Political activity, political impact of social problems and war effects (13.02.-20.03 )
The policy of the incumbent government of Ukraine is determined mainly by two factors. The government is trying to prevent public manifestations of social discontent caused by growing war- weariness. It also urgently needs to guarantee an increase in military assistance from the US and the EU in order to preserve a chance to launch offensive operations.
Despite persistent efforts of the Ukrainian government it hasn’t obtained any assurance that the delivery of tanks will be hastened or that planes and battleships will be provided to the Ukrainian armed forces. (1)
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin in his remarks at the Tenth Ukraine Defense Contact Group stressed that the “Contact Group is focused on coordinating long-term sustainment”. It means that the US are not planning to provide military equipment required for a successful offensive in the near future and are not going to urge the EU countries to do that.
Austin also admitted that members of the Contact Group have to “to develop innovative solutions to industrial-production problems” in order to “increase ammunition production”. Though he expressed hope that Ukraine’s needs will be met, it is obvious that it will take considerable time to increase the ammunition output. Ukraine is currently going to receive just 8,000 rounds of artillery ammunition and a dozen air defense missiles from Canada. (2)
This amount appears to be insufficient to cover weekly needs of the Ukrainian ground forces. The Ukrainian army suffering from a shortage of artillery shells, will not be able to accumulate resources needed for a large-scale offensive even if all the given promises are fulfilled. It should be considered that Zelenskiy keeps on rising expectations of an extensive and successful offensive operation which is supposed to bring military victory to Ukraine. He has used these anticipations to strengthen his political position and to increase willingness of the Ukrainian society to endure hardships of war.
Due to that the President of Ukraine is now facing the choice between a poorly prepared and ill- equipped offensive which is likely to result in failure, and an increasing level of public discontent provoked by unfulfilled expectations of an upcoming victory.
The government is now trying to prevent any public manifestations of disapproval of its policy and public demands for an immediate ceasefire. As we have have predicted earlier the inability to launch an offensive that has strong chances for success is pushing the government to impose new restrictions on political activity. Now when all the political parties that opposed the President’s strategy have been or marginalized the government is going to suppress the expression of disapproval from the military. The new bill introduced in parliament establish liability for military personnel for unauthorized statements in the media. The bill has already passed in the first reading and the government seems to be trying to turn into law as soon as possible to prevent the emergence of new opponents. (3)
One of the most popular army officers was demoted after his interview to Washington Post (4)
It it should be noted that in that interview the officer did not criticize the strategy of the President but just acknowledged that the activity of Ukrainian troops in Donbass region is severely affected by high casualties and shortage of ammunition. (5)
Zelenskiy is trying simultaneously to cease the activity of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC) despite its condemnation of Russian aggression and termination of relations with Moscow. the clerics and monks of UOC were ordered to leave the Kyiv Pechersk Lavra monastery, one of the most important religious sites in Ukraine. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/ukraine-orders- russian-aligned-orthodox-church-leave-kyiv-monastery-2023-03-10
The legal prohibition and public humiliation of one of the most influential religious organization have obvious political goals. It is aimed to undermine the influence of the politicians connected with Eastern and Southern regions where the UOC is prevalent. The prohibition of the UOC will inevitably change the political balance of power in these regions.
The dangerous consequences of restrictions of political activities and violations of principles of democracy can be the internal destabilization caused by public disappointment and discontent, highly probable if the ceasefire is not established. There is a high probability that the offensive promised by Zelenskiy will be postponed or turn out to be unsuccessful. In that case the public sentiment in Ukraine might start changing rapidly affecting the position of the incumbent government.
”Political forces that have been banned and expelled by Zelenskiy under pretext of their sympathy for the Kremlin has already started to make attempts to return to Ukrainian political space. The article published by Viktor Medvedchuk can be considered as a clear sign of such an activity that might happen to bring desired the result.
Medvedchuk criticize Zelensky for the repressions of political opponents and the attempts to use the military hostilities as a pretext for establishing authoritarian regime disguised by an imitation of democratic institutions. According to Medvedchuk, the incumbent President deliberately prolongs the conflict and rejects the possibility of ceasefire in order to strengthen his personal power. (6)
If the war lingers on without a significant military success for Ukraine, which seems to be highly unlikely in the near future, these allegations, regardless of their correspondence with actual facts, might start to match up with popular opinion.
Medvedchuk also tries to persuade the European politicians that Zelensky’s activity undermines the EU’s ability to perform as an independent geopolitical actor on the global scene and threatens European economic development. (7)
Although these allegations are politically motivated, they should not be completely ignored. The war has deteriorated the geopolitical standing of the EU and complicated its relations with the Global South which for the most part has not supported sanctions against Russia. Moreover the Chinese attempts to become a mediator in peaceful resolution of the conflict might further diminish the EU geopolitical influence if they prove to be even partially successful.
The forecast for potential development of current trends:
The Ukrainian government has neither material resources nor military advantages for the successful offensive. However it might launch offensive operations in order to fulfill expectations of its Western allies and the Ukrainian society which has started to become tired of the war. On the other hand the postponing of the offensive without an effective ceasefire agreement might provoke public discontent and undermine the internal positions of the Ukrainian government.
The prolongation of the war threatens to diminish the geopolitical influence of the EU and hamper its economic development. The successful peaceful initiatives of other countries, especially China might reduce the influence of the EU on the Global South.
The further attempts of the Ukrainian government to prevent expressions of public discontent and suppress political opponents might increase internal tension caused by public disappointment with the inability of the President to achieve the promised victory on the battlefield.
Recommendation for the European institutions and organizations:
The political entities of the EU countries should make efforts in promoting the idea of the ceasefire and in preparation of the European public opinion for the negotiations on ceasefire conditions.
The European political parties should demonstrate the willingness to sustain the democratic institutions in Ukraine. If the dialogue between European politicians and the Ukrainian political opposition is established, the Ukrainian government will have to refuse from political repressions and imposing new restrictions on political activity.
1. https://www.defense.gov/News/Speeches/Speech/Article/3329644/opening-remarks-by-secretary- of-defense-lloyd-j-austin-iii-at-the-tenth-ukraine/
2. https://www.reuters.com/world/americas/canada-send-ammunition-missiles-support-ukraines-air- defense-2023-03-15/
4. https://telegraf.com.ua/ukraina/2023-03-16/5783270-legendarnogo-kombata-kupola-nakazali-posle- intervyu-no-on-do-sikh-por-voyuet-na-donbasse-vse-podrobnosti-skandala
5. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/03/13/ukraine-casualties-pessimism-ammunition- shortage/?fbclid=IwAR2WkO0G5Ts6clc0GSR4hngQ- tW3vlO3g5Dval8inV0sCEYv9CFSCVZmzQA
6. https://oxfordnewspaper.co.uk/a-fifth-column-for-ukraine-and-europe-or-the-meaning-of-zelenskys- theatre-of-the-absurd/
7. https://www.pressenza.com/es/2023/03/una-quinta-columna-para- ucrania-y-europa-o-el-significado-del-teatro-del-absurdo-de-zelensky/