Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky says that Ukraine will not surrender one meter of land to Russia. It would seem that his demand makes any diplomatic solution to the war impossible. Russia, after all, has recognized Donetsk and Luhansk as independent and has annexed Crimea.
So while Zelensky looks at his war aims one way, the Russian position is the diametrical opposite. So while the Russians say they are willing to negotiate, something they repeat quite often, the sine qua non of the Russian position is to accept the territorial changes they have made, or in the case of Donetsk and Luhansk, supported.
For some time I have been writing about whether there is a way out of this dilemma. The situation is complicated by the war itself, and by Washington’s apparent veto over any sort of negotiation.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett who, for a time, was acting as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine, tells how he had the first part of a deal between Ukraine and Russia in hand, but Washington objected and blocked it, leading to Ukraine walking away from peace talks with Russia.
Now Russia is mounting a major offensive whose ultimate target isn’t clear. The Ukrainians are hanging on, strongly defending the line of contact and in some cases even advancing a little. But so, too, are the Russians gaining ground and getting close to encircling the strategic town of Bakhmut. Whether this will result in a Russian victory, or not, remains to be seen.
In the mind of the Russians, the Bakhmut battle compares to the Battle for Stalingrad in World War II. In that battle, German and Axis forces numbered 220,000, but in the bloody fighting and freezing weather were reduced to 91,000 or the loss of close to 60% of their manpower and an even greater loss of equipment and ammunition.
On February 2, 1943, the German Field Marshal and General in charge of the Stalingrad offensive, Frederick Paulus, decided to surrender his remaining forces, disobeying Hitler’s order to fight to the last man. (Hitler promoted him to Field Marshal at the last minute, expecting Paulus to commit suicide.)
Stalin and Soviet General Georgy Zhukov regarded the Stalingrad battle as the first big step in rolling up the German army, eventually leading to the defeat of Nazi Germany in the last war battles in Berlin. Russian President Vladimir Putin, like his predecessor Joseph Stalin, no doubt has the same opinion about Bakhmut.
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