Is the Collective West Going Soon to Be Hoist on the Zelensky Petard?

Is the Collective West Going Soon to Be Hoist on the Zelensky Petard? 1

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Some of the close watchers of the Russia-Ukraine conflict have been talking up the prospects of peace talks. As we’ll discuss shortly, your humble blogger thinks this view is not currently well aligned with reality. Yes, things look to have thawed to the point that the US has backed off of worst-than-the-darkest-days-of-cold-war non-communication with Russia. But while thawing from close to absolute zero to a mere deep freeze is technically warming, it’s still awfully frigid. The two sides have zero bargaining overlap in their positions, which means no basis for discussions. And one of the biggest impediments to any settlement, other than Russia eventually dictating terms, is the leader the collective West has put on a pedestal: Zelensky, with the additional baggage of his Banderite inner circle.

The other big impediment to a cessation of hostilities any time soon is NATO. The US and NATO knows NATO manhood is at stake and that it can’t be seen to lose to Russia. They may be pinning their hopes on Russia leaving a rump Ukraine as a success, when Russia never intended to occupy the entire country.

But the US and NATO seem unable to process that Russia is destroying Ukraine by attacking its energy grid and could do the same to other European countries.1 It’s going to be hard to depict Western-Ukraine-as-failed-state, and a flood of refugees to Europe, as some sort of US/NATO win. But that’s the likely outcome on current trajectories.

Misreading the State of Play

A fair number of Russia-sympathetic, or at least “not buying what Ukraine is selling” commentators appear to have misread some noise in Western press. This may be due to cognitive bias. Anyone other than hardcore hawks in Russia would likely see the war end sooner rather than later. The partial mobilization has brought the war home.

Second, the Ukraine skeptics have a much better view of how the war is going than consumers of Ukraine PR via the Western press, pundits, and policy-makers. To them, it is clear things are not going well for Ukraine and the odds of Ukraine prevailing (pushing Russia out of Ukraine) are zilch, and even regaining much territory, are extremely slim. Surely the people in the West with the inside skinny understand this, and should therefore want to talk terms before things get worse.

The story that kicked off the peace talks hopium was in the WaPo. It was explicit that Zelensky had been told that he needed to look less inflexible about negotiating with Russia but not change his posture. Somehow commentators overlooked the second part of the instructions. The second was the WSJ revelation that National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan had been communicating with two Russian officials for an unspecified amount of time. That was interpreted as working on a deal, as opposed to bare minimum keeping channels open. Recall also that Russia reported (before this story) that Russia had been getting regular “Don’t you dare use nukes” warnings from a senior level in the US when Russia had threatened nothing of the kind. Russia interpreted these communiques as escalation, not de-escalation. Colonel Douglas Macgregor had insider intel on Sullivan’s most recent communique and he said Sullivan made a coded or overt threat about deploying US/NATO troops. Sullivan had at least alluded to and perhaps fleshed out a “coalition of the willing” entering the war on behalf of Ukraine, as mooted by former general and CIA chief David Petraeus a few weeks earlier.2

The next bit of news that got the “negotiations are happening” crowd out over its skis was the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley leaking to the New York Times that he’d told the White House that “Ukraine should negotiate while it’s ahead.” First, Milley would not leaked it if he had won that discussion.3 Milley was made to retreat in the following days, depicting Russia as “really hurting bad” and underscoring that the Ukraine was in the drivers’ seat and the US would be there “as long as it takes”.

Milley’s boss, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin took an even firmer position in a speech Why Ukraine Matters last Friday in Halifax, maintaining that defeating Russia was key to US and world security:

The outcome of the war in Ukraine will help determine the course of global security in this young century. And those of us in North America don’t have the option of sitting this one out.

Stability and prosperity on both sides of the Atlantic are at stake. You know, the U.S. trading relationship with the European Union is the largest in the world. So when an aggressor manufactures a huge security crisis in Europe, it hits home for everyday Americans and Canadians.

Regarding the similarly-ballyhooed meeting between CIA chief William Burns and Sergey Naryshkin in Istanbul, the White House was announced before and insisted after there was discussion of Ukraine. I see no reason for Naryshkin to bring it up if Burns didn’t.

Nevertheless, some of the press has been noising about peace. It may be the recognition that stability in Europe is starting to crack thanks to spiraling energy costs, witness none other than the Financial Times today one of its lead stories covering protests in Germany, and depicting the participants as from the left as well as the right. From the top:

Were it not for the banners, it could have been a crowd gathering for an early opening of Leipzig’s Christmas market.

Then came the speeches.

“Please do not provoke the police and note that Russian flags or signs that show support for Russia’s armed forces are not welcome!” an organiser declared by loudspeaker at the event this month.

“Germany is serving as a puppet exclusively for American interests and those of Nato,” the first orator warned to the hundreds-strong crowd, a mix of students, families and pensioners. Some carried banners for the German left, some peace flags and some homemade signs drawing complex parallels between the nine-month war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic. As the anti-American rhetoric soared, the crowd applauded, jeered and whistled.

“The embargo policy against Russia has failed completely and is being directed catastrophically against ourselves,” the speaker continued, invoking the Holocaust and declaring the war in Ukraine a “paradise” for “warmongers, arms companies and profiteers”.

Another important crack in the party line was a New York Times story that tried to ‘splain why Russia had not run out of missiles, despite repeated claims for many months to the reverse. Late in the piece, someone admitted no one really knew how many missiles Russia had. Ooopsie!

And more recently, there was also the surprisingly open criticism of Zelensky for sticking to the well-disproven story that Russia, rather than Ukraine has shot the missile that landed in Poland and killed two farmers. Even though most commentators accept the notion that a Ukraine air defense missile went astray, Scott Ritter, who says he has direct knowledge of how these systems work, argues the reverse, that it would have needed a radar signal to sent it there and it could have been arranged by someone not very high level in Ukraine (or Poland in cahoots). Corriere della Serra based on an account from Poland also claims the landing was no accident.

Regardless of whether this incident was an accident or by design, it was not a good look for Zelensky to look so eager to gin up a direct conflict between NATO and Russia.


1 Colonel Douglas Macgregor has also pointed out in the event of an official NATO war with Russia, as opposed to the current half pregnant version, Russia could take out all NATO airbases in Europe save one remote one, in Portugal, in the first hour and a half of the conflict.

2 I’m admittedly depending heavily on Macgregor in this reading, but Macgregor made a point of reading all the press carefully, knows the principals, and has additional info from insiders. None of the others opining on this topic have anything approaching his perspective. And given the way Milley was made to backpeddle massively, and his boss Lloyd Austin just took an very hard line position last Friday, Macgregor’s views appear to have been borne out.

3 See, starting at 0:55

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