Ukraine and the Minsk Accords
The Ukrainian war could be headed for a dangerous stalement, and at least some of the blame lies with Moscow and its supporters.
From the beginning there was too much emphasis by Moscow supporters on the NATO question. Nothing was going to change in Ukraine by harping on broken NATO promises.
Moscow did talk about the NATO threat, but that is not why it went into the war in Ukraine. It went into that war as it said – as a special operation designed to protect the Russian speakers in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, to root out the neoNazi squads persecuting them and to demilitarise Ukraine.
But early victories due mainly to weak Ukrainian resistance* meant it could expand territorial gains further west towards Zaporizhia and Kherson, and north towards Kharkiv.
Nothing wrong with that, in principle. Those areas were almost entirely Russian speaking. They, along with Crimea, should never have belonged to Ukraine – historically, culturally, or administratively.
But that was then. The Russian attack has forced changes.
First the bombing of residential areas throughout Ukraine, even if by mistake, seems to have aroused a strong Ukrainian nationalism.
Secondly Moscow was relying too much on Donetsk and Luhansk volunteer armies to do the heavy lifting, presumably because it wanted to reduce its own casualties.
These people had already suffered 10 years of neoNazi attacks. If Moscow wants a war to save them, then it should have done much more with its own trained boots on the ground.
Today we find the worst of all situations. Once passive Ukrainian armies are turning nationalistic and merging with neoNazi brigades to receive massive outside aid to attack seemingly over-extended Russian armies.
Moscow supporters say increased Russian enlistments, the onset of camouflage-denying winter, and Ukrainian arms shortages will turn the tide.
Maybe. But Moscow has another problem. Its armies cannot hope to recover the morale they had when Nazi Germany was the enemy. The fact they are relying more on unreliable semi-mercenaries like the Chechen brigades and for a while the Wagner brigades is proof.
It is trying to shield its own population from the horrors of this war as much as possible. I visited Moscow last year. The atmosphere was a bit depressed but there no hint of war emergency.
On the contrary, the Moscovites were enjoying the loot they gained from fleeing Western firms. Starbucks had become Star Enterprises! The economy was moving up, not down.
This explains the semi-stalemate we see today, and why it can only get worse as the neoNazis play on the formerly dormant but now rising Ukrainian nationalism.
Armies fighting on foreign ground cannot easily outdo armies fighting on their own ground.
From the start Moscow should have stuck to its original goals – push hard and fast into Donetsk and Luhansk and eliminate the neoNazi thugs.
Then recover the territory the two provinces had lost to creeping Ukrainian aggression since 2014 and take firm measures to guarantee their autonomy, or independent neutrality if necessary.
In other words go back essentially to the rules laid down by the 2014-5 Minsk Accords endorsed by France, Germany and the UN, and which Moscow should have moved much sooner to protect.
Even Mr Blinken could not object to that. After all, the system of internationally agreed rules should be respected.
*ask the BBC to show us its hastily withdrawn documentaries of Ukrainian tank units being disarmed by Russian-speaking civilians in eastern Ukraine back in 2015.