US the biggest obstacle to ending the Russia-Ukraine conflict
Published: Feb 19, 2023 07:42 PM
The Pentagon seen from an airplane over Washington DC. Photo: Xinhua

The Pentagon seen from an airplane over Washington DC. Photo: Xinhua

Editor's Note:

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is approaching its one-year mark, with no end in sight. It is eating up scarce European resources, preventing millions of refugees from returning home and weakening the global economic outlook while the US and some European countries are fanning the flames of the war, keeping sending weapons to Ukraine. How will the Russia-Ukraine conflict end? What are the biggest stumbling blocks for negotiation and diplomatic resolution? 

In an interview with Global Times (GT) reporter Yu Jincui, Brian Berletic (Berletic), a geopolitical analyst and a former solider of US Marine Corps, said the biggest obstacle to any diplomatic solution to the Russia-Ukraine conflict is that Russia is fighting the US and its allies which are waging a proxy war via Ukraine. "The US now seeks to extend this proxy war for as long as possible with a desire to raise the cost for Russia as much as possible," he noted. 

This is the third installment of the series.

GT: What is the biggest obstacle to a diplomatic solution to the Russia-Ukraine conflict?

Berletic: The biggest obstacle to any diplomatic solution is that Russia is not actually fighting "Ukraine," but instead is fighting the US and its allies which are waging a proxy war via Ukraine. Any sort of diplomatic solution will have to first recognize then rectify the threat the US poses to Russian national security through NATO's constant eastward expansion and its militarization and radicalization of nations bordering the Russian Federation. 

Unfortunately for Ukraine, it is not a matter of what the population or even what the government in Kiev wants, but instead what Washington wants. Since the special interests in Washington driving this foreign policy are not the ones paying in either treasure or blood for the cost of this proxy conflict, there is little motivation at the moment for Washington to recognize or rectify Moscow's legitimate national security concerns. 

GT: Weapons for Ukraine have topped the agenda at Munich Security Conference. There are voices calling for more and better weapons for Ukraine. Countries including the US, Germany and UK recently pledged to send main battle tanks to Ukraine. What's your take on this? What role will the weapons provided by the West play in Ukraine?

Berletic: Sophisticated heavy weapons like main battle tanks take years for a nation's military to integrate into their armed forces. This is because these weapon systems require demanding logistical, training, and doctrinal inputs that take time, energy, and resources to put in place. Ukraine has neither the time nor the infrastructure to practically or effectively use these tanks on the battlefield. 

Main battle tanks are only one part of combined arms warfare which necessitates their use alongside mechanized infantry, artillery and air power. Ukraine lacks sufficient numbers of both trained mechanized infantry and artillery and has little to no air power at all. 

There is also the fact that the tanks pledged to Ukraine including Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 tanks, as well as Challenger 2 and M1A2 Abrams tanks, even with combined arms support, have already faced modern warfare and have proven to be no more effective than the modernized Soviet-era tanks Ukraine began with in late February of 2022. 

Ukraine began the special military operation with around 1,000 tanks of their own. Eastern European NATO members then transferred hundreds of their Soviet-legacy tanks to Ukraine, including those modernized since the end of the Cold War. The majority of these tanks have been destroyed, including hundreds during the Kherson offensive. What may be up to 300 additional tanks, a mix between Western and remaining Soviet-era tanks in NATO's inventory, will simply prolong the conflict, not change the outcome. 

GT: US President Joe Biden has ruled out providing F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine. To what extent will the US support Ukraine in its conflict with Russia? 

Berletic: US President Joe Biden has ruled out F-16 fighter jets. But he had previously ruled out tanks, then decided to send them eventually anyway. Russia should assume that eventually the US, and the rest of NATO will send all forms of weaponry, including long-range ATACMS missiles. 

The likelihood of the West prevailing in Ukraine is negligible. The objective is to make Russia's success as costly as possible. The only prospect Ukraine has of "winning," defined as taking back all territory Kiev considers Ukrainian, is if NATO itself intervenes directly. Even then, it is questionable whether or not this maximalist objective can be achieved or some sort of stalemate arrived at instead. 

GT: There is a view that the US is the biggest initiator of the war in Ukraine, and that the US will prevent the war from ending in order to profit from the protracted conflict. What do you think of this?

Berletic: The US most certainly triggered Ukraine's current war. We have to remember that the war didn't begin in February 2022. Russia was merely intervening in the middle of an ongoing war that began in 2014 when the US openly overthrew the elected government of Ukraine. The US then began militarizing and even "NATO-izing" Ukraine, right on Russia's border. 

