Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly plans to annex nearly 20 percent of Ukraine’s territory today following referendums that have been widely criticized as shams in four largely Russian-held oblasts. If he follows through, the move will all but destroy chances of a near-term diplomatic settlement to the conflict.
As Eugene Chausovsky of the Newlines Institute recently noted, the war has been at something of a crossroads in recent weeks, giving each side the option to pursue escalation or shift gears and give negotiations a chance. It looks like Putin is all-in on escalation.
The news of likely annexation comes alongside reports that Western officials are also preparing for a long-term conflict. Following a meeting in Brussels, NATO leaders committed to ramp up production of weapons in order to arm Ukraine for years to come.
In other words, Ukraine is most likely headed for a protracted, years-long war.
As months turn into years, casualties will continue to rise, and the risk of escalation to a cataclysmic nuclear war between Russia and the United States will remain uncomfortably high. If recent news is any indication, that sword of Damocles will hang over our heads for a long time to come.
In other diplomatic news related to the war in Ukraine:
— Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Russia’s referendums in a Wednesday call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to Kyiv’s readout of the conversation. Erdogan spoke with Putin the next day, urging him to extend the grain exports deal and seek a settlement to the conflict. The pair of calls come a week after Erdogan claimed Putin is ready to end the war “as soon as possible.”
— On Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told60 Minutes that there have been no peace talks because Russia “has not demonstrated any willingness” to start “meaningful” negotiations. “If and when that changes, we will do everything we can to support a diplomatic process,” Blinken added.
— American diplomats are putting pressure on Russia’s “regional friends and foes” to dissuade Putin from using nuclear weapons, according to a “senior State Department official” who spoke with Politico. The official didn’t specify which countries the United States is pressuring, but China and India are the most likely targets given their close ties to the Kremlin.
U.S. State Department News:
State Department spokesperson Ned Price said Wednesday that the United States will not discourage Ukraine from using American weapons to attack territories that Russia has annexed, including Crimea, despite Russian threats to use nukes in response to attacks on its perceived territorial integrity. “The targets they select are the targets they select,” Price said, arguing that all decisions on Ukrainian military strategy should be left to Kyiv.