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According to Washington Post, the US government is asking Ukraine to be more open to negotiations with the current Russian regime:

The Biden administration is privately encouraging Ukraine’s leaders to signal an openness to negotiate with Russia and drop their public refusal to engage in peace talks unless President Vladimir Putin is removed from power, according to people familiar with the discussions.

From both an economic and a humanitarian point of view, the Russian invasion of Ukraine is a disaster. Still, I wonder if a long war is not actually a geopolitical advantage for the US.

As time flows, Russia is losing both military (lots of men and equipment) and economic (due to drastic sanctions and Europe reducing the dependency on Russian oil and gas). As a consequence, Russia will become less and less relevant as a global power and the US can focus more on the bigger problem: China.

Does the US government consider a prolonged war in Ukraine as a geopolitical advantage for the US against Russia? I am interested in an answer in the context of the current situation (end of 2022, Russian forces being stopped and even partially pushed back from Ukrainian territory).

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    This question looks like future speculation. Clearly the US doesn't want to be spending unlimited billions of dollars especially if Russia ultimately wins. If Russia can fight with cheap munitions like drones, then they will enjoy a financial advantage. And of course it depends on whether non-NATO countries deal with Russia and take advantage of its oil and trade. Plus there is the risk of anti-refugee and anti-EU sentiment in Europe. But it's hard to weigh these factors to provide an answer. Maybe you could rephrase this to be less speculative.
    – Stuart F
    Nov 7, 2022 at 22:28
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    probably too early to say, come back and 2050 and (if we're still alive) we might be give an answer in hindsight.
    – James K
    Nov 7, 2022 at 22:45
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    It keeps Europe firmly within US sphere of influence. That's a strategic win I'd say.
    – whoisit
    Nov 7, 2022 at 23:47
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    @user253751 no, it prevents Europe from deciding "we don't need the US"
    – Caleth
    Nov 8, 2022 at 9:11
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    The US have been seeking to reduce the military threat from Moscow since the end of WWII. Thus, anything that weakens Moscow is a precious gift to the US in the long run, regardless of which US party is in power. If the weakening has a military component, it's a double gift. The cost of delivering weapons are thus a good investment. If no Americans fight with their own hands, it's a triple gift. In terms of economy, switching Europe from Russian gas to US gas is priceless. Overall, a war between Russia and Ukraine is the best present that the US could have ever given itself.
    – user44868
    Nov 9, 2022 at 17:48

7 Answers 7

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Depends on where the US sees their main rivals.

  • If the US is seeking allies to confront China in the global economy (and ultimately in the security realm), they need to strengthen the EU (and NATO).
    Plausible for the reasons given below.
  • If the US is in competition with the EU and ignoring China, they benefit from trouble in central Europe.
    Not plausible for the reasons given below.
  • If the US believes that Russia is mid-sized, commodity-exporting country with some leftover nukes and an unsustainable economic model, they benefit from having them wither away without too much fuss.
    Plausible for the reasons given below.
  • if the US believes that Russia has a dynamic political and economic system that could challenge the predominance of the US-led 'West' in peaceful competition, they need to goad Russia into a futile war.
    Not plausible for the reasons given below.

Russia tries to portray itself as such a dynamic society and the Europeans as dupes of Washington. The US professes both alarm over China and disdain for the Russian economic and political power, which I find rather more credible.

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This is difficult to answer from anything like official sources, as to the [true] long-term planning of the current administration. Given the election cycles in the US, perhaps no such planning can even exist.

For the rest, there's speculation and political accusations--lots of the latter, in fact. There are certainly those US-side who argue that the US hasn't been doing enough to help Ukraine win faster, and that thus the US is prolonging the war (intentionally or not). And those who even claim that the current administration is using/prolonging the war as a distraction:

But Biden officials adamantly reject the proxy label, noting that it is a defensive war Ukraine didn’t start and that Kyiv is fighting for its very survival. [...]

Donald Trump, in a recent presidential campaign video, called the war a “proxy battle” and said the Biden administration was only “pretending to fight for freedom.” Instead, he said, Biden “globalists” were using it to distract Americans “from the havoc they’re creating right here at home.” [...]

