Political activity, political impact of social problems and war effects (08.05-15.05 )
The political activity of President Zelensky and his associates has started to develop in two, which may seem to oppose each other directions.
The Ukrainian government wants to persuade both foreign and domestic audience that Ukrainian military forces are prepared for a successful offensive and capable of driving away Russian troops from the occupied territories. And simultaneously it has been trying to guarantee the Western support in case the offensive is postponed or fails to achieve the results that have been expected.
The international activity of the President has been aimed not only at increasing pressure on various Western partners, – first of all on Germany, US and UK, but also at the demonstration to the Ukrainian public that he retains Western support and will not lose it if the offensive is postponed. Zelensky and other high-ranking officials, explaining the delay of offensive operations, use to underline that it has become necessary, because western partners of Ukraine have not managed to deliver all the weapons and ammunition they promised.
It can be apprehended from the statements and remarks of President Zelensky and Minister of Foreign Affairs Kuleba that the main fears of the incumbent government are related with the possibility of losing the Western support. If the military conflict with Russia turns into the war of attrition, which the Ukrainian economy will not be able to endure without significant military and economic support. In such circumstances the Western partners, trying to avoid increasing costs and aggravating consequences of the war, may force the Ukrainian government to agree to the ceasefire. And the end of hostilities without previous significant military success will become a severe blow to President’s hopes to retain power in the postwar period.
Because of that Zelensky is trying to make the Ukrainian military victory highly important for Biden’s presidential campaign. Zelensky declared that he is not afraid to lose US military support for Ukraine after the 2024 US presidential election, because he believes that Ukraine will gain victory by then. Zelensky expressed confidence that the Ukrainian troops will be able to eliminate the risks of a “frozen conflict”, which he considers to be advantageous for Russia and disastrous for Ukraine and the West. https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/news/2023/05/11/7401663/
The Ukrainian government failed to make its the most important allies share this vision. Despite that Germany, US and UK increase their assistance, they do not seem to be make efforts to prevent the prolongation of the conflict or its turning into the war of attrition.
Germany has approved new €2.7B package of arms for Ukraine, which is going to become the largest delivery of German weapons to the battlefield since the start of the Russian aggression. Speaking to the press about this decision German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius stated that “ a speedy end to this terrible and illegal war” is “not yet foreseeable.” https://www.politico.eu/article/urkaine-war-germany-new-arms-package/
It should be noted that after receiving from the German government the guarantee that the new package of military assistance will be provided for Ukraine, Zelensky made a surprise visit to the UK to meet prime minister Sunak. The representatives of the British government in their comments for BBC characterized this visit “as a courtesy and a catch up”, rather than a negotiation. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-65594540
It can be little doubt that demonstrating close ties with London, Zelensky is trying to put pressure on Berlin to instigate the German government to speed up delivery of the promised aid. At the same time he provokes anticipations that new weapon systems will be given to Ukraine in foreseeable future and thus justifies the delay of offensive.
Zelensky declared that Ukraine needs more time to launch an offensive against Russian forces, because its military awaits the delivery of promised military aid. https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-europe-65556220
Meanwhile an American military expert, U.S. Army Colonel Martin O’Donnell declared that Ukraine has already been provided with enough weapon to gain a significant military success. https://www.newsweek.com/colonel-reveals-himars-rivaling-strength-ukraine-counteroffensive-1799964
In his interview to PBS Secretary Blinken stressed that the US administration has been “working overtime to try to make sure that Ukraine had in its hands what it needs to defend itself against the Russian aggression”.
The US administration has made sure that Ukrainian troops «had what they needed” . The coalition of countries that support Ukraine “will make every effort” to cover gaps and shortages, all Ukraine needs is just to tell. https://www.state.gov/secretary-antony-j-blinken-with-amna-nawaz-of-pbs-newshour/
Ukraine’s statements about the lack of weapons, and the desire to constantly increase it, are reminiscent of a huge corruption scheme for Europe and the United States to increase military budgets in this war. Such opinions are expressed by European experts and Ukrainian politicians, such as V. Medvedchuk. Zelensky asks for weapons, and the coalition of countries provides him, billions are leaving the budgets of countries without any reports on the supply.
