Suppressed Thought: Ukraine and the West could lose the war–What a Russian victory would mean
Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD) in International Law, Harvard University
Adapted from The Trenchant Observer, February 7, 2023
1) Cristian Segura y Javier G. Cuesta (Kiev / Moscú), “Rusia ultima una triple ofensiva para ocupar todo Donbás y avanzar en el frente sur; Las autoridades ucranias, los servicios de inteligencia occidentales y medios independientes rusos dan por hecho que el ataque será en febrero,” el 7 de febrero 2023 (05:40 CET);
2) Cristian Segura and Javier G. Cuesta (Kiev/ Moscow), “Russia finalizes a triple offensive to occupy all of Donbas and advance on the southern front; Ukrainian authorities, Western intelligence services and Russian independent media assume that the attack will take place in February,” February 6, 2023 (23:40 EST);
3) “Ukraine promises not to hit Russia with new long-range missiles,” The Telegraph, February 7, 2023 (10:91 am);
4) Tom Cotton, “The American Case for Supporting Ukraine; The U.S. can back its allies and send a message to the Chinese, without sparking a wider war in Europe,” Wall Street Journal, February 7, 2023 (1:43 pm ET);
5) “Ukraine erwartet Attacken an mehreren Fronten – und rechtfertigt Beschuss in Russland; Im Nordosten und Süden rechnet die Ukraine mit neuen Angriffswellen. Kiew will auch weiter Ziele in Russland angreifen. Und: USA loben deutsches Engagement. Die wichtigsten Entwicklungen,” Der Spiegel, den 8. Februar 2023 (03.46 Uhr):
6) “Ukraine expects attacks on several fronts – and justifies shelling in Russia; In the northeast and south, Ukraine expects new waves of attacks. Kiev also wants to continue to attack targets in Russia. And: USA praises German commitment. The most important developments,” Der Spiegel, February 8, 2023 03:46 am);
It appears that throughout the first year of the Russian war against Ukraine leaders in NATO and other Western countries have not allowed themselves to seriously contemplate the possibility of Ukraine losing the war and what a Russian victory would mean.
This failure to face hard facts is the product of two related phenomena:
First, Borja Lasheras in El País describes a subconscious process he labels “cognitive occlusion” which, as a camera shutter blocks all light when closed, blocks from view subjects which are blazingly clear but too terrifying to behold.
1) “Eight great illusions about the war in Ukraine;’Cognitive occlusion’; Part Two: Mental defenses against hard truths; Genocide in progress,” Trenchant Observations, July 14, 2022;
2) Borja Lasheras, “La guerra de Ucrania durará; El que Putin no pudiera tomar Kiev al inicio de la invasión no ha mitigado su obsesión por el territorio. Rusia quiere la destrucción del país. El conflicto puede prolongarse al menos uno o dos años más,” El País, el 10 de julio 2022 (23:00 EDT);
3) Borja Lasheras, “The war in Ukraine will last; The fact that Putin could not take Kiev at the beginning of the invasion has not mitigated his obsession with the territory. Russia wants the destruction of the country. The conflict can last at least one or two more years,” El País, July 10, 2022 (23:00 EDT);
It is difficult for us to accept truths that involve extreme evil. Let’s call it cognitive occlusion: the mind is clotted like a camera, and the light does not pass, because it is a terrible light. It is easy to see horrible truths from the past (Holocaust), but not so much when similar events can happen today.
After the initial shock and indignation, this cognitive problem conditions the debate about the end of this war. This is joined by another attitude: faced with Dantesque images like Kremenchuk at the end of June, with people burned alive in a shopping center destroyed by Russian missiles, we want the horror to end. Or we disconnect.
Lasheras describes the genocidal intent of Putin and the acts of genocide of his soldiers, citing the 1948 U.N. Convention on Genocide. He asserts that the war is likely to last one or two more years, observing,
The war will probably continue, in one way or another, as long as Putin and his circle remain in power….(Putin) will go down in history as a textbook fascist and one of the worst war criminals of this century. But in the digital and satellite age, we can’t say that we didn’t know it. So much post-truth when perhaps the question is, in the words of Nietzsche, in Ecce Homo, “how much truth can man endure?”
It appears that “cognitive occlusion” has blocked the minds of Western leaders and populations from seeing and grasping what is really at stake in the war in Ukraine, and what the consequences of a Russian victory or even a stalemate would be.
This accounts in part for the slow, wavering, and ultimately timid responses of NATO countries and other military supporters of Ukraine to developments on the ground.
The other causes of these slow, wavering, and timid responses are related, and involve perhaps the impact of “cognitive occlusion” on U.S. President Joe Biden and top U.S, officials (as well as on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other leaders and officials), of the very real possibility of escalation to a nuclear conflict.
Biden and others could not look at the possibility of nuclear conflict, and basically checked out of analyzing the problem by internalizing the Russian refrain of “One, two, three, World War III”.1
This resulted in a failure to take the initiative in challenging Putin by taking measures necessary for the defense of Ukraine, despite Putin’s use of nuclear threats.
Putin might have detonated a nuclear device, but Biden and NATO never tested him until they began to do so, ever so cautiously and gingerly, in the summer and fall of 2022. At each point where they tested him, by supplying weapons with greater capacity and range, Putin’s nuclear threats have proven–at least so far–to be empty.
Second, and closely related, has been “Western disbelief” in the grave implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the barbarism with which it has prosecuted the war.
