Political activity, political impact of social problems and war effects (02.01-16.01)
The expectations of the new Russian offensive have greatly influenced Ukrainian political in the last weeks.
These expectations are actively promoted both by political and military experts, affecting concerns of the general public. It was declared that the Kremlin is hoping to reinvigorate its offensive capabilities in southern and maybe in Northern Ukraine. There is also apprehension of Russian advance in Donetsk Oblast which may pose a threat to Kramatorsk, the current administrative centre of the region. Ukrainian leaders do not have clear understanding of intensity and location of Russian upcoming offensive operations but do not doubt that they will be launched in the near future (1).
The situation has become more complicated because, as the battle of Bakhmut is showing, the Ukrainian troops cannot necessary when necessary due to the political reasons. The government want to appear successful in battlefield in all circumstances. Such an attitude to the military strategy is the main cause of turning heavy fighting in town of Bakhmut, which doesn’t have any essential importance, into an analogue of Battle of Verdun. The desire of the Ukrainian government to prevent at all costs the capture of the town might result in attrition of the reserves and exhaustion of the troops. It can obstruct the ability of the Ukrainian army to conduct its own offensive operations and therefore the prospects of a decisive success.
The Ukrainian government is trying to persuade the public that the Russian troops have been weakened and demoralized and due to that doomed to defeat. It makes inevitable the waste of personnel, equipment and ammunition for the demonstration of superiority of the Ukrainian army. Because of that the Ukrainian government is prone to attach exaggerated significance to local fights, impeding both the effective deployment of troops and undermine the trust in the official sources of information.
Although the Russian troops took control of Soledar, a salt-mining town near Bakhmut, on January 13, the Ukrainian government was denying the capture of the town for two days, until it became completely clear that there were no troops fighting in the town (2).
The capture of Soledar and the threat to Bakhmut compelled general Zaluzhny to engage in a battle the troops trained by Western instructors which he had wanted to preserve for future offensive operations. Bakhmut was heavily weighted with political symbolism by the Ukrainian government. Due to that the cost of fighting for Bakhmut have exceeded the reasonable limits and threatens to impede the preparation for the strategic offensive necessary to achieve decisive victory.
Volodymyr Zelensky has been trying to use the battle of Bakmut to increase his domestic and international spopularity. Bakhmut has been praised by Ukrainian officials as an impregnable stronghold and turned into a symbol of a successful resistance.
Zelensky had visited the town before his visit to US in December 21 and in his ensuing speech to Congress, compared the defense of Bakhmut to the Battle of Saratoga, which changed the course of the Revolutionary War. The flag signed by the Ukrainian soldiers fighting in Bakhmut was presented to Vice President Harris and then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (3).
Inside the country the government was trying to popularize the slogan, “Bakhmut holds,” and the fall of the town might provoke public discontent mostly because of the previous government actions. Zelensky attempted to use the battle of Bakhmut for political purposes and was caught in a trap. He missed an opportunity to organize a calculated withdrawal and prevent wasting reserves of trained fighters and ammunition on defending a weak position.
There can be little doubt that the Ukrainian government will try to exploit its own weakness and use the battle of Bakhmut to achieve a dramatic increase in supply of military helicopters, tanks and Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV).
The British Government made a symbolic gesture in answer to requests of Volodymyr Zelensky, and provide the Ukrainian army with fourteen Challenger 2 tanks, thirty AS90 self-propelled guns (4).
The amount of the promised delivery appears to be unremarkable and insufficient for countering expected Russian offensive. But it provides an opportunity to the British government to criticize the European countries which delay the supply of ammunition and military equipment to Ukraine.
London has already expressed the hope that other European countries will follow British example. It seems certain that the heavy pressure is going to be put on Germany in order to make Berlin supply Ukrainian forces with the Leopard 2 tanks.
However Germany might not be able to renew the production of the Leopard 2 tanks till the end of the year. Armin Papperger Chairman of Rheinmetall AG (the producer of Leopard 2 tanks) declared in his interview to “Bild” that Germany cannot supply any Leopard 2 tanks in 2023. According to Papperger even those 22 Leopard 2 vehicles that are available now cannot be delivered because previously they have to be repaired converted for use in the battlefield. Several hundred million euros should be transferred to Rheinmetall from the federal budget and “even if the decision is made tomorrow that we can send our Leopard tanks to Kyiv, delivery will take until the beginning of next year.” (5)
Prime minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki during his visit to Berlin appealed to the German government for delivering much more military equipment including Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine (6).
