The multitude of economic sanctions failed and did not really damage the Russian economy but was detrimental to Western states, especially Germany. The history of sanctions since the establishment of systems of collective security should have taught that. Russia has built up an effective “war economy” without negative consequences to the civil sector.

A view on the war economy

If we define this term as an economy which is able to produce the goods needed for concrete warfare (weapons, ammunition, transport, soldiers’ equipment, 3CI devices, petrol and related stuff, medical equipment, and food) both in quality and quantity according to the strategic evaluation done by the general staff and supreme political authority, replace losses, and build up stock, Russia seems to be very far advanced. France has switched to this state but whether their capacities are meaningful within the wide frame of this conflict must be investigated. The other states of NATO and especially the US deliver mainly from stock, meaning they live at present from the substance.

What about fighting morale?

Patriotism in Russia remains unshaken. Fighting spirit in NATO states surely – after decades of peaceful living and dishonoring military values – is low. Talks of making yourself “fit for war” remain propaganda. A large gap seems to exist between “published” opinion and public opinion (of common citizens).

A view on the special German-Russian relationship

“The wire to St Petersburg shall never snap” was Otto von Bismarck’s policy. From the entente between Prussia and Russia, Bismarck’s special relationship to Czar Alexander II., the non-renewal of the “re-assurance” treaty, confrontation and conflagration afterwards, WW1, the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk, and the Rapallo agreement of 1922 (Walter Rathenau) after WW1, the prominent role of “Baltendeutsche” and German farmers settled in Russia in the 18th and 19th centuries (“Wolgadeutsche” and settlers north of Crimea), partly in politics and economics (see Klaus Mehnert, for example, a prominent German journalist and “Russia-watcher” from the 1920s to the 1970s and one of the very few in Germany and the Western world who “understood” Russia and the Russians), the secret cooperation of the Reichswehr under Hans von Seeckt with the Red Army in the 1920s, subversive Bolshevist policies and support of the Communist party in the Weimar Republic, ideological confrontation between National Socialism and Communism, the Hitler-Stalin pact, the attack on the Soviet Union on the 22nd of June 1941, the gigantic military battles, the occupation policies both stupid and brutal, great German victories, and horrible Red Army defeats until 1942, and then the victory gained with tremendous losses.

Total victory, occupation of East Germany, and annexation of parts of East Prussia and the founding of a “German Socialist state” as a puppet state followed. The wavering of West Germany between Atlantic orientation and accommodation with the East (Konrad Adenauer’s strict western orientation versus Willy Brandt’s “Ostpolitik”) led to the “East treaties” of 1972, which made the Soviet leadership under Leonid Brezhnev euphoric about the possibility of using the German economic potential and having a political détente relationship with Germany being a bit less “Atlantic.”

The breakdown of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact, the unification of West and East Germany, and the close economic cooperation under Gerhard Schroeder and Angela Merkel show the wide swing of German-Russian relationships, cooperation, collaboration, conflagration, and intense conflict and war. “The German invented the monkey,” as a Russian proverb goes, expresses the deep respect for German culture, effectiveness, military, and economic prowess, which dominates Russian thinking about the Germans but is combined with a deep-seated fear; a firm relationship with Germany seems to be a guiding principle of Russian geopolitical thinking.

On the other side, since Putin became president, a certain kind of “published” (not public) opinion in Germany took a militant “Anti-Putin” course. You may ask yourself what sense this attitude makes—and for many years, it was not more than an attitude. Sympathetic or not, his policies agreeable or not, a head of state of a great power in your own vicinity is a reality that must be judged and treated in a calm and rational way. That does not mean being ready to give in; just be ready to judge and act rationally and without ideological or moralistic blinders.

The present German government had obviously decided that it does not need a wire to St Petersburg. The visible sign of that is not only the verbal bellicose and overall inimical policies—being at the forefront of sanctions, condemnation, weapon deliveries, and so on after the Russian military attack, which is on one side a military aggression but on the other side was in the beginning a limited military operation—but also the acceptance that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline was destroyed by a violent act.

Some may think about the energy policy—depending on Russia for gas deliveries—what you may, but with this demolition, billions of investments and, of course, the provision of gas energy had been destroyed definitely. That makes the wire to St Petersburg snap and can definitely not be in the German interest. Cui bono? It cannot be in the interest of Russia and Germany.

The next question is: who has the military capacity to do such an operation, which needs special forces trained in sea diving and precise demolition knowledge? Not all NATO armies might have that capacity. A further question: who is strong enough to dare that action? A small NATO state would not dare such an action as—before the action—a strong reaction from Russia and Germany could not have been ruled out. And a next question about the necessary hegemonic backing? The US must have approved but might have preferred to have the ‘work’ done by others. Ukraine might not like to touch pipelines as it also does not touch Russian pipelines going through its own territory. It is not the task of this paper to speculate, but the author has an opinion.

