Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?

The Embassy

The Russia-Ukraine War at 6 Months: Could Ukraine Have Avoided War?

Ukraine Russia
Russian Tu-160 bomber. Image Credit - Creative Commons.

On the six-month mark of the Russian-Ukraine War, President Biden announced on Wednesday the largest aid package sent to Kyiv yet, coming in at a robust $3 billion. That brings the total of all the U.S. taxpayer money given to Ukraine in just six months of war to $13.7 billion – so far. Before the U.S. government signs up to give Kyiv an indefinite and open-ended supply of U.S. taxpayer money, which equates to the weapons and ammunition meant for the U.S. Armed Forces, the Administration must first answer two key questions: 

1. Did Ukraine do all it could to prevent war six months ago? 

2. Has it exhausted all reasonable means at its disposal to end the war?

It is entirely reasonable and appropriate for the American people and government to condemn the Russian government for its illegal invasion of Ukraine and to feel sympathy for the Ukrainian victims of that assault. It may be appropriate for the U.S. to provide aid and comfort to Kyiv and its people, but it is important – and in fact, necessary – to note that there is no mutual defense treaty with Ukraine that obligates us to do anything. 

Second, and as important, before giving billions of our dollars and large quantities of military gear and supplies meant for our national security to Ukraine, the government should first make sure Kyiv did all it could reasonably have done to prevent war and we must continually insist that Ukraine does all it can within its power to bring the war to an end. 

There should be no expectation for Washington to provide a limitless amount of support, with no strings attached, without considering whether such support is necessary for our national security, and without knowing the recipients of that aid have first exhausted all means at their disposal to end the war. Likewise, continued aid should be predicated on a sober assessment as to whether the money and military gear we may provide have a reasonable chance of enabling the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) to defeat its enemy.

To date, there is no evidence any of these questions have even been asked, much less answered. 

If we fail to ensure that American interests are not at the top of the priority list for deciding whether or how much foreign aid we should provide, or fail to even establish a strategic objective for any aid we might provide, we are setting ourselves and Kyiv up for failure. The preponderance of evidence, sadly, suggests we are indeed headed for failure. To explain why our efforts are likely to fail, let us return to the two central questions posed at the outset of this analysis. The answers will make painfully clear why our policies have such little chance of success.

Q1: Did Ukraine Do All it Could Six Months Ago to Prevent War?

Before the U.S. government commits itself to risk a war with nuclear-armed Russia in support of a non-treaty ally, it is reasonable to predicate that support on ensuring Kyiv did all it could to avoid war. Failing to set such a requirement introduces the possibility that foreign governments may calculate that America will come to help them against their enemies, even in the absence of a treaty. 

If other nations believe the U.S. will provide significant military capabilities they don’t have in their own arsenals, some foreign governments may be willing to take risks that circumstances would otherwise dictate against. Observing the actions of the Ukrainian government and the statements of its top leaders in the final months and weeks before the war suggests Kyiv may have based its responses to Moscow on the expectation of a blank check from Washington. 

Recent reporting and a survey of multiple public statements made by several top Ukrainian officials in the run-up to the war reveals that Kyiv disregarded the tactical and strategic imbalance between its country and Russia. As I and many others pointed out months before the war, it was plainly evident that Ukraine was outgunned, outmanned, and at a serious disadvantage in the industrial capacity necessary to wage and sustain a war. There were many diplomatic off-ramps that could have been pursued by Kyiv to avert a Russian invasion. All were rejected. The first to be abandoned was the Minsk Agreements.

Rikhter R-23

Image: Creative Commons.

Rejection of the Minsk Agreements

The Minsk accords had been signed in February 2015, as a way to end the violent crisis that resulted after the 2014 Maiden protests that ousted then-president Viktor Yanukovych in a popular revolution. Generally speaking, the accords obligated each side to honor a ceasefire, withdraw heavy weapons from the line of contact, and allow limited self-governance for the Luhansk and Donetsk breakaway republics. Neither side ever fully implemented the accords, but especially in the last year before the war started, Ukraine became increasingly antagonistic towards the idea of any implementation.

In an interview with Voice of America on February 10, only 13 days before the war, Oleksiy Danilov, head of the National Security Council of Ukraine, said, “(i)t’s hard to call [the Minsk Accords] agreements … when they were signed under the Russian gun barrel.” If the Russians insist on “the fulfillment of the Minsk agreements as they are,” Danilov continued, “it will be very dangerous for our country.” 

