US shows Putin a steep off-ramp…
Last week, defence expert James Sherr challenged Western governments to come up with a definition of success in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. They’ve moved away from “crisis management”, Sherr noted, and begun to supply heavy weapons, but had yet to come up with a strategic goal.
Yesterday, the USA came up with one. On his return from Kyiv Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin told reporters:
“We want to see Russia weakened to the degree it cannot do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” He added the aim was that “Ukraine remain a sovereign country, a democratic country, able to protect its sovereign territory.”
That is a major turning point in the conflict.
Up to now, as Sherr points out, the West has been concerned to offer Russia “off-ramps” from confrontation; it has promoted the idea of ceasefires and negotiations which, if successful, might have left Russian troops in place and — depending on how badly Ukraine was doing on the battlefield, forced it to accept disarmed neutrality.
Not any more. Sherr complains that the West lacks strategists. That can’t be said of Ausin, who is former commander of CENTCOM and a four star general. So his words in Poland have to be taken as a finely calibrated statement of strategic intent.
There is no talk of decapitation; nor of destabilising the Putin regime; or of direct military intervention against Russia. The German think tank SWP points out how simultaneously hegemonic, yet fragile, Putin’s rule has become during the crisis:
If its pinnacle is destabilised the power vertical faces acute danger of collapse. And if the Russian political system implodes a major destabilisation must be expected. Regional secessionism, violence, even civil war would not be excluded.
But pouring heavy weapons into Ukraine — and more importantly guaranteeing a steady flow of ammunition, both of Soviet calibre and of the more sophisticated (and long-term sustainable) Western alternatives — America is signalling to Russia that it cannot achieve its own objective.