With Offices Sitting Empty, Landlords Are ‘Handing Back the Keys’
Peter Eavis – December 2, 2023
Office landlords, hit hard by the work-from-home revolution, are resorting to a desperate measure in the real estate world: “handing back the keys.”
When this happens, the landlord stops paying the mortgage on the office building or declines to refinance it. The bank or investors who made the loan then repossess the building.
Some of the biggest names in commercial real estate, like Brookfield and Blackstone, have defaulted on mortgages and have started or completed the process of handing back the keys on office towers. The tactic reveals both the depth of the problems in the office market and the ability of big property companies to push much of the financial pain onto others — in this case, banks and other lenders.
Since the pandemic began, office employees showed they could get their jobs done from home, and many have been reluctant to come back. And companies realized they could save a lot of money by renting less office space, making many office towers unprofitable for their owners and turning many business districts into ghost towns. About 23% of office space in the United States was vacant or available for sublet at the end of November, according to Avison Young, a real estate services firm, compared with 16% before the pandemic.
Handing back the keys is a drastic move, but it makes sense because it can limit a landlord’s losses on a building.
Take a property company that bought an office tower for $100 million just before the pandemic, investing $25 million of its own money and borrowing $75 million. If the building is hemorrhaging tenants and now has a value of $45 million, the landlord’s initial investment could be worth zero — and the lower rent income may not be enough to cover the building’s costs.
Rather than continue to pay interest and other expenses, the landlord can decide to default on the loan, which means the lenders get the beleaguered building. And in theory, the lenders could end up with a $30 million loss — the difference between the amount they lent ($75 million) and the resale value of the building ($45 million).
Today’s handing back the keys is reminiscent of the term “jingle mail,” which became notorious after the financial crisis of 2008 when homeowners abandoned their homes — and supposedly sent their keys back to their banks — because their homes were worth far less than what they owed on the mortgage.
But there is a difference: Big property companies can keep doing business after they default and are even considered savvy for jettisoning distressed buildings. But homeowners who stopped paying their mortgages suffered a huge hit to their credit ratings and had to find somewhere else to live.
The commercial, which was created with assistance from the Alzheimer’s Association, focuses on an elderly woman suffering from the disease. In it, her granddaughter takes her on a jaunt in a 1972 Chevy Suburban, revisiting places from her youth as they listen to John Denver on an 8-track tape. As a result, the grandmother is able to recall some aspects of her life that initially had seemed lost.
It’s not just a sweet holiday story, though. As the company worked on the ad with the Alzheimer’s Association, they “talked a lot about reminiscence therapy,” Steve Majoros, Chevrolet’s head of marketing, told Ad Age.
So, what exactly is reminiscence therapy, and how does it work?
Whether or not the granddaughter in the ad is aware of it, she and her grandmother are engaging in reminiscence therapy — a kind of psychotherapy that involves helping people recall older memories using both conversation and sensory engagement, according to VeryWell Mind.
Reminiscence therapy is credited to the work of Dr. Robert Butler, a psychiatrist in the field of geriatric medicine in the 1960s, and is sometimes called life review therapy. It can be a helpful tool for people living with Alzheimer’s, though it is not used only for people with that condition.
As there is no cure for Alzheimer’s, the goal of reminiscence therapy is not necessarily to help people recall memories, but instead to improve their quality of life. Those patients typically struggle with short-term memory, which can cause considerable distress, but revisiting long-term memories, which are often intact in individuals with Alzheimer’s, can help improve self-esteem and reduce anxiety. It also can help improve the individual’s relationship with the person leading this kind of therapy, often their caregiver.
In that way, the Chevy commercial offers an accurate depiction of how reminiscence therapy can work. (It’s worth noting, though, that people with Alzheimer’s may not recall short-term memories, as the ad’s grandmother does when she realizes she’s due back for Christmas dinner.)