Yet the accords had not been negotiated “under the Russian gun barrel” but on neutral territory, with the participation of Western powerhouses France and Germany to ensure a fair process, and willingly signed by then-President Petro Poroshenko. Far from viewing the Minsk agreement as being foisted on Ukraine, the White House at the time released a statement saying the U.S. “welcomes the agreement reached today in Minsk by the OSCE-led Trilateral Contact Group, which was endorsed by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany, and France.”

On the day of the signing, Poroshenko said Ukraine committed to working out the “special status” that was to be accorded to the Luhansk and Donetsk regions “in the framework of constitutional changes on decentralization.” 

But when Poroshenko tried to make good on his commitment, the debate in the Parliament turned violent, and deadly riots broke out in Kyiv, as Ukrainian nationalists opposed the measure. Poroshenko accused the nationalist opposition of being “a stab in the back,” preventing implementation of the Minsk accords, which could have brought the 2014 conflict to an end. 

French President Emmanuel Macron tried valiantly in the waning days of February to diplomatically resuscitate the Minsk accords as a way to forestall war. Travelling to both Kyiv and Moscow “The Minsk Accords are the best protection for the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Macron said at a February 8 press conference with Zelensky. “We now have the possibility of advancing negotiations,” Macron added, claiming that after his meeting with both Putin and Zelensky, both were committed to honoring the Minsk agreements. Yet behind the scenes, other officials in Ukraine were pouring cold water on any thought of honoring the agreement.

On February 2, barely three weeks before the start of the war, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba emphatically declared that Kyiv, despite their previous agreement to implement Minsk, would no longer even attempt to enact such a measure. Kuleba claimed that if the Luhansk and Donetsk regions were granted the autonomy, it could theoretically give their local governments a veto over Ukrainian foreign policy. 

Ukraine Russia T-62

T-62 Tank in Russian military exercise.

When asked if the Verkhovna Rada would pass the special status for Donbas required to fulfill Ukraine’s Minsk obligations, Kuleba said “(n)one of Ukraine’s regions will have a right to veto the state’s decisions. That is engraved in stone! Therefore, no special status as Russia is considering it.” At that point diplomacy was all but dead with the Minsk accords, and Macron’s admirable efforts has failed to move Zelensky or his government. 

Ramifications of Rejecting Minsk

It is necessary to consider the state of affairs that existed when Kuleba made that comment on February 2. At that time, Russia had not launched its invasion. Putin was still actively calling for the implementation of the Minsk Accords, in agreement with French President Macron. The Donbas was still nominally a part of Ukraine. 

Kherson, Mariupol, Izyum, Severodonetsk, Lysychansk, Popasnaya, and hundreds of other cities, towns, and villages were still fully under government control. No Ukrainian troops had been killed. Kyiv still had full access to the Sea of Azov and Black Sea. It is equally important to understand what was – and what wasn’t – being asked of Kyiv at that moment.

Putin was content to allow the Donetsk and Luhansk regions to remain under Kyiv’s control and a part of Ukraine, so long as they had the protections and semi-antonymous status that Kyiv had agreed to in 2015. If the conditions of the Minsk agreements had been enacted, Zelensky would have retained full control of his military, foreign policy, economy, relationship with the West, and if Ukraine met the requirements over time, possibility of joining the European Union.

Ukraine Refused Opportunity to Avert War in the Eleventh Hour

If Zelensky had agreed, with the encouragement and support of France and Germany, to enact the Minsk agreement, there would almost certainly have been no war, as Russia had given every indication – consistently, over a 15-year period – that their overriding core interests were security from having NATO on its border via Ukraine and to ensure the security of the Russian-speaking population in eastern Ukraine. Had those objectives been secured, it is very likely Putin would not have attacked.

Instead, Zelensky and his administration balked, refusing to abide by the Minsk accords. It is fair to say that Minsk would have required Ukraine to agree to less-than-optimal terms and that many Ukrainian people would have been upset at the Ukrainian president had he agreed to Minsk. 

But Zelensky instead ignored the efforts of France and Germany, chose not to risk the ire of his people, and refused to abide by the accords. He gave away the best opportunity he had to use diplomatic means to avoid conflict at a time when he retained full control of his territory and possessed complete freedom and independence for his nation. 

