Political activity, political impact of social problems and war effects (15.05-22.05)
Zelensky’s visits to the Arab League summit in Saudi Arabia and the G7 Summit in Japan have become the most significant recent political events. They allowed the government to represent the Ukrainian foreign policy as extremely successful and strengthen public expectations of the military victory that should be brought about by wide international support.
The meeting with Indian PM Modi ought to be considered an important achievement of Zelensky, despite it won’t have any practical impact. In his opening remarks Modi told that the war between Russia and Ukraine is affecting the entire world. But it has to be regarded not “as a political or economic issue”, but as “an issue of humanity, an issue of human values”. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/modi-zelensky-hold-talks-on-sidelines-of-g7-summit-first-meeting-since-russias-invasion-101684576024351.html
It means that the Indian government is not going to join the Western sanctions imposed on Russia, though it feels sympathy for the Ukrainian citizens, suffering from hostilities and will try to help them by humanitarian activities.
Prime Minister Modi also noted that he will do whatever possible to find solution to the conflict. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/will-make-all-efforts-for-conflict-resolution-modi-tells-zelenskyy/articleshow/100380367.cmsfrom=mdr
Although Modi seems to be interested to resolve the Ukraine crisis, as soon as possible, Zelensky as his recent statements show, does not need his assistance. He is determined to continue the hostilities until the decisive military victory over Russia is achieved on order to ensure his political domination after the end of the war. Zelensky urged Modi to support the “Ukrainian peace formula”, though it can be easily understood that India as a country that has long-standing ties to Moscow and purchases Russian energy and weaponry, would not support the demands completely unacceptable to Russia in the current situation.
The Indian government has abstained from UN resolutions condemning the Russian aggression and has not supported Western sanctions against Russia https://edition.cnn.com/2023/05/20/asia/zelensky-modi-meet-g7-japan-hiroshima-intl-hnk/index.html
Despite that there are no signs that the Indian behavior is going to be changed, gaining public support from India at the G7 Summit and from Saudi Arabia at the Arab League summit was a matter of great political importance to Zelensky. He managed to attract considerable public attention, appearing to act as a successful national leader
The only serious practical outcome of the international support to Ukraine did not require the presence of the Ukrainian president at the summit. The decision of European NATO countries to provide F-16 aircraft to Ukraine and the intention of the US administration to make it possible for Ukrainian pilots to be trained on American F-16 jets could have been announced without Zelensky’s visit to Hiroshima. Zelensky saw the European leaders, who attended the summit about a week before during his diplomatic tour across Europe. But being among the leaders of the most influential Western countries on the day, when the NATO countries revealed the plans to hand over F-16 aircraft to Ukraine, strengthened political positions of the Ukrainian president. It will certainly help him to avoid any personal damage related to the fall of Bakhmut.
Zelensky thanked British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the G7 summit for the leadership of the United Kingdom in forming a coalition to deliver fighter jets. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/liveblog/2023/5/20/g7-summit-live-news-ukraines-zelenskyy-set-to-arrive-in-japan
Military experts are convinced that the aircraft will provide an opportunity for Ukrainian forces to strike targets in the air or on the ground, which cannot be reached now. Mick Ryan, a military strategist and retired Australian major general, told French international news agency AFP, that “F-16s have the sensors and weapon systems that are either equal to, or overmatch, Russian fighters”. Due to that Russian missile-launching aircraft will have to face serious challenges operating in and around Ukraine. https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20230520-zelensky-heads-to-g7-as-ukraine-wins-access-to-f-16s
It should be noted that the responsibility for the supply and maintenance of the F-16 fighter jets is going to be imposed on Europe. There is a strong possibility that F-16 fighter jets will not be able to change the course of war. The US government foresees such a prospect and is trying to compel the EU to get deeply involved in supporting Ukraine in spite of its inability to retake the captured terrritories in the near future. https://www.handelsblatt.com/meinung/kommentare/kommentar-die-f-16-kampfjet-entscheidung-der-usa-schiebt-europa-die-verantwortung-zu-/29162112.html
The continuation of the European support in disregard of the situation on the battlefield has not only military significance, but also political importance to the Ukrainian government.
The Ukrainian army experience difficulties in the East, where according to deputy defense minister Hanna Maliar “the enemy has been advancing in several directions”including Bakhmut. https://www.ukrinform.net/rubric-ato/3712593-enemy-doesnt-fully-control-bakhmut-fighting-is-ongoing-maliar.html
Despite the the Ukrainian government has not officially acknowledged that Bakhmut was captured by Russian forces, Hanna Maliar admitted that “the situation is critical” there. The Ministry of defense declared that the defenders of the town “control some industrial and infrastructure facilities in the area and the private sector.” It should be regarded as an unofficial acknowledgment that the town was actually captured by the enemy.