As Majoros told Ad Age, reminiscence therapy is not intended as a “cure or a solve” for Alzheimer’s and other memory-loss conditions, but it can “enable the person going through it to feel more comfortable — and the people that are the caregivers that are surrounding them to also feel more comfortable.”
This number will shape Earth’s future as the climate changes. You’ll be hearing about it.
Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY – November 30, 2023
Consider that 3 degrees Fahrenheit is the difference between a raging fever and a healthy toddler. Between a hockey rink and a swimming pool. Between food going bad or staying at a safe temperature.
Now consider that Earth is about 2 degrees Fahrenheit hotter on average than it was in the 1800s. It’s little wonder that has already led to measurable shifts in the climate: The last eight years have been the hottest in recorded history and 2023 is expected to be the hottest yet.
But there’s a looming threshold that will dictate the future of planet Earth. It could have cascading effects on how hot the planet gets, how much seas rise and how significantly normal daily life as we now know it will change.
The number is 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit.
World leaders at an annual gathering beginning Thursday will be spending considerable energy pondering that number, although they will use the Celsius version: 1.5 degrees.
“We can still make a big difference and every single tenth of a degree is enormously important,” said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Representatives and negotiators from 197 nations are gathering at an event called COP (Conference of the Parties) in the United Arab Emirates, a 13-day meeting that comes at what scientists say is a critical moment in the fight to keep the already dangerous effects of climate change from tipping over into the catastrophic.
Research published last month estimated humanity has only six or so more years before so much carbon dioxide has been pumped into the atmosphere that there’s only a 50% chance of staying below the threshold.
Why 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit is so important
In 2016, the United States and 195 other parties signed the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change aimed at lowering the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to keep global warming at bay.
All the nations that signed the Agreement pledged to try as hard as possible to keep the global average temperature increase below 2.7 degrees, and to definitely keep it below a 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit rise. (Only the Agreement said it in Celsius, which comes out to the smoother-sounding 2.0 degrees Celsius and 1.5 degrees Celsius.)
The numbers sound pretty small – but they aren’t.
A few degrees is a big deal
The difference between 65 degrees and 67.7 degrees (that critical 2.7-degree difference) isn’t even worth carrying a sweater. So why does it worry climate scientists?
It’s because they’re thinking about global temperature averages, and when the global average goes up, the extremes go way up.
Why is it important to not let the Earth warm an extra degree?
The difference between an aspiration of no more than 2.7 degrees warming and a serious commitment to no more than 3.6 degrees might not seem large.
But multiply the extremes and their effects, and each results in a vastly different world. One is difficult, resulting in a less reliable and more chaotic climate than the one we live with today. The other verges on a movie cataclysm.
At their heart, the 13 days of COP28 negotiations are the place global governments sit down to hammer out just how much each will lower its carbon emissions, though many other climate change topics are on the table as well.
The Earth crossed a key warming threshold in 2023, with one-third of the days so far having an average temperature at least 1.5 degrees Celsius higher than preindustrial levels. On Nov. 17, it reached 2.07 degrees above. This year is expected to be the warmest in recorded history, warmer than any other in 125,000 years.
What is COP28?
COP28 is the annual United Nations meeting of the 197 parties that have agreed to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, originally adopted in 1992. The meeting is the decision-making body of the countries that signed onto the U.N. framework. It is held to assess how well nations are dealing with climate change and set agendas and goals.
How important is this COP?
In a major report, the UN’s climate change body said earlier this month that global greenhouse gas emissions need to fall by 45% by the end of this decade compared to 2010 levels to meet the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Things are not going in the right direction. Instead, emissions are set to rise by 9%.
COP28 is where changes can be made.
Scientists say humanity has about a decade to dramatically reduce heat-trapping gas emissions before thresholds are passed that may make recovery from climate collapse impossible.
To do so will require cutting nearly two-thirds of carbon pollution by 2035, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said. That means ending new fossil fuel exploration and weaning wealthy nations away from coal, oil and gas by 2040.