His unwillingness to acknowledge geopolitical realities and enact any compromises made war all but inevitable. The unvarnished truth is that the United States, Europe, and the people of Ukraine have been the bill-payers for Zelensky’s choices. 

T-90M

T-90M. Image Credit: Vitaly M. Kuzmin.

The Cost of Refusing Principled Compromise

Sanctions levied by the West on Russia have had significant negative effects on the lives of hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. and Europe – and the worst may be yet to come. This fall and winter may see severe shortages of gas in Europe, energy rationing, and could be the driver of a full-blown recession in Europe. 

In the United States, we are already suffering the worst inflation in 40 years, we continue to send billions in support to Kyiv (adding to an already stratospheric $30 trillion national debt), and like Europe, America likewise faces the prospect of a recession later this year or early next. Gasoline prices, which earlier spiked to a record $5 a gallon, have recently stabilized, but the oil market remains volatile and could spike again.

The cost to Ukraine, however, has been the worst of all. As I have repeatedly pointed out, there is no viable military path through which Ukraine – even with all the help the West provided or promised – can hope to stop the Russian advance and then drive them out. Continuing to resist is heroic, but the result of this resistance has already meant the deaths of tens of thousands of Ukrainian people, millions driven from their homes, the destruction of significant portions of its armed forces, and the annihilation of scores of its cities. 

The next in this series assessing the Russia-Ukraine war will look in detail at the second question posed above: once Russia invaded, did Ukraine exhaust all reasonable means at its disposal to end the war? Unsurprisingly, the answer is also ‘no.’ But as with Ukraine’s decision not to take the diplomatic off-ramps provided, their unwillingness to find a negotiated settlement also has profound negative implications for the United States and Europe.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis.

Written By

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Laurence Lockwood

    August 26, 2022 at 2:31 am

    Russian sympathiser?

  2. Mario

    August 26, 2022 at 3:24 am

    “there is no viable military path through which Ukraine – even with all the help the West provided or promised – can hope to stop the Russian advance”.
    Seriously, have you written this in late february?
    There is no such thing as “russian advance”. Please, take a look on a map and you’ll see. Not to mention that the russian armed forces have been revealed as completely useless. Do you remember the 60km armour column pointing Kyiv? Where they had gone, to Hell? BTW: it’s your friends who are in trouble right now. Better tell your boss so he can leave moscow, yet…

  3. David Chang

    August 26, 2022 at 7:13 am

    God bless people in the world.

    NATO should abandon socialism, and build adequate military.
    People in Ukraine should abandon socialism and spend loan from IMF for defense.
    The wrong policy of Ukraine is also a danger to the 7th Fleet in the Western Pacific.
    People in Asia should trust God and abandon socialism.

    God bless America.

  4. Neil Ross Hutchings

    August 26, 2022 at 8:57 am

    Some Pentagon beancounter is no doubt comparing the cost of ongoing aid to Ukraine to the 6-12B$ cost (~1990$) of Operation Cyclone in Afghanistan. While the conflict currently seems locked in a stalemate, Pentagon strategists still likely hope for a similar outcome for this conflict. The article provides an excellent summary of the omgoing costs of the conflict. Ukraine in many ways seems divided along lines comparable to the tribal divisions in Afghanistan. However, it will likely be the political divisions in the U.S. that will be the main factor as to whether or not there will be ongoing support for Ukraine. Proxy wars being so much easier to defend politically. It’s complicated, to say the least, and there doesn’t seem to be an early end in sight for the conflict.

  5. Thomas

    August 26, 2022 at 10:08 am

    Wow.
    Daniel Davis could have a bright career in russian state TV…

  6. Jim

    August 26, 2022 at 11:48 am

    Yes, Ukraine could have avoided the Russian invasion.

    But the Ukrainian leaders ideology was aggressive & hostile toward Russia (and more important, Washington was publicly & privately giving Ukraine unqualified support… likely encouraging Ukraine to act aggressively toward the Donbas, but certainly not advising Ukraine to comply with the Minsk agreements or show restraint)

    Washington & Kiev, a marriage made in hell that has led to Ukraine’s existence being in jeopardy.

    If Ukraine’s objective was peace & prosperity they failed, but if war was their goal, they succeeded spectacularly.

    Ukraine’s choice… But Washington led Ukraine down the “primrose path” to their impending destruction.

    Victory or death (this animating ideology often results in disaster).