1) Andrew A. Michta, “China, Russia and the West’s Crisis of Disbelief; Globalist dogma has weakened America’s ability to acknowledge and confront adversity,” The Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2022 (5:39 pm ET);
2) “Western “disbelief” and the absence of war production,” Trenchant Observations, August 11, 2022.
The following text is taken from Trenchant Observations, August 11, 2022 (article cited above)
Andrew A. Michta in an article in The Wall Street Journal describes the “disbelief” in the challenges posed by Russia and China in the countries of the West. One consequence of this “disbelief” has been the failure to ramp up war production of arms and ammunition to meet the needs of Ukraine, and maybe not just Ukraine, for a long war with Russia.
It is because of our collective refusal to acknowledge the new reality Mr. Putin has created in Europe that Western leaders have yet to address their publics on the need to move our economies to wartime production. Instead, the military aid we send to Ukraine largely draws down our existing stocks, while our investment decisions don’t provide for manufacturing redundancies imperative in a war.
The “disbelief” in the West is a big disadvantage in the struggles with Russia and China:
Democracies are today at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the Russian-Chinese totalitarian axis, and it isn’t because the West lacks the money or material resources to confront them and prevail. Rather, much like in the late 1930s, the West doesn’t believe that the threat is real.
Michta concludes that,
Until the West’s disbelief is replaced by a determination to resist, the Russian and Chinese dictators will keep pressing on, planning their major assaults and dreaming of future victories.
The question of war production is critical to the success of Ukraine and the West in repelling Russian aggression. At least publicly, the U.S. and the West have not even begun to address it.
The lack of war production is only one of the pernicious effects of Western “disbelief”.
End of quoted section from Trenchant Observations, August 11, 2022
What a Russian victory or a stalemate would mean
The related phenomena of “cognitive occlusion” and “Western disbelief” have led to the present critical situation, where a major Russian offensive is about to begin, probably around the first anniversary on February 24 of the Russian invasion in 2022.
The good news is that Germany has finally come around and now supports the transfer of the German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine and, apparently realizing the critical nature of the current situation on the battlefield, now is even pushing the deployment of Leopard 1 tanks in the country. Meanwhile, rhe U.S. has pledged delivery of a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine, and may authorize orher countries to transfer their Patriot systems as well.
The negative news is that all of the delay caused by Olaf Scholz’s obstinate refusal to authorize the transfer of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, conditioning his authorization on U.S. transfer of Abrams tanks to Ukraine–in effect blackmailing Joe Biden and the United States for his own reasons of domestic political cover–means that the tanks will not be deployed and their crews and maintenance teams trained in time for them to play a major role in beating back the looming Russian offensive.
Further negative news is that Biden continues to block transfer of fighter aircraft to Ukraine, as he has done since March 2022 when Poland wanted to transfer its old Mig 29’s to Ukraine.
At the same time, Biden insists that Ukraine not use any weapons supplied by the U.S. to attack targets in Russian territory. This means that Biden continues to block the use of U.S.-supplied weapons to attack bases and platforms in Russia (including Russian airspace) from which missiles and drones are being launched against Ukrainian cities, civilians, and civilian infrastructure, including the electrical grid and water supply infrastructure.
Under the international law of self-defense, as authorized in Article 51 of the U.N. Charter, Ukraine has the “inherent’ right to strike those targets in self-defense.
Biden by prohibiting attacks on targets in Russia, is enforcing one of Vladimir Putin’s “red lines”. Jake Sullivan, the National Security Adviser, is reported to have conducted secret back-channel talks with Vladimir Putin’s top aides.
Congress, exercising its oversight authority, should call Sullivan to testify under oath whether there are any secret understandings between Biden and Putin with respect to respecting Putin’s “red line” of not allowing any attacks on Russian territory (Russia proper). Or any other secret understandings.
In effect, Biden continues to insist that Ukraine fight with one hand tied behind its back. This leaves Putin free to attack Ukrainian targets “like shooting fish in a barrel”.2
In view of the above, the situation on the ground is extremely tenuous, as Russia floods the battlefield with new recruits and has a very large numerical superiority in troops.
Given the current facts on the ground, Ukraine could suffer major military defeats and the loss of territory in the coming months. Such developments could energize proponents of a ceasefire, of whom there are many in the “Global South”, which would in effect freeze the conflict to Russia’s advantage.
What would the consequences be of a Russian victory or a stalemate?
There are signs that in Europe, at least, leaders are beginning to overcome the effects of “cognitive occlusion”. BEGINNING.
“Western disbelief” may be giving way to a realization on the part of some leaders of the extraordinary stakes in the Ukraine war,3 and the horrendously negative consequences a Russian victory or stalemate might have.
Plans for ramped-up war production are now being made. But nowhere do we see the kind of actual war production that is likely to be required, along the lines of World War II war production in the United States.
“Western disbelief” may be diminishing and “cognitive occlusion” weakening, but nowhere do we see the kind of national mobilizations that may be needed if Ukraine and the West are to prevail in this war to save Ukraine, and also international law and the United Nations Charter.
We are in an existential struggle to defend our civilization and a world ruled by reason and law, not military aggression and barbarism.
This brute fact is only slowly sinking in.
“Ukraine War, March 11, 2022 (II): Putin’s brilliant success in implanting fear in Joe Biden’s mind–’If you fight me, One, Two, Three, World War III,’” The Trenchant Observer, March 11, 2022.
See “Like shooting fish in a barrel; Russia's continuing attacks on Ukrainian towns and cities,” Trenchant Observations, July 16, 2022.
See “The real stakes in Ukraine: Freedom and a world ruled by reason and law, not force and barbarism,” Trenchant Observations, November 3, 2022.
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