“Humanity is on thin ice – and that ice is melting fast,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in the spring. “Our world needs climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.”
Hundreds of new oil and gas projects approved despite climate crisis
Valentin Rakovsky – November 30, 2023
More than 400 oil and gas projects were approved globally in the last two years despite calls to abandon all new hydrocarbon development, new figures showed as the UN COP28 climate talks opened Thursday.
With greenhouse gas emissions threatening to heat the planet to catastrophic levels, countries at the talks in Dubai are under pressure to agree to phase out oil, gas and coal in order to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
Nearly 200 private and public corporations across 58 countries were involved in the 437 new fossil fuel projects, according to figures from the nonprofit Reclaim Finance, based on data from Rystad Energy consultants.
The data demonstrates the mismatch between the continuing exploitation of fossil fuels — responsible for most of humanity’s greenhouse gases — and the target of limiting warming.
“We are in denial about the environmental emergency and the conclusions drawn by IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) scientists,” Lucie Pinson of Reclaim Finance told AFP.
The UN’s IPCC climate expert panel has said emissions need to be slashed by over 40 percent this decade to keep the 1.5C threshold in sight.
And in May 2021, the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued an explosive warning saying “no new oil and gas fields” could be approved for its pathway to net zero emissions to be met, as well as no new coal mines.
Countries agreed at Glasgow’s COP26 in late 2021 to “phasedown” coal power that does not involve emissions being captured before they go into the atmosphere.
But attempts to widen ambition to include targets on reducing oil and gas have so far met stiff opposition, despite a surge in renewable energy.
– ‘Desperate’ need –
And fossil fuel expansion shows no sign of stopping.
All of the 437 new projects since 2022 have received their “final investment decision” — a key commitment where investors sanction the development and production of a new hydrocarbon field.
Once in production, they will produce oil and gas in vast quantities for years to come.
State-backed oil companies were behind 57 percent of the projects.
Some 22 percent were linked to just seven oil giants: BP, ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni and TotalEnergies.
Qatar alone is due to host 17 percent of the total expected future production of these planned gas and oil projects, when measured in volume.
Saudi Arabia would host 13 percent, Brazil 10 percent, the United States eight percent and this year’s COP28 host, the United Arab Emirates would have six percent.
The IEA estimates that global demand for oil and gas will peak by 2030, but oil giants argue the transition to renewables is not happening fast enough to replace fossil fuels.
There is a “desperate need” for oil and gas still, said Shell CEO Wael Sawan in July.
And several European oil giants — including Shell, BP and Enel — have recently rolled back on some of their energy transition targets.
In February, BP backtracked on plans to cut its oil and gas output by 40 percent from 2019 levels by 2030, targeting a 25 percent reduction instead.
DUBAI (Reuters) – With a month to run, 2023 will reach global warming of about 1.4 degrees Celsius (2.5 Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, adding to “a deafening cacophony” of broken climate records, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Thursday.
The WMO’s provisional State of the Global Climate report confirms that 2023 will be the warmest year on record by a large margin, replacing the previous record-holder 2016, when the world was around 1.2C warmer than the preindustrial average.
It adds to the urgency world leaders face as they wrestle with phasing out fossil fuels at the United Nations annual climate summit COP28, which begins on Thursday in Dubai.
“Greenhouse gas levels are record high. Global temperatures are record high. Sea level rise is record high. Antarctic sea ice record low,” WMO Secretary General Peterri Taalas said.
The report’s finding, however, does not mean the world is about to cross the long-term warming threshold of 1.5C that scientists say is the ceiling for avoiding catastrophic climate change under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
For that, the level of warming would need to be sustained for longer.
Already, a year of 1.4C has provided a frightening preview of what permanently crossing 1.5C might mean.