  7. Veritas

    August 26, 2022 at 3:48 pm

    The only one way for Ukraine to avoide the Russia invasion were to commit suicide for all ukrainianspeaking ukrainians and those russianspeaking who don’t recognize themselves as Russians and join to Russia as its region . Who told that war began because Ukraine act aggressively toward Donbas and don’t comply with Minsk agreement ( Ukraine did it part , Russia don’t ) or stupid or is paid by Russia . There are no way to avoid war to Ukraine because when Russia invaded to Chechnya twice west said it’s ok , that Moldova again -ok , then 2008 Georgia – ok . When Russia invaded to Ukraine in 2014 and occupied its part, west again said its ok until Russia sell cheap natural gas to Europe . West leaders ask Ukrainian government don’t resist to Russia in Crimea in 2014 , don’t recognize Russian armed forces and mercenaries on Donbass . For example Russian citizen colonel of FSB , creator of so called DPR never hide that it is Russia invaded to Donbas and created fake government . Russian propaganda tells to Russians from mid 1990 that there are no other nations in Slavic world except russians and Russians are God blessed nation to purge the world from West plague. Russian paid whores like Daniel realize that they can hide behind US Army. That’s why there are no people like him in Poland and rest East Europe and Baltic states. They know what is true Russia and what happens when they have borders with Russia . This war was happen because Trump and Obama were weak, German and France leader trade it’s values for Russian natural gas and hope to hide behind US army.
    P.S. to Jim – when someone wants to kill you, don’t resist . Just let him do it or if he isn’t able to do it – let him cut your legs for example and became its slave while he is preparing to kill you . It is sound good. Like your and Daniel logic about situation Russia vs Ukraine. It’s like to said that murder killed victim because he/she were alive . He have no choice .

  8. cobo

    August 26, 2022 at 4:43 pm

    David Chang, I agree

  9. Tallifer

    August 26, 2022 at 5:37 pm

    If we apply the same political math as in this article, South Korea should have surrendered to the North, and Kuwait to Iraq.

  10. Smerch

    August 26, 2022 at 8:04 pm

    I see your point. This situation might have ended swiftly had Ukraine dropped its pants on the Eastern front before Russia invaded. But how do you feel politically about Crimea? Do you recall what happened to Russia (the last time) during the Crimean War?

  11. Begemot

    August 26, 2022 at 8:56 pm

    “Observing the actions of the Ukrainian government and the statements of its top leaders in the final months and weeks before the war suggests Kyiv may have based its responses to Moscow on the expectation of a blank check from Washington.”

    This statement by the author suggests that Ukraine was/is an independent actor whose careless disregard of the facts in its situation with Russia created a situation of “moral hazard” for a too generous and obliging United States.

    I suggest that Ukraine since February 2014 has not been an independent actor, but instead acts within boundaries defined by the US government. Washington sets Ukraine’s policies. Apparent disregard of the dangers in Ukraine’s policy towards the Donbass and Russia were approved, encouraged and guided by Washington.

    This war in Ukraine is a war that Washington wanted. Washington has no interest in seeing it end anytime soon. Ukraine is to bleed until there is no Ukraine left or, the goal of Washington, the Russian government falls, Putin is gone, and ultimately, Russia itself broken into smaller states.

    Ukraine is only a means to and end for the US and always has been. That is the tragedy of today’s Ukraine. Ukrainians are dying, less for Ukraine, than for America’s global ambitions.

  12. USAlien

    August 27, 2022 at 2:37 am

    The author is either a Russian agent or a useful idiot. Such nonsense said in scientific words should be taught for a long time at the KGB school

  13. An Aussie's Take

    August 27, 2022 at 5:56 am

    Whilst I agree with Mr Davis that Ukraine did not do everything in its power to avoid the war I think he is downplaying the role of the United States and its allies in encouraging Ukraine’s actions. At the very least the support provided to Ukraine should have been predicated on Ukraine meeting its commitments under Minsk (commitments that were adopted by the UN Security Council).

  14. Michael64

    August 27, 2022 at 11:09 am

    This kind of misses the point that it can in no way be in the interests of the US to allow any nation to gain from starting a war to take territory from a neighbor.

    The consequences would be devastatingly bad – the Chinese would very likely start working on taking Taiwan and in the following chaos far more wars would follow.

