Stop the Ukrainian Meatgrinder?

Victor Davis Hanson
American Greatness

Nearly eleven months ago, in August 2023, the New York Times reported that U.S. officials had estimated that some 500,000 Russians and Ukrainians had been killed, wounded, or missing in the then 18-month Ukrainian War.

Both Russia and Ukraine underreport their losses. Hundreds of thousands of additional casualties have followed in the 28 months of fighting.

In the West, the mere mention of a negotiated settlement is considered a dangerous appeasement of Russia’s flagrant aggression. In Russia, anything short of victory would be seen as synonymous with the collapse of the Putin regime.

Yet as the war nears two and a half years this summer, some facts are no longer much in dispute.

Controversy still arises over the circumstances of the 2014 overthrow of Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Russia charges that the West engineered the “Revolution of Dignity”—an effort to westernize the former Soviet republic, to expand the borders of Europe right to the doorstep of Russia, and eventually to fully arm Ukraine as a member of NATO.

Westerners counter that most Ukrainians wished to be part of Europe and independent from Russian bullying—and they had a perfect right to ask to join either NATO or the EU or both despite anticipated escalating tensions.

After the heroic Ukrainian defeat of the 2022 Russian bid to take Kyiv, there have been few significant territorial gains by either side.

Like the seesaw bloodbath on the Western Front of World War I, neither side has developed the momentum to force the other to negotiate or grant concessions.

As nuclear Russian threats against Europe mount, NATO is seeking to regain deterrence capabilities by boosting defense budgets, incorporating robust frontline nations Sweden and Finland, and uniting over shared concerns about Russian aggression.

Many in the U.S. cheer on the conflict as a necessary proxy war to check Russian aggression and bolster NATO’s resistance.

But unlike third-party wars during the Cold War, now the Western client, Ukraine, is fighting directly against the chief antagonist of European NATO members.

Arming a proxy in a war waged against the homeland of a nuclear adversary is a new and dangerous phenomenon.

The West counts on supplying Ukraine with more and better weapons than a richer, larger, and more populous Russia.

But Ukraine’s problem is not so much weapons as manpower. Nearly a fourth of Ukraine’s population has fled the country.

Ukraine may have suffered some 300,000 causalities. The average age of its soldiers is over 40 years. It already lacks sufficient forces to replay the failed 2023 counter-offensive. The Russian plan of attrition is to wear down and bleed out the Ukrainian people.

In a geostrategic sense, the new alignment of Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea is starting to gain opportunistic support from illiberal Middle East regimes, Turkey, and the Islamic world in general.

The Biden administration’s respective approaches to the Ukraine and Gaza wars continue to be utterly incoherent.

It lectures our strongest ally Israel on the need for a ceasefire, proportionality, a coalition wartime cabinet, and the avoidance of collateral damage. The administration considers the terrorist Hamas almost a legitimate state.

However, Biden and the American diplomatic establishment urge Ukraine to keep fighting without negotiations. They urge Kyiv to seek critical disproportionality through superior weaponry, including hitting strategic targets inside Russia.

The U.S. has overlooked the cancellation of Ukrainian political parties and elections by the Zelensky administration. America does not seem to care about Ukrainian collateral damage to the borderlands. And it considers the Russian government a near-terrorist state.

No one in the West, at least prior to the Russian February 2022 invasion—neither the prior Obama, Trump, and current Biden administrations or the Ukrainian government itself—had considered it even possible to regain by force the Crimea and the Donbass absorbed by the Russian invasion of 2014.

Add up all these realities, and the only practicable way to avoid another near-one million dead and wounded would be a settlement, however unpopular.

It would entail the formalization of the 2014 Russian absorption of Crimea and Donbass.

Russia would then agree to withdraw all its forces to its pre-2022 borders. Ukraine would be fully armed but without NATO membership.

Both sides would agree to a demilitarized zone on both sides of the Russian-Ukrainian border. Russia would brag that it prevented its former province from joining NATO while finally institutionalizing its prior incorporation of the Donbass and Crimea.

Ukraine would be proud that, like heroic 1940 Finland, it miraculously stopped Russian aggression. It would remain far better armed than at any time in its history and soon enjoy a status similar to that of non-NATO Austria or Switzerland.

The deal would anger all parties. But it would make public what most concede privately—and stop the ongoing destruction of Ukraine and the further slaughter of an entire generation of Ukrainian and Russian youth.


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40 thoughts on “Stop the Ukrainian Meatgrinder?”

  1. Dwight Stalker

    Great analysis and logical plan for peace. It is horribly unfortunate that our current administration does not seem to want to end the war and the victims of his inaction are the Russians, the Ukrainians and the American tax payor.

  2. Craig Jenkins

    Sounds good to me, only Russia should pay reparations for its invasion & carnage regardless of any rationale. As well, U.S. needs to be reimbursed for its support of Ukraine, possibly through a tax on renewed Russian energy exports. Seizure of Russian foreign assets should remain in place, until matter resolved.

  3. Jim Schoenfield

    But wouldn’t the VDH proposal undermine the Biden administration’s strategy and goal to fight on until the last Ukrainian breaths his last breath?

