This paper examines the likely trajectory of the Ukraine war moving forward. I will address two main questions. First, is a meaningful peace agreement possible? My answer is no. We are now in a war where both sides – Ukraine and the West on one side and Russia on the other – see each other as an existential threat that must be defeated. Given maximalist objectives all around, it is almost impossible to reach a workable peace treaty. Moreover, the two sides have irreconcilable differences regarding territory and Ukraine’s relationship with the West. The best possible outcome is a frozen conflict that could easily turn back into a hot war. The worst possible outcome is a nuclear war, which is unlikely but cannot be ruled out.
Too many salient points glossed over.
Ukraine has been a "sovereign country" for all of 30 years, artificially created after the collapse of the USSR.
The "century" of mutual hatred you reference is limited to a couple western oblasts home to the Stefan Banderas Nazis who sided with Hitler. Those oblasts were historically part of Poland.
Russia's relationship with the Ukraine goes back hundreds of years. Since well before the Europeans genocided the native Americans. The oblasts Russia is likely to liberate were called "Novorossiya" when I was a kid. Catherine the Great founded Odessa. Go back far enough & Kiev was birthplace of the Rus & the first capital of Russia.
The war that "broke out" in 2014 was a US-instigated, $5B coup to oust the democratically elected president (who wanted to sign trade agreements with both the EU & Russia), to be replaced with Victoria Nuland's hand-picked, Russia-hating puppet government.
The oblasts that Russia "invaded" refused to accept Nuland's puppet government & declared independence, as is their right as declared by the UN ruling & precedent when Kosovo declared independence from Serbia sfter the US intervened there. Kiev's puppet government attacked the independent oblasts. As in Syria, the independent states asked Russia for help.
The damage to the German economy is primarily due to US mining of Nordstream, cutting off their access to economical natural gas. Nato on Nato attack.
You name Russia as the sole nuclear threat. That is laughable. They are very clear on their nuclear policy.
The US neocons are the ones who replaced MAD with "nuclear decapitation strike" on Moscow, back under W. Their sole goal in Ukraine is to position nukes close enough to Moscow to preempt a retaliatory strike. The policy continued under Obama, the US developed the fuze technology needed for such a strike.
Russia will win, hands down, & the "rump state" will likely be carved up, with Transcarpathia going to Hungary, Lviv to Pand, etc.
The US will have a hard time bringing weapons manufacturing back home. I seriously doubt China will be so foolish as to supply the rare earth materials needed to manufacture the advanced weapons so we can attack Taiwan.
As bad as the war has been for Ukraine, it will prove to be a blessing to the world as it has set in motion the end of the Globalist American Empire. The GAE sealed its fate when it cut Russia off from SWIFT. Every sovereign nation saw the dollar become a weapon, and now many are seeking alternative trade payment arrangements.
Over the long term that means the end of the dollar as the world's reserve currency. Not a quick process, but it has already started. And that means the long term end of the empire. The GAE will not be able to print money and export most of its inflation aboard. Nor will it be able to afford its gigantic, inefficient military industrial complex.
All empires fall eventually, and the GAE is no exception to that rule.
Very good analysis by John Mearsheimer. I have seen many articles condemning John's perspectives regarding the Russo-Ukraine war, however, on balance I support the analysis and have personally concluded that the West (primarily the US and the UK) has triggered the current war.
I fear that Ukrainian losses will mount very quickly as Russia gains strength and tests/adapts its increasing weaponry advantage. The current Ukrainian offensive is NOT gaining significant territory and those gains are at a tremendous cost. Compare the military video releases which during this offensive show terrible and daily Ukrainian battlefield losses and yet, compared to 2022 Ukrainian defense and territorial counterattacks, there are very few Ukrainian videos show successful Russian losses. That alone sends a clear message.