The same demand was made by Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany Oleksiy Makeev (7).
The urgent need of equip Ukraine with sufficient weaponry to counter probable Russian offense creates a ground for mutual accusations in hampering the supplies both on European and on national level. It was reported that the Russian government is planning to draft up to half a million people to enforce the troops for the strategic offensive (8).
And there is no time to provide enough weaponry to Ukraine to confront such a massive onslaught. Besides the main flaw of the Western military aid to Ukraine is its heterogeneity and the lack of a technical basis for its repair inside Ukraine.
The other important shortcoming can be associated with the lack of any political conditions for the military supply. Because of that Zelensky and his government regard the military aid as the sign of unrestricted political support from Western leaders. Zelensky and his political associates grasp the opportunity to clean out the political scene inside the country and inflict a blow on the public image of Russian leadership. The banning of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) of Moscow Patriarchate and sanctions against politicians (and even political experts) are supposed to reach these two goals.
But at the same time the pressure on the OUC undermines the integrity of the Ukrainian society and positions of Zelensky as the leader of the whole nation, since there are many parishioners of the UOC, even among the soldiers and officers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It also helps to enforce the influence of Russian propaganda on the occupied territories.
The new measure that has been implemented recently is deprivation of citizenship. Four members of Verkhovna Rada, – Viktor Medvedchuk, Taras Kozak, Andrii Derkach and Renat Kuzmin, – were deprived of Ukrainian citizenship on January 15 by the presidential decree (9).
Zelensky declared in his evening address that this decision was made “on the ground of the body of facts collected by the Security Service of Ukraine and the State Migration Service of Ukraine” and claimed that this step does not contradict the Ukrainian constitution (10).
In the presidential decree it is mentioned that it is aimed to implement the decision of National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine. Zelensky has been persistently trying to increase the authority of the institution which remains under his personal control and has been made an effective tool in political conflicts. The Council is not authorized by the Ukrainian constitution to make decisions on the deprivation of citizenship but the president just prefers to ignore it.
The forecast of development of current trends:
The sides of the conflict will start feeling the need to avoid intensive fighting for the places that lack strategic importance. Due to that the Turkish proposal made on January 14 to assist in establishing local ceasefires and localised truces in specific parts of the war zone might be accepted both by Moscow and Kyiv (11).
If the leading EU countries do not put forward their own initiatives important for the both sides waging the war of attrition, the Turkish president might become the main mediator of the conflict.
Ukraine’s Resilience is going to be affected by destruction of the infrastructure and denial of power. It demands the working out of a realistic strategy ofor ending the war (12).
Such a plan should be grounded on real capacities of Ukraine and its current ability to achieve military goals. It does not mean that the Ukrainian government should be made to reject its demand to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine within the internationally recognized borders of 1991. But it cannot be considered to be the inextricable condition of truce or ceasefire.
Fears of a Russian offensive and urgent need resources needed counter it, provide an opportunity for putting pressure on Ukrainian political circles.
In current circumstances a lasting truce is more beneficial for the coalition in support of Ukraine, as it would provide an opportunity to re-equip the Ukrainian army and prepare it for the strategic offensive. Besides if the truce is achieved the EU political leaders will get a chance to escape time pressure in supplying military equipment to Ukraine.
Due to economic and social problems Russia might lose the ability to conduct significant offensive operations by the end of the year. If a truce can be established before the sides of the conflict start offensive operations it may be prolonged for a long lasting period.
Recommendations for the European institutions and organizations:
1. The European institutions should remind the Ukrainian government that the Russian aggression cannot be a good reason for the breach of constitutional requirements or for ignoring ignoring the democratic procedures.
2. Political democracy has already been limited in Ukraine without any justified cause. From the strategic point of view, personal sanctions imposed by the government without judgment of the court on political opponents and deprivation of citizenship by presidential decree can be dangerous for the Ukrainian fragile democracy.
3. The European political and public organizations should start submitting their own plans and proposals for establishing a truce or achieving a ceasefire both on general and local level.