High-ranking Ukrainian officials are thought to believe that Western support for Ukraine depends on the success of the Ukrainian army on the battlefield. Die to that they are afraid that in the case of failure they will be pushed to negotiate with Russia. The Financial Times reported that Ukrainian officials privately admit that Ukraine is unlikely to be able to return all the lost territories. But in order to preserve Western military assistance, they can start offensive operations anyway. They hope that it will help them to avoid pushing for peace talks with Russia.
During trip to Berlin, Zelensky promised to oust Russian troops from all occupied areas, including Crimea. He expressed the intention to achieve that goal by the end of the year. https://www.wsj.com/articles/zelenskys-berlin-trip-heralds-thaw-in-relationship-with-germany-ecfe5038
Due to his own political reasons Zelensky has to deny the possibility of peace talks and reject the plans to establish truce. At his meeting with Pope Francis at Vatican he declared that the only “Peace Formula” that can be accepted by Ukraine, is his 10-point plan, which could be recognized bu Russia only after a devastating military defeat. https://thehill.com/policy/international/zelenskyy-to-meet-with-pope-francis-at-vatican-in-rome-visit/
In his interview with Italian media Zelensky ruled out the possibility of negotiations with Putin. The Ukrainian president stated that he did not see any sense in such negotiations. He warned Europe that the Kremlin may agree to negotiations only because of Russian weakness in order to deceive and resume the war, when his position becomes better. https://war.obozrevatel.com/ukr/zelenskij-nazvav-putina-printsesoyu-i-vidkinuv-mozhlivist-peregovoriv.htm
Being a hardliner, Zelensky can gain certain advantages over his probable political rivals. But such an approach is not only preventing any efforts to achieve ceasefire but also create threats to the Ukrainian grain exports. Seeing no alternative to the war of attrition, the Kremlin will try to block the grain deal in order to deteriorate Ukrainian economic situation.
Despite that Moscow has threatened to quit the grain deal on May 18, there are reasons to believe that it will be extended for two more months. Such anticipations were expressed by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/talks-extending-ukraine-grain-deal-look-un-proposals-2023-05-11/
But there is no confidence that the deal will be prolonged after the upcoming 60 days extension on May 18, have expired. The end of grain deal will not only damage Ukrainian financial system, but also will cause social unrest in the some countries of the Global South which depend on the import of the Ukrainian or Russian grain.
There is also a certain risk of prolonging the ban on Ukrainain grain export to some Eastern European countries imposed by Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria. Despite that the agriculture ministers of Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Slovenia denounced that decision in their joint statement issued on May 10, the desire to protect Eastern European farmers, even through unilateral measures may prevail. It will inevitably aggravating economic situation in Ukraine.
The forecast for potential development of current trends:
- Zelensky will try to increase importance of an issue of providing military support to Ukraine and achieving victory over Russia for the EU and the US political leaders. It might make them endure unforeseeable repercussions of their support to Ukraine related to the rising political and economic costs of the war.
- In order to preserve the Western support the Ukrainian government will start offensive operations but it will try to limit them in order to avoid dangerous consequences in case of failure. The Ukrainian leasers will try to demonstrate the the EU and the US failed to provide military equipment and ammunition necessary for success.
- Ukraine may lose both logistics routes and exports markets for its grain if the grain deal is not extended and import ban on Ukrainian grain is not lifted by the Eastern European countries.
Recommendation for the European institutions and organizations:
- Due to the delay of the Ukrainian offensive there is an opportunity now to start negotiations on truce before the offensive operations has started. It seems that this opportunity should not be missed, because the ceasefire appears to be the only way to prevent the increase of political discontent in the EU and the US, caused by rising costs of the war and public fatigue.
- The Ukrainian government should be advised to start describing the anticipated offensive as an effort to establish ceasefire on the conditions that will give an advantage to Ukraine and will provide an opportunity to increase international pressure on Russia.
- The EU institutions should be getting prepared to further deterioration of the economic situation in Ukraine caused by the decrease of the Ukrainian grain export.