In the early days, the war in Ukraine had not escalated into the dangerous NATO-Russia nightmare that it is today.
The massive amounts of death and destruction was not yet imagined. Though "the news keeps repeating that Putin is targeting civilians," according to a senior analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency in March 2022, "there is no evidence that Russia is intentionally doing so." The analyst said that "almost all of the long-range strikes have been aimed at military targets." A retired Air Force officer, working with a "large military contractor advising the Pentagon" added that "the Russian military has actually been showing restraint in its long-range attacks." These sources told Newsweek that Russia was not bombing indiscriminately and that the US dropped more missiles on the first day in Iraq in 2003 than Russia dropped in the first 24 days in Ukraine. Observing the US bombing of Iraq, including the use of depleted uranium and white phosphorous, "British officers were appalled by the lack of concern for civilian casualties." Instead, "The vast majority of [Russian] airstrikes are over the battlefield, with Russian aircraft providing “close air support” to ground forces. The remainder – less than 20 percent, according to U.S. experts – has been aimed at military airfields, barracks and supporting depots." The DIA analyst concluded that "that’s what the facts show. This suggests to me, at least, that Putin is not intentionally attacking civilians."
It was while the war was still at this stage that it could have been stopped. On February 27, just three days into the war, Russia and Ukraine announced that they were ready to hold talks in Belarus. In those and subsequent talks over the next several weeks, including the most promising talks of all in Istanbul, Ukraine and Russia were ready to stop the war on terms that met both of their goals.
But the US stopped the war from ending before the devastation began because the talks did not meet their goals. Putin "should . . . not be negotiated with," the US and UK told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, and even if Ukraine was ready to sign some agreements with Russia, “the West was not." The US "blocked" the negotiated end to the war because they "want[ed] the war to continue," since meeting Ukraine’s goals was insufficient. "This is a war," the US State Department explained, "that is in many ways bigger than Russia, it’s bigger than Ukraine.”
The three day war became a year and a half long war that escalated into the dangerous and devastating war it is today because the US forbade Ukraine from ending it on terms that satisfied them and pressured them into fighting on against Russia in pursuit of American goals. From this point on, all the probably hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian deaths, the destruction of infrastructure and the loss of land became the joint responsibility of the US.
But neither American nor Ukrainian goals have been met. The war is going very badly for Ukraine and no amount of US help seems to be altering the battlefield. Barring an unlikely change in fortune, Ukraine is fighting on only to arrive at an inevitable negotiated end that will be tragically worse than the one they negotiated in Belarus and Istanbul.
That change of fortune hangs upon the so far suicidal counteroffensive. Since June 5, Ukraine has thrown its NATO trained troops and its NATO supplied tanks against the Russian defensive lines. And, according to Russian President Vladimir Putin, in that nearly two month period, Ukraine has suffered more than 26,000 deaths. They also lost at least a "startling" 20% of their NATO supplied tanks and armored vehicles in the first weeks of the counteroffensive.
What’s worse is that the US encouraged Ukraine to launch the counteroffensive and publicly broadcast their "very good chance for success" when, privately, they knew Ukraine was ill prepared. According to reporting in The Wall Street Journal, "When Ukraine launched its big counteroffensive this spring, Western military officials knew Kyiv didn’t have all the training or weapons – from shells to warplanes – that it needed to dislodge Russian forces." Incredibly, military officials were prepared to count on "Ukrainian courage and resourcefulness."
But all the "courage and resourcefulness" is still being outweighed by the lack of training, weapons and troops. The New York Times reported on July 26 that Ukraine has started the "main thrust" of its counteroffensive, "pouring" thousands of reinforcements into the battle, "many of them trained and equipped by the West."
Though it is hard to keep track of which attack is which, there have been reports of massive Ukrainian losses in recent days. The Times places the "main thrust" south of Orikhiv and farther south at Robotyne. An attempted Ukrainian advance from Novosanylivka south toward Robotyne and Tokmak turned into what one analyst called "possibly the worst calamity for Ukraine since the beginning of the offensive." Another, referring to an offensive attempt in the "Rabotino-Orekhov direction," that included Leopard tanks and Bradley armored vehicles, says that Russian forces "repulsed" the attempt with "horrific" losses to the Ukrainian armed forces. There are reports of several Leopards and Bradleys being destroyed. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said that fifteen German Leopard tanks and twenty US Bradley armored vehicles were destroyed in one day. He also said that more than 200 more Ukrainian soldiers were "lost."
On July 27, as the "main thrust" continued, Putin claimed that, in the past 24 hours, Ukraine "used a large amount of heavy hardware, around 50 pieces. Some 39 of them, namely 26 tanks and 13 armored vehicles were destroyed."
The US pressed Ukraine, before the war had escalated into the devastation it now is, to continue fighting in pursuit of US goals when Ukrainian goals had been satisfied and the war could have ended. That has led to the loss of lives, the loss of land and the destruction of infrastructure. The US then encouraged a Ukrainian counteroffensive when they knew the Ukrainian armed forces "didn’t have all the training or weapons . . . that it needed to dislodge Russian forces." That has led to horrific loss of additional life. The US has pursued a self-interested policy in pursuit if its own goals that has been callous and cruel to the people of Ukraine.
Ted Snider is a regular columnist on US foreign policy and history at Antiwar.com and The Libertarian Institute. He is also a frequent contributor to Responsible Statecraft and The American Conservative as well as other outlets.