This year, Antarctic sea ice reached its lowest winter maximum extent on record, some 1 million square kilometres (386,000 sq miles) less than the previous record. Swiss glaciers lost about 10% of their remaining volume over the last two years, the report said. And wildfires burned a record area in Canada, amounting to about 5% of the country’s woodlands.
Climate change, driven by the burning of fossil fuels, combined with the emergence of the natural El Nino climate pattern in the Eastern Pacific pushed the world into record territory this year.
Next year could be worse, the scientists said, as El Nino’s impacts are likely to peak this winter and drive higher temperatures in 2024.
(Reporting by Gloria Dickie; editing by Barbara Lewis)
This year is set to be the hottest ever recorded, the UN said Thursday, demanding urgent action to rein in global warming and stem the havoc following in its wake.
The UN’s World Meteorological Organization warned that 2023 had shattered a whole host of climate records, with extreme weather leaving “a trail of devastation and despair”.
“It’s a deafening cacophony of broken records,” said WMO chief Petteri Taalas.
“Greenhouse gas levels are record high. Global temperatures are record high. Sea level rise is record high. Antarctic sea ice is record low.”
The WMO published its provisional 2023 State of the Global Climate report as world leaders gathered in Dubai for the UN COP28 climate conference, amid mounting pressure to curb planet-heating greenhouse gas pollution.
United Nations chief Antonio Guterres said the record heat findings “should send shivers down the spines of world leaders”.
The stakes have never been higher, with scientists warning that the ability to limit warming to a manageable level is slipping through humanity’s fingers.
The 2015 Paris climate accords aimed to limit global warming to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — and 1.5C if possible.
But in its report, the WMO said 2023 data to the end of October showed that this year was already around 1.4C above the pre-industrial baseline.
– ‘Not just statistics’ –
The agency is due to publish its final State of the Global Climate 2023 report in the first half of 2024.
But it said the difference between the first 10 months of this year and 2016 and 2020 — which previously topped the charts as the warmest years on record — “is such that the final two months are very unlikely to affect the ranking”.
The report also showed that the past nine years were the hottest years since modern records began.
“These are more than just statistics,” Taalas said, warning that “we risk losing the race to save our glaciers and to rein in sea level rise”.
“We cannot return to the climate of the 20th century, but we must act now to limit the risks of an increasingly inhospitable climate in this and the coming centuries.”
The WMO warned that the warming El Nino weather phenomenon, which emerged mid-year, was “likely to further fuel the heat in 2024”.
That is because the naturally-occurring climate pattern, typically associated with increased heat worldwide, usually increases global temperatures in the year after it develops.
The preliminary report also found that concentrations of the three main heat-trapping greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — reached record high levels in 2022, with preliminary data indicating that the levels continued to grow this year.
Carbon dioxide levels were 50 percent higher than the pre-industrial era, the agency said, meaning that “temperatures will continue to rise for many years to come”, even if emissions are drastically cut.
– ‘Climate chaos’ –
The rate of sea level rise over the past decade was more than twice the rate of the first decade of satellite records (1993-2002), it said.
And the maximum level of Antarctic sea ice this year was the lowest on record.
In fact, it was a million square kilometres less than the previous record low at the end of the southern hemisphere winter, the WMO said — an area larger than France and Germany combined.
Meanwhile, glaciers in North America and Europe again suffered an extreme melt season, with Swiss glaciers losing 10 percent of their ice volume in the past two years alone, the report showed.
Dramatic socio-economic impacts accompany such climate records, experts say, including dwindling food security and mass displacement.
“This year we have seen communities around the world pounded by fires, floods and searing temperatures,” UN chief Guterres said in a video message.
He called on the leaders gathered in Dubai to commit to dramatic measures to rein in climate change, including phasing out fossil fuels and tripling renewable energy capacity.
“We have the roadmap to limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5C and avoid the worst of climate chaos,” he said.
“But we need leaders to fire the starting gun at COP28 on a race to keep the 1.5 degree limit alive.”