While some conservatives slam what House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has called Biden’s “blank check” for Ukraine, others think the president has been too restrained in doling out enough aid for Ukraine to defeat the Russians. “If you want to fight a proxy war against Vladimir Putin’s vindictive, brutal, destructive desire to be remembered as Peter the Great, then fight the damn proxy war; don’t do it halfway,” the National Review’s Jim Geraghty wrote last month.

Anyhow, the best you can learn from the Biden administration are same rather vague statements like:

The administration itself has provided rhetorical grist for Putin’s proxy portrayal. “We want to see Russia weakened” so that it can never invade another country again, Austin said early in the conflict.

At a NATO summit in Madrid last June, Biden said Americans should be prepared to pay higher energy and gasoline prices “for as long as it takes” to defeat Russia, a phrase he has subsequently used in nearly every statement since then about Western aid for Ukraine.

“Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia. Never,” Biden said as he marked the anniversary of the war’s beginning during a visit in February to Kyiv.

But in more practical terms, the US seems to be "tailgating" so to speak, i.e. only making rather short term decisions.

Asked what happens if Ukraine doesn’t succeed in pushing back Russian front lines and reclaiming significant territory, the Pentagon’s top official deflected.

They are always “looking further down the road,” Austin said. But “we want to make sure that they’re successful in this next fight. I think if you lose focus on that, some of the other stuff doesn’t matter.”

OTOH:

According to a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment among the leaked documents, “Negotiations to end the conflict are unlikely during 2023.”

So that kinda seems to be the horizon that US administration is working on.

Thus, there are those who say that the US is unintentionally prolonging the war:

The United States is pursuing a ‘gradualist’ policy in Ukraine, ratcheting up the pressure on the Russian invaders by progressively arming the Ukrainian military. Gradualism didn’t work in Vietnam, and it may not work in Ukraine.

In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson feared that the war in Southeast Asia might escalate out of control. He worried Moscow would threaten Berlin and that the People’s Republic of China might enter Vietnam with massive ground formations like it did in Korea.

Johnson tried to calibrate the American use of force in Vietnam to send nuanced “messages” of American resolve to the leaders in Beijing and Moscow. [...]

Today, despite repeated pleas from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for combat aircraft, U.S. President Biden insists that Zelenskyy “doesn’t need” F-16s. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan has reinforced the president’s position, indicating that the Biden Administration is carefully measuring Ukraine’s tactical needs on a case-by-case basis. In a classic example of gradualism, Sullivan did not rule out providing Ukraine with F-16s at some later date.

Absent a coherent strategic framework for resolving the conflict, it’s tempting for the Biden Administration to focus on Ukraine’s needs on a week-to-week or a month-to-month basis. That tactical, short-term focus is prolonging the war.

That's probably as good of a conclusion are you're likely to get on this, given the know/revealed facts. That article also concedes that "The Biden administration’s concerns about escalation are legitimate." But argues that that is ultimately a mistake.

I don't fully share the ultimate conclusion of that author. While one can bring up Vietnam as to why gradualism can fail, the US help to the mujahideen against the USSR was successful (but only in the sense of driving out the Soviets, with little regard for what happened afterwards in Afghanistan). That US engagement was in fact executed with the idea of keeping the pot boiling without overflowing. (However, in that case, that strategy was also dictated by the Pakistani government, which served as the primary conduit of proxy aid. In fact, that pot analogy was Ayub Khan's words.)

As for the war in Ukraine, one can point to some geopolitical advantages that have accrued to the US, like Finland joining NATO (and some increased LNG sales), but until the US archives on this are opened (some 25+ years from now) or administration officials decide to write about that in their memoirs, it's hard to say how much they've considered those a primary goal in their war-related decisions.

There is the flip side that Russia gets more dependent on China, which is something that at least some EU leaders have openly worried about, and which also worries the US public.