Policy papers like the 2019 RAND Corporation document, "Extending Russia," openly noted that such a policy would present Moscow with a sufficient threat to its national security which would compel it to act and thus "extend" Russia economically and militarily as it did so. Policy papers and comments made by American leadership indicate that this was a premeditated provocation aimed at forcing Russia into a costly proxy war. 

The US now seeks to extend this proxy war for as long as possible with a desire to raise the cost for Russia as much as possible. 

GT: US mainstream media are propagating their own selective facts and myths, while censoring counterclaims when reporting on the Ukraine war. Given your understanding of how US mainstream media function, is it in your expectation? One year on, how does it affect the American people's perception of the war? Will anti-war voices increase in the US in future?

Berletic: The collective West has invested significantly in controlling public perception regarding the conflict in Ukraine. The West has committed to censoring both Russian media and Western media presenting alternative perspectives. In this controlled information space, the Western media has created an alternative reality where the Russian military is incompetent and on the retreat, and Ukraine is expertly fighting their way toward victory. 

As this fantasy now collides head-on with reality, much of the Western public finds itself in shock which manifests itself in some cases through disillusionment, but to a greater extent, hysteria and desperation. This desperation is also spreading across Western political circles and increasingly dangerous "solutions" are being explored to "turn the tide" and "change the game" we had been told all along was working in Ukraine's favor. 

Anti-war voices (in the sense of being opposed to Washington's proxy war) are growing in number and reach, owed in part to the increasingly multipolar nature of geopolitics.  

GT: To what extent do you think NATO will directly engage in the Russia-Ukraine war? Some say that NATO's full involvement will trigger World War III. What do you think?

Berletic: There are a variety of ways NATO can intervene more directly in Ukraine. 

First, NATO could attempt to establish a buffer zone in western Ukraine similar to what the US and Turkey did in northern and eastern Syria. Because the US was able to manage escalation with Russia in Syria, Washington may be tempted to try it again in Ukraine, preventing the entire collapse and defeat of Ukraine and freezing the conflict to a certain extent just as the US did in Syria. 

Another possibility is for the US to encourage nations like Poland and the Baltic states to not only cross into Ukraine and establish control over western Ukraine, but send forces officially or unofficially to the front lines alongside what is left of Ukrainian forces. 

In both scenarios the lines of communication between Poland where the vast majority of Ukrainian logistics originate and where most of its maintenance facilities are located, and the front line will be significantly shortened, but only if Russia were to refrain from targeting logistics and maintenance facilities established in any sort of buffer zone. 

The entire prospect is incredibly risky in terms of escalation, but even if WWIII is avoided, there is no guarantee that such a risky move would improve Ukraine's prospects over the long term. We see US forces in Syria under increasing pressure to withdraw and Turkey slowly but surely pivoting away from Washington and more willing to resolve the conflict in a mutually beneficial way between itself, Moscow, and Damascus. A similar long-term chain of events may play out in Ukraine. 

GT: NATO's chief hyped that China is closely watching the Ukraine war and learning lessons that may influence its future decision toward the Taiwan question. US military generals have also been hyping that China and the US will go to war in 2025 over the Taiwan question. Why have some Western political figures concocted the narrative "today's Ukraine is tomorrow's Taiwan?" Why does the US military keep hyping up the war over Taiwan?

Berletic: The US is linking Ukraine to Taiwan not because Russia and China are both belligerent nations pursuing a similar, aggressive policy, but because both Ukraine and the Taiwan island play key roles in Washington's ambitions to encircle and contain both Russia and China in an attempt to eliminate them as peer or near-peer rivals. 

Just as the US created a national security threat in Ukraine to provoke Moscow, the US is doing likewise in the Taiwan island to provoke Beijing. 

Washington is well aware that within the current status quo peaceful reunification between Taiwan and the rest of China is inevitable. While there is no prospect for Washington to create an "independent" Taiwan, the US seeks to make reunification as costly and as bitter as possible for China. It is not that China is in any rush for conflict by 2025, but instead it is between 2025-2030 when the window of opportunity closes entirely on any prospect of the US waging war on China and achieving a favorable outcome. 

The US must create the conditions for war over Taiwan now, while the economic and military disparity between China and the US is still narrowing, or accept a peaceful reunification of Taiwan with the rest of China as disparity begins to grow economically and militarily between China and the US in Beijing's favor.