Everybody wants to know just what David Sanger and Eric Schmitt were asking yesterday: How Does It End? I'll get to their reporting in a moment. But let me say something first. As a student of history, there is ONLY ONE way it can end: Now that Putin has tasted blood, he won't stop until he's dead. Not even dismembering or reincorporating Ukraine into Russia isn't going to satisfy him. But it will make him much more powerful in the eyes of his countrymen. Powerful enough to sooner or later go for the Baltic states, the 3 of which are part of NATO. He's willing to bet Biden doesn't have what it takes to go against him.
Some Tom Brady nonsense may be the headlines in the U.S. media, but more important, and widely ignored, is that Biden has possibly lost his inside man in the Kremlin-- the one who was giving us advance notice of every move Putin was contemplating. Putin has now had the head of the Fifth Service of the FSB, Russia’s main intelligence arm, Colonel-General Sergei Beseda, arrested, along with his deputy, Anatoly Bolyukh. It has been driving Putin crazy that Biden has been publicly announcing all his plans in advance and he suspects that Beseda or Bolyukh are the possible culprits. Several stories are circulating about their arrests. One is that they were misusing (stealing) FSB funds and another is that they provided Putin with false information about the situation in Ukraine ahead of the invasion, telling him that he wanted to hear, namely that Russians would be welcomed by Ukrainians with open arms and that the whole thing would be over in days.
Meanwhile, back to the erudite Times reporters who wrote that "The United States accurately predicted the start of the war in Ukraine, sounding the alarm that an invasion was imminent despite Moscow’s denials and Europe’s skepticism. Predicting how it might end is proving far more difficult." Yep... no one at the FSB knows because Putin doesn't himself. Especially if my theory is correct-- that it ends with his corpse.
The leaders of France Israel, Turkey and Germany have been trying-- unsuccessfully-- to get Putin to negotiate seriously. His idea of a settlement, though, is for Ukraine to agree to his terms, "seizing a broad swath of the south and east, connecting Russia by land to Crimea, which he annexed in 2014." But Pentagon modeling also has "a more terrifying endgame, in which NATO nations get sucked more directly into the conflict, by accident or design. That possibility became more vivid on Sunday, when Russian missiles landed in Ukraine’s western reaches, an area unscathed until now by the 18-day-old conflict, about a dozen miles from the Polish border. Russia declared over the weekend that continued efforts to funnel weapons through that region to the Ukrainian forces would make the convoys 'legitimate targets,' a warning that just because the weapons are being massed on NATO territory does not mean they are immune from attack... [N]ow what troubles officials is that Putin may double down and expand the fight beyond Ukraine."
In private, officials express concern that Putin might seek to take Moldova, another former Soviet republic that has never joined NATO and is considered particularly vulnerable. There is renewed apprehension about Georgia, which fought a war with Russia in 2008 that today seems like a test run for the far larger conflict playing out.
And there is the possibility that Putin, angered by the slowness of his offensive in Ukraine, may reach for other weapons: chemical, biological, nuclear and cyber.
Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, mentioned that scenario on Sunday, appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation. “Part of the reason why Putin is resorting to the possibility of extreme tactics like the use of chemical weapons is because he’s frustrated because his forces aren’t advancing,” he said.
Sullivan said that Russia would suffer “severe consequences” if it used chemical weapons, without specifying what those would be. He sidestepped the question of how Biden would react. So far he has said the only thing that would bring the United States and its allies directly into the war would be an attack on NATO nations. Quietly, the White House and the senior American military leadership have been modeling how they would respond to a series of escalations, including major cyberattacks on American financial institutions and the use of a tactical or “battlefield” nuclear weapon by Putin to signal to the rest of the world that he would brook no interference as he moves to crush Ukraine.
Even with Ukrainians begging for more offensive weapons and American intervention, Biden has stuck to his determination that he will not directly engage the forces of a nuclear-armed superpower.
“The idea that we’re going to send in offensive equipment,” Mr. Biden said in Philadelphia to the House Democratic Caucus on Friday, “and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews, just understand-- and don’t kid yourself, no matter what you all say-- that’s called ‘World War III.’ OK? Let’s get it straight here.”