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  • N.B. There might have been some internal debates in the administration too. Some have pointed out that the recent change in direction on F-16s rather coincided with the announced departure of undersecretary of defense for policy Colin Kahl. airandspaceforces.com/… May 22, 2023 at 20:14
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There is one major direct risk for the US from a long war in Russia (here we neglect indirect risks like increased carbon emissions). That risk is that the current consensus to prosecute the war might wilt. It is expensive to provide all that aid to Ukraine, and the war has other consequences like driving up inflation and food prices. If that consensus wilts, support dries up (c.f. the end of the Vietnam war or Afghan invasion), and Russia actually wins the war as a result (God forbid), then it would be a major embarrassment for US foreign policy. Countries like Sweden and Finland and Poland might actually start worrying about relying on the US as a protector (although the more hawkish US politicians might ask "and? It's not like they have anyone else to approach").

And so we have the US government asking the Ukrainians to be open to dialogue. They doubt the political will to keep providing so much aid to Ukraine is there (not just from the US, but also from their European allies). If that will fades, it's to the US's advantage that there be a negotiated peace.

If you could guarantee that the will to prosecute the war will never fade, then yeah, I doubt the Biden administration would've asked Ukraine to be open to negotiations.

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  • I'm not sure US is losing money because of the conflict, as it's driven up liquid gas demand in Europe significantly
    – The Norman
    Nov 14, 2022 at 21:42
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    Countries like Sweden and Finland and Poland might actually start worrying about relying on the US as a protector => and then do what, become Russian allies? :-) It’s not like NATO has any serious competition. Poland and Sweden will stay there no matter what as they don’t have a choice. May 22, 2023 at 13:11
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    @JonathanReez allies? No. Improve relations and stop participating in the economic war? Why not? At least that sounds pragmatic, although probably won't happen because of the emotional reasons
    – kandi
    May 22, 2023 at 16:27
  • @kandi improving relations hardly helps them avoid a potential invasion. In any case, the idea that giving up on Ukraine would cast NATO in a bad light is merely wishful thinking by Ukrainian patriots. In reality, only the loss of a full NATO member to a Russian invasion would do that. If anything, it would show that no one is safe if they’re not a full member. May 22, 2023 at 16:36
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    @JonathanReez technically, Kazakhstan is more vulnerable to Russian invasion compared to Ukraine (also Russian minority on border, smaller army, harder or impossible logistics of the West's supplying arms in case of war). Yet I haven't heard of anyone serious in Kazakhstan worried about possible Russian invasion. Why? My guess is that's mostly because of good relations
    – kandi
    May 22, 2023 at 17:50
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Ukraine is not the only place of confrontation between Russia and the West led by the United States. While Russia is bogged down in Ukraine, it is easier for the United States to strike Russia in other places. While Russia is fighting in Ukraine it´s loosing positions in Central Asia and Caucasus. The United States is trying relatively successfully to lure Armenia, one of Russia's long-time allies, to its side. In Syria, where both US and Russian troops are present, Russia is weakened now.

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Frame challenge. The title of the question might point to something worth asking. But then in the question you assume that the situation is imposing some kind of attrition on Russia. That premise is not correct.

The sanctions against Russia failed. India, China and other non Western nations took over what the Western countries did not buy. The spike in oil and gas prices helped Russia way more than the sanctions affected them.

The loss of military equipment is not guaranteed to cause some pain. During the cold war the USSR could not sustain a US style military complex, but the productivity of the Russian industries advanced as it happened in the rest of the world. Military expenditure is now about 4% of their GDP, high, but not enough to cause a downfall like it happened to the Communist regime. Furthermore exports have been declining for quite some times, so local consumption is needed to keep the industry active.

Furthermore if you look at most of the losses that were reported you might noticed that the vast majority was obsolete equipment.

Also the loss of men is not guaranteed to cause so much pain. Judging from many reports they are sending in Ukraine mostly men that they consider cannon fodder. An excessive reliance on cannon fodder caused the downfall of the Tsar in WWI, but definitely the current losses did not reach those levels.

Frame challenge number 2. There is another point that is not correct.

Does the US government consider a prolonged war in Ukraine as a geopolitical advantage for the US against Russia?

The entire cold war helped consolidate US dominance against small countries. Any geopolitical advantage does not necessarily have to be against Russia.

