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The media's new narrative about Ukraine?

They're not talking about the sanctions or the effective Ukraine pushback anymore...hmmm. Now it's "the war is going to go on indefinitely". They'll run with that until they run with the "it's time to negotiate and end this thing" narrative. Not yet, however, we've only sold Ukraine about $100 billion in weaponry. We're not done with that quite yet.

Meanwhile, check out the map below and pay attention to the territories now controlled by Russia. That's where all the oil, Lithium and precious metals are located. It's also where the majority of the population leans Russian. Putin has no intention of permanently occupying the rest of Ukraine (whose population would be hostile to occupiers). He's got what he wants.

Why Russia’s War in Ukraine Could Run for Years

From Moscow to Washington, a lack of clear and achievable strategic goals points to a long conflict

For Ukrainian forces near Bakhmut, progress has been slow in the effort to retake the eastern city.

By Marcus Walker, WSJ

Aug. 20, 2023 12:01 am ET

Russia’s war on Ukraine is in danger of becoming a protracted struggle that lasts several more years. The reason isn’t just that the front-line combat is a slow-moving slog, but also that none of the main actors have political goals that are both clear and attainable.

Ukraine’s central war aim—restoring its territorial integrity—is the clearest, but appears a distant prospect given the limits of Western support. The U.S. and key European allies such as Germany want to prevent Russia from winning, but fear the costs and risks of helping Ukraine to full victory. Some Western officials are sketching out grand bargains to end the war, but they fit neither Kyiv’s nor Moscow’s goals.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declared aims are the most elastic, ranging from ambitious imperial schemes to more limited land grabs, and shifting with Russia’s military fortunes. His long-term objective of bringing Ukraine back under Moscow’s sway looks unrealistic now, but Ukrainians believe he would treat smaller gains as mere steppingstones, rendering treacherous any peace based on concessions.

President Biden has said the goal of U.S. aid is to put Ukraine in the strongest possible position for eventual peace negotiations, without saying under what conditions it should negotiate. Earlier this year, Washington, Berlin and others hoped a chance for talks would open up this fall, if Kyiv’s counteroffensive made significant progress against Russian occupation forces in Ukraine’s south and east.

But throughout the war, strengthening Ukraine with decisive firepower has clashed with another, overriding Western priority: to avoid uncontrolled escalation that leads to a direct war with Russia or to Putin using nuclear weapons.

The speed limit on aid for Ukraine has been evident in the West’s monthslong debates over whether to supply tanks, planes and long-range missiles. Ukrainian troops’ limited weaponry, including air power and air defenses, has contributed to their heavy losses throughout the war, and to their painfully slow progress this summer against Russia’s fortified lines in the Zaporizhzhia and Donetsk regions. U.S. intelligence assessments are now pessimistic about whether Ukrainian forces can break through Russian defenses and reach the coast, a key strategic aim for Kyiv.

A drawback of the U.S.’s incremental approach to military aid: Without a battlefield breakthrough, Kyiv doesn’t want to negotiate peace—and Moscow doesn’t have to.

“By structuring our approach around the goal of no escalation, around what we don’t want to happen, the U.S. has set itself up for a drawn-out conflict,” said Alina Polyakova, president of the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington. “You end up in a strange middle ground where you’re not necessarily able to accomplish that second goal of putting Ukraine in a position of strength that makes negotiations possible.”

The muddle over Western aims was illustrated this past week when a senior official of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization spoke publicly about an idea that European diplomats have been debating: that Ukraine give up Russian-occupied territory in return for joining NATO to protect what’s left. The suggestion drew an angry dismissal from Ukraine, which says its borders aren’t for bartering. The NATO official apologized, reverting to the West’s public line that only Ukraine can define acceptable peace terms.

In private, many Western officials don’t think the U.S. and its allies can leave it to Kyiv alone to define the goal. Ukraine’s maximalist aims, they fear, guarantee an endless war. They would like to offer Ukraine carrots to accept the de facto loss of some territory, such as NATO or European Union membership or promises of long-term military and economic aid.

The thinking stems from an eagerness to contain a conflict whose shock waves have been felt across the global economy, uncertainty about how long Western voters will support the current levels of aid for Kyiv and disbelief that Ukraine can fully expel Russian forces.

A Ukrainian tank crew near the Donetsk-region city of Chasiv Yar. PHOTO: MANU BRABO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz famously wrote that “war is a mere continuation of policy by other means,” stressing that military force is an instrument for attaining a political goal. Some unsuccessful wars have resulted less from lost battles than from the lack of an achievable political aim, so that campaigns came to be seen as draining and fruitless. Modern examples arguably include the Soviet and U.S. failures in Afghanistan and America’s defeat in Vietnam.

Now, Russia is finding itself in a costly quagmire whose point is unclear. Turning Clausewitz’s idea on its head, Putin’s policy has depended on where his soldiers were. The full-scale invasion launched in early 2022 aimed to install a pro-Moscow regime in Ukraine, buttressed by an ideology that said Russians and Ukrainians were one people. When fierce resistance forced Russia to retreat from Kyiv, the Kremlin shrank the objective to conquering all of eastern Ukraine’s Donbas area. After further military setbacks, Russia declared the annexation of four regions in Ukraine’s east and south, none of which it fully controls.

Source: Institute for the Study of War and AEI’s Critical Threats Project

But Russia is also trying to advance in the Kharkiv region in the northeast, going beyond its territorial claims. Senior Kremlin officials continue to say they want to dismantle the Ukrainian state.

Putin sometimes speaks as if the war has largely fulfilled its aim. “The primordial Russian lands of Donbas and Novorossiya have returned home where they belong,” Putin said with satisfaction in early August, using a tsarist-era term for southern Ukraine. Only in June, however, he mused about maybe raising more troops for another march on Kyiv. “Only I can answer that,” he said. “Depending on our goals, we must decide on mobilization,” he told Russian military correspondents, suggesting his goals remain fluid.

Russia had a plan A for a quick conquest of Ukraine but no plan B, said Alexander Gabuev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center in Berlin. “Now, declaring goals could be politically costly for Putin. Having unclear metrics allows you to say you’re working towards them,” Gabuev said.

Soviet-era weapons such as Grad rocket launchers remain a staple for Ukraine as it waits for more modern arms from Western allies. PHOTO: MANU BRABO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

The Kremlin’s view of the timeline is clearer than the aims, Gabuev said: “They believe the cost of the war is manageable and the endurance of the Russian political system, people and economy can outlast the West.”

Recent events, from the revolt of the Wagner paramilitary group to the ruble’s sinking value, show how the war is straining Russia’s economy and military, but not yet to a breaking point. Some observers believe the state of war against Ukraine and its Western backers is becoming an end in itself, the raison d’être of a regime that can no longer offer economic growth and stability.

Russia hasn’t given up its maximal goal, pursued in many neighboring countries for years, Polyakova said: to reassert its old sphere of influence and stop countries such as Ukraine from moving further West—whether that means domination or turning them into failed states. The Kremlin’s lesser declared aims are tactical maneuvering, she said.

“Russia still has this big imperial vision that Putin has grown to believe in over his tenure,” she said. “Ukraine’s goals have not changed. The question is: What’s the Western strategic vision?”

Victoria Simanovskaya contributed to this article.

Write to Marcus Walker at

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