Tuesday 5 September 2023

Was Ukraine’s 2023 counteroffensive inevitably going to fail?

Looking back with hindsight, but also at the time, the Anglo-French declaration of war on Germany in 1939 was a mistake. The Americans bear much of the blame, surprisingly enoughaccording to Neville Chamberlain. 

As George Kennan argued, the cold war was also a mistake - it was a response to Stalin taking over Eastern Europe which made him seem another Hitler. Kennan had recommended containment of the Soviet bloc but not an arms race.

For years American foreign policy aimed at containing Iran.

That's why Hillary Clinton and Boris Johnson wanted to intervene in Syria to overturn Assad, something as illegal and foolish as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Yet Iran is probably not a threat even to Israel and certainly not to the Nato allies. 

The Saudis have done the West much more harm. 

Come to think of it, the Americans have done the West immeasurably more harm than Iran - or Russia.

Now we have the start of a pointless cold war with Russia, which may last for possibly decades and probably another with China too. All this will distract attention and energy from the real dangers of invasion that the West faces.

Britain should have nothing to do with either cold war. 

Nor does the EU benefit from a cold war. 

It is America that wants this because of her psychological need to justify hegemony with a moral crusade against evil. 

But that will change if Donald Trump comes back. I suspect, however, that he won't.

I think the solution to the Ukrainian war is a frozen ceasefire by which, de facto, Ukraine recognises that she has lost much territory, in return for being allowed to join Nato to protect her from another invasion. Russia would have to agree to this.

Here is a very good essay just out from Professor John Mearsheimer.

He thinks no solution is possible, at least for a very long time. It ends:

What happens next? Two points are in order.

First, there will be a blame game in the months ahead regarding who bears responsibility for the disastrous counteroffensive. Indeed, it has already started. Few will admit that they were wrong to think the counteroffensive stood a reasonable chance of succeeding or was sure to succeed. That will certainly be true in the US, where accountability is an obsolete concept. Many Ukrainians will blame the West for pushing them to launch the blitzkrieg when the West had failed to provide them with all the weaponry they had requested. Of course, the West will be guilty as charged, but Ukrainian leaders have agency and could have stood up to American pressure. After all, their country’s survival is at stake, and they would have been better off staying on the defensive, where they would have suffered fewer casualties and increased their chances of retaining the territory that they now control.

The coming recriminations will be ugly and will hinder Ukraine’s efforts to stay in the fight against Russia.

Second, many in the West will argue that the time is now ripe for diplomacy. The failed counteroffensive shows that Ukraine cannot prevail on the battlefield, so the argument will go, and thus it makes sense to reach a peace agreement with Russia, even if Kyiv and the West must make concessions. After all, the situation will only get worse for Ukraine if the war continues.

Regrettably, there is no diplomatic solution in sight. There are irreconcilable differences between the two sides over security guarantees for Ukraine and territory, which stand in the way of a meaningful peace agreement. For understandable reasons, Ukraine is deeply committed to getting back all the land it has lost to Russia, which includes Crimea and the Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhia oblasts. But Moscow has already annexed those territories and made it clear that it has no intention of returning them to Kyiv.

The other unresolvable issue concerns Ukraine’s relationship with the West. For understandable reasons, Ukraine insists that it needs a security guarantee, which can only come from the US and NATO. Russia, on the other hand, insists that Ukraine must be neutral and must end its security relationship with the West. In fact, that issue was the main cause of the present war, even if American and European foreign policy elites refuse to believe it. Moscow was unwilling to tolerate Ukraine joining NATO. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to see how both sides can be satisfied on either the territorial or neutrality issue.

In addition to those obstacles, both sides view each other as an existential threat, which is an enormous obstacle to any kind of meaningful compromise. It is hard to imagine, for example, the US taking its gunsights off Russia in the foreseeable future. The most likely result is that that the war will go on and eventually end in a frozen conflict with Russia in possession of a significant portion of Ukrainian territory. But that outcome will not put an end to the competition and conflict between Russia and Ukraine or between Russia and the West.


  1. A naive and one sided view. War, particularity wars prosecuted for self determination ,have a way of going with the underdog. On the ground it is moving forward no more slowly than the gap between 6th June 1944 and the entry into Berlin. Ukraine continues to strengthen Moscow weakens. Even Trump if he arrived back in the Oval office (. Unlikely ) prefers to back winners and business opportunities .

    1. None of us really know too much but the media pretended, following the lead of the Ukrainian government, that the Ukrainian counter-offensive had good chances when there was no evidence for this. Retired military officers in the Telegraph continue to do so. The same media which suppresses dissident views on Covid, climate, refugees and so many other things. I think it should have been Britain and the EU's priority to encourage the peace talks in the spring of last year and as I said on this blog early in the summer I could not see the point of the counter-offensive. What alternative is there to negotiations?


  2. We intervened in Syria because that’s what Israel and the KSA wanted. Actually, they wanted a full takeover, not the special forces action that happened. If Iran isn’t a threat, Israel would like to know where Hezbollah’s missile arsenal came from? I agree Iran isn’t a nuclear threat, but declaring them so is Israel’s way of defending against Hezbollah.

  3. The Pax Americana was the least worst option of them all. Despite your assumption that Americans committed far more mischief than others, under their reign, the world developed extremely fast, billions were brought out of poverty, and the world experienced far more continuous peace than in the past. This again helped development tremendously. I shudder to think about what the world will look like when the Americans will be replaced by a far more cruel master.

  4. Yes this is true. I wouldn't have wanted another country to rule the world but I don't understand why it is necessary for one country to be master of the world.

  5. I disagree with Prof Mearsheimer, I think Ukraine's counteroffsensive is not going that bad. Has Russia made any advances since Bakhmut four months ago?

  6. Con Coughlin who is close to the British defence establishment in the Telegraph today.

    'But if the Government’s action against [the] Wagner [Group] is long overdue, at least it has finally summoned the political will to do something, which is more than can be said for its confused position regarding Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which by some distance remains the world’s most deadly terrorist organisation. The 25,000-strong Wagner Group is a minnow compared with the IRGC, which has around 200,000 active personnel.

    Apart from being the custodians of Iran’s Islamic revolution, the IRGC enjoys supreme control over the country’s military, intelligence and security establishments, a role it uses to expand Iran’s pernicious influence throughout the Middle East. Reporting directly to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the organisation boasts its own ground forces, navy and air force, and oversees Iran’s nuclear programme.

    'Britain has frequently been a target of IRGC operations. British military personnel fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan suffered terror attacks carried out by militias controlled and equipped by the IRGC. More recently a London-based Iranian opposition television network was forced to relocate to Washington after being targeted by Iranian terror cells operating in the British capital. '

  7. British military personnel had no more right to be fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan than the militias supposedly controlled (are they?) by the IRGC - but attacks by the latter are terror and attacks by British forces on the militias are fine and dandy.