Until it decided to confront Moscow with an existential military threat in Ukraine, Washington confined the use of American military power to conflicts that Americans could afford to lose, wars with weak opponents in the developing world from Saigon to Baghdad that did not present an existential threat to U.S. forces or American territory. This time—a proxy war with Russia—is different.
Contrary to early Beltway hopes and expectations, Russia neither collapsed internally nor capitulated to the collective West’s demands for regime change in Moscow. Washington underestimated Russia’s societal cohesion, its latent military potential, and its relative immunity to Western economic sanctions.
As a result, Washington’s proxy war against Russia is failing. U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was unusually candid about the situation in Ukraine when he told the allies in Germany at Ramstein Air Base on January 20, “We have a window of opportunity here, between now and the spring,” admitting, “That’s not a long time.”
Alexei Arestovich, President Zelensky’s recently fired advisor and unofficial “Spinmeister,” was more direct. He expressed his own doubts that Ukraine can win its war with Russia and he now questions whether Ukraine will even survive the war. Ukrainian losses—at least 150,000 dead including 35,000 missing in action and presumed dead—have fatally weakened Ukrainian forces resulting in a fragile Ukrainian defensive posture that will likely shatter under the crushing weight of attacking Russian forces in the next few weeks.
Ukraine’s materiel losses are equally severe. These include thousands of tanks and armored infantry fighting vehicles, artillery systems, air defense platforms, and weapons of all calibers. These totals include the equivalent of seven years of Javelin missile production. In a setting where Russian artillery systems can fire nearly 60,000 rounds of all types—rockets, missiles, drones, and hard-shell ammunition—a day, Ukrainian forces are hard-pressed to answer these Russian salvos with 6,000 rounds daily. New platform and ammunition packages for Ukraine may enrich the Washington community, but they cannot change these conditions.
Predictably, Washington’s frustration with the collective West’s failure to stem the tide of Ukrainian defeat is growing. In fact, the frustration is rapidly giving way to desperation.
Michael Rubin, a former Bush appointee and avid supporter of America’s permanent conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan, vented his frustration in a 1945 article asserting that, “if the world allows Russia to remain a unitary state, and if it allows Putinism to survive Putin, then, Ukraine should be allowed to maintain its own nuclear deterrence, whether it joins NATO or not.” On its face, the suggestion is reckless, but the statement does accurately reflect the anxiety in Washington circles that Ukrainian defeat is inevitable.
NATO’s members were never strongly united behind Washington’s crusade to fatally weaken Russia. The governments of Hungary and Croatia are simply acknowledging the wider European public’s opposition to war with Russia and lack of support for Washington’s desire to postpone Ukraine’s foreseeable defeat.