Just a few months ago, Western media was hailing the wonderfulness of their bosses in the political class over the decision to send tanks to Ukraine. The West was going to send modern battle tanks. The first batch would be Leopard II tanks from Germany followed by Abrams tanks from America. On top of that, the Poles donated their Patriot system to Ukraine. This would cure the missile problem. Maybe F-16’s were not far behind, the media told us.
Here we are entering the spring and the mood has shifted. This story in the Washington Post would have been called Putin propaganda a few months ago. It explains the terrible condition of the Ukrainian army. Six months of Russian grinding with artillery and now air power has killed tens of thousands of Ukraine’s best soldiers. This story published in Politico is about the growing troubles in the collective West over how to go forward with the Ukraine war.
One reason the mood has shifted in the West is it is impossible to hide the reality on the battlefield much longer. Reliable estimates say the Ukrainians have lost 200,000 soldiers in the last year. That is killed in action. An equal number have been wounded, with the majority unable to return to service. On the Russian side, the death toll is much lower, around 20,000, with two or three times that wounded. This disparity means it is a matter of time before the Ukrainians crack.
There is also the fact that there is no way for the West to change the numbers of this war with methods or tactics. The West committed Ukraine to a style of fighting that cannot now be abandoned in favor of a new approach. They are throwing all available resources into defending every inch of turf. The trouble is, the West is running low on weapons and ammunition. An army that is low on men and material is an army headed for defeat, under any conditions.
Of course, what we are seeing is a change in the narrative. The old narrative was based on the Russians running out of men and material and the heroic Ukrainians, armed with weapons from their morally superior backers in the West, would go on the great counter offensive and drive the Russians from the Donbas. That has been the story for a year, but now that story is inoperative. Since Western leaders live in a fictional world of their own creation, they need a new narrative.
The new narrative will probably blame the Ukrainian leadership for the failures on the battlefield and maybe the failure to conduct negotiations. There are rumors being floated in Western media that NATO commanders have been telling the Ukrainians to abandon Bakhmut, but Zelensky has ordered a defense of the city. As the envelopment of Ukrainian forces in the region becomes more obvious, Western leaders will get more chatty about how this is the fault of Zelensky.
For those unfamiliar, Bakhmut is a central stronghold in the center of what had been called the Zelensky line in Donbas. The Russians have been laying siege to this heavily fortified stronghold for months. They have fire control over the main roads and the Wagner group is conducting operations in the city. More important, a larger encirclement is forming to contain about 70,000 Ukrainian soldiers. This is a big battle that the Ukrainians are losing.
Another subplot to the new narrative emerged last month when Washington started floating claims about who bombed the Nord Stream pipelines. First was the story planted in the New York Times claiming that a couple of guys in a canoe blew up these underwater pipelines at the direction of Ukraine. Then the Wall Street Journal was given a taste with this story. The European press was given a taste with this story posted in the Financial Times.
The absurdity of the claims is not important. There is simply no way that a group of Ukrainian partisans pulled off this attack. What is important is that these stories seeded a new narrative about the Ukrainian leadership. Instead of being heroic defenders of freedom, they are erratic and unreliable. They do things like assassinate the daughter of Alexander Dugin without telling their Western sponsors. You can easily see where this will lead once it is time to exit the current narrative.
Another sign that the tide is turning against the blood-drenched Kagan cult over Ukraine policy is the response to the Russian downing of an American drone. The United States has been providing intelligence to the Ukrainian army since the start. They have satellites over Ukraine and use these advanced surveillance drones. The Russians could blind the satellites and take down the drones, but that would risk escalation, so they have been quiet about it until now.
There can be no doubt that the decision to take down the drone was made at the highest levels with Kremlin permission. The changing reality on the battlefield and the changing rhetoric from the West probably led to this. The Russians wanted to test if the changing rhetoric can be trusted. Washington’s tepid response to the incident suggests that there is no appetite for escalation. The Ukraine party in the West is winding down and everyone is thinking about heading home.
This does not mean the end of the war is imminent. Right now, the Ukrainians are locked into a strategy of fighting to the last man. The Russian are happy to oblige as they now think the only solution is a military solution. They need to grind down and break the Ukrainian army. Then they will impose their preferred political solution on Ukraine, whether it is with Zelensky or his successor. This process will probably take the rest of this year, perhaps longer.
What comes next for the West is plotting out the rest of the narrative in the coming months when it becomes clear that Ukraine cannot launch an offensive. This will close out the old narrative completely. Ukrainian tanks will not be driving through Moscow after all, so the new narrative will need a new ending. This new ending will allow the West to declare that whatever result the Russians impose will fall far short of their goals, thus scoring a win for Western narrative makers.
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