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The "West" and its war aims in Ukraine
by editors of Sozialismus.de
The Western-oriented countries want to help Ukraine, but not all of them have the same goal in mind. Whereas shortly after the invasion the focus was on defense, since Ramstein the U.S. has been talking about Kiev's need to win the war. This shift in emphasis raises a number of consequential questions for military and civilian assistance & the duration of sanctions.
The "West" and its war aims in Ukraine
by the editors of Socialismus.de

The New York Times admonishes the U.S. government
[This article published on May 21. 2022 is translated from the German on the Internet, Der »Westen« und seine Kriegsziele in der Ukraine.]

At Ramstein Air Base in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, 40 countries of the "West" had discussed the current situation in Ukraine at the end of April at the invitation of U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. Among the countries involved were non-NATO states. One goal of the negotiations, he said, was the lasting security and sovereignty of Ukraine.

A concretization of these objectives was omitted. Lloyd Austin emphasized at the end of the meeting that all participants had agreed to do more in the future than they had done so far to help Ukraine in the fight against Russia. At all costs, however, the allies should avoid becoming a party to the war. According to Austin, the world stands united against the government in Moscow. Ukraine is convinced that it can win this war.

The Western-oriented countries want to help Ukraine, but not all of them have the same goal in mind. Whereas shortly after the invasion the focus was on defense, since Ramstein the U.S. has been talking about Kiev's need to win the war. This shift in emphasis raises a number of consequential questions for military and civilian assistance and the duration of sanctions.

Whereas at the beginning of the Russian invasion Ukraine was expected to hold out against Russian aggressors primarily for a few days, then a few weeks, the war's objectives have now changed. "It is now mainly the narrative of the Americans that the Russians must lose and be driven out of Ukraine," says Stefan Meister, a Russia expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP).

The U.S.-initiated meeting of defense ministers from the supporting states in Ramstein had served primarily to provide Ukraine with medium-term support and weapons for the fight. In fact, however, the U.S. defense secretary had stated there a goal that goes far beyond Ukraine: "We want to see Russia weakened to a degree that makes it impossible for it to do what it did in Ukraine with the invasion."

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock also emphasized the broader objective of economic warfare: "Through the sanctions, we ensure that further military action in other regions is not possible by Russian force alone in the next few years." The question is how long the sanctions would actually have to remain in place for this to happen, given Russia's current record revenues from oil and gas sales, given such a goal. On Ukraine itself, Baerbock said that all Russian soldiers would have to leave the country - including those on the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed in 2014. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for instance, sticks to a much more cautious formulation. "Putin must not win this criminal war of aggression against Ukraine - and he will not win this war."

Civilian aid, for which $6.5 billion was collected at the Ukraine donor conference, according to Poland, also ultimately depends on what Western countries want to achieve. After all, humanitarian aid and financial injections to avoid Ukrainian state bankruptcy must be provided quickly. But traditional reconstruction aid will only make sense once Russia stops shooting up Ukrainian homes or infrastructure assets. "And no one knows when it will ever be possible to get out of sanctions, for example, if they are tied to the withdrawal of all Russian soldiers," the German government says.

Political scientist Herfried Münkler rightly points to the subtle differences in war aims: "The ideas about a peace agreement are far apart in the West. The absolute minimum condition is certainly the continued existence of Ukraine as a sovereign state, but possibly reduced to the area west of the Dnipro. Germany and France consider a Ukraine within the borders of February 23 (i.e., without Crimea and separatist areas) a victory. The British want to restore the Ukraine of 2013, i.e., with Crimea and Donbass. Finally, the Americans have their own view. They say: Putin got in our way again [...] This should never happen again. So we are organizing a war of attrition against the Russians, which will deplete their military potential. Because in wars of attrition, the depth of logistics and the ability to mobilize fighters are crucial. The Europeans are now signaling to the Russians that with a negotiated peace they can avoid being bled dry by the Americans with the help of the Ukrainians. So the West is playing with different options."[1]

The New York Times has now weighed in on this debate over the war aims of Western countries[2]. A commentary on its editorial board[3] asks about America's war aims and warns against an expansion of the war. The newspaper called on U.S. President Joe Biden to show Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj the limits of Western support.

It cannot be in America's interest to be drawn into a protracted and costly war with Russia, it said. It is not in America's interest to get into an all-out war with Russia, he said, even though a negotiated peace might require Ukraine to make some tough decisions. Western states have so far stressed that they do not want to become a party to the war in any case, but have left open whether and to what extent they want to be involved in a war of attrition

The conflict between Ukraine and Russia could "take a more unpredictable and potentially escalating direction." The New York Times speaks of "extraordinary costs and grave dangers" in this context and demands answers from U.S. President Biden to the question: where is all this headed? It is becoming increasingly difficult to discern what the Americans' goals in Ukraine are, he said.

"Is the United States, for example, trying to help end this conflict-through a settlement that allows for a sovereign Ukraine and some kind of relationship between the United States and Russia? Or is the United States now trying to permanently weaken Russia? Has the administration's goal shifted to destabilizing Vladimir Putin or toppling him? Does the United States intend to hold Vladimir Putin accountable as a war criminal?" the newspaper's commentators ask. Ukraine's suffering has stirred Americans*, they say, but popular support for a war far from U.S. shores will not last forever.

A Ukrainian military victory over Russia, in which Ukraine retakes all the territory Russia has conquered since 2014 - the entire Donbass and Crimea - is not a realistic goal, he said. Russia remains too strong, he said, and Putin has too much personal prestige invested in the invasion to back down. Inflation is a much bigger problem for American voters* than Ukraine, and disruptions in global food and energy markets are likely to exacerbate it.

The New York Times demands that President Biden, in the fourth month of war, now "make clear to President Volodymyr Selenskyy and his people that there is a limit to how far the United States and NATO will go to confront Russia, and limits to the weapons, money and political support they can muster."

The countries of the West may feel united in horror at the war against Ukraine, which is contrary to international law. In fact, there is no clarity about the war objectives and the level of support to Ukraine. As the demands of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in implementing the sixth sanctions package and the negotiating poker of Turkish President Erdogan in the NATO expansion by Finland and Sweden show: The "West" does not speak with one voice regarding the war aims.

A return to diplomacy would be conducive to limiting the consequences of war on the economic and political international situation and, in particular, to easing the situation for all people in the war zones.

Notes

[1] "Ukraine will go under, whatever the outcome," NZZ interview, 5/19/2022.
[2] See also Adam Tooze's article "Is Escalation in Ukraine Part of US Strategy?" on Sozialismus.deAktuell, 5/5/2022.
[3] New York Times, 5/20/2022.
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