During 2022 we in the West were continually told the Russian economy would collapse, the Ruble would collapse, the Russian army and airforce would collapse, the Russians were running out of: soldiers, generals, aircraft, missiles, bombs, tanks etc. When this patently did not happen we were then told that the M777 Howitzer and +HIMARS provision would change the state of play.... then the Leopards and Chieftains would make a difference.... then the Patriot Missile batteries would be a game changer. As we can clearly see today the majority (at LEAST 51%) of these systems are now either destroyed, unserviceable, under repair or pulled back from anywhere close to the battlefront. Now we hear a chorus of give them F16s, that will change the score!!! Send M1A1 Abrams sooner and win this war!!! It's all nonsense. Whats more the Western media continues to press the narrative that Ukraine can will this war. Give the Ukrainians the tools and they can win.
It's simply shocking. The US, primarily, is precipitating the destruction of Ukraine and is currently fight this proxy war ....even unto the "last available Ukrainian soldier". History will not view Blinken, Noland and most of all Senator Graham kindly (not to forget the lying bumbling fool and US lap dog and now disgraced ex UK PM Boris Johnson). For their hands are covered in blood....... every bit as much as Zelensky and Putin.
I have no idea how the war is going to pan out, who will 'win', what it will look like, but I do know Russia has nuclear weapons, a lot of them, and so any attempt to defeat it it is simply madness. There is no other word for it. It is madness. Biden is the mad fella, surrounded by mad fellas. There is no 'win' to be had here; just two sides, one of whom will have less of a defeat than the other. One child will cut off the other's arm, the other child cut off the first's leg, then they'll argue who won.
One thing I would question is the perceived wisdom that Russia has a 10:1 advantage in artillery. What does this actually mean? How is it calculated? Is that number of artillery units? How much explosive can be delivered in a particular time period e.g. per day? I see video after video of pockmarked fields, caused by Russian munitions that clearly aren't particularly well guided, if at all. This ordnance seems to do remarkably little damage other than to larks nesting in the open plains. If Russia had a 10:1 advantage in effectiveness of artillery, surely they'd be in Poland by now? The two sides are more or less stalemated, which may suggest 90% of Russia's artillery fire is useless?
I am mostly interested in the 'west' which we know boils down to the USA. Why does it behave as it does? 'Manichaean' suggests good versus evil. That stuff is for small children or religious maniacs. Is the USA run by small children or religious maniacs? If it is, why? If it isn't, why does it act like it is?
John touches on the public position without going into the reasons how the USA (West) got there.
He mentions the sacrosanct "rules-based international order" but makes no reference to this being a myth. It has no legal standing. Not a word in a Word document. It means do as the USA tells you. Or else...
What is it about the USA that makes the country operate like the mafia, like an organised crime gang, like a drug cartel, deciding that the only route for it to take as a country is expanding its global market share through overwhelming violence, blood, murder, death, misery, destruction?
The USA is a democracy, at least notionally, so it could be argued that if successive governments over a period of decades – certainly covering the entire post-WWII period – act in the same vein, then the American voter must be to blame because they vote their leader(s) into government.
Or is the USA a failed democracy, a sham democracy where, no matter which 'party' gets elected to govern, there is an undemocratic omnipotent deep state running the country behind the scenes?
Or is it a mixture of the two?
In the 60s, the Vietnam War caused revulsion in a portion of the American people. A generation. Sure that's oversimplifying it, no generational consciousness is all-pervasive, but it was enough to be tangible, to gain international renown, and to hugely influence young Europeans and beyond.
Where has that revulsion gone? Where is the moral compass of the American people? Has it been lost through moral decay and apathy? Or has it been crushed out of them by the deep state?
I look back at Mearsheimer's words above:
"the West suddenly began portraying Russia as a dangerous foe"
"Moscow now appears to be seen as an existential threat"
"Western leaders frequently portray the Ukraine war"
"the West treats Russia as an existential threat"
Portrays. Appears. There was also a 'couched' I couldn't be bothered to copy down.
The West 'treats' Russia as an existential threat. The word 'treats' carefully chosen by Mearsheimer. He could have written 'sees', and the fact that he didn't speaks volumes, because the West doesn't see Russia as an existential threat (because Russia isn't one, if you'd just stop poking the bear), but the West (USA) does treat it as one, and it does portray it as one.
There's a lot of portraying and appearing going on for the American public to try to see through.