Some Republicans sound alarm after Trump revives focus on Obamacare
Kristen Holmes, Alayna Treene and Kate Sullivan – November 30, 2023
Former President Donald Trump’s renewed focus on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, known colloquially as Obamacare, has alarmed some Republicans scarred by the GOP’s failure to deliver on promises to dismantle the law and who view the issue as a political loser with the American people.
Many on Trump’s team said they were surprised by the former president’s recent declaration on his social media website Truth Social that replacing Obamacare would be a priority of his administration, as Obamacare had not been a focal issue in ongoing policy conversations and the campaign has not yet drafted any kind of health care policy alternative. One Trump adviser told CNN the post came “completely came out of nowhere,” and said the team “has not been talking to him about health care.”
Some Trump advisers who spoke with CNN also conceded that calling for the termination of a health care law that provides millions of Americans coverage and is largely viewed favorably by the public is a political loser going into 2024. Republicans have tried and failed for years to implement substantial changes to Obamacare and the party has largely abandoned efforts to campaign on the issue.
The resurrection of the health care battle has given Democrats fresh political ammo, and the Biden campaign quickly seized on Trump’s threats. The campaign held a press call with former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, whose state will become the 40th to expand Medicaid on Friday, to respond to Trump’s comments. The campaign also on Thursday released an ad focused on health care and prescription drug costs, attempting to draw a sharp contrast with Trump. The ad – which features a pediatric nurse who calls Trump’s health care policies “troubling” – will run in media markets in seven states that will be key to Biden’s 2024 electoral map.
“There are very few issues where Republicans are at a greater disadvantage then health care. The Biden campaign desperately wants the election to be about health care and abortion. If the election is about those two issues in 2024, then Democrats will have a great night in November,” Ken Spain, a GOP consultant and former communications director for the National Republican Congressional Committee, told CNN.
“The concern that Republicans have always had about Trump is his lack of discipline. The question is, is this really an issue he intends to campaign and formulate a strategy around, or is this just another lapse in discipline?” Spain added.
Health care “was a loser in 2018 and it’s a loser now,” one Trump-aligned Republican operative told CNN, referencing the 2018 midterm elections that ushered in a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.
Trump’s health care legacy while in office is viewed by many Republicans as lackluster at best. His failure to fulfill his core campaign promise of repealing and replacing Obamacare – even with a GOP monopoly on power in Washington – was an early blow to Trump, who had painted himself as the ultimate dealmaker.
“Talk about the border,” the operative said. “Talk about the economy. Talk about no more foreign wars. Don’t talk about health care.”
Advisers to Trump said the catalyst for the former president’s posts was a recent article written by the Wall Street Journal editorial board that raised concerns that patients are seeing higher costs because insurers are using work arounds to an Affordable Care Act rule. Trump included a portion of the op-ed in his initial post on the issue.
The topic had also recently been brought up to Trump during a Mar-a-Lago meeting with Jeff Colyer, the former governor of Kansas. The two discussed health care policy over lunch, a Trump adviser told CNN.
Trump’s online pronouncements about replacing the law with his own belied the fact that his campaign has not settled on health care plan.
The campaign’s in-house policy team, led by advisers Vince Haley and Ross Worthington, has been drafting aggressive proposals for a potential second Trump term, but the campaign has not been actively working on a health care proposal, the Trump adviser told CNN. The team first started floating ideas for an alternative to Obamacare in recent days — but only after Trump started posting about it online.
One person familiar with the campaign’s process said it was likely that Trump’s team would also review health care proposals put forward by outside advocacy groups, including Project 2025, a partnership of groups organized by the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation. But this person stressed the proposals by the outside groups are merely suggestions and that the campaign would look at a range of ideas before putting forward its own unique proposal.
“The campaign is not going to adopt a position that’s suicidal,” this person said, acknowledging how politically fraught the issue can be. “But it is equally suicidal not to recognize the American people’s profound cry for health care reform.”
