The piece below is an article by Conrad Black which originally appeared in the New York Sun on March 29, 2022. View the original here.
The Russian deputy defense minister’s statement at the talks with Ukraine in Istanbul on Tuesday that Russia will refrain from military activity around Kiev and that there is progress toward an agreement is a clear indication that, after all the ludicrous saber-rattling and posturing and shilly-shallying of many of the countries involved and the naked outrage of Russian aggression, a reasonable compromise is within reach.
The combatants are proceeding toward a neutral Ukraine, fully armed and guaranteed by NATO and Russia, with a serious referendum to determine what Russian-speaking areas of Ukraine might prefer to be in Russia, including Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014 after Ukraine applied for membership in NATO. Obviously, this is overwhelmingly the best possible result.
It has also been the only conceivable outcome since the Ukrainians demonstrated in the first week of the Russian invasion that it would be impossible for Russia to occupy and subjugate all Ukraine, a nation of more than 40 million, whose entire non-Russian population was hostile to Russia’s assault, with a force of only about 150,000 trigger-pullers.
Any transfer of territory from Ukraine to Russia will apparently be after a serious and internationally supervised referendum and will take place in a transition of up to 15 years. It is hard to imagine that such a settlement as this could not have been reached without the brutal assault the Russians have conducted, which has driven more than 4 million Ukrainians from their homes and shattered substantial areas of urban Ukraine.
Evidently, the Russians suffered a total intelligence failure and had no concept of the extent to which NATO had trained up and helped thoroughly equip a professional Ukrainian force of 300,000 men and an additional 200,000 reservists who could be brought up to full capability in a few weeks of action, which, as all the world knows, they have now passed with great distinction.
The Russian invasion force would not be sufficient to occupy a country larger than Luxembourg unless a large section of the population welcomed the invasion, which was conspicuously not the case outside the Russian-speaking areas. Ukraine is a sophisticated armaments manufacturing country and was an advanced arms producer and supplier throughout the Soviet era, and it is hardly imaginable that the Russians had no idea that it was awash with Javelin anti-tank and Stinger anti-(low-flying) aircraft missiles before it invaded in February.
The Russian attack must be counted as a colossal blunder and failure of military intelligence, tactics, and strategy, surpassing in its abysmal misjudgment, if not in its gravity and consequences, American errors in Vietnam, let alone the tragic and degrading farce of the exit from Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, the American take on the conflict when it began, expressed by the chairman of the joint oafs of staff, General Mark Milley, the Tiger of Kabul, when he told a Senate committee he expected the Russian army to have occupied Kiev within three days, was echoed by President Biden’s gallant offer to evacuate the Ukrainian president, Vladimir Zelensky, and his family from their country, as if Mr. Zelensky could be tempted by such a demeaning proposal. It was like President Roosevelt offering to send a cruiser to remove Winston Churchill and the royal family from the British Isles in the summer of 1940.
It is prayerfully to be hoped that behind all the flip-flops and ghastly rhetorical gaffes and stumbles, the president’s asinine blurted bellicosities and renunciations of the immediate “clarifications” by his entourage, and the toing and froing of one of the most inarticulate spokesmen of any large institution in recent memory, the Pentagon’s John Kirby, somebody in the U.S. government had some idea of the evolution of official Russian and Ukrainian opinion.
The credibility of the American administration has only barely survived because of the docility and partisanship of the media and the desire of most Americans to maintain some sort of common front when faced with mortal combat abroad in which the national interest is closely involved.
Nothing else could remotely justify the president’s truckling and groveling to the advocates of a self-destructive Green New Deal ahead of the national security necessity for regaining energy self-sufficiency and imposing some economic restraint on Russia, Iran, and, to some extent, China.
The reliance upon Russia to make, on behalf of the United States, shameful proposals of outright surrender to the gangster theocracy in Iran over nuclear weapons while declaring that the Russian leader must be removed as a war criminal finds few modern precedents of incoherence in the foreign policy of serious states.
The emerging Iran agreement appears to be a legitimization of the antics of the world’s principal national supporter of terrorism, the immediate release of scores of billions of dollars to assist it in becoming a nuclear military power, and, at best, will only slightly decelerate the descent of the Middle East toward general nuclear proliferation. In this process, Russia, America’s ostensible quasi-adversary in Ukraine, will hugely profit by building Iran two new nuclear reactors.
As we seem, perhaps, to be entering brighter days in Ukraine, it need only be said of the emerging perfidy of the Iran arrangements that when Iran is a full nuclear military power, that will be the end of arms control; all of the major Middle Eastern countries and many others around the world will do the same.
It may be that now that mankind has become familiar with the cautious possession of nuclear weapons, the defense of the world will be more reliably based on fear of retaliation than it has been, but we are sleepwalking into a new and unpromising era.
It seems that the Russian government realized it could not achieve its goal by simply smashing Ukrainian cities and terrorizing the country’s urban population — unlike the constant carpet bombing of Germany and Japan in the last year of World War II, this was not a legitimate military objective, nor a morally defensible policy, even to a regime so insouciant about international opinion as the Kremlin.
When President Zelensky expressed a preparedness on the weekend for a neutral but not disarmed Ukraine, he effectively rolled back the previous frequently expressed Ukrainian national desire for NATO membership in exchange for security guarantees, and expressed flexibility about treatment of the Russian minority in Ukraine.
NATO should decide whom it will admit as members, but Ukraine would not be eligible for a time anyway, and NATO’s status as a defensive alliance has been worn threadbare. In the febrile minds of Mr. Putin and his claque as NATO, contrary to frequent assurances as the Cold War ended, steadily encroached upon what had been since 1945 a Russian sphere of influence of republics of the Soviet Union and an involuntary alliance of occupied or intimidated eastern European states.
This crisis is abating, and despite President Biden’s floundering, the administration’s performance may not, when all is known, be quite as amateurish as it appeared. It is, however, not too soon to begin actively worrying about the proportions of the disaster looming in the Iranian discussions. With the Biden administration, cold terror of its next foreign (and domestic) policy blunder is a self-perpetuating nightmare.