There is a deep gap between Western leaders' media fantasies about victory in Ukraine and their deep disappointment in private conversations. The four unpredictable and wild cards that can determine the fate of the war in Ukraine are: the change of China's position, the economic situation of the United States, the change of the policies of Europe and especially Germany, and the Hollywood fantasies of the Western media. If the war lasts another year, the possibility of Biden not being re-elected will increase.
Stephen Walt, a famous professor at Harvard University, on his return from the Munich Security Conference, summarized his assessment of the speeches and consultations on the sidelines of this conference, which focused on the war in Ukraine, in two topics:
First, the deep gap regarding the approach to this crisis among the leaders of the western countries of the Atlantic region on one hand and the leaders of the southern countries from India and China to Brazil and Saudi Arabia on the other hand and secondly and more importantly, the deep gap that appears in the passionate statements and speeches of Western leaders about the decisive and one-sided victory in the war with Russia with the absolute despair and pessimism expressed by these same leaders in private conversations.According to him, Western leaders have no hope of winning this war and even recapturing a large part of the occupied areas of eastern Ukraine or Crimea, and their goal of sending weapons and supporting Ukraine is to advance Russia's decision to end the war and give it a better position to give Ukraine fewer concessions during possible future negotiations, that its time is more in the hands of Russia than the western parties.
This picture is very different from many fantasies of the Ukrainian war that are projected by the authorities and the media. Fantasies like this that Ukraine has gained the upper hand in the Ukrainian war with the help of advanced Western weapons and the weapons that are on the way, and soon, with a large and extensive counter-attack, Russia will be expelled from the occupied eastern regions, including Crimea. That Putin has fallen into the trap that America and Biden had created for him and that the final and decisive winner of the war in Europe between Russia and Ukraine isAmerica and Biden, that the war in Ukraine is an important turning point in the international system that will return the leadership of the world to America. That this war is the end of Putin and the beginning of the disintegration of Russia, and dozens of such wishful stories and claims. However, as mentioned, the realities of the field do not necessarily match what the media portrays.
It is true that the war did not go as easily and straightforwardly as Putin imagined, and it has become a painful and costly war for Russia. This is an issue that Putin also acknowledged in his annual speech. However, it should be seen whether the start of this war was desirable and free of cost for the Americans, which are in many ways one of the main stage leaders of this war, and more importantly, whether its outcome in the unknown future are guaranteed and will it be in the interests of Americans? And what will be the risks and dangers of this war going out of control?
In order to answer these questions, two issues in American policy should be separated: first, the desirability of starting the war in Ukraine, and second, the success or failure of the Americans in implementing their calculated strategy towards this crisis.
The short answer to this first question is that before the war, the Americans considered it completely undesirable and made efforts to prevent it, but their strategy in reducing its complications is considered successful until today. For many reasons, the Americans and especially Biden wished that this war would not have started, and they would have continued to lay down their strategic towards China with less trouble, and the Democrats were less concerned about congressional midterm elections, negotiations for the revival of the JCPA, and most of all next year's presidential elections.However, their information evaluations showed that Putin has made his decision for this war and the pattern he is considering is repeating the pattern of Zelensky escaping from Kiev and then establishing a pro-Russian government in Ukraine (similar to Ashraf Ghani's escape from Afghanistan that happened last month) and that the most undesirable scenario for Russia was the occupation of Ukraine and turned it into marshes such as Afghanistan and Iraq.For this reason, they designed and implemented a multifaceted strategy before the war: first: trying to dissuade Putin from attacking, second: deciding not to directly enter the war in Ukraine; and third: making the attack on Ukraine as painful as possible for Putin at all military, political and economic levels. The Americans have implemented this strategy well until today, but there is no guarantee for the continuation of its fragile success.
The Biden administration went to great efforts to prevent a war from starting. For example, by leaking the classified information at a wide level and disclosing military plans, scenarios and strengths and weaknesses of the Russian army, as well as pointing out the consequences of the attack on Russia, have tried to influence Putin's decision that failed.
