Political activity, political impact of social problems and war effects (17.01-07.02)
The expectations of new massive Russian offense remain the most important factor of Ukranian internal political process and foreign police of the Ukrainian government.
In order to obtain weaponry and military equipment needed for successful resistance to Russian offensive the government has increased pressure on its Western allies and has been trying to use all the opportunities to appeal to international audience, including Davos World Economic Forum, to put forward its demands.
Addressing the WEF via video link Volodymyr Zelensky urged Western leaders to speed up their decision-making and provide Ukrainian army with heavy tanks (1).
As it became evident later, strong and persistent demands of the Ukrainian president managed to overcome the hesitance of the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz. Kyiv received a guarantee that Leopard 2 tanks will be supplied to Ukraine.
It should be noted that mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, tried to play an active part in the securing the provision of heavy weaponry to Ukraine. Klitschko had a meeting with Robert Habeck, Vice Chancellor of Germany, Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, at the WEF. After the meeting Klitschko told that he was confident of the new heavy weapons supply because of the “very good and positive signals” he had been
Thus Klitschko had predicted the decision that was taken in a few days days at the meeting of Ukraine’s backers at the US-run Ramstein military base in Germany. The mayor of Kyiv succeeded in demonstrating his strong connection with German political circles and his energetic assistance in providing heavy weapons for Ukraine. In the current circumstances it appears to be the most efficient way for Klitschko to regain his popularity on the national level.
In his speech at the Ramstein conference Zelensky renewed his appeals to western leaders for heavy weapons and warned that they should be provided as soon as possible in order to stop the upcoming Russian offensive and defeat Russian troops on the ground.
There can be no doubt that Ukrainian government will try to show that the provided weapons are used effectively and successfully in order to justify the pressure for acceleration of weapon supply. It is increasing the probability of poorly prepared offensive actions and ignoring the necessity of retreat due to the propaganda reasons.
The other cause of ineffective weapon usage might be the high level of corruption which affected the functioning of military forces and law enforcement agencies.
Thanks to the rising criticism from the Republicans who have taken control over the House of Representatives of the US Congress, the US administration have increased pressure on the Ukrainian government in order to make it curb corruption and ensure the effective use of American aid in Ukraine, including military aid.
The auditors from the State Department, the Pentagon and the state agency USAID arrived in Ukraine with the purpose of inspecting the spending of financial support and the deployment of military equipment.
It was pointed out that even if the US auditors cannot reveal any large-scale embezzlement the assistance to Ukraine might become more complicated in the future because of the wide-spread supposition that the Ukrainian government is incapable of fighting corruption (3).
In order to dispel this suspicion Ukrainian authorities conducted a series of anti-corruption raids across the country against some high-ranking bureaucrats including acting head of the Kyiv office of the Ukrainian state tax agency, and influential businessmen. The former management of oil producer Ukrnafta (owned by national oil and gas company Naftogaz) and oil refining company Ukrtatnafta (partly owned by the government) was accused of embezzlement of $1.1 billion.
The former head of the procurement department of the Ministry of Defense, former vice-minister of Defense and other high officials were declared to be suspected in financial crimes (4).
Zelensky and his associates are trying to present the corruption scandal linked to the procurement of war-time supplies as a convincing evidence of positive government transformation.
David Arakhamia, the parliamentary majority leader and a a close ally of Volodymyr Zelensky. said that the Ministry of Defense and law enforcement agencies should not be headed by politicians during wartime. According to him, people with an appropriate background in defense or security have to be appointed to these positions (5).
Arakhamia underlined that the country is going to change “during the war,” and “the state will come and help to change” those who are “not ready for change”.
It is very important for Zelensky to remain a political leader who is expected to bring about positive changes in political and social systems. However his personal political future mainly depends on his ability to achieve an irrefutable military victory over Russia. Due to that he is inclined to keep on military actions until the Russian army is defeated (or until there remains the possibility of such a defeat).
