Accepting the cost of punishment

A majority of right thinking Americans has answered the appeal by President Biden to support the embargo on energy imports from Russia, mostly oil, by accepting the inevitable consequence of an increase of the cost of gas at the pump. The question that cynical observers are asking is: how long will they accept it? Thisquestion begets another: how long will the war in Ukraine last? And the  answer is: a long time. The present fighting that pits a powerful  Russian war machine against a small Ukrainian defense force cannot last forever. But a different fight will ensue when the Ukrainian  resistance emerges to inflict heavy losses on the Russians replicating the situation in Afghanistan where the Russian occupiers were forced to abandon a costly adventure. History makes clear that an invading force needs a huge fighting presence to control the territory,  maintaining highly mobile and efficient forces, with unchallenged  control of the skies and communications. In Afghanistan, the local mujaheddin resistance did the job by making good use of the American-provided ground to air Stingers. Such weaponry represents a very small part of the arsenal that the Ukrainian fighters will receive and deploy in what promises to be a widespread guerrilla-type national campaign against the Russian occupiers. No one can foresee if  the present fighting in Ukraine will evolve through escalation,  which is obviously the strategy of President Putin in doubling down and reducing the capital Kyiv to rubble towardimposing an iron fist on a defeated Ukraine. Having invested huge resources in his vendetta on Ukraine and the concomitant project of reviving czarist Russia, Vladimir Putin will impose the subjugation of the government in Kyiv and the detachment of Ukraine from the Western sphere of influence.

At this point, the Western countries will have to choose: either  swallow the bitter pill of the loss of Ukraine or decide to fight on by allying themselves more openly with the Ukrainian insurgency.  Much will depend on the will to fight of the Ukrainians and the  resolve of the United States and NATO countries with the risk  of escalation all the way to a clash between NATO and Russia.  In fact, there are several scenarios at play, the major one connected with the capacity of the Ukrainian insurgent force to cause heavy losses for Russian forces, weakening the position of President Putin and exposing him to regime change. This vision of escalation achieving regime change in Russia is a daring one for the simple reason that the Western leadership, President Biden included, wants to avoid a fatal confrontation with Russia. But there is one more massive reason why the West will tread carefully: Putin does not make empty  threats and in desperation he could cross the nuclear threshold by using a tactical nuclear weapon, thus avoiding a full nuclear exchange.

At this point, the world would face an existential danger that no diplomatic effort could effectively neutralize. As stated in the premise, the length and intensity of the fighting in Ukraine will dictate the tempo of the escalation. The other factor is the spreading of devastation that the Russian forces will rain down on Ukraine recreating the brutal model of Grozny in Chechnya. The only real hope for a negotiated settlement is that the losses of the Russian army in Ukraine will make Putin weaker, albeit not enough for a regime  change, while a makeshift escalation may allow a few mitigating steps on the ground. As for the U.S. posture, it will clearly rest upon the  leadership of President Biden and his skill in balancing restraint and the same time supporting the future of the Ukrainian nation.

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