In the second place, and long before the start of the war in Ukraine, the Americans decided not to intervene directly in this war. Unlike Nixon and Truman, who respectively declared the Persian Gulf and Iran as a prohibited area for the United States for any military adventure of the former Soviet Union, Biden did not take such a position towards Ukraine, and since the beginning of this crisis, his government was careful not to enter the war in Ukraine.
The third and most important element of the American strategy for the war in Ukraine was to make the Ukraine crisis as costly and painful as possible for Putin and turn it into a chokehold for Russia, which has been successful in this field for the past year. In particular, they have achieved significant success in turning some threatening aspects of this crisis into opportunities, such as reviving NATO, creating a kind of solidarity among Western countries, leading a successful media campaign against Russia, etc.However, the Americans knew from the beginning and still know that there is no possibility of defeating Russia, which means removing Russian forces from the eastern provinces and Crimea.
One of the points that should be reminded to those who believe in the theory of America's trap project for Russia in the Ukraine war, is the many difficulties that the Biden administration had to face, especially in the first months of the Ukraine crisis.
The historical record of gasoline prices in the United States (which is one of the most important factors in the popularity of a president and political party in the United States) and the refusal of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to cooperate with the United States to supply more oil to adjust prices, put Biden in danger of a major political defeat which he was able to pass with the relative consensus of two parties and a successful media campaign.
However, the work is not over for either Russia or America. Apparently, Russia has neutralized the heavy media, military, political and economic pressure of the West and America to a large extent, and in the weeks since Walt's article, Russia is more hopeful about the outcome of the war. On the other hand, the longer the war lasts, the more serious the challenges on the American side will be and the more fragile Biden's position will be in the decisive election 2024.
There are also the unpredictable and wild cards in this game, the most important of which are China and the economic situation of the United States. Until a few weeks ago, China had largely maintained a safe distance from the conflicting parties. In addition, the reports of the decline in China's economic growth and the proper performance of the American economy (contrary to the dominant analysis of the last decade) reduced the possibility of China's change in position.However, the bankruptcy of two major American banks, along with the new signs that the leader of China has shown after the third consecutive election as the president of this country, for closer military proximity to Russia and sending weapons to this country, are among these wild cards. It is even possible to interpret the Chinese peace plan for the Ukraine crisis (which was rejected by the West and the US) in the context of China's intention to get closer to Russia under the pretext of rejecting its mediation suggestion.
The third wild card is the anti-Russian and aggressive policies of Europe, especially Germany, towards this crisis. In the Crimea crisis in 2014, Europe and especially the German administration played an important role in adjusting the positions of the West and ending the crisis. Although some Russians today believe that the moderating role of Germany and France in the Minsk conference was done in order to buy time and equip Ukraine, the facts on the ground do not support such an opinion.Today's different situation in Europe and especially and above all, the statements and actions of the new German foreign minister, Ms. Annalena Baerbock, who has fueled the war in Ukraine, confirms this opinion. At the recent Munich conference, Ms. Baerbock's statements were harsher and more anti-Russian than the positions of Americans and even Ukrainians. However, many believe that this situation can be changed, and there is a possibility of adjusting or changing the positions of Europe, especially Germany, which will affect the situation.
Another one of these wild cards is the one-sided Hollywood narrative that the American media campaign has launched in humiliating Russia and exaggerating the power of Ukraine, and unrealistically raising expectations for major concessions from Russia in possible peace negotiations. From this point of view, the closer the time of this agreement is to the US presidential election in November 2024, the higher the electoral expenses will be for Biden and perhaps make him a president that only one elected period.Probably the less dangerous path for Biden to re-election would be to not continue the war in Ukraine for another year and to end it in a dignified way with a reasonable distance and before the arrival of unpredictable and wild cards; although it is difficult to reach such a point for both parties.
Summarizing that the war in Ukraine has entered a complex and irreversible situation that does not see a decisive end in the near future, however, one should not give in to fantasy images that depict this war as a black and white victory for one side and the defeat of the other side. In a devastating war, the majority of players are ultimately losers or at least exposed to unforeseen risks.
Alireza Miryousefi, a senior expert of the Institute for Political and International Studies
(The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the IPIS)