    Thus it is a matter of much less importance if Ukraine did what it could to avoid a war or whether Ukraine is trying to get a peace agreement if that is not based on Putin respecting Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

  15. Neil Ross Hutchings

    August 27, 2022 at 2:24 pm

    Tallifer poses a valid question, but perhaps not perfectly analogous to the situation in Ukraine. The initial appeasement of Russia with the division of Korea might be more appropriate. Yes, it might be helpful to all readers if Mr. Davis expands on the whole appeasement issue with examples from history. The comparison of the current situation raised by other readers with the initial appeasement of Hitler does not seem appropriate. I am no historian.

  16. MN

    August 27, 2022 at 4:14 pm

    Well, Trump will solve this. He has some unpaid bills with Ukraine so he will step back from any help as soon as he enters office. Obviously, his friend, Mr. Putin, will be invited to carve up the corpse of Ukraine.

    A minor portion will be allowed to become a small state without any real means of survival and be a buffer state between NATO and the EU without any chance of becoming part of either.

    The main industrial part of Ukraine including its Black Sea ports will fall to Russia, who will take control of all exports of source materials exported from Ukraine to the rest of te world.

    So, don’t dispair… all will be right in the end.

  17. Walker

    August 28, 2022 at 5:07 am

    I can sum this article up in two words. “Victim blaming”. Did Ukraine wear too provocative clothes? Did Ukraine go out alone at night? Did Ukraine speak nicely yet clearly that it wasn’t interested in any advances?

    There is only one proper answer to this whole situation. Ukraine has a complete right to self determination. Russia can not dictate what it’s neighbors should or shouldn’t do. End of story. Davis is a dirt bag who is bowing to Russian evil sense of entitlement. At best he is a useful idiot, but his affect is to legitimize Russian evil aggression. Just look at the dirt bag Russian trolls on here agreeing with him. I have nothing good to say about Davis. He has had 6 months now to soul search his poor thinking and here is the results.

  18. Serhio

    September 1, 2022 at 12:06 am

    “But as with Ukraine’s decision not to take the diplomatic off-ramps provided, their unwillingness to find a negotiated settlement also has profound negative implications for the United States and Europe.”

    Since the United States first made every effort to ensure that Russia’s war with Ukraine began and then put pressure on the European Union to sever all economic ties with Russia, it becomes clear that the United States decided to “drown” the European Union, under the pretext of Russia’s “aggression”. During this winter, many European producers of fertilizers, petrochemicals, glass, metal and other energy-intensive industries will go bankrupt without incurring huge bills for gas and electricity. Thus, the United States will not only eliminate trade competitors, but also take their place. And all the beautiful words about democracy and moral support for Ukraine are just words and are worthless, like the lives of Russians and Ukrainians.

    #VeritasAugust
    “Who told that war began because Ukraine act aggressively toward Donbas and don’t comply with Minsk agreement ( Ukraine did it part , Russia don’t ) or stupid or is paid by Russia .”

    I claim that Ukraine has not fulfilled the Minsk Agreements. And you, saying that Russia has not fulfilled its part of the Minsk agreements, are like a parrot that repeats these words behind rotten politicians. It’s easy to prove this: it’s enough to find the Minsk Agreements on the UN website and carefully re-read them (these are just a few points). There is not a word about the obligations that Russia would have to fulfill. But Ukraine has not fulfilled any of its obligations.

  19. Serhio

    September 1, 2022 at 2:53 am

    “I can sum this article up in two words. “Victim blaming””

    Ukraine, which you call “victim”, first with the support of the United States (Nuland admitted that the United States invested $ 5 billion in the overthrow of the legitimately elected President of Ukraine Yanukovych) organized a coup, killed the population of the Donetsk republics for eight years (more than 13,000 civilians died) and prepared for war by Russia. They banned their citizens from speaking and teaching children in schools in their native language, built fortified areas in the border regions, and pulled hundreds of thousands of military there. From there there were continuous sabotage and shelling of border territories and the leaders of Ukraine boasted for eight years that they were at war with Russia. And now, finally, we waited for Russia to come to war. However, the brave Ukrainians, even after six months of fighting, have not yet officially declared war on Russia and are happy to pump Russian gas to Europe, not forgetting to put money in their pockets for transit. This is such a strange war. It is not necessary to expose Ukraine “victim”. Two wolfhounds grappled. One is weak but arrogant, the other is strong but unhurried.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Advertisement