Zelensky is completely unable to start seeking the peaceful resolution of the conflict without external pressure and he will go on denying that such opportunity exists. In his interview to Sky News Zelensky mentioned that he has no intention to have talks with Putin. At the Ukrainian Breakfast hosted as part of the Davos 2023 forum, he expressed doubt about whether Vladimir Putin is still “alive” and declared that peace with Russia is currently impossible (6).
At the same time there have been rumors that high ranking politics are trying to stop the conflict, and establish a peace on the grounds which seem to be unacceptable to the Ukrainian government.
The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, was reported by Swiss-German newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung to have peace negotiations with both Russian and Ukrainian officials. But the peace proposals, he had submitted, were rejected by both sides.
Some media supposed that the American administration wanted to avoid a lengthy war and could offer some territorial concessions to Russia in exchange for a lasting peace for Ukraine (7).
But such an ending of the conflict will certainly undermine the position of Zelensky who will receive some compensation only if Ukraine is offered a prospect of EU membership.
Despite that the EU statement, released after EU-Ukraine summit acknowledged that Ukraine had made “considerable efforts” to advance towards membership, the summit ended without any mention of a schedule or a plan of accession (8).
Corruption remains the main EU concern and Head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen cautioned that the process of accession was merit-based and mentioned that there could be no strict deadlines for accession or even for the start of negotiations (9).
Because of that the significance of military victory remains overwhelming for the current Ukrainian government and it is going to increase military efforts. The president has introduced into the two corresponding laws concerning the extension of mobilization and martial law. They will certainly get approval by the parliament (10).
Therefore the mobilization, which has already taken extremely harsh forms, will be continued.
The Ukrainian government continues to ignore US recommendations to withdraw troops from Bakhmut in order to preserve them for the offensive in the south. Ukrainian troops keeps struggling to hold the town, which has become extremely hard to defend after the Ukrainian withdrawal from the nearby settlement of Soledar. Part of Moscow’s strategy appears to be overwhelming Ukrainian defenses with waves of soldiers as it tries to achieve the military success very important to the Kremlin from the political point of view (11).
Zelensky has declared that Ukraine will fight for Bakhmut ‘as long as we can’ and described a town as a “fortress”. “Because the Ukrainian forces in Bakhmut don’t have enough artillery, the Russian troops has been advancing, and the risk of Bakhmut being encircled has been increasing (12).
The forecast of development of current trends:
According to the Ukrainian military sources Russia is already advancing in five directions: Kupyansky, Limansky, Bakhmutsky, Avdeevsky and Novopavlovsky. So the Ukrainian government might be forced to choose between the retreats on some of these directions, which will allow to save the troops for the offensive, and wasting the resources on withholding the current defense lines. Unfortunately, there is a strong reason to suppose that the Ukrainian government will ignore any opportunities to withdraw from the positions that are hard to defend unless it is completely impossible to withhold them.
This tactics will be sustained even after fall of Bakhmut which appears to be inevitable in the upcoming weeks.
The Ukrainian government will keep on anti-corruption activities (but there is a version that this is an imitation of the process) in order to avoid any tension in the relations with Western allies and ensure the further supply of heavy weapons.
It can be expected that Klitschko make new attempts to show his participation in providing weaponry and military equipment for Ukraine in order to restore his standing of the influential political actor.
Recommendations for the European institutions and organizations:
- Peace proposals should be developed regardless of the wishes and demands of Ukrainian or Russian leadership, but to meet the interests of their peoples. The annual 59th Munich Security Conference (MSC 2023) can be used to declare these proposals in the public space.
- The tools of influence created by Ukraine’s dependence on military supplies should be used not only for fighting corruption, but also for protecting democratic institutions. Sanctions against the opposition and a ban of the Orthodox Church, connected previously with Moscow Patriarchate, undermine the prospects for democracy in Ukraine.
- It is important to guarantee the transparency and fairness of the elections of the head of the National anti-corruption bureau and transform it into an effective and non-politicized tool for combating corruption.