Many do, of course. In fact one of the surprising things about the Ukraine war to this European is just how perceptive many American citizens are about it; how much they see through the lies and say so. Europeans lap up the propaganda like good little sheep and repeat what they're told to. Bah. Soon they'll hate the Chinese as well, but have absolutely no idea why. "We just do". Bah.
How easily led we are to hate other people based on labels. Russian. Chinese. And yet how we portray (there's that word again) ourselves as good people. We used to portray ourselves as good people because we lived in (purported) Christian countries. Now we portray ourselves as good people because we live in (purported) democracies. I'm not a Christian but it seems I have a higher opinion of Christ than many Christians do because I don't believe Christ was full of hate for strangers, I don't believe a true Christian is full of hate for strangers, and I don't allow myself to hate a total stranger based on nothing else than an accidental event like his or her place of birth.
The West is heading rapidly into fascism and in some ways has arrived there. The requirement to conform to the 'rules-based order' world view. Do they not listen to themselves, Blinken, von der Leyen? Do they not hear how fascistic 'rules-based order' sounds? Would those kids on campus in the 60s have been able to grow their protest movement today in a climate where a different opinion is deemed by the state to be 'disinformation', and where the likes of Mearsheimer and Hersh are cancelled by GCM (Government Controlled Media) and forced onto the likes of Substack instead? I'm doing those kids a disservice by even suggesting it. They acted. Protested. They got murdered by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. But the climate is becoming more oppressive, more fascistic, in more subtle ways, like freezing or seizing your financial assets. No, you haven't been shot dead on campus, sure, but it's still the state carrying out a crime against its citizens.
Two years ago I'd have laughed at the idea I lived in a fascist state. Eighteen months of televised lies, daily, without fail, orchestrated by government, can change a man's opinion of his country.
What next, America? How about giving us the names of those responsible for the Ukraine disaster? I'm pretty sure it was John Mearsheimer that told us that Bill Burns was opposed to NATO expanding into Ukraine. I can quickly see Burns on record in 2008 as advising Condoleeza Rice against it. As such, it's hard to think that the Director of the CIA is in any way responsible for the Ukraine disaster. But someone or some people orchestrated it from the US side. Who are they?
Come on, America. Give us their names. Don't get yourself handed a libel suit. Do your research. Facts facts facts. Quotes quotes quotes. But give us their names, please, because those responsible should be put on trial for warmongering in the International Criminal Court.
Since it is clear that NATO/Ukraine cannot win this war and that the U.S. public appetite for sending endless hundreds of billions of $ to Ukraine is rapidly waning, something has to give sooner rather than later. Biden and the neocons are up against forces from within the Democratic party (RFK) and the Republican party (Trump) to end this thing. Time is not on NATO/Ukraine's side.
Even beyond the diminishing willingness of the U.S. public to continue funding this disaster, there is the simple economic part of it that says we just can't do it. An open-ended spigot of money flowing to Ukraine while there are so many problems at home isn't politically tenable, especially in an election year; and the fact remains that someone has to pay for all of this.
Biden cannot afford for this war of attrition to be dragging on in an election year, therefore we either have to throw in the towel and accept what that implies for NATO and the U.S., or it goes nuclear.
I greatly fear the latter. The neocon dream of carving up Russia is a religion. For them to admit defeat will shatter their cult. Losing political power will finish them, and they know it. It's now or never for them. I believe they are insane enough to push for nuclear war.
How many self-inflicted blunders can a regime survive? The “China Shock”, Iraq War, the 2008 Financial Meltdown which led to the formation of BRICS, now this proxy war in Ukraine running concurrently with a Debt Trap and de-dollarization - an entire generation of Americans have only known debacles and decline.
I write as a former student and current admirer.
There is a question that looms large when I consider your premise.
If the US is as you say ideologically committed & believes it is facing an existential threat, and if it is likely to fail to achieve its goals, it seems left unsaid that the "west", or Ukraine, must reach a point of crying "uncle". This seems crucial to your prediction, to say the least. I must ask for more detail - without straying too far into the domestic political milieu, what does history & your framework imply would need to happen to reach that terminus? To put an even finer point on it, wouldn't the "west" need to reach a decision point where strategic disappointment is balanced against direct confrontation, and a choice is made? Or is the offramp elsewhere, somewhere even more dangerous?