OK, President Chamberlain... what about when Putin decides to free the Russian-speakers in Latvia? And 6% of Lithuanians are Russian speakers. About a quarter of Estonians are. "Simmering mistrust between Estonian and Russian speakers has played out in Narva for a long time. This is shaped by the wounds the Soviet occupation inflicted on Estonians, the cataclysm the country's independence represented for Russian speakers, and decades of omnipresent Russian media. In the third-largest city in Estonia, many in Narva have tended to look closer to their near neighbor to the east than to the Estonian capital-- though residents don't want to return to Russia, either... [A] 'small, but real group of pro-Putin residents with toxic views' is coexisting with a large group of residents who are largely indifferent to the current events. But the war has been the catalyst for a new group of ethnic Russians to publicly assert their pro-Ukraine and pro-Western European identities."
Russia's demands, according to a Kremlin spokesman, to get them to turn off the military strikes Ukraine would have to change its constitution to "accept some form of 'neutrality' rather than an aspiration to join NATO; recognized that the separatist areas of Donetsk and Lugansk were independent states, and that Crimea was part of Russia." Zelenskyy says he's open to discussing the Russian demands. "But it is unclear whether Putin himself would take that deal. Separate conversations between the Russian leader and President Emmanuel Macron of France, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of Israel and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey all circled the same issues, but left his interlocutors wondering if they were being played for time as the war ground on." Macron noted that his discussions with Putin leave him with the sense that the Russian autocrat is insincere, "determined to continue the war" [and] "intent on destroying Ukraine."
CIA Director William Burns told members of Congress last week that he's anticipating an "ugly next few weeks... I think Putin is angry and frustrated right now. [He is likely to] try to grind down the Ukrainian military with no regard for civilian casualties."
Putin has demonstrated in past conflicts in Syria and Chechnya a willingness not only to bomb heavily populated areas but also to use civilian casualties as leverage against his enemies. Senior U.S. officials said the coming weeks could see a long, drawn-out fight with thousands of casualties on both sides, as well as among the roughly 1.5 million citizens remaining in the city.
Russian and Ukrainian forces are now pitted in fierce street fighting in the suburban towns around the capital, while Ukrainian troops ambush the Russians with Javelin anti-tank missiles supplied by NATO and the United States.
Russian forces greatly outnumber the Ukrainian Army, and might grind them down.
Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told lawmakers last week there was a limit to how long Kyiv could hold on as Russian forces edged closer from the east, north and south, tightening the vise. “With supplies being cut off, it will become somewhat desperate in, I would say, 10 days to two weeks,” General Berrier said.
Another senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential intelligence assessments, said it could take up to two weeks for Russian forces to encircle Kyiv and then at least another month to seize it. That would require a combination of relentless bombardment and what could be weeks or months of door-to-door street fighting.
“It will come at a very high price in Russian blood,” said retired Adm. James Stavridis, the former supreme allied commander for Europe. That high cost, he added, could cause Putin to destroy the city with an onslaught of missiles, artillery and bombs-- “continuing a swath of war crimes unlike any we have seen in the 21st century.”
...Russian attacks in western Ukraine over the past two days underscore Putin’s continued determination to control the entire country, starting with Kyiv. It remains unclear how he would find the forces to occupy it, which could require a bloody, yearslong guerrilla war.
“The most probable endgame, sadly, is a partition of Ukraine,” said Stavridis, pointing to the outcome of the Balkan wars in the 1990s as a model. “Putin would take the southeast of the country, and the ethnic Russians would gravitate there. The rest of the nation, overwhelmingly Ukrainian, would continue as a sovereign state.”
The fear now is that the war could expand.
The more the fighting moves west, the more likely it is that an errant missile lands in NATO territory, or the Russians take down a NATO aircraft.
Putin has used chemical weapons before against political opponents and defectors, and he might be inclined to do so again. Using battlefield nuclear weapons would cross a threshold, which most American officials believe even Putin would not do unless he believed he was facing the need to withdraw his troops. But the possibility of a nuclear detonation has been discussed more in the past two weeks than in years, officials say.
And finally, there are cyberattacks, which have been strangely missing from the conflict so far. They may be Putin’s most effective way of retaliating against the United States for grievous harm to the Russian economy.
So far there are none of the procedures in place that American and Russian pilots use over Syria, for example, to prevent accidental conflict. And Putin has twice issued thinly veiled reminders of his nuclear capabilities, reminding the world that if the conflict does not go his way he has far larger, and far more fearsome, weapons to call into play.
Like I said, the only end to this-- meaning Russian aggression-- will be with Putin's death.