After being a globe-trotter for over a year, shaming the world's nations to support Ukraine or else, President Zelensky of Ukraine arrived this week in Davos, Switzerland, to talk peace.
"We need peace in the world," he said. "Peace in Ukraine means peace in Europe. It means peace in the world."
It was a remarkable turnaround for a leader who, just in December, was pressuring the White House and reluctant Members of Congress to pass a $61 billion weapons package. That request has stalled as the GOP House Speaker has refused to take the proposal up unless it is paired with securing America’s southern border, which the Biden administration is loath to do.
With former President Trump routing his rivals in Iowa, winning 98 out of 99 counties and earning a majority of the caucus vote, Ukraine's chances of eliciting further American support to fight a proxy war are perilous. Trump has consistently opposed getting involved in the conflict. With Vivek Ramaswamy, the fourth-place finisher in Iowa, joining hands with Trump, the ‘America First’ voice only got louder. Florida Gov. DeSantis also opposes funding Ukraine, with Nikki Haley the lone holdout.
The war started on February 24, 2022, when Russia attacked Ukraine. At that time, Russia controlled about 16,217 sq miles of Ukraine from prior incursions going back to Moscow’s Crimean invasion in 2014, amounting to 7.1% of Ukraine's territory, according to the CIA Factbook. Ukraine has not reclaimed any of this land to date.
By early March 2022, Russian aggression went seamlessly to within striking distance of Kyiv when the brave Ukrainians fought back with whatever weapons they had. The Russian attack force was paltry, and it quickly withdrew, giving Ukraine hope that if armed and trained, Ukraine could prevail.
However, arms were delayed as a focused international strategy was not in place. America led the effort with Europe in tow, but by the time all the nations had a plan, it was already summer. By August 9, 2022, Russia had taken nearly 54,000 square miles of Ukrainian territory in the East. The French-based AFP released a fascinating YouTube video animating the land area exchanged between the two fighting nations from Russia's initial advance to July 3, 2023, roughly 500 days later.
Ukraine began to take significant swathes of territory back in the fall of 2022, but in the winter and spring of 2023, Russian forces dug in with multi-layered defenses using mines and other World War II battle techniques. The famed counter-offensive from Ukraine started in June 2023 but sputtered. By August, it was clear that Ukraine could not break Russia's land bridge by advancing to the Sea of Azov. With another winter approaching, the fighting returned to a stalemate, where it is today.
The average American's support for Ukraine was high during Russia's initial invasion. But they grew skeptical as the Biden administration's goalposts moved with an "as-long-as-it-takes" war. Biden never asked for Congressional approval. No one defined what victory meant: ousting Russia from territory it has acquired since February 24, 2022? Regime change in Russia? Testing out American weapons on the battlefield in preparation for a future war with China? Building up the American Military Industrial Complex? Creating well-paying jobs in American states?
According to the Harvard Kennedy School's Russia-Ukraine War Report Card of December 2023, Russia currently occupies 25,000 square miles, about 20% of Ukraine, nearly 9,000 square miles more than before the Feb 2022 invasion. [At the war's peak, Russia had occupied almost 54,000 square miles, but Ukraine won 29,000 square miles back]. American taxpayers have sent $110 billion in weapons and logistical support to help Ukraine - yet the report card shows that Ukraine has lost nearly 13% more territory than it had when Russia first invaded. The hard truth is that Russia prevailed, and Ukraine and the West lost.
Most reasonable people would conclude that this conflict was also a huge loss for America's international prestige as gauged by our Standing In The World Index. America led Europe and the G7 nations by employing every resource at its disposal, including applying intense diplomatic pressure that even caused rifts with the countries of the Global South and passing more than 2,500 financial sanctions on Russia, many of which were routinely violated.
Zelensky's visionless peace plan still doesn't offer any concessions, something one would expect a losing party to include. According to the New York Times, the plan calls for a complete Russian withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, payment of reparations, prosecution of war crimes, and stepped-up sanctions against Russia. Since when has the losing party been entitled to ask for everything back and more from the victor?
It is another example of Zelensky's arrogant leadership, which caused the world to endure a needless conflict, brought us perilously close to nuclear armageddon, and failed to pursue peace early on, like in March 2022, when he was in a far better position to negotiate. Credit the Biden and Britain’s Boris Johnson administration for misleading Zelensky and grossly miscalculating President Putin’s tenacity.
Americans see Biden’s "as-long-as-it-takes" approach as not a strategy. Most think Biden has not done enough to end the war, with 48% dissatisfied with Biden’s efforts to find a settlement. That includes 20% of Democrats, 75% of Republicans, and 65% of independents.
On his report card, nearly half (45%) give him a D or F for handling the war. Only 28% see Biden in a positive light on this issue. Dissatisfaction runs high among Republicans (74%) and independents (50%), while 54% of Democrats are satisfied.
We know that Russia will not agree to any of Zelensky's proposals - and Russian approval, as the other warring party, is crucial. If anything, Russia would ask for security guarantees that Ukraine would remain neutral and not be aligned with NATO. If Russia's demand sounds familiar, it is. The West's failure to address this Russian grievance resulted in Russia's invasion in Feb 2022. In short, peace is nowhere on the horizon.
Even if a cease-fire agreement is reached, rebuilding Ukraine will remain costly, possibly requiring nearly $1 trillion. With America already in debt to the tune of $34 trillion, there will be little appetite for that. Credit the Biden administration and Washington NeoCons again for bringing us this totally avoidable mess.