Clausewitz said that strategy came first, and then planning. Half a century after him, Marshal von Molke considered something that practically any military man knows: that no plan, no matter how good, resists his first contact with the enemy. And this has happened to everyone in the Ukraine war. In terms of what the Prussian war theorist considered to be the goal (Zweckmilitary), the end (Zweck, political) and the means (Mittel), the changes have not occurred concurrently. Not definitely definitive. And they complicate the situation.
He is the aggressor. Their political objective was initially, and with a measured use of massive deployment, to install a pro-Russian government in kyiv, to ensure that a nullified Ukraine would not enter NATO, and to guarantee the permanence of Crimea and part of Donbas, and something more, which Russia occupied in 2014.
Assuring the Putin regime itself, subjected to internal tensions due to military failures and the partial mobilization of reservists, moving forward with its nationalist or imperial vision. To do this, he needs, at least, to secure the four regions (Kherson, Zaporizhia, Donetsk and Lugansk) that he has illegally incorporated into Russia with four main objectives: to demonstrate to the Russians and to the world that his idea of a “New Russia” (Novorossiya in Russian) is real; conquer the most industrial part of the Ukraine (although it has largely destroyed it in the attempt); secure a land and freshwater union for Crimea; and make this be or end up being a war of the West, of NATO, against Russia (not the other way around), even with nuclear weapons, given the insufficiency of other means (such as aviation, paralyzed by anti-aircraft systems that Westerners have placed in the hands of the Ukrainian defense).
To resist. The US did not have it all with itself and that is why it offered President Zelinsky to take him out of the country when the Russian invasion of kyiv began on February 24. But Zelinsky decided to resist, and offered Moscow to negotiate, including a certain neutrality of the Ukraine.
Do not negotiate, or at least put Russia in a weak position in the face of a negotiation, and if it is possible that the Putin regime will fall (although there are no guarantees about what may happen to it); recover –“liberate”- the part conquered by Russian troops since February 24, of course Kherson, and if it could more, that is, the territorial integrity of Ukraine prior to 2014; enter the EU – he has already managed to get the first door opened – and into NATO, which the Westerners do not want.
As for military means, it continues to hope that Western countries, with the US at the forefront, provide it with weapons (artillery, missiles and even planes) capable not only of helping to recover lost territories but also of reaching Russia with some depth in its interior, something that for the time being neither Washington nor its allies have wanted, since it would change the rules of the game, the rules of engagementwhich have been respected (but which will decline if Russia uses a nuclear weapon, no matter how tactical).
The United States fomented the pro-European Maidan revolt in 2013-2014. In the square, waving, was Victoria Nuland, then Deputy Secretary of State with George W. Bush, and today in the Biden Administration. The Pentagon has publicly acknowledged that, together with the United Kingdom, it has been forming, training and arming Ukrainian forces since the first Russian invasion in 2014. The United States expected, like others, a short war, but saw that it could contribute weapons and money to a war of resistance, against the Russian war of attrition, which would weaken Russia. Well, the objective of weakening Russia has been very present in Washington since 1991. For two reasons: it is the only country that poses an “existential threat” with its strategic nuclear weapons; and it would undermine what has become an ally, or subordinate, of China, whose rise in all spheres of power is the true American obsession.
It remains to weaken Russia and make it one way or another lose this war, or at least not win it. But at the same time to strengthen her interests and power (sale of gas to Europe and the world, of arms, strength of the dollar); strengthen NATO;: and undermine a possible allies of China.
At least until the mid-term congressional elections on November 8. For if the Democrats lose control of the Senate or the House of Representatives, it may be difficult for this Administration to maintain the level of aid, military and economic, that Biden has pushed for Ukraine. It is not lost on Putin. The US also seeks to put an end to Putin and his regime: it is not possible to reach agreements with someone who has been publicly described as a war criminal.
France, Germany and Italy
Avoid a victory for Putin, but at the same time maintain the ability to dialogue with him and with Zelensky. Hence, they dragged their feet in military aid to Ukraine, and for economic and industrial interests they continued to buy gas and oil from Russia, accompanying this course of sanctions that have been increasing, although without the great effect sought.
Even the Italians, even the likely next Italian prime minister, the neo-fascist Meloni, have turned anti-Putin. Due to various factors, they have finally understood, especially Germany, that they had to drastically and rapidly reduce their dependence on previously cheap Russian hydrocarbons. Even Macron no longer talks about avoiding humiliating Russia, while in Germany, Chancellor Scholz has made a Zeitenwende, a radical shift in terms of defense spending and the type of weapons to be supplied to Ukraine. And if the economic situation deteriorates even more seriously, they will lean in favor of an end to the war whose contours are not yet in sight.
But these countries, despite the hardening of their position (such as Spain) are not in the position of the toughest -Poland and the Baltics are-, which predicts possible divisions between the European allies, especially in the face of the impact of inflation and the economic slowdown derived, in part but not only, from the war caused by Russia. Contributing to these divisions are the differences, for example, from Germany, the largest economy, in terms of public aid to compensate for the rise in energy prices. At the same time, Europe, Greater Europe, is developing, for example, with the European Political Community launched in Prague on October 6.
The various objectives, in a war that, except for surprise in Moscow, seems to be dragging on, continue to change. They can even separate and generate much more dangerous escalations than what has been experienced so far. It is not only the countries listed here, but the entire world that is being affected and is changing its position. Like China and India. China initially supported Russia (but did she know what was coming? Did Putin warn Xi Jinping?), thinking that the West would be weakened rather than strengthened, which is what has happened. But now he has distanced himself from Putin and wants the war to end in order to put an end to the global economic crisis that affects him fully. The Global South, which had nothing to do with this war, from which it distanced itself, is also suffering its effects and would like it to end or at least be suspended.