I certainly know that many, if not most, respected experts and seasoned politicians believe that Russia lost Ukraine and that it lost to precisely the United States. By the way, I will not even dispute the fact that Russia lost Ukraine. But, firstly, it lost not to the US, and secondly, for objective reasons it simply couldn’t win.
Most of the people engaged in politics view it as a zero-sum game in which if one wins, the other must definitely lose. In fact, it, like war, is a non-zero-sum game. I.e., both can win, both can lose, and both can not lose, but also not win.
How is the winner determined? Very simple. Has the goal they set for the beginning of the conflict been achieved? For example, if you decided to seize an intact bridge in enemy hands over a water barrier, sent an airborne division into the area, which captured the bridge and held onto it until the offensive of your troops, but at the same time suffered catastrophic losses (let’s say 97% of the personnel were just killed, i.e., ceased to exist), then you won. If you sent a tank corps to the bridge for a break, which reached it almost without loss, defeating a couple of enemy units along the way, but right under the caterpillars of an advancing tank the bridge was blown up by the enemy, then you lost (although the ratio of losses can inspire a winning mood). But although minimisation of losses is important, the main thing is to carry out the task for which the calculation of losses is carried out. Sometimes you can sacrifice an entire formation, realising that you can save an order of magnitude more lives as a result.
In terms of the ratio of losses and occupied territory, fascist Germany nominally even in the summer of 1943 seemed to be defeating the Soviet Union, in fact its defeat in the war was already so obvious that even German generals openly spoke about it. Nominally, the Russophobic pro-American regime has strengthened in Kiev and the US can celebrate victory. But was that what they wanted?
Washington did not hide its goals. Firstly, it planned to take a dominant strategic position in Crimea. It is not at all to create a huge NATO base there, as some still think. A huge base is needed there only by the Black Sea Fleet of Russia. Even for the Turks, it wasn’t the deployment of their own troops in Crimea that was important, but that there were no foreign troops there. Therefore, all enemies of Russia sought to destroy Sevastopol and expel Russia from Crimea, rather than take the city and peninsula for themselves. The United States had enough to erase the Black Sea Fleet from Crimea, create a marine resort in Sevastopol with a bunch of yacht clubs in former warship locations, and purely nominally deploy a marine company and a pair of frigates there to mark its presence. That would be enough to lock the Black Sea Fleet in bases in Kuban and the North Caucasus and make southern Russia (to Bryansk and Voronezh) completely defenceless before a hypothetical invasion.
Were the Americans going to invade Russia? Not at all. They only had to force the Kremlin to spend enormous resources to restore the security of the southern borders.
Secondly, the US wanted to pit Russia against Europe, force them to come together in a rigorous clinch, on the verge of a hot war (perhaps even with local clashes between Russian and European troops on the territories of Ukraine and other limitrophes). In this case, the sanctions policy would be much tougher and the Europeans would not whine that they were forced to do it, that they don’t want to, and would not dream of abandoning the sanctions, sabotaging it as much as possible and not out of fear, but for the conscience would serve the Americans, seeing them as the only defenders from the Russian invasion. Again, Russia would have to spend enormous resources on this unproductive confrontation.
Thirdly, as a bonus, the United States was simply ready to give Russia the rest of Ukraine (except Crimea). It was already devastated enough that its recovery and integration into Russia’s political economy system required huge resource costs. Even after losing Crimea (after it left for Russia), the US was still trying to make up for that loss by inviting Russia into Ukrainian territory. Until the autumn of 2014, Washington openly stated that the United States would not fight for Ukraine, even if Russia occupied it entirely. Had Russia decided to occupy it, then at least the second and third points of the American strategy would be implemented. In planning a military campaign, no one expects all fights to be won, the main thing is that the overall balance is in your favour. So, if Russia had come to Ukraine to restore order, the United States would have really won.
By the way, such a move by Moscow was so easily calculated that even ordinary people, both in Russia and Ukraine, were waiting for it.
The natural question will be: we always talk about tying down Russian resources, but why does the United States do this?
The goal is to destroy from the inside
It’s very simple. In today’s world an attack on a nuclear power, even if it is as weak as the DPRK, is fraught with too much loss. The US does not attack Pyongyang not because it cannot win a nuclear war against it. They can still win it even from China. It’s simply that the retaliatory strikes that will reach US territory will cause too much damage to the economy and financial system. Much of the US nuclear arsenal will be spent on an unsuitable enemy, and Russia will be able to assess the capabilities of the US nuclear triad and the reliability of US missile defences. After defeating Korea, the US will be significantly weaker than Russia. That’s why they’re not fighting Korea.
But if a country cannot be conquered, it can be destroyed from within. From ancient times to the present day, the most true means of achieving the collapse of a hostile state was to cause mass resentment inside it. Mass resentment arises when everyone becomes ill. It becomes bad for everyone if the economy is overburdened, and the country is not exposed to a clear and immediate threat that can mobilise and force the population to endure.