The question of political stability

The results of the elections to the EP remain unsure; so-called ‘right-wing’ or ‘patriotic’ parties skeptical to the general policies of the EU may win significantly. In the US, a not-really-far-away-from-civil-war-or-serious-civil-political-unrest situation in line with the Biden-Trump confrontation – it is more than an election, a serious confrontation – exists, which may block rational and serious political decisions, especially in the field of foreign or military policy, or lead to irrational ones. The wild card in the presidential elections – but let us not forget the elections to the House of Representatives and the Senate – seems to be more and more Robert F. Kennedy Jr. A further question: will the ‘loser’ of the presidential elections accept the outcome? What about the following scenario? Donald Trump wins the majority of the electoral vote but with only around 40% of the popular vote as the Democratic party followers split their votes between Joseph Biden and RFK. (A similar situation happened in 1992 as William Clinton won with about 43% of the popular vote as the conservative vote split between George Bush Sr. and Ross Perot). Then the result was accepted, but today?

What about the onlookers?

Besides China and India, the threat of Muslim terrorist organizations outside the EU and the USA and of maybe well-established terror and subversive cells, including vast numbers of illegal immigrants but also already well-established Muslim communities (“pressure groups”) inside the EU and the USA may not be underestimated. The subversive actions – misleadingly called “student protests” – around the Gaza war show a large potential for dangerous and civil order-undermining protest actions. This potential might be used by Russian or Chinese secret services (including SPETSNAZ-like units).

The realm of propaganda

“You should never fall so low in politics as to believe your own propaganda.” Maybe Putin believed in February 2022 that a ‘limited military strike’ might suffice, but the Russian political and military leadership does not seem to have any illusions now. Especially as in the field of international relations to important powers, things run smoothly, although the dependency on Chinese support must be of high concern for Russia as the “Siberian chamber of treasures” surely is eyed by China; this way or that way. In the Western states, a “policy of illusions” – seeing things as you like to not as they are – seems to dominate, especially in Germany.

Very recent events

The recent attack on Kharkov seems to have been a surprise both for Ukraine and NATO. A single source reported that Russia has assembled about 500,000 soldiers which corresponds to the mobilization of about this number last year. But this seems to be a classical “0” error and the numbers estimated are around 50,000. But also, an armed force of this size you cannot hide behind a garden hedge and the question remains why Western and Ukrainian reconnaissance, intelligence, and surveillance did not or only in a limited way detect this amassing. At present, Ukraine can only respond by “open a hole, close a hole,” meaning taking troops not from a strategic reserve but from other parts of the front. This resembles the strategic situation of Army Group South from August 1943 on.

As Emmanuel Macron spoke of the possibility of sending NATO ground forces, meaning combat troops (not only advisers and trainers working in the hinterland), as France switched to a war economy, the sudden turmoil in New Caledonia, which forces France to send troops into this faraway island group (East of Australia, North of NZ), cannot be judged as a haphazard event.

The March of Folly” (Barbara Tuchman)

When judging hierarchical organizations, and every one must be, in politics or in economics since about 20 years, we observe a trend of decreasing civil courage on the lower levels of management and an increase in wishful thinking on the top level. The tendency to hear and see only what the leaders like to see and hear is evident. That results in appropriate attitude and reporting (“yes-men”) and a management by and of illusions on the top. That also results in a strong lowering of quality both in character and expertise on all levels; meaning he whose reports cause no trouble and who does not appear showy or garish is advancing. In addition, today more than ever in the past, the quip by Gerd Bacher (in the 1960s and 70s head of the Austrian TV and radio): “we are over-newsfed but under-informed” is true without ifs and buts.

That makes a rational, solid, balanced analysis and evaluation of a situation even more difficult. Information trash distributed by the loudest with minimal knowledge dominates. The first principle in cybernetics (system steering; the word derives from the Old Greek word for helmsman) is that the degree of order within a given system depends on the degree of information within this given system. Information is then defined for the receiver of the information as an increase of knowledge, useful in time, place, and matter. (For example, if one receives an invitation after the event it is useless, or if the venue is given wrongly or the matter of no interest to the receiver).

If now lower levels of management report only what the top level wants to read or hear, disorder must increase and failure of projects, plans, and maybe even the whole information system becomes more and more probable. An example is the design and plan of the military attack in February 2022. Obviously, Vladimir Putin wanted a “limited operation,” the Russian military command and general staff underestimated the progress in quality achieved by the Ukrainian armored forces since 2014 and reported and planned following the anticipated will of the leader. The result is evident. Now it seems that gross miscalculations and wishful thinking are more and more dominating “western” leadership. At the moment, Russia seems to know what she wants (and how to achieve it) and the “West” does not seem to know.

An outlook

At present, the alignment, even a bloc, between Russia and China seems to be a firm fact. But the big difference between the economic power and the population numbers between these two states should not be forgotten. At present, firm support of Russia serves Chinese interests but a price has to be paid as always. The Russian political leadership cannot feel comfortable as in the long run China certainly eyes the “Siberian treasure chamber,” and Russia might look for an option to escape a too-intense alignment with China and restore constructive relationships with the “West.” “Never close a door totally” was always a principle of Vatican diplomacy – which through the centuries was surely experienced – and that aspect might open a way to a resolution of the present conflict. The wisdom of Carl Schmitt’s concept of an International order of great spheres with a ban on intervention for powers alien to this sphere has never been clearer.

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