  4. Thomas Harrison

    Well Russia has no reason to negotiate at this stage until the US elections are over. At which time either Trump wins throws his arms around Putin at the cease fire table and gives him what wants. Or, Biden wins and Putin decides that it not worth more agony and settles similar to VDHs proposal. And doesn’t get much sanction relief for a period of time to see if he cooperates. So why not fight on it’s only blood and treasure.

  5. The problem with the proposal is the very legitimate concern that whatever deal is done with Russia will be only temporary. Russia will again attack Ukraine or attack another border country after a limited period. I don’t have an answer, but certainly Victor Davis Hanson doesn’t either.

    As for Israel being our strongest ally, that is absurd. We are its strongest ally, but it has been a big problem for us and of very little help.

    Paul Randour

    1. David L Goldman

      Absolutely correct re: Ukraine, which is why path to NATO membership must be part of any resolution. Re: Israel, what type of help are you looking for? Agree to Palestinian state whose goal is “river to sea” annihilation of Jewish state or allow Hamas and Hezbollah to kill Israeli civilians with impunity? Other than Netanyahu being less of a jerk, there really isn’t much Israel can do other than to in effect capitulate to it’s eventual extermination.

      1. Potential NATO membership for Ukraine is the very reason Putin attacked in the first place, despite the fact that it will never happen, never had the chance of happening, because the US really doesn’t want it to happen. If it happened, Putin would nuke Ukraine rather than have NATO on his border.

    2. Putin is a junk yard dog. He attacks when he feels threatened. If the US would stop threatening to colonize on his border, he’d let the other dogs lie. We didn’t even want Ukraine in NATO, but threatened it just to rile him. The whole thing has been about democrats saber rattling. They like war because they (the politicians and bureaucrats, not the nation or people) make money on it. They are the ones who don’t care about collateral damage. As long as America doesn’t have boots on the ground, the dems know that they can continue to spend indefinitely. The people hate it, but they are accustomed to being lied to and buried in debt. The caveat here is that we may be fighting another war in the China Sea momentarily and the American people will not be happy about fighting their both of biggest rivals for what is not a threat to our homeland, and our current rate of military enlistment will not support it.

  6. Dale Eugene Allgood

    But what about the money laundering? And the weapons selling. What will the industrial complex do?

    1. They’ll start another war. China is making that easy. They are trying to save their economy by starting one.

  7. “The most shocking fact about war is that its victims and its instruments are individual human beings, and that these individual beings are condemned by the monstrous conventions of politics to murder or be murdered in quarrels not their own.”

    Aldous Huxley

  8. Do you think Hitler would have given up if had nuclear weapons? Do you think Putin will give up when he has thousands of nuclear weapons? Never forget that desperate people will do desperate things.

  9. James Parisian

    Have enjoyed your most recent 5 books. Your understanding of the intricacies of war and their inevitable conclusion is unequalled. The “incoherence” of the current administration is all too obvious. I hope your voice of sanity (and others) will be considered! Like you, having lived through the Cuban missile crisis, this is all too familiar and depressing.

  10. I have been censored in & suspended by the comments section of my local daily newspaper for saying this but i will say it again: Russian/Ukraine is as much if not more of a 2 state solution as Israel/ Palestine.

  11. Rick Kelley (MadChimp)

    Yes, of course, END the insane, un-winnable, futile war in Ukraine.
    Yes, of course, back Netanyahu until every single lying, cheating, Hamas barbarian is in the ground, so we can BEGIN to hope for lasting peace in Israel. – – – BUT – –

    Sanity is taking a prolonged vacation. VDH said it best in “The Logic in All the Madness” – – and the sanity will NOT STOP as long as half the politicians elected to represent us, and 90% of the media responsible for keeping them honest, are bought-and-paid-for by an organized band of mad-men, determined to control the world.

  12. On the other hand, why reward Russia for its invasion? And why trust that they will hold true to the agreement? For how long? Three years? Five?

  13. David Tavadian

    This analysis and suggested solution would’ve applied late last year, but not today. What matters in a war of attrition is the “casualty exchange ratio” not territorial gains. For every Russian soldier, five Ukrainian soldiers are dying, and this at a time when Russia’s current population exceeds Ukraine’s by more than 5x. Russia has more artillery, more smart-bombs, more planes, more wealth and a much larger army. Putin has made it clear that he won’t give back the four “oblasts” he has annexed, and if this war continues, he will annex Odessa, and cut off Ukraine from Black Sea access. Ukraine’s loss, in terms of territory, regime and military, won’t be “linear”; it will be exponential (or logarithmic) , just like a sinkhole…

  14. I think they will pursue a different path. Ukraine is slowly losing the war of attrition. They need a game changer. A Hail Mary Pass. I think our Deep State will have a super-virulent “Bird Flu” engineered in a US University lab, and transfer it to Ukraine. It will be designed to have >50% lethality, be super-contagious, but deadly only to males. Ukraine will deliver it by drone to kill the Russian Army in their bases and recruitment centers, and wipe out the Russian draft pool. It will, of course, spread throughout Russia and the World. That will cause the ultimate emergency right before the election. There will be no in-person voting, and even mail voting won’t be available this time, because the Post Office will shut down. The election will be done by smartphone, and Apple and Google – the owners of the operating systems – will be the national vote tabulators. The Democrats will of course win full power, and nobody will be able to challenge the result under national martial law. With a pandemic that only kills males, they will have to draft an all-female army to rule the country, and they will.