Like many of the policy proposals Trump’s current team is drafting for a potential second term, there are also serious concerns about how the former president could successfully enact them if reelected, acknowledging the necessary obstacles Congress and the courts could pose to a new health care agenda.
Trump bringing health care back to the forefront has also reignited talk of his failure to repeal and replace Obamacare in 2017.
Members of Trump’s orbit have long blamed that failure on the late Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who famously voted that year against repealing the ACA with a dramatic “thumbs down” on the Senate floor, tanking the Trump administration’s efforts.
And despite Trump’s promises to release a health care plan that could replace Obamacare, Trump left office in 2020 without having produced one. Just weeks before the 2020 presidential election, Trump issued an executive order pledging to protect Americans with preexisting conditions, but the plan fell far short of a comprehensive proposal.
CNN’s Betsy Klein and Tami Luhby contributed to this story.
Trump’s 48-Hour Manic Rant Had Immediate Consequences
Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling – November 30, 2023
The GOP’s presidential front-runner had himself a bit of an unhinged social media binge over the last couple of days, using Truth Social to air his scattered grievances, attack the wife of the judge overseeing his New York bank fraud trial, and take a wild left turn by claiming sudden allyship with the broader Black Lives Matter movement.
Kicking off the rapid-fire onslaught of posts late Tuesday, Trump called MSNBC’s coverage of the Republican Party “illegal activity,” adding that the “so-called ‘government’ should come down hard” on the news outlet and “make them pay.”
Then the former president revived an old gripe that “Obamacare sucks”—thus reopening the possibility that his campaign will renew the call to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act that has dogged the GOP since that law’s inception. Less than 20 minutes later, he redirected his attention to the sexual assault allegations made against him by columnist E. Jean Carroll, spewing comments eerily similar to the ones that have already lost him two defamation cases brought by the writer, in which he claimed that the allegations were a “made up fairytale” that was “funded by political operatives” to interfere with the 2020 presidential election results.
Over the ensuing hours, Trump also warned that the indictments against him had opened up “pandora’s box,” which he followed by snubbing his Koch-backed GOP opponent Nikki Haley as “a very weak and ineffective Birdbrain.”
In yet another post, Trump said he had done “more for Black people than any other President,” including Lincoln. He also confused the support of Mark Fisher, the founder of Black Lives Matter Incorporated, for that of the larger, national movement, despite statements front and center on BLM INC.’s web page that they’re not affiliated with “any other Black Lives Matter Movement.”
But the pièce de résistance of Trump’s 48-hour digital diatribe was a string of attacks on the wife of the judge overseeing his business fraud trial, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, whose gag order on Trump had been repealed. In five separate posts, Trump uplifted a conspiracy theory that Dawn Engoron and her husband were inherently biased in his case and that Mrs. Engoron had attacked Trump and other “white male politicians” online.
“Judge Engoron’s Trump Hating wife, together with his very disturbed and angry law clerk, have taken over control of the New York State Witch Hunt Trial aimed at me, my family, and the Republican Party,” Trump wrote on Truth Social.
In a statement to Newsweek, Engoron denied ownership of the account and any of its content.
“I do not have a Twitter account. This is not me. I have not posted any anti-Trump messages,” she told the outlet.
That may have been enough to convince a New York appeals court that Trump wasn’t capable of playing nice without his recently stayed gag order, which the four-judge panel dutifully reinstated on Thursday, in an attempt to halt the verbal onslaught against the judge, his court staff and, apparently, his family.
Ukraine failed to make major breakthroughs in its much-touted 2023 offensive, intended to break Russian lines in eastern and southern Ukraine and push Russian forces back toward the Crimean peninsula. Billions of dollars’ worth of American and European military hardware arrived too late, giving Russian forces months to build stout defenses Ukraine proved unable to penetrate, except for small breakthroughs. Exhaustion and winter mud have now effectively ended that offensive.
