“You might as well appeal against a thunderstorm as against these terrible hardships of war. War is cruelty, there is no use trying to reform it; the crueler it is, the sooner it will be over.”
― William Tecumseh Sherman
Doing this is hard sometimes.
When I started The Not Fake News, I set some ground rules. One of them is to always tell the truth as I see it, however painful that might be and without regard to the number of readers it will cost us. From time to time, that truth is harder to write about than not. This is one of those times.
Because the truth is that Russia, under Vladimir Putin, has won his war. And we lost.
It’s been nearly impossible to get unbiased news reports out of Ukraine. Russian news is pure propaganda because that’s all they ever are; truth has no currency east of the Baltic. Ukrainian official sources are only more reliable because getting the truth out is in their interest; in order to gain sympathy, they need the world to see they’ve been getting shellacked since Day 1, with the occasional victory or abandoned tank to spice things up. Live cell feeds are useful, but east of the battle line they either dry up or become propaganda.
Today, however, there’s one story that everyone seems to agree on: Mariupol has fallen.
The city of Mariupol has been reduced through fire and repeated bombardment; the area surrounding the great steel works has been nearly flattened. Resistance there is minimal. Civilians and partisans alike have fled into the ruins of the massive foundries and processing plants, cut off between the highway and the Kal’mius river. They have little ammunition, no food, and brackish water. Putin’s orders are to leave them there. Resistance continues, but how effective can it be?
It’s reported that tens of thousands of native Ukrainians have been forcibly resettled by the invaders in semi-permanent camps thousands of miles to the north and east. As many more have likely been killed by sickness, starvation, or the continual bombardment. Once the remaining civilian populace has been removed — by whatever means — Russia will hold the coast highway between the Donbas and Crimea as well as another major port on the Black Sea. They have gained their initial objective of securing their new border, and those areas with a Russian-speaking populace (save a small area west of the Dniester) are well behind the new front lines.
In a larger sense, and despite the massive economic harm done by sanctions and loss of trade, in many ways Russia has profited from the conflict. Their energy exports to Europe have decreased somewhat, but the accompanying spike in prices combined with new customers in India and China have created a massive net gain in that sector. As western companies withdraw, Russia annexes their properties and rebrands; as airplane leases are canceled, Russia seizes the planes outright and saves on payments.
All Vladimir Putin has to do now is to formally declare the victory he’s achieved and stand his army down. In order to make this happen all the Russian forces need is another token victory combined with an obvious threat (a move on Odessa, perhaps, and the beginning of a rolling artillery bombardment across what is now the city of Kharkiv) in order to provide the military leverage required to force Ukraine to accept a diplomatic solution. If the new terms are relatively generous — and Russia can now afford to be generous — it’s difficult to imagine them being refused.
Which is all well and good. While the millions displaced or dead are a horrible thing, who owns which twenty mile stretch of land, in the long run, doesn’t matter much. The problems arise when one considers the long-term cost: first, that Putin will feel able to mount his next invasion knowing the West is powerless to stop him; and second, that trillions of dollars are being spent on armaments that otherwise could have gone toward something useful: colonizing Mars, fighting illiteracy, or developing high-speed rail in the United States.
In short, if Putin is smart about this, he’ll be just fine. His soldiers have taken heavy losses, but then unemployment is a big political problem for him; he won’t mind. And what are a hundred thousand dead Ukrainians to him? To us it’s an unspeakable tragedy; to him not so much.
As usually happens when someone starts a war, it’s the rest of us that lose.
And what is Ukraine’s best hope? That Putin refuses to halt his attacks until he has burned out his military, and then Ukraine, with a massive influx of heavy weapons from Europe, can counterattack, pushing the Russians back to Kursk and drive on Moscow?
The world has seen less likely outcomes, sure. But not often.
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