The statement of General Oleksandr Syrskyi, that the Ukrainian army is still advancing on the outskirts of Bakhmut, can be interpreted in the same way.
The Russian private military contractor the Wagner Group claimed that Bakhmut was “taken completely along all its legal boundaries, to the last centimeter”. Putin congratulated the Russian army and Wagner mercenary group on the capture of the town. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/5/21/russians-celebrate-fall-of-fortress
Zelensky, in his turn, declared that the Ukrainian forces were still defending the town https://www.nytimes.com/live/2023/05/21/world/russia-ukraine-news
The fall of Bakhmut might be regarded as an obvious military defeat by the Ukrainian public. Thanks to the efforts of Ukrainian propaganda, the long and fierce battle of Bakhmut was attributed with great symbolic significance. And if the fall of the town has to be acknowledged by the government, the blow to the public opinion may turn out to be so strong that the popularity of the president will be seriously undermined.
The resilience of the Ukrainian society and the effectiveness of military combat power can also be seriously reduced in the case of death or severe injury of Ukrainian Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhny. He was reported to be wounded in missile attack, and though these rumors were officially denied, there have been no reliable confirmation that Zaluzhny is still alive and active. https://bnn.network/breaking-news/ukrainian-commander-in-chief-zaluzhny-severely-wounded-in-missile-attack-health-condition-concealed/
Zaluzhny has been absent from media for several days, which never happened before. And if he does not return to his duties in the near future, the public conviction in the imminent military victory might start fading away.
The only way to prevent the spread of public apathy and retain public support to the President is to launch an offensive, promised by him. But in the current circumstances there is a strong probability that it will turn out to be unsuccessful.
It can be expected that if the fall of Bakhmut has a strong impact on public opinion, the president will start offensive operations, probably trying to reduce their scale and significance. Because the probability of failure remains very high the government anticipates the decrease of popularity and intends to postpone the parliamentary elections scheduled on this autumn, because they do not guarantee the power of a decisive victory.
An opposition politician, V. Medvedchuk, thinks that Ukraine is one of the few post-Soviet republics that has not reached its Soviet level (1991). Western advisers made the poorest state in Europe out of a technically advanced country. Such “successes” could be achieved only by destroying science, culture, education, industry, lowering the birth rate and increasing poverty and emigration. And all this is declared a victory for reforms and democracy. But now they want to remove this screen of “democracy” under the pretext of martial law.
In his interview with the Washington post, Zelensky stated that parliamentary elections will be postponed due to the martial law. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/05/13/zelensky-washington-post-interview-transcript/
In response to this statement President of Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Tiny Kox reminded that the Ukrainian government has obligations under the European conventions it has signed. The parliamentary elections should be held on time. And if the Ukrainian Constitution forbids the elections when martial law is in force, a solution has to be found to organize free and fair elections in order to preserve democracy. https://www.eurointegration.com.ua/eng/interview/2023/05/16/7161793/
National Security and Defence Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov claimed that the recommendations of Kox will be ignored and the elections are to be postponed.
The possible impacts of the situation on the battlefield:
- The effect on the Ukrainian public mind of the announcement of the jet fighters delivery will not last long. The fall of Bakhmut, which the Ukrainian forces seem incapable to recapture will cause the fall of popularity of the government. In order to regain public support, Zelensky will launch an offensive in disregard of strong chances of failure.
- The Ukrainian government is confident that the Western support will be carried on notwithstanding of the situation on the battlefield and the attempts to restrict political democracy. Until such confidence is preserved it will conduct military operations in order to achieve political goals and break its obligations under European conventions.
- The delivery of jet fighters will not change significantly the situation on the battlefield but it will certainly hinder Russia’s operations. It will create an opportunity for establishing ceasefire or truce even in case of failure of the upcoming Ukrainian offensive.
Recommendation for the European institutions and organizations:
- The Ukrainian government should not be allowed to ignore European recommendations concerning the maintenance of political democracy. Military and financial assistance should be made conditional on its willingness to preserve democratic process.
- The European political structures should suggest the Ukrainian government to postpone the offensive in order to gain resources required for success. In the current situation such an offer may be accepted and it will provide an opportunity for the European political circles to design and propose their own plans of establishing ceasefire.