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  • Ref. to "The sanctions against Russia failed." - isn't too early to assume this? I think we need to wait several years to see the full effect of these sanctions.
    – Alexei
    May 22, 2023 at 14:27
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    @Alexei India, China and other nations are still ordering Russian oil and gas. That is not going to change. The order book is enough to keep them afloat for a long time. Furthermore Russia is strengthening economic ties with Iran and other countries shunned by the West. Furthermore 2. As they modernize their military industry they might retake their old role of weapons exporters alongside commodities exporters. See Armata Universal Combat Platform, SU-57 and so on. May 22, 2023 at 14:39
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    @convert If you answer a question based on wrong premises you risk strengthening those premises. May 22, 2023 at 15:30
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    @Fizz This is the point, they are using more T-54 and T-72 than T-90 or T14. They are using more BTR-(any version) BMP and BMD than more modern Kurganets and T-15. They are dumping the obsolete equipment and saving the modern one. May 22, 2023 at 16:02
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    "Spending on the military and on security services will grow from 24 percent of budget spending projected for 2022 to almost 33 percent in 2023 (9.5 trillion rubles)." wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/… So that's like 5.5% of GDP for 2023, assuming the GDP doesn't shrink. May 25, 2023 at 10:01
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That USA definitely does not "consider geopolitical advantage" is to allow Russia winning this war. But how useful is it to continue exactly the war without end, another question. USA have already spent $54 billion just on direct support, not counting numeric sanctions that obviously hurt both ends. Hence it is reasonable to believe it would be more in their interests to end the war but not by allowing Russia to win on their terms.

A simple cease fire keeping everything "as is" would just allow Russia to rebuild the army. Even if Russia would sign some paper about a peace forever, this cannot longer be trusted as a similar paper has already been signed in 1994 (and they say "has no legal power"). Taking this into consideration, it is understandable why USA is not pushing Ukraine into this option, even if otherwise it would be beneficial to end the war.

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    What outcome wouldn't "just allow Russia to rebuild the army"?
    – kandi
    Nov 10, 2022 at 15:23
  • Removal of all Russian armed forces from the territory of the Ukraine. This would make unattractive to repeat the invasion.
    – Stančikas
    Nov 10, 2022 at 16:55
  • Tripwire allied forces
    – bharring
    May 22, 2023 at 19:51
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No, Russia is too far behind to catch up in any immediate future

The United States doesn't care to gain a geopolitical advantage over Russia. Russia is not important enough for that.

Russia's GDP is roughly equal to that of Canada, despite the fact that Canada has 1/6th the population. Its economy is largely based on resource extraction.

Russia simply isn't in the same league as the United States on the geopolitical level.

The main concern about Russia at this point is that it is mainly a terrorist threat. It has a lot of old Soviet weapons, but it does have a lot of them. Weapons don't translate into influence though because they don't make a country useful to anyone.

A strong army makes a country (or a civilization) great only if it allows it to protect itself to develop great scientific, cultural, artistic, communications, medical, and other productive accomplishments.

Otherwise, the military advantage is nothing but a terrorist threat.

Just like ISIS, Russia does not present a serious military threat to the developed world. It can cause a lot of havoc, but only until the developed world gains the will to act to stop it. Then Russia would be stopped at will.

The invasion of Ukraine had been the same challenge as the emergence of ISIS had been in the Middle East. It challenged continuity of institutions, but not their existence.

Once the will to act to stop Russia's terrorism has solidified, the means to this end have become immediately clear.

Russia is not a military threat

It is a common belief that Russia presents some sort of challenge because of its nuclear weapons. That's not the case though. It would only be the case if Russia had a strong convention army.

The 10 minutes to 2 hours, that a ballistic missile would take to strike the Western Hemisphere, is not the critical path of using such a weapon. It would have to get fueled, ready, and armed. This would take days.

A ballistic missile cannot stay armed or fueled all the time. Any war with Russia would be over, by conventional means, before Russia's strategic weapons became ready for launch.

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  • "It is a common belief that Russia presents some sort of challenge because of its nuclear weapons. That's not the case though." And why then Iran or North Korea with nuclear weapons are seen as threat?
    – convert
    May 23, 2023 at 20:36
  • @convert same reason: potential terrorist threats, but not because they have any chance of winning a military victory. They could force a fight though. They would lose it. But then a fight would have to happen.
    – wrod
    May 24, 2023 at 5:36

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