Last month, Ukraine’s parliamentarians voted to give themselves a 70% salary increase. Filings indicate the raise was enabled and encouraged by the billions of dollars and euros of aid that have poured in from the US and Europe.
“If you tried to explain the situation Ukrainian soldiers are facing to an American soldier, they would think you were insane,” said Ivan. “Imagine telling an American soldier that we are using our personal cars in the war, and we’re also responsible for paying for repairs and fuel. We’re buying our own body armor and helmets. We don’t have observation tools or cameras, so soldiers have to pop their heads out to see what’s coming, which means at any moment, a rocket or tank can tear their heads off.”
Illya*, a 23 year-old soldier from Kiev, says his unit is facing the same conditions in another part of the Donbas region. He joined the Ukrainian Army shortly after the war started. He has a background in IT and knew such expertise was in high demand. “If I had known how much deception there was in this Army, and how everything would be for us, I never would have joined,” he said. “I want to go home, but if I flee, I face prison.”
Illya and the other soldiers in his unit lack weapons and protective gear. “In Ukraine, people cheat each other even in war,” he said. “I’ve watched the medical supplies donated to us being taken away. The cars that drove us to our position were stolen. And we have not been replaced with new soldiers in three months, though we should have been relieved three times by now.”
Ivan is not optimistic about Ukraine’s chances to win the war. “There won’t be a Donbas left,” he said. “The Russians will destroy it, or they’ll control all of it, and then they’ll move on to the south. And now, as it is, I’d say 80% of the civilians who have stayed in Donbas support Russia and leak all of our location information to them.”
When asked if he thought the US and European countries truly want Ukraine to win the war, Ivan laughed. “No, I don’t think they want us to win,” he said. “The West could give us weapons to make us stronger than the Russians, but they don’t do this. We know Poland and the Baltic countries want us to win, 100%, but their support isn’t enough.”
“It is obvious that the US doesn’t want Ukraine to win the war,” said Andrey*, a Ukrainian journalist based in Mykolayiv. “They only want to make Russia weak. No one will win this war, but the countries the US is using like a playground will lose. And the corruption related to the war aid is shocking. The weapons are stolen, the humanitarian aid is stolen, and we have no idea where the billions sent to this country have gone.”
——————————————- Playing With Fire in Ukraine
The Underappreciated Risks of Catastrophic Escalation
In essence, Kyiv, Washington, and Moscow are all deeply committed to winning at the expense of their adversary, which leaves little room for compromise. Neither Ukraine nor the United States, for example, is likely to accept a neutral Ukraine; in fact, Ukraine is becoming more closely tied with the West by the day. Nor is Russia likely to return all or even most of the territory it has taken from Ukraine, especially since the animosities that have fueled the conflict in the Donbas between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government for the past eight years are more intense than ever.
These conflicting interests explain why so many observers believe that a negotiated settlement will not happen any time soon and thus foresee a bloody stalemate. They are right about that. But observers are underestimating the potential for catastrophic escalation that is built into a protracted war in Ukraine.
There are three basic routes to escalation inherent in the conduct of war: one or both sides deliberately escalate to win, one or both sides deliberately escalate to prevent defeat, or the fighting escalates not by deliberate choice but inadvertently. Each pathway holds the potential to bring the United States into the fighting or lead Russia to use nuclear weapons, and possibly both.
Washington may not be directly engaged in the fighting, but it is deeply involved in the war. And it is now just a short step away from having its own soldiers pulling triggers and its own pilots pressing buttons.
A more likely scenario for U.S. intervention would come about if the Ukrainian army began to collapse and Russia seemed likely to win a major victory. In that case, given the Biden administration’s deep commitment to preventing that outcome, the United States could try to turn the tide by getting directly involved in the fighting. One can easily imagine U.S. officials believing that their country’s credibility was at stake and convincing themselves that a limited use of force would save Ukraine without prompting Putin to use nuclear weapons. Alternatively, a desperate Ukraine might launch large-scale attacks against Russian towns and cities, hoping that such escalation would provoke a massive Russian response that would finally force the United States to join the fighting.
Although Russia’s military has done enormous damage to Ukraine, Moscow has, so far, been reluctant to escalate to win the war. Putin has not expanded the size of his force through large-scale conscription. Nor has he targeted Ukraine’s electrical grid, which would be relatively easy to do and would inflict massive damage on that country. Indeed, many Russians have taken him to task for not waging the war more vigorously. Putin has acknowledged this criticism but has let it be known that he would escalate if necessary. “We haven’t even yet started anything in earnest,” he said in July, suggesting that Russia could and would do more if the military situation deteriorated.