Isolationist Republicans who now control the US House of Representatives have so far scotched $61 billion in additional aid President Biden wants for Ukraine, and some weaponry designated for Ukraine is now instead headed to Israel as it wages war with the Hamas terrorist group. Nobody’s going soft in Russia, however, where Putin is boosting defense spending from 4% of GDP to 10%.
Despite devastating losses, Russia’s posture in Ukraine is getting stronger, with some analysts saying it is Ukraine that now needs to shift to defense. “Russia will be materially advantaged in 2024,” military analyst Michael Kofman of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said on a recent podcast. “If the West just assumes it’s a stalemate and can reduce its commitment to Ukraine, Russian advantages will compound because Russia doesn’t accept the stalemate.”
A slim majority of Americans still support robust US aid for Ukraine, but opposition has grown during the last six months. Most Republicans now say the United States is doing too much for Ukraine, while only 44% of Independents and 14% of Democrats feel that way. A chief complaint among Ukraine objectors is that President Biden should be focusing more on homegrown problems such as inflation and the influx of undocumented migrants.
Plus, the stakes in Ukraine could be far higher than many Americans appreciate. If Putin reverses his losses in Ukraine and ends up victorious, it would validate his view that the West doesn’t have the stomach for an ugly, drawn-out war, even if its own troops aren’t involved. Putin has ambitions beyond Ukraine, and if the West gives up on Ukraine it could meet Putin in Poland or the Baltic states, all members of the NATO military alliance.
Also watching closely is Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has ordered his nation’s military to be capable of invading and conquering Taiwan by 2027. A key factor in Xi’s decision to invade will undoubtedly be his estimate of US and allied resolve in their vows to help defend the breakaway democratic island. If the US-led alliance fails Ukraine, it would be rational for Xi to conclude they’d bail on Taiwan, too. And a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be an economic earthquake that makes Putin’s energy war, waged in parallel with his military war in Ukraine, seem tame.
Ukraine isn’t losing. Early in the war, it repelled invading Russia forces from northern Ukraine, and later in 2022, from key strongholds in the northeast and southeast. Ingenious naval drones have chased Russian warships away from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and allowed the export of grain and other products, an astonishing feat for a country that basically lacks a navy. Russia still controls 18% of the Ukraine, but has gained basically no ground all year.
Two Western assumptions about the war have collapsed, however. The first is that Western training, intelligence, and equipment would tilt the war in Ukraine’s favor. It hasn’t. The second is that Russia would continue the shambolic battlefield performance of the invasion’s early days, when poorly prepared units expecting a cakewalk instead met determined resistance that sent them reeling. But the Russians have learned to plug holes, adapt to Ukrainian innovations, and keep their war machine rumbling along.
Some analysts snickered when Russia made a deal to buy ammunition from hermetic North Korea, but that deal may provide Russia with more artillery shells in 2024 than Ukraine will get from its own allies. That’s a key edge in a war where artillery is one of the most important weapons. Russia showed another weakness by buying relatively low-tech attack drones from Iran. But now Russia is building those drones on its own, by the hundreds, and using them in attempts to overwhelm Ukraine’s air defenses in a likely effort to wreck the country’s energy infrastructure again this winter, as it tried to do last year.
Ukraine pioneered some of the early innovations using armed drones to penetrate enemy lines. But Russia’s state machinery is now cranking out more drones than Ukraine can produce, and using them to deadly effect. As for battle tactics, Russia continues to expend soldiers in appalling human-wave attacks in which commanders seem to treat bodies as receptacles for bullets. There are sporadic protests in Russia of long deployments for troops and other concerns, but nothing approaching mass discontent with the war, suggesting Putin sees no constraint on sacrificing his own troops — another advantage over Ukraine, which husbands its human resources much more carefully.
Meanwhile, some Ukraine backers are beginning to say it’s time for Ukraine and its allies to change strategies.
