Since the Six Day War of June ’67, tank battles have been won in the skies above them. Zelenskyy can’t match Putin on the ground – at least not indefinitely – nor, without NATO, in the air. So it’s no surprise he wants NATO to impose what’s misleadingly called a no-fly zone, though of course it’s nothing of the sort. What it really is is a you-can’t-but-we-can-fly zone. And what makes it a you-can’t-but-we-can zone, as distinct from winning the tank battle below, is that we give ourselves leave to carry air-to-air ordnance only.
What Zelenskyy is hoping, of course, is that a NATO fighter will find itself bringing down a Russian one. Or the other way around. It doesn’t matter which, because either way, however reluctantly, NATO would be brought fully into the war, at which point discretion would prove the better part of valour and the Russians would have to turn tail and run.
So the Stingers and the Javelins are not what Zelenskyy needs to win this war. He needs NATO steel coming across the Polish border. And for that he needs the provocation of NATO fighter jets crossing it in the sky above.
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Plan A was a little shock and awe, just to be on the safe side, a leisurely drive to Kyiv, followed by a popularly supported regime change, and then back home for the weekend. As of this writing, a month in, not so much. Plan A has completely stalled.
Putin miscalculated the depth of Ukrainian nationalism, the leadership of that little Jewish Nazi fellow, the incompetence of his own army, and the readiness of its Ukrainian counterpart. And so he reverted to Plan B. Break Ukraine’s resistance by shelling its cities with long-range artillery.
The Ukrainians, for their part, are using this shelling of civilians to win the propaganda war. And it’s working. Already at least half of Americans are in favour of entering the war. At some point that pressure will prove irresistible, even for the invertebrate Biden administration.
At what point more exactly? Well, the Americans drew the line and then erased it when Putin and Assad used chemical weapons in Syria. So probably not at a chemical attack. If Putin resorts to a tactical nuclear weapon? He won’t, because his own forces are far more vulnerable to a tactical nuclear strike than are the Ukrainians. So it’ll have to be a particularly photogenic little girl, if not dismembered then at least bloodied. Though for some of us a dog dragging half a leg would probably be the clincher.
The emerging worry among us count-me-among-’em warmongers, however, is that before that point is reached, Zelenskyy will cave, providing Putin a face-saving way out. That would be highly disappointing. We need Zelenskyy to hold out just a bit longer. Just long enough for some cameraman to get that shot.
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Since Putin can’t take Kyiv, nor take and hold Kharkiv, nor Odesa and the Black Sea coast, nor Mariupol and the Azov coast, there’s a rumour afoot that he’s abandoning Plans A and B and settling for the remainder of the Dombas. Which, by the way, he could have had by day two of the war. But if he’s down to Plan C, there’s going to be a lot of Russians wondering what the hell this month of killing and being killed was all about.
Ah, he’ll say, but he had to invade the whole country in order to degrade the Ukrainian army so it couldn’t oppose him for the Dombas. But that explanation probably won’t wash. Thanks to the flow of ordnance coming in from the West, a flow the Russians have been unable to block, the Ukrainians are in better shape ordnance-wise today than they were when the Russians invaded a month ago.
Putin can always sell the slaughter of innocents as collateral damage. As, with the requisite spin, can a humiliating defeat be sold as a great victory. But the body bags coming home may require a more creative story. Monuments will be raised to the Ukrainians heroically killed defending their country. Hard to imagine how the mothers and wives of the Russian fallen are going to muster anything similarly consoling for their sons and husbands. Yes, there’s always heroism on both sides of a war. But notice that Das Boot makes no mention of what the Germans were fighting for.