PS speaking of crying "uncle", I recall with amusement the way you would bring up propaganda from WW2 and the rebranding of Stalin as "Uncle Joe". Great memories of your class - it has been knowledge I have made use of my entire professional life. Thanks!
One point glossed over comes at the end of this brilliant piece.
It was Victoria Nuland, John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and many other members of Congress who instigated regime change in Ukraine, putting NEONAZIS on Russia's border in 2014. I do not blame Russia for how it reacted. If this were in reverse and it was the US this had happened too, it is a guarantee that the US would not put up with such a threat on its doorstep.
I'm reminded of Julian Assange who do eloquently said that US REGIME change wars are not meant to end, but rather it is a way to launder US taxpayer money.
I'M SICK of US wars that have killed millions and displaced millions more. That any American believes the endless propaganda to sell elite wars is simply disgusting
Great analysis, as expected from this author. The thing that needs to be understood is that none of this has anything to do with legitimate US defense needs, it is all so much imperial aggression.
The US has badly overplayed its hand here. The sanctions regime is floundering, pushing even friendly countries to ignore it. This has further caused other nations to seriously consider an alternative to the USD as a reserve currency (it was already under pressure from US economically damaging policies), and to diplomatically align against the US. All in all it has made it ever more clear that the US is past peak empire.
What should be communicated to the American public is that all this means that they are set for economic decline, lower growth, and a cracking US fiscal position, in which decades of living beyond its means catches up to them. Perhaps then the domestic pressures will become great enough to reorient US policy. A thin reed to hang your hopes upon I know. Peace now.
Thank you for this piece John, which I throughly enjoyed.
Very difficult to know accurate numbers for the dead in this conflict. My own suspicion from reading widely is that the numbers are much higher and likely more skewed than 2:1 (probably greater than 3x dead on the Ukrainian side to the Russian side). There have effectively been 3 Ukrainian armies now, with the 2nd & 3rd iterations (as equipped by 3rd parties) progressively lacking in experience/depth. That experience seems to matter a lot in terms of getting the best from the resources you have.
FWIW, BBC Russia has been trying to track the numbers of Russian servicemen killed and had a tally at just under 30k by the end of May. That probably doesn't include aligned forces (eg Donbass militia, Chechens, Syrians, overseas volunteers, etc) but it may suggest a crude ballpark total figure of ~50k? The Ukraine claims of >>100k seem somewhat exaggerated.
You reference a number of good pieces by Big Serge. Other good information and analysis sources are the substacks of simplicius76, imetatronink & bmanalysis plus the website of Larry Johnson (sonar21.com)
e.g. Will Schryver wrote a tight piece on attritional warfare - https://imetatronink.substack.com/p/the-object-of-war
If you are writing follow up articles I would be very interested in how you interpret the power dynamics at play with the European countries. Yes, for now, the EU seems to be following the US' lead in all this. But is there a prospect that some states eventually say that the US' apparent objective to cut them off from Russia as a low cost & convenient supplier of resources, and from China as a major market and a low cost supplier of goods is too high a price to pay? Are they supporting the US strategy here because they still think it can prevail over Russia, but should Russia prevail over Ukraine (and therefore effectively over NATO and the US) do wiser heads start following alternative paths? Does a disarmed & weakened Europe see peaceful & mutually beneficial relationships with Russia and China preferable to following an apparently failing US empire?
As usual, a very coherent and strong argument. My main disagreement is on your claim that Putin sees this as existential war - his actions speak otherwise. First, Russia is spending a very small fraction of its GDP on this war - most optimistically less than 5%. As a student of nation states, I am sure you know how states mobilize in existential wars. Assume that Soviet levels of spending in WWII (~60%) are beyond reach, they surely could match US level of WWII commitment at ~25%, for example. Second, he is not using Russia dominance in deep strike capability to wreck Ukraine. Russia could knock out Ukraine’s power production capacity in a day and completely collapse Ukraine’s economy the way US did to Iraq in 1991, but Putin has refused to do so (Fall and Winter campaign was concentrated on transformers as retaliation for Kerch bridge attack). Putin has also refused to strike bridges over Dniepr, which would sever Ukraine in half along Europe’s widest river, greatly undermining their logistics. All this leads me to conclude Putin is aiming for negotiations or a frozen conflict.
