The Ukraine Peace Talk Trial Balloon

A trial ballon has gone up on the NBCnews website. It is testing the public reaction to the upcoming U.S. and NATO acknowledgment of their defeat in Ukraine:

U.S., European officials broach topic of peace negotiations with Ukraine, sources say – NBCnews – Nov 03 2023

WASHINGTON — U.S. and European officials have begun quietly talking to the Ukrainian government about what possible peace negotiations with Russia might entail to end the war, according to one current senior U.S. official and one former senior U.S. official familiar with the discussions.

This comes the same week that saw a Time piece about Zelenski’s unwillingness to consider the real situation on Ukraine and to admit defeat. The same week the Economist interviewed General Zaluzny who optimistically spoke of a stalemate at the front even while his army is on the cusp of disintegration.

Taken together the three pieces might well be part of a U.S. administration campaign to concede its defeat in Ukraine while blaming its Ukrainian proxy forces for the results of its blunder.

Back to the NBC piece:

The conversations have included very broad outlines of what Ukraine might need to give up to reach a deal, the officials said. Some of the talks, which officials described as delicate, took place last month during a meeting of representatives from more than 50 nations supporting Ukraine, including NATO members, known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the officials said.

The discussions are an acknowledgment of the dynamics militarily on the ground in Ukraine and politically in the U.S. and Europe, officials said.

They began amid concerns among U.S. and European officials that the war has reached a stalemate and about the ability to continue providing aid to Ukraine, officials said. Biden administration officials also are worried that Ukraine is running out of forces, while Russia has a seemingly endless supply, officials said. Ukraine is also struggling with recruiting and has recently seen public protests about some of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s open-ended conscription requirements.

The problem of the Ukrainian army is an obvious one. It is running out of men and has few it can still recruit. It is difficult to assess the real losses the Ukrainian military has had, but I would not be astonished to learn that they sum up to about 300,000 dead and some 500,000+ wounded, many of whom will now be disabled.

Finally these concerns about Ukraine’s manpower get acknowledged:

President Joe Biden has been intensely focused on Ukraine’s depleting military forces, according to two people familiar with the matter.

“Manpower is at the top of the administration’s concerns right now,” one said. The U.S. and its allies can provide Ukraine with weaponry, this person said, “but if they don’t have competent forces to use them it doesn’t do a lot of good”

The last sentence seems to be taken from the Time piece which had said:

In some branches of the military, the shortage of personnel has become even more dire than the deficit in arms and ammunition. One of Zelensky’s close aides tells me that even if the U.S. and its allies come through with all the weapons they have pledged, “we don’t have the men to use them.”

Ukraine itself is destroying its own brigades faster than it can generate new ones:

During the last days tanks from the 47th brigade (Leo 2) and 10th mountain brigade (T-64BM/BV) have been seen, and were destroyed, near Avdiivka. Both brigades had only recently been mauled during their hopeless attacks at the southern front. It does not make sense to throw what is left of them into another battle without reconstituting them. The whole experience and knowledge these brigades had gained will be lost with them.

The whole professional middle-block of the army, the sergeants and young officers, have mostly been killed or wounded. Without them it is impossible to constitute new forces.

The NBC piece has made news in Ukraine (in Russian) but I have yet to find Ukrainian reactions to it. While I was publishing this a first political reaction, total denial, appeared:

Zelenskyy: There is no stalemate, and there will be no talks or concessions – UA Pravda – Nov 4 2023

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy does not think the situation on the front in Ukraine is a stalemate and has said that Ukraine will not negotiate with Russia.

Quote from Zelenskyy: “This is not a stalemate. Russia controls the sky. We are protecting our troops. No one [in Ukraine] wants to just throw our people [into the battle] like Russia does […]

How can we overcome it? With the F-16s, we have to wait for our guys to get trained and for them to come back. When there’s air defence on the front, our soldiers advance, and they deploy the equipment they have.”

What will he say when the F-16s, the fifty year old wunderwaffen, fall out of the sky faster than they go up?

There are sure signs that the divide between the political and military leadership in Ukraine is growing. President Zelenski, on request of his new defense minister, just removed the commander of Ukraine’s special forces and installed a new one:

Major General Viktor Khorenko does not know the reasons for his dismissal from the post of Commander of the Special Operations Forces. Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, did not submit a request for his dismissal.

It is very unusual to fire an officer without a request from his superior commander.

There are also shots fired against Zaluzny himself:

President’s Office advises Commander-in-Chief of Ukrainian Armed Forces not to publicise situation at front – UA Pravda – Nov 4 2023

Ihor Zhovkva, Deputy Head of the Office of the President, commenting on the article by Valerii Zaluzhnyi, the Commander-in-Chief of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, for The Economist, has said that the military should not bring to the public what is happening at the front.

Zhovkva also stated that “one of the heads of the leaders’ offices” called him after the mentioned article was published.

“And they simply ask me in a panic, ‘What should I report to my leader? Are we really at a stalemate?’. Are we trying to achieve this effect with this article?”, the President’s Office representative said.

The NBC piece even sets a time frame to Ukraine to admit that it is over:

Officials also have privately said Ukraine likely only has until the end of the year or shortly thereafter before more urgent discussions about peace negotiations should begin. U.S. officials have shared their views on such a timeline with European allies, officials said.

Russia will likely agree to peace talks. But it probably will demand more than Ukraine is willing to give. At a minimum that is the full control over the five oblast it has annexed, including Crimea, and no NATO relations with Ukraine. The current Ukrainian parliament will probably reject those requests which will then lead to further Russian demands.

Kiev has yet to acknowledge reality. The Ukrainian state has been bleeding out – financially as well as physically. Its masters have found that their aim at the start of the war – to weaken Russia – has led to the opposite. Russia now has a bigger and better armed military with more real war experience than any of its possible opponents.

Russia has won.

Reprinted with permission from Moon of Alabama.