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Geopolítica e Política

Lusa - Lusística - Mundial

Geopolítica e Política

Lusa - Lusística - Mundial

US-RU proxy war in Ukraine

Three articles by George Friedman in Geopolitical Futures

17.02.23 | Álvaro Aragão Athayde

Ukraine map.gif

Ukraine Maps



Ukraine Heading to Another Showdown

February 07, 2023 | original

I should say up front that I am not writing about Chinese balloons. Instead, I am writing about the situation in Ukraine, which is getting increasingly dangerous.

Until relatively recently, Russian assaults on Ukraine tended to be contained by the Ukrainian armed force – not universally but frequently enough to prevent Russia from keeping territory or achieving victory. But in the past month or so, Russia has begun to hold its ground. If that becomes the norm, then Ukraine is in serious trouble.

The United States has kept the front intact by introducing new weapons. The current weakness of the Ukrainian army is due to a lack of longer-range rockets that could strike the Russian rear, hitting reinforcements and supplies moving to the front. Without these elements, Russia can’t maintain its position.

The problem is that the range of the new munitions is so great that they can reach Russian territory. The U.S. has made it clear it has no intention of striking Russian soil. In fact, Washington has ordered Ukraine not to use the munitions at their fullest range, and there are rumors that the Americans modified the missiles to ensure they don’t. But Ukraine is fighting an existential war, and its willingness to use anything less than full power is inevitably questionable.

So far, Russia has not been struck, nor has Poland, where supplies and U.S. troops are based. The tacit agreement not to hit either has prevented the war from becoming a direct conflict between the U.S. and Russia. If either side deliberately attacked Russia or Poland, all bets would be off.

With the delivery of new missiles, a new danger thus emerges, not least of which is that Russia could choose to bring the war to even greater heights by forcing escalation. In which case nothing can be ruled out – not even Russian false flag operations. This isn’t merely an analysis of paranoia. Moscow has characterized the conflict as a long war against the West, and if that is indeed how it sees things, then forcing escalation at a time and place of its choosing might be rational. Doing so would demonize the U.S. military and give Russia a freer hand in attacking, say, U.S. positions in Poland. The U.S. has been waging a proxy war without experiencing losses. The fact that body bags are not arriving at Dover Air Force Base has given Washington a great deal of room for maneuver. If the U.S. started taking casualties, and the Russians could demonstrate that the war was based on a first strike by the Americans, the ability of the U.S. to wage war might be limited.

Far-fetched as that may seem, the central issue right now is stabilizing Ukraine’s position by attacking Russian assets in theater without spilling over into Russian territory. If that can be done in absolute terms, it would be hard for Russia to overcome, and it would keep the U.S. out of direct combat by avoiding U.S. domestic political considerations, which have destabilized the U.S. military in a number of wars. But the execution must be flawless, and Russia would have to decline to essentially attack itself.

All wars are complex, and all wars have political dimensions. The U.S. is going to supply long-range rockets, which makes perfect sense in the cold logic of war. But in the event of some failures in controlling the weapons, it could create the unexpected, which is never welcomed in war.



Searching for a Defining Moment in Ukraine

February 10, 2023 | original

The war in Ukraine has not yet had a defining moment – that is, a watershed event giving one side or the other so much momentum that it can’t be overcome. World War II had Stalingrad, the Vietnam War had the Tet Offensive, the American Civil War had Gettysburg. It is a moment that can reverse the flow of battle or strengthen the existing flow. It can be psychological, martial, political, economic or anything else, but in any case it is the point at which doubt is squeezed from war. Some wars are so one-sided that there is no doubt from the beginning.

The war in Ukraine began with the certainty that Russia would win. Roughly a year later, Russia is still looking for a defining moment. Its solution: a large pincer movement. The northern pincer would move west and south from Chernihiv toward Zhytomyr. The southern pincer would jump off from Kherson and Melitopol toward the northeast, bypassing Odesa and moving toward Vinnytsia. The pincer would, in theory, close between Vinnytsia and Zhytomyr. The advantage of the pincer is that the two movements constitute a concentrated force that can change its angles of attack if needed. The defenders would be dispersed among multiple avenues of attack and would have to be countered in unexpected places as the pincer closes off supply lines. The inside of such a movement is called the cauldron for a reason.

Russin Troops Continue to Close in on Ukraine.gif

The danger of this maneuver is that the outer flanks are vulnerable. If done properly, it will compel a redeployment of forces to protect against strikes and thus disperse the focused energy of the attack. If the pincer is effective early on, the defenders inside the cauldron will have to defend themselves on every side.