Everything mentioned in this article is true and valid but it only tells part of the story of why this conflict is so intractable. In fact when geopolitical pundits ascribe the conflict to these geopolitical issues only they are in effect providing a wafer thin veneer of plausible deniability for the political classes of the US, UK and EU. A majority of whom are thoroughly compromised and corrupted by their own or their political parties prior dealings with the cesspit Ukraine turned into through the 8 years of Obama..
Starting from the assumption that the US has been run by various criminal elites since at least Bush v1, and with the middle east/Afghanistan once again part of the Bush's sphere of corruption, from 2009 Obama's team gravitated to the Ukraine, particularly so after their North African and Syrian ventures went off the rails. In fact Obama's team along with the Democrats collectively made Ukraine their base for any number of murky operations. From straight laundering of foreign aid $ Billions (part of which was used to co-opt and make complicit the GOP), through to various Government and business frauds, natural resource extraction including illegal Uranium trades, human and drug trafficking and finally the illegal bioweapon labs and secret pharma testing, 8 years of Obama turned Ukraine into the toxic time bomb we see today. All of which is easily proven with open source research.
Is it any wonder there is bipartisan support for the war? Both the GOP and Democrats have made billions via the Ukraine and they would rather see the country erased than for the truth to be exposed. The Biden family corruption has exposed the tip of a very dirty iceberg. Congress tried to impeach Trump for merely asking Zelensky to look into corruption in Ukraine. Remember there were quite a few republicans in favor of impeachment, I wonder why...It is reasonable to assume it isn't limited to Congress. In fact politicians and parties in the UK and EU are equally compromised by activities in the Ukraine, we just haven't had much exposure...yet.
Will the penny drop with the citizens of the US, UK and EU that their political class are pushing war because they are compromised and corrupted by their dealings in the Ukraine? Highly unlikely until the pundit class start joining the obvious facts and calling out the hypocrisy and frankly evil immorality of the political elites most to blame.
The geopolitical issues are part of it. But seriously have we ever seen a collection of more desperate and aggressive warmongering amongst a vast swathe of political elites? Even Gulf War 2 after 9/11 had dissenting voices. Where are the moderates? Forget dismissing this as conspiracy it's high time each and every politician pushing war PROVE to us that they have had not one dollar of benefit from the Ukraine in the last 15 years...Until they do we should simply assume they are compromised and corrupt and and are desperately hoping that a prolonged war either brings victory and narrative control or destroys any evidence of their prior corruption and malfeasance.
This is entirely the fault of the West who are going insane due to decadence and hedonism ; well I mean, picking a fight with the largest country in the world , with a people made paranoid and fatalistic by foreign invasions ; a country with the most Nukes ; what could possibly go wrong ?
Dr. Mearsheimer, it seems to me, is an optimist. There appears to be a high chance of the west loosing before russians winning. Will europe hold economically & socially? Isn't recent surge of AfD in germany an ominous symptom of "nationalists"getting on top of "globalist" (which is a current dichotomy instead of increasingly irrelevant left vs right dichotomy). everywhere in europe?
Dear Mr Mearsheimer, thank you for shedding light on complex issues. However I notice that you devoted 9 paragraphs on the Russian goals and threat environment while you allowed 1 paragraph for the equivalent topic on Ukraine's side. The bulk of your analysis thus seems to be West vs Russia. While this makes sense (it's becoming a small planet afterall) to a degree I think one should not deny the Ukrainians agency in the matter, especially since, as you rightfully put it, they face an existential threat. It would be interesting to read more from you on the dynamics taking place within Ukraine both pre and post war. Ultimately it is hard to imagine a world where Ukranians wouldn't want some of what their European neighbors have: economic prosperity. Incentives matter. Thus they have agency in the matter.
When did you stop spelling Kiev correctly? Precise date would be helpful, thanks.