It is possible to guarantee that if the Americans managed to implement their plan and force Russia to actively engage in the Ukrainian crisis, in a couple of years tens of millions of citizens of the Russian Federation would not laugh at the naive Obama, who claims that he ripped the economy of Russia into shreds, but would’ve angrily asked their own authorities: “What have we forgotten in Ukraine!” No one is pleased with territorial acquisitions if the standard of living sharply falls. The peasantry of the Russian Empire, which was poor because of the mobilisation of tens of millions of workers and millions of horses, did not want to suffer a year before the victory and the accession of East Prussia, Galicia, Turkish Armenia, and the straits zone, arranged the February and then October revolutions (led, of course, by others, but if they were not supported by hundreds of thousands of peasant bayonets in the capitals actively and millions at the front passively, nothing would have happened).
For this purpose, the US had to stretch Russian resources, like how 25 years earlier they stretched the resources of the USSR. They were unable to do so, which means that they lost Ukraine: all the resources invested in Kiev were wasted. This is a strategic defeat, as is evidenced by the split of American elites, expressed in the struggle of right-conservative Trumpists and left-liberal globalists for a new path to the American dream.
Russia also lost. It failed to persuade Ukrainian elites to pursue a path of economic integration that would have a cumulative effect, significantly increasing the economic power (and welfare of citizens) of both Russia and Ukraine. This is apart from the fact that a friendly and strong Ukraine would cover the southern flank of Russia, which would save considerable resources on military construction in the region. Russia has also lost huge resources invested in the Ukrainian economy for 20 years. In addition, Moscow had to create some import substitution plants (in particular for the construction of gas turbine engines for the fleet and helicopter engines), to replace Ukrainian suppliers.
Strategy and tactics
But Russia’s defeat is tactical. Moscow set two tasks. The first (inclusion of Ukraine in integration processes) was not completed. But the second one was. Ukraine was kept in a state of an albeit unfaithful ally, but an ally all the same, almost until Russia solved its related problems. By 2014, bypass gas pipelines were partially (first stages) built, partially (second stages) agreed and prepared for construction (now just being completed). Russia managed to retain European partners in this project. I.e., as a result of the Ukrainian crisis, it was not possible to break Russia’s trade and economic ties with Europe. And it failed in the most important segment (supply of Russian gas), which the Americans have fought against since the 1970s.
In addition, in 2014 the Russian territory, within the framework of the long-running but not advertised import substitution program, localised most of the sensitive production related to Ukraine. It was a little late, it will be finished only in 2020, but a disaster from the severance of ties didn’t happen, although there were troubles (and quite significant ones at that).
Thus, Russia has been able to cope without Ukraine, which freed its hands to pursue a more pragmatic policy. Now it can decide whether or not to enter Ukraine, and if it does, when and under what conditions. Moscow does not act in conditions of extreme necessity, but on the basis of reasonable thinking about the value of the issue and possible dividends.
Of course, the loss of significant territory and tens of millions of factually Russian population is not a victory, but also not a disaster. In March 1918, the Bolsheviks agreed to give the Germans the territory West of the current border of the Russian Federation + Transcaucasia to the Turks. In 1921 the western border of the USSR was considerably east than in 1940. And Russia suffered current territorial losses even with the collapse of the USSR, which lost the Cold War to the Americans, and not in the course of the current confrontation. Nowadays it just hasn’t been able to get everything back.
Ukraine between the United States and Russia
And now we will try to answer the question: why did the US lose in Ukraine, although Russia did not win? Why have neither Moscow nor Washington been able to achieve all the goals set concerning this territory (although some have been achieved)?
Because Ukraine is an indeed divided country. Of course, when “good Russian people” claim on social networks that “all Ukrainians are traitors”, it is not true. But also “adequate Ukrainians”, who started to argue with them and prove that there are only a few Nazis in Ukraine, and “Russia betrayed everyone itself”, are even more far from the truth. At least because they themselves admit that they experience animal horror in front of these Nazis (who seem almost non-existent) and (since Russia has not yet come) are ready to believe even that they will be liberated from the terrorist government by a provincial clown (it’s all the same for them whoever will liberate them).
The funny thing is that the Nazis are afraid of “vatnik domination”, seeing enemies in people quite loyal to the regime, only because they speak Russian or quite reasonably declare that peace in Donbass is needed primarily by Ukraine in order to save the remnants of statehood.
As is always the case with extreme viewpoints, radical nationalist and radical pro-Russian have relatively few adherents, which is offset by their activism. The Nazis, for objective reasons (support from the West played a secondary role, the main thing is that they were supported by the Ukrainian government) managed to organise, arm, and seize most of Ukraine earlier. The organisation of pro-Russian forces managed to happen in time and in full only in Crimea and Donbass (not least because they were further from the epicentre of events and closer to Russia). The rest of the country is divided into more or less moderate nationalists and more or less moderate internationalists (which are difficult to call pro-Russian, because they want not integration, but only pragmatic cooperation with Russia on the Western model and under the cover of the West).