“Kyiv’s war aims — the expulsion of Russian forces from Ukrainian land and the full restoration of its territorial integrity, including Crimea — remain legally and politically unassailable,” Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan wrote in Foreign Affairs recently. “But strategically they are out of reach, certainly for the near future and quite possibly beyond. [Ukraine’s] 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.”
Haass and Kupchan argue that Ukraine should dig its own defensive fortifications, similar to Russia’s, and push for an enforceable cease-fire, while letting Russia worry about further territorial gains.
Since Russia invaded in February 2022, the Biden administration has armed Ukraine incrementally, first withholding and then providing key equipment such as armor, air defenses, and missiles that can reach far behind enemy lines. Biden has been careful not to push a nuclear-armed Russia over some perceived red line that would trigger a disproportionate Russian response. Europe has broadly followed the same pattern. But Russia never responded as more and more advanced Western weaponry arrived in Ukraine, prompting complaints that Washington has been too timid, and is not in it to win it.
So, the weapon tease continues. In October, the United States provided Ukraine with a small number of long-range ATACMS missiles capable of reaching Russian targets more than 100 miles away, threatening airfields, headquarters, and other crucial nodes. In the first strike using the new missiles, Ukraine reportedly destroyed more than a dozen Russian helicopters used to strafe Ukraine’s front-line troops. But there has been only one other known ATACMS firing since then. “This is a sign that the Biden Administration never wanted to give them in the first place, and is still strictly limiting what they will give Ukraine,” O’Brien wrote.
The next 12 months are likely to be momentous. Putin faces reelection in March, and while there’s no doubt he’ll win, Putin wants high turnout and a lopsided victory, so he may keep the war on simmer until then. Once the election’s over, Russia seems likely to mount a new mobilization effort to funnel more troops into Ukraine and press its manpower advantage. Sanctions are stifling the Russian economy, yet Russia is still selling plenty of oil, its main source of revenue, and finding most of the components it needs to boost defense production.
Putin also has a keen interest in next year’s US presidential election.
Republican front-runner Donald Trump is broadly viewed as a Putin patsy who would end the war in one day, as he says, by suspending US aid to Ukraine and giving Putin much or all of what he wants. “The event most likely to bring US backing for Ukraine to a juddering halt would be a victory by Donald Trump,” historian Lawrence Freedman of King’s College wrote on Nov. 23. “Putin might assume this to be such a positive possibility that it is one worth waiting for.”
No outcome is preordained.
Ukraine’s allies might yet rally and overcome the war fatigue that seems to settle more easily on allies far from the fighting than on those in the midst of it. In Washington, the new House Speaker, Mike Johnson, says he’s “confident” that Congress will provide more aid for Ukraine, though it may be far less than the $61 billion Biden wants. In Europe, several nations are ramping up weapons production to fill gaps the United States might leave. At some point in 2024, Ukraine seems likely to get Western fighter jets and finally be able to provide consistent air cover for infantry, a condition so fundamental to American military doctrine that the Pentagon would never consider fighting as the Ukrainians have been doing.
The Carnegie Endowment’s Kofman argues that the biggest American shortcoming in Ukraine isn’t some miracle weapon system, but the lack of advisers in-country who can understand how the plucky Ukrainians fight and tailor American aid to that. There’s a good reason Americans aren’t doing that: It conjures the specter of Vietnam, when advisers morphed into combatants and a slippery slope became a mudslide. It would be more fraught still if Americans ended up in direct combat with Russians.
But something needs to change if American resolves means anything, and it may start with America determining if it has that resolve in the first place.
Among other measures to tackle the demographic crisis and ensure a sufficient number of recruits for the military, he advocates for a complete ban on abortions, and the Russian State Duma is already preparing various restrictions to support this stance.
In turn, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin demands that citizens, despite the hardships prevailing in the country, have “seven or eight children.”