As one of the hawks who talked George W. Bush into invading Iraq,
he proved himself to be a bad and dangerous adviser: he invariably defaulted to
the toughest military option.
he cover himself in glory in 2018-19 as the third of Donald Trump’s four
high-turnover National Security Advisers. He was the one who egged Trump on to
break the treaty limiting Iran’s nuclear activities and reimpose sanctions. If
the treaty is not revived and Iran gets nuclear weapons, he’s why.
Bolton is, however, very useful in predicting what other tricky and ruthless
people might do. The way things looked back in July, a surprise Russian
ceasefire in October was indeed a potential nightmare for Ukraine, and it still
remained a plausible threat down to only about one week ago.
the Russian offensive was stumbling to a halt on all fronts, but by then Moscow
controlled about 20% of Ukraine’s territory (counting Crimea and the parts of
eastern Ukraine that it had already seized in 2014). Moreover, Russia
controlled almost all of Ukraine’s coast, leaving it only Odesa and a few
satellite ports in the far west.
other hand, Russia’s army was exhausted and demoralised, and there was little
hope that it would be able to make further new conquests in Ukraine. Whether
these realities were clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin is unknown, but
his old mates in the FSB (formerly KGB) would probably have been keeping him
Bolton calculated, Putin’s best option would be to engineer a ceasefire that
freezes the battle lines where they are now. It would deprive the Ukrainians of
an opportunity to launch their long-promised counter-offensive, leave a very
big chunk of their country in Russian hands, and give Moscow time to rebuild
easily pass this off as a victory, as it would give Russia lots more land and
greatly weaken Ukraine. He could even claim credit for having acted to save
many lives. And since he would never let the ceasefire turn into a formal
peace settlement, he could easily restart the war once his armed forces were
As for the
Ukrainians, they would be left insisting that the war must continue because
they haven’t recovered their territory yet, to which the rest of the world
(including most of their current supporters) could and would have replied that
there was no evidence that they could ever do that. It’s time to be ‘realistic’
and save what you can from the wreckage.
also be quietly pointed out to Kyiv by European governments that all their
voters are facing a long, hard winter with energy shortages and roaring
inflation – but most of those difficulties would vanish if the shooting stopped
and the sanctions on Russia were ended. Please don’t be ‘unreasonable’.
wouldn’t say outright that the flow of arms and money will slow or stop if the
Ukrainians won’t see reason, but you never have to say those things out loud.
And in the end, Ukraine would have to give in.
John Bolton’s nightmare, and it was entirely credible in July. The only thing
holding Putin back was the fond hope that he could still win more territory by
keeping the fighting going. Once he had been disabused of that delusion, he was
obviously going to go with Option B.
suddenly, that option has been taken from Putin’s hands. The very rapid
advances of Ukrainian forces in the past few days in the north-east, with
Russian troops fleeing before them, may not be a decisive turning point in the
war, but Putin could only declare a ceasefire when he still seemed to have the
upper hand in the fighting.
this leave the Ukrainians? Far better off than before, because an imposed
ceasefire-in-place was the biggest threat they faced. The temptation to push on
and try to finish the war now will be strong, but they should think three times
before giving in to it.
The flow of
weapons from the West will continue, and their army will be far readier to
launch a sustained and decisive offensive in the spring than it is now. The
Russian army might fall apart with just as few more hard knocks during the
winter, but it might not – and a serious Ukrainian military setback would
revive the threat of an imposed ceasefire.
Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.