In a country in which long before the current crisis (in 2004 it was launched for the first time, and before this it was by default) came to the brink of civil war, where for decades they wrote to Galicia and Donbass “it would be better if you left Ukraine and stopped preventing us from living” (each time meaning all of Ukraine when they say “us”, each time a different one and each time being deeply mistaken), it was impossible to create a sustainable pro-America regime, just as it was impossible to create a pro-Russia one. Still, a significant part of the population will be against it and can only be held back by force.
The Americans went to create a terrorist Nazi regime precisely because they were counting on a blitzkrieg: Russia will enter Ukraine, Europe will resent, the Poles will take Lvov under their protection, the Hungarians – Transcarpathia, and the Romanians – North Bukovina and South Bessarabia. There will be a severe crisis on the brink of war, and Washington will resolve it if not as a fabulous prince on a white horse, then as an honest independent mediator. Therefore, the Americans allowed the Europeans to address the Ukrainian crisis both in negotiations with Yanukovych and later in the Normandy format. Europe is a party to the conflict, Russia is a party to the conflict, Ukraine is the victim of the Euro-Russian confrontation that provoked a civil war complicated by interference, and the United States is the peacekeeper. This is how Washington envisaged the subsequent course of affairs.
But nothing like this happened, because there is essentially no Russian and European interference, but there is a civil war. And it is precisely Donbass that does not want to be reconciled with Kiev, while Moscow has everything in order with Paris and Berlin. Six years of crisis passed, but the Americans realised that their blitzkrieg had failed by the end of 2015. During all of 2016 Obama only imitated support for Ukraine, but he could not confess on the eve of the election that the US had completely failed the strategic campaign. After the loss of the election by the Democrats, Trump, in principle, did not care about Ukraine. All his gestures in this direction are related to attempts to accuse him of ties with Russia. Under the pressure of such accusations, he could not completely zero ties with Kiev, as it would be presented as proof of his “collusion with the Kremlin”. But he sought not to be active in this direction and to pull the American tail out of the Ukrainian quagmire.
The Americans could not win in Ukraine in principle because pro-American and pro-European Ukrainians saw the future of their country like a fairy tale in which it is enough to say “get away from Moscow” and of course a modern state with a high-tech economy arises, millions of investors rushing, carrying trillions of dollars and euros, all Ukrainians are loved and respected, and they lie in their own “cherry garden” and listen to “how bumblebees buzz”. (I.e., in their state-of-the-art office they sign papers for the creation of transnational corporations with themselves in charge). Their allies (Europeans and Americans) in principle could not give them what Ukrainian “Eurointegrators” expected. Their Ukraine is an impossible dream. Sooner or later they will have to be disappointed in this dream and in Euro-Americans, who have not been able to realise their dream.
The dream of Ukraine’s pro-Russia citizens is more pragmatic. They just want to be in Russia. Their task is to live up to the time when their “Euro-oriented” compatriots are disappointed in the “Western paradise” and realise that they they have nowhere to go besides Russia. Another thing is that Russia should have the resources to fully integrate at least most of Ukraine, the native Russian lands. This is currently a difficult problem. Rus-Russia-USSR repeatedly retreated from its western lands, most often for a long time (even Smolensk passed from hand to hand for 300 years). And it always came back, but not everyone lived to see it.
In order to come back, it has to be preserved. This task was solved by Russia, preventing the United States from destroying itself during the 2014-2015 blitzkrieg. Therefore, the US lost Ukraine strategically, and Russia lost it only tactically. But tactical defeat is still defeat, and it will take a long time to eliminate its consequences.
In Syria, Russia’s peacekeeping mission is successful not least because people tired of war really wanted reconciliation. In Ukraine polls show that everyone wants peace, but everyone on their own terms. And if so, then they do not want peace, but their victory. They have yet to realise that there are no winners in a civil war. Only losers. And the longer the civil war lasts, the more losers there are.
For the United States, the Ukrainian crisis is already over. They’re leaving – and they’re going to leave even if the Democrats oust Trump or elect Biden. For Russia, it is just beginning. It will be possible to talk about Russia’s victory in Ukraine if Moscow finds a solution whereby the integration of Ukrainian territories (if not into Russia, then at least in the EAEU) will take place without large resource costs for Russia and without the establishment of a new dictatorship in Ukraine (this time a pro-Russia one). In order to win there is a need for a cheap integration, and cheap integration can only be voluntary. Violence is always unproductive, because it is expensive.
In the meantime, the US lost, Russia did not win, but Ukraine is paying for everything. It pays only because it voluntarily renounced international subjectivity for the sake of the brilliant beads and beautiful words of Western seducers. Someone who is unable to choose their own fate always pays other people’s bills.
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