Defense expert Ko Colijn has been providing the Dutch with explanations of armed conflict for over forty years. For NU.nl he follows the match in Ukraine and answers our (and your) questions. This time: it would not surprise Colijn if …
†the Ukrainians, defending their cities in the eastern Donets basin with all their might, hold out for another two weeks. That’s what the British intelligence service is predicting, and they’re claiming it themselves. The city of Severodonetsk would now not be in Putin’s hands in three quarters, but ‘only’ half. And then the war has rippled up and down for weeks.
More importantly, the Russians continue to fail to surround and ‘suffocate’ these cities. As a result, they are forced into the alternative of frontal street fighting. In the long run, they lose it, and it costs them at least a lot of man and equipment. The Ukrainian counter-offensives in the south and near Kharkiv are also handcuffs for the Russians, which is causing their advance in the Luhansk region to go badly. If the two weeks’ claim of the Ukrainian defenders is correct, then the Western weapons that blow up the Russians will arrive in time, and the tide will turn for Zelensky.
†behind the scenes, there would be threats to send the so-called HIMARS missiles to force the Russians to the negotiating table. These Himars missiles use precision ammunition and have a range of about 80 kilometers. That would explain President Biden’s somewhat confusing behavior (no HIMARS Tuesday first, so yes). In any case, I would leave the threat open, because Putin has a problem with that: ‘Is it a red line, and if so, do I dare press the red button now?’
†this is negotiated behind the scenes with the Russians. The Russian military high command is now taking up the hotline with the Pentagon, now the Kremlin. I have not read anywhere in the (Dutch) press that less than a week after the invasion – on March 1 – a the conflict agreement between Washington and Moscow is closed. In the early days of the war, it was apparently the top priority for both Russia and the United States.
These were also the days when Israel emphatically set itself up as a ‘mediator’. Israel itself had useful experience with such a de-conflict agreement with Moscow in Syria: Russian planes stay out of the way when the Israeli air force is active there.
I do not completely rule out the use of a Russian nuclear weapon as a signal, but I think the chance is very small. In June 2021, Putin and Biden reached an agreement in Geneva that a nuclear war could not be “won” by anyone, and it has been a common taboo since Cuba in 1962. You can still ‘focus’.
… As well as the awakening from North Korea, Iran and 9/11, nuclear awareness has grown again in the military sector. The media are quite happy with the nuclear weapon and the harsh approach to Russia. As if it would not have a price. One would no longer know what a nuclear weapon is. Since around 2016, there has also been a heated discussion about modernizing the old generation of nuclear weapons and their practical use (such as Trump’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, which was pretty loose).
… if the shoulders were shrugged off in Washington when Putin turned on his weapons of mass destruction in March. Subsequently, almost nothing was seen happening in Russia. A little Russian bluff poker. A launch of the new Sarmat intercontinental nuclear missile on April 20 has been nicely announced by the Russians in Washington in advance to avoid any misunderstanding. In late May, Dimitry Rogozin, head of the testing program, said another test is likely to be conducted by the fall.
… If the current military and politicians take a nuclear war with Russia seriously† I Atlantic Ocean (lying on Biden’s bedside table) there was a recent warning that the current military and politicians should not think too lightly of a nuclear war with Russia. The ‘humiliators’ and ‘do-it-yourself’ may not care.
… If one is concerned about the technological blurring of the difference between a conventional and a nuclear weapon. They are not inferior in appearance to each other and are increasingly intertwined. Trump has equipped a pair of U.S. submarines with (conventional) medium-range missiles in exchange for (older) nuclear SLBMs after repealing the INF Treaty to compensate for the deterrence. But I think that trend is very dangerous because Russia previously knew exactly which missile would arrive moments later. Not anymore.
It also reassured me in a way that the first top military chief Marc Milley made the infamous January 6, 2021 (the day of the Capitol storm) he took the hotline to Beijing (!) (And I think Moscow) to reassure Chinese colleagues. The United States would not do crazy things, at least the military would not. A message that apparently landed well because nothing happened in that area.
Shortly said: the war will continue if the usa and russia want it, it is not that zelensky is alone in deciding whether to renegotiate.