  15. Just curious. Why is there no effort to take out President Putin? Send a Hit Squad to Moscow. Drop a JDAM on him from 50,000 feet. Tom Clancy stuff, I know, but it can be done. Maybe the reason an assassin has not put a bullet in him is that there is some young man waiting in the wings who is worse than Putin.

  16. I don’t understand how the US sends $Billions in $cash & asks for No accountability for the $money. Zelenski the Pesident of Ukraine bought King Charles old house in England for $25 Million. Is he really trying to win or come to a reasonable conclusion to the war ? Or more worried that the supply of money will end before he stole all he could & moves to his new estate in jolly old England.

  17. 1.Russia and Ukraine have been fighting, loving and dancing with each other for a couple thousand years. Our arrogance in thinking we could stick our nose in the middle of this relationship is more than arrogant.

    2. A few years ago, the Ukrainian people elected a head of state who was willing to work with Russia. Obama’s folks stuck their nose in it and arranged his ouster. More arrogance!

    1. Also, the Biden involvement and the bio labs. Didn’t they provoke Putin by inviting Ukraine to join NATO? What kind of world are we living in now? What is the connection between the groups that are so afraid of losing power? We have communists, war mongers and big banks, all working together?

  18. Hmmm . . . as long as we can arm Ukraine to the teeth, you might have a point (the appeasement taint notwithstanding) . . . didn’t the late Henry Kissinger embrace the art of the least bad?

  19. I went to a local Chamber of Commerce lecture by a retiring Wing Commander at the local air base. He pretty much came to the same conclusion as Dr. Hanson. Neither side will make big gains and the attrition favors Russia. He also cited history and demographics. Much of the area taken by Russia is majority-Russian culturally so there is no indigenous population that will support Ukraine. At this point, continued war will harden Russia anti-west sentiment and deplete NATO weapons and finance more than it will deplete Russia. From a humanitarian position, since borders will never go back, let’s end this military-industrial orgy of spending and killing.

  20. Peter Patterson

    But at the cost of everything you mentioned, America don’t want that. They will continue to use Ukraine men and boys as cannon fodder to get what they think they can achieve. It’s not new. The U.S. have done this before. Europe are as weak as piss and they too will be used by the U.S. regime. Something drastic must happen.

  21. The war has unified much of Europe and added Finland and Sweden to NATO. Already a disaster for Putin. I fear there will be no peace until his ouster.

  22. Leland Cheney

    Excellent article and likely our best bet at this point. But a quibble with the following: “But unlike third-party wars during the Cold War, now the Western client, Ukraine, is fighting directly against the chief antagonist of European NATO members.

    Arming a proxy in a war waged against the homeland of a nuclear adversary is a new and dangerous phenomenon.” In the Korean War’s second phase we were in direct combat with the Chinese army. So, a Western client, South Korea, was invaded by a chief antagonist, the PRC. The difference being even more fraught in that American troups were the main adversaries of the Chinese Army. Granted this was not in Europe, but it has legitimate similarities.

  23. Absolutely not! Russia must not be rewarded for its aggression. Ukraine must become a full-fledged member of NATO. Appeasing Russia on any count is out of the question. Ukraine’s very right to exist has been called into question by the Kremlin. The Ukrainians have shown incredible resolve and courage, and they need to be backed to the hilt. On an unrelated note, the anti-Israel comments that have been made by some respondents here are regrettable. Israel is without doubt America’s most important ally in the Middle East.

  24. The feckless Biden encouraged this mess through his failure in Afghanistan and his “…a minor invasion may be ok…” remarks. I furthermore heard about the likely invasion for at least 2-3 months before it happened. A real leader would have used that time to have the parties meet and resolve things. In any case, more money into Ukraine is a waste and we should encourage some settlement. They can’t win and if by some stroke of luck they started to win does anyone think Putin would not resort to the unthinkable?

  25. VDH: Why do you think Russia would agree to retreating to the 2022 boundaries in exchange for formalizing Russian control of Crimea and the Donbass and Ukraine pledging to stay out of NATO? This sounds highly unlikely, given their initial invasion and the price they have paid since then.

  26. Greg the Geologist

    Agree with VDH that neither side will decisively win the conflict. Some have suggested that if Russia gets anything at all in a negotiated settlement, it will embolden them to next go after Poland or other NATO members. I doubt that, given that they made little progress attacking Ukraine, not a nation in the first rank with respect to its military. Russia would have to be unhinged to directly take on NATO in a conventional invasion. At this point Ukraine could be pressured to negotiate since it relies so much on US weapons and equipment. The best tool to get Russia to the table may be the threat of complete economic isolation from the West, as well as continued aid to Ukraine. Even Russia can’t continue this indefinitely.

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