Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


Pentagon Papers Paint a Dire Picture in Ukraine

Over a year since Russia invaded Ukraine in an effort to assert its control and annex its territory, questions linger over what the future holds. Now, the Pentagon papers leak has shed new light on CIA thinking and Ukraine’s supposed abilities to continue fighting Russian forces.

The documents, which were shared on the Discord app last month and spread to other corners of the Internet, appear to detail Ukrainian and Russian military capabilities and offer a look at American intelligence gathering on other countries, according to The Washington Post.

Some have suggested that the dissemination of U.S. military secrets was facilitated through Discord servers, which operate like chatrooms and have names such as Minecraft Earth Map, the End of Wow Mao Zone, and Thug Shaker Central. The leaked documents appear to have surfaced on social media platforms weeks before Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was informed of the leak in early April. Despite Austin’s commitment to finding the source of the leak, pictures of the printed and folded pages had already circulated on platforms such as Discord, Telegram, and Twitter, according to The Post.

One notable prediction in the leaked documents declared that “Negotiations to end the conflict are unlikely during 2023 in all considered scenarios.” If this is the case, then are we looking at a prolonged conflict in Ukraine assuming it cannot declare victory over Russia? After all, the same leaked documents purport to declare that Ukraine’s ammunition supplies are dwindling and would be insufficient to maintain a sustained offensive against Russia.

According to at least one analyst, sometime this year, “the Ukrainian army will be decisively defeated, Russia will establish full control of the four oblasts (Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia) and there will be no Ukrainian force left capable of reversing that or of stopping a Russian advance to Kyiv.”

This dire prediction (at least for the Ukrainians) is similar to the predictions made before and just after Russia invaded Ukraine. Over a year later, it is questionable whether Russia could indeed achieve anything substantial in Ukraine. But a weakened Ukraine could indeed make way for a victorious Russia, which would win only because Ukraine could not.

Western aid to Ukraine has remained strong, albeit slow to take shape, and has assisted Ukraine in defeating the Russians and preventing them from advancing to Kyiv. But the leaked documents appear to show faltering confidence on the part of U.S. analysts. Furthermore, French President Emmanuel Macron’s comments on not acting as a U.S. vassal on the issue of Taiwan as well as European hesitancy to help the offense against Russia has led U.S. lawmakers to question Europe’s dedication to Ukraine.

Without an iron will and an iron “wall,” the West will not be able to help Ukraine defeat Russia. Absolute solidarity is essential if that is the direction the West wants to take with regard to Russia and Ukraine. Unification is important.

On the flip side, the West, especially the United States, does not want to see a failed, leaderless, or collapsed Russia. The Russian Federation is crucial to the global economy as well as the existing world order. While it is true that Russian President Vladimir Putin has placed himself in a politically and diplomatically precarious position high up in the proverbial tree, the West can offer him a ladder down – with conditions of course.

The Pentagon papers serve as an important insight into Western thinking and intelligence. It should serve as a guide forward, at least partially, into what the West can and should achieve in this ongoing battle against Russia both in Ukraine and in the global diplomatic arena. It is likely that Russia will not back down and will insist on a total victory in the Donbas which includes the four regions sought by Russia. Of course, Russia still aims to achieve its maximalist vision which is to conquer all of Ukraine – and perhaps even Moldova.

But putting Moldova aside for now, the question must be asked whether Russia can defeat Ukraine and whether Ukraine can prevent Russia from doing so.

The leaked documents show that the going assessment is that Russian jets could control Ukraine’s skies by May. Aerial superiority is crucial in any such conflict and while Ukraine has managed to protect its skies until now, were it to lose this ability, all would likely be lost for Ukraine and Kyiv would potentially fall to Russia.

Such a scenario, at least according to the Pentagon papers, is plausible and Ukraine has its challenges. The West must decide what it wants. Europe must act if it is serious, and the U.S. must step up efforts to assist Ukraine in maintaining aerial superiority and firepower capabilities.

However, if the West decides it is suffering from battle fatigue and no longer wants to assist in attempting to defeat Russia, Ukraine will find itself alone on the battlefield and likely face a victorious Russia.