The Strategy of Containment

According to a report, Washington and Berlin urge negotiations between Kiev and Moscow. US experts call for a shift from warfare to a “strategy of containment” of Russia.

BERLIN/KIEV (Own report) – In Germany and the United States, pressure is mounting on Kiev to stop rejecting ceasefire negotiations with Moscow. As was reported late last week, the governments of both countries are seeking a transition to negotiations, but would like Kiev to take the initiative without being requested to do so publicly. An appeal would make a mockery of the West’s constant assertion that Ukraine is deciding on its own course of action. The plan to initiate talks with Moscow reflects the failure not only of Kiev’s counter-offensive, but also of the Western sanctions against Russia: Already since some time, experts have been recommending a transition to a policy of containment, given the fact that Ukraine’s armed forces are unable to achieve victory on the battlefield and Russia cannot be defeated economically. This should freeze the current military situation without formally ceding Ukrainian territories to Russia and should be accompanied by NATO’s massive rearmament. Experts are calling for a “change of mentality” in Germany and Berlin is insisting on “warfighting capability.”

End Magical Thinking

In an article for the November 16 issue of the Wall Street Journal, Eugene Rumer, a former Russia expert in the US intelligence services, and Andrew S. Weiss, a Russia expert in the US administrations of George H.W. Bush and William Clinton, have explicitly demanded that a shift to a “strategy of containment” be undertaken towards Russia. Governments in the West “have indulged all too often in magical thinking,” Rumer and Weiss wrote. They have been “betting on sanctions,” on “ isolating Russia diplomatically,” on a “a successful Ukrainian counter-offensive” and on “ new types of weapons” [1] – for example the German enthusiasm for supplying Leopard battle tanks (“free the Leopards!”). None of this has led to success, the two experts note; the counter-offensive has failed, the Russian economy has fared better than expected and President Vladimir Putin continues to enjoy the support of the population. It is thus necessary to change course and prepare for a long-term power struggle. Ukraine must still receive support and arms; sanctions against Russia must remain in force, Moscow must systematically be isolated. Instead of hoping for a rapid military success, NATO states must massively arm themselves – against Russia.

Change of Mentality

Two experts from the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) recently called for such a massive arms build-up. According to them, NATO and Germany need “a strategy geared toward the earliest possible deterrence” and being able to rely on highly equipped armed forces in just a few years.[2] Thus Germany needs to take a “quantum leap.” “Within the shortest time possible,” the government must “build up the Bundeswehr in terms of personnel, expand its arms production,” and particularly “improve resilience.” This will only be possible if there is a change of mentality in society,” according to the DGAP Policy Brief. The change of mentality, will only be induced “if overall defense becomes a part of everyday life in politics, the economy, and civil society.” This would require getting the population involved in the process, “through competitions, education, training camps, and many other interactive formats.” To gain experience “in areas relevant to total defense” a “mandatory internship for all people aged 18 to 65 living in Germany” could be conceivable. The call for a change of mentality corresponds to German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius’ desire to see German society “prepared for war,” explicitly underlined by the new defense policy guidelines.[3]

Ends and Means

Pertaining to the situation in Ukraine, two other influential US experts have published their assessments on US strategy on the website of the November 17, Foreign Affairs magazine. Richard Haass, former President of the Council on Foreign Relations and Charles Kupchan, former US National Security Council employee under President William Clinton, consider that Kiev and the West are “on an unsustainable trajectory.” The Ukrainian war’s objectives – the reconquest of Crimea and Donbass – are “strategically out of reach, certainly for the near future and quite possibly beyond.”[4] At the same time, “the political willingness to continue providing military and economic support to Ukraine has begun to erode in both the United States and Europe.” There is a “glaring mismatch between the ends and the available means.” The United States needs to work with Ukraine now “to pivot to a new strategy that reflects military and political realities.” If this does not happen, it could, before long, bring about a sharp decline in Western support for Ukraine, with far-reaching consequences, the two authors warn.

From Offense to Defense

Haass and Kupchan consider Ukraine’s willingness to “negotiate a ceasefire with Russia” essential and simultaneously to switch its military emphasis “from offense to defense.”[5] This is not about officially giving up on restoring territorial integrity, explain the authors. Back in June, Kupchan [6] had explicitly pointed out that one can end the fighting, while still maintaining territorial claims. As an historical analogy, he pointed to the Federal Republic of Germany which had, in fact, maintained its claim on the territory of the German Democratic Republic throughout the cold war. As another example, he named Korea, where, for decades, there is a ceasefire without South Korea ever having relinquished its claim to North Korea. However, as Haass and Kupchan conclude, Ukraine must now “acknowledge that its near-term priorities need to shift from attempting to liberate more territory to defending and repairing the more than 80 percent of the country that is still under its control.” For this a ceasefire would be helpful, possible even essential. Not least of all, this would shore up Western support by “demonstrating” that Kiev has a “workable strategy aimed at attainable goals.”

“Their Own Free Will”

These contemplations are in line with the train of thought recently expressed in a Stern magazine interview by Oleksiy Arestovych, one of Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky’s former advisors. Arestovych spoke of a “dead end on the battlefield,” and stated it is time “to sit at the negotiating table,” and advocated using the Federal Republic of Germany, during the years of the cold war, as an orientation model. The “return of the occupied territories,” could “be pursued with political means.”[7] Plans by the US and German governments reported on late last week by the Springer journal Bild also correspond to this model. The aim is now to initiate negotiations with Russia. However, the Ukrainian president “himself” should reach the conclusion that it cannot go on like this, an insider of Berlin government circles was quoted: Zelensky “should, of his own free will, address his nation, explaining that negotiations are necessary.”[8] This is considered unavoidable, since until now, in the West it was always alleged that they were bowing to the will of the Ukrainians and not giving Kiev orders. It would be difficult to sell the public a deviation from that line.


Precautions should still be taken to nudge Zelensky toward accepting the change of course desired by the West. It is suggested, for example, that just enough weapons be delivered that are required merely for defense.[9] A possible alternative would be “a frozen conflict without agreement between the conflicting parties.” It would wear down Ukraine and sooner or later probably force Kiev to give in. Officially, the content of that article in Bild are being denied. However, calls for a ceasefire by experts are becoming more numerous – not so much in Germany, but more so in the USA.


[1] Eugene Rumer, Andrew S. Weiss: It’s Time to End Magical Thinking About Russia’s Defeat. 16.11.2023.

[2] Christian Mölling, Torben Schütz: Preventing the Next War. DGAP Policy Brief. Berlin, Nov 08, 2023.

[3] See also „Deutschland kriegstauglich machen” and “Warfighting Capability” as Guiding Principle for Action.

[4], [5] Richard Haass, Charles Kupchan: Redefining Success in Ukraine. A New Strategy Must Balance Means and Ends. 17.11.2023.

[6] See also Der Übergang zur Diplomatie (I).

[7] Florian Schillat: Ukraine-Krieg: SPD-Politiker bringen Verhandlungslösung ins Spiel. 04.11.2023. Moritz Gathmann: Ex-Berater von Selenskyj fordert: „Wir sind in einer Sackgasse. Es ist Zeit, sich an den Verhandlungstisch zu setzen”. 03.11.2023.

[8], [9] Julian Röpcke: Neuer Geheimplan für die Ukraine. 24.11.2023.