Russia and Ukraine Have Incentives to Negotiate. The U.S. Has Other Plans.

Last spring, Ukraine shocked the Russian navy by using American targeting information to sink the Moskva, a Black Sea missile cruiser. Only months into the war did Russians face up to the fact that officers using their personal cellphones were regularly getting blown up. This past New Year’s Eve, a dormitory full of fresh Russian army recruits in the city of Makiivka was hit by missiles at the crack of midnight, presumably just as the young men were calling their friends and loved ones to wish them the joys of the coming year. The attack killed 89, according to Russian authorities — more than 300, according to the British Ministry of defense, which accused Russian authorities of “deliberate lying” about the attack to minimize their losses.

After such episodes, Russia’s leaders are unlikely to feel that the resistance they are meeting comes from Ukraine. The role of the United States is considerably more active than merely responding to Ukrainian “requests” for this or that. Having itself designed the weaponry in most cases, the United States may have a better sense of which tech solutions are appropriate to local battlefield challenges.

Abrams tanks require experienced technicians for training and repair. Will these technicians be brought onto the battlefield from the United States? Then we will have a situation analogous to the introduction of “advisers” into Vietnam in the early 1960s. “This is not an offensive threat to Russia,” President Biden said of the Abrams tank shipments last month. He’s entitled to his opinion, but it is probably not shared by the Russian leadership.

President Biden’s own advisers are divided on how aggressively to pursue the war. Some even propose to chase Russia out of Crimea. That would promise a new kind of mission for NATO: the conquest, annexation and garrisoning of a population that doesn’t want it.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has to do with a complicated set of post-Cold War historical trends (like America’s striking post-Cold War rise and its more recent relative decline) and economic accidents (like the vicissitudes of fossil fuel prices). But it is also the latest chapter of an ongoing geostrategic story in which the plot has changed little over the centuries: The largest country by area on the planet has no reliable exit into the world. The most reliable route runs through the Black Sea, where it crosses the trade routes that link the civilizations of Asia to the civilizations of Europe. There, or thereabouts, Russian forces clashed with the armies of many Turkish sultans in the 17th and 18th centuries, Lord Palmerston of Britain in the 19th and Hitler in the 20th.

Speaking last week at the 80th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Germany at the battle of Stalingrad, President Vladimir Putin of Russia described the present war as a similar effort. Russians say the war is about preventing the installation of an enemy military stronghold on the Black Sea, strong enough to close off what has for centuries been Russia’s main access to the outside world. Without Ukraine, Russia can be turned into a vassal state. That NATO intends to bring about the subjugation, breakup or even extinction of Russia may be true or false — but it will not sound implausible to a Russian.

Many Americans cannot resist describing Mr. Putin as a “barbarian” and his invasion of Ukraine as a “war of aggression.” For their part Russians say this is a war in which Russia is fighting for its survival and against the United States in an unfair global order in which the United States enjoys unearned privileges.