To make this work, Russia needs a large mobile force to compose the pincers, as well as a force on the perimeter to deflect counterattacks. Russia may or may not have the numbers to execute such a complex operation, and it’s clear from past operations that it may not have the command structure. But if it succeeds, it would isolate the bulk of the Ukrainian force as well as much of Ukraine. It would also put Russian forces near Poland and Romania, and though they would be unable to attack, they would pose a serious and immediate political threat.

Obviously, I have no idea if Moscow is thinking about this in such terms, able to execute the plan, or even prepared for what happens if the pincer fails. Still, when we look at the forces that are deployed, they are divided in the main area of combat, which only makes sense if the purpose is to create a deadly pincer.

The counter to this attack is to disperse Ukrainian forces in large, agile formations to hit the relatively thin pincers with enough strength to disrupt their movement while using massive airstrikes against mobile and unpredictable enemies. As in all wars, the quality of command and the morale of the soldiers will be known only later, but it should be known to the commanders, who can remedy the weakness or plan around it. And, importantly, Russia can always abort the attack. Ukraine cannot.

If there is such an attack, it will be determined by the roads. The Russians must be able to use passable roads and cross rivers, which means using bridging equipment. Will this happen? It seems to me it is already happening. The two pincers are in place, and the Russians are dividing their forces. This suggests we are moving to a defining moment. It’s just not clear who will be celebrating.



What Happens If Ukraine Falls?

February 17, 2023 | original

I recently wrote about Russian preparations for a major offensive in Ukraine (Searching for a Defining Moment in Ukraine): a pincer movement that would close Ukrainian forces in from the north and the south. There is now general discussion of such a move by Russia in the next months, albeit configured in many different ways, most different from mine. Still, the important issue is whether Ukraine can defeat such an attack. Over the past year, Ukraine has fared much better than expected, and Russia much worse. But major powers have the luxury of early stumbling, their size giving them the resources needed to recover from early defeats. The successes of weaker powers sometimes die on the vine. And though Russia could, in theory, hold on and send Ukraine reeling through sheer stamina, doing so would be a move of last resort. Such is the uncertainty of war.

Belarus seems to be thinking of entering the war, and though its utility is limited, its knowledge of the balance of power in Ukraine could be beneficial to Moscow. Russian aircraft – and intelligence operatives, I suspect – are now operating in Moldova, and Romania, its neighbor and occasional protector, is on alert. Anxieties are high. France and other European countries have ordered their nationals to leave Belarus, and the U.S. has warned its citizens to leave Russia.

If the Ukrainians can no longer resist effectively, and if the flanks represented by Belarus and Moldova are opening a path to Poland and Romania, what will the United States do? Europe will follow Washington’s lead, for better or worse. The worst-case scenario, of course, would be the war that was avoided during the Cold War. That war never happened because Russia did not have the power to engage and defeat NATO and its U.S. benefactors. The Russians were not prepared to attack given the risk of failure and the riskier, albeit unlikely, possibility of a nuclear exchange.

Still, the U.S. must consider the risks of intervention. If Russia occupies Ukraine, it would effectively border Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. It’s no secret that President Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB operative, considers the collapse of the Soviet Union a geopolitical catastrophe, which means he may well see the collapse of Russian power in Central Europe equally lamentable. A return to the borders of the Cold War after defeating Ukraine would go far in redeeming Russia’s geopolitical position. And it would raise the question of whether and when Russia would press farther west. It would put Europe in a position it never conceived it would be in: living with a hostile and powerful enemy at its border, and a not-always-predictable America guaranteeing its frontiers.

Now, as always, Russian occupation of Europe would threaten U.S. control of the Atlantic – something for which Washington fought two world wars. Under those circumstances, it would more easily justify direct American intervention. After all, it would be able to maneuver more easily in Ukraine, and it would have a network of allies near and needy.

If Ukraine’s defenses crumble, the U.S. would have to make some rapid decisions (or rapidly implement decisions already made). It could send forces into Ukraine to try to force a Russian retreat, or it could decline combat. Directly engaging Russian troops with limited force can be a long, painful and uncertain engagement. But accepting the outcome opens the door for Russia to rearrange Europe again. A second cold war would be a necessary but undesired outcome. Reinforcing Ukraine before its collapse would therefore be the lower risk and cost option.

If Ukraine falls, the U.S. will be forced to engage Russia. Fighting directly in Ukraine will be a choice, which means doing so will be politically painful. Presidents are rarely rewarded for avoiding a threat that has not yet materialized, even if it’s inevitable.

I am not predicting the imminent fall of Ukraine, of course. I’m simply gaming out all the options if it does fall. Prudence – and the coming Russian offensive – demands it.










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