Political activity, political impact of social problems and war effects (21.06-28.06 )
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The reaction of the Ukrainian government to the mutiny of the Wagner group showed the Ukraine does not have neither propaganda machine nor combat power to take advantage of political shocks in Russia. The confrontation between the Wagner group and the Russian defense ministry did not result in a collapse of Russian defense, all military units remain in their positions and none of them were taken to counteract the mutiny. Ukrainian propaganda agencies did nothing to perplex Russian servicemen and distract them from combat operations by convincing them that Russia is on the brink of civil war and they do not have to risk their lives because the political upheaval will inevitably lead to a general retreat. There were also no attempts to influence the behavior of inhabitants of Russian border regions or the cities captured by the Wagner group.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov did not even make any comments on the events until the end of the crisis caused by the conflict between Russia military leadership and the Wagner group was successfully resolved. Reznikov wrote on Twitter that he and US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin agreed during the call that “the Russian authorities are weak”. He added: “Russia would be better served to address its own issues.” https://english.alarabiya.net/News/world/2023/06/25/Russia-government-weak-post-Wagner-mutiny-things-moving-in-right-direction-Kyiv
But it has become obvious that the Ukrainian government cannot benefit from Russian weakness, because it does not even have a plan of actions in case of political crisis or social unrest in Russia. The Ministry of Defense could only recommend to “be careful and prepared for any scenarios”. It was the only recommendation Deputy Minister of Defense Hanna Maliar has given, though she thought that the political crisis in Russia can become “a window of opportunity” for Ukraine https://t.me/s/annamaliar
Such helplessness seems to indicate the dangerous problems of governance that do not allow the Ukrainian government to adjust its tactics to new conditions and take effective decisions in changing circumstances. Meanwhile, Ukraine appears to be unable to achieve military success without political and social unrest in Russia. The Ukrainian offensive failed to reach any significant results and the Ukrainian authorities are often compelled to declare that the actual offensive operations have not started yet.
It is notable that in this case they imitate the Russian rhetoric after the fruitless attempt to capture Kyiv. It seems that the Ukrainian government, like the Kremlin in February of 2022, did not expect the enemy to fight back.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy had to acknowledge that the offensive did not bring any significant results, but he keeps on promising that the implementation of Ukraine’s “own battle plan” will help to accomplish the offensive though the progress is going to be “slower than we want”. “
In his interview with BBC Zelensky stated that Ukraine should be given security guarantees from NATO but confirmed that Ukrainian goal is a membership of the defensive alliance. He complained that the refusing to ensure Ukraine’s accession to NATO the Western leaders “knock the ground from under our feet.'”
The guarantees of NATO membership are essential for Zelensky to preserve its political dominance within the country. Thanks to these guarantees the Ukrainian society will keep confidence in a victorious outcome of the war regardless of lack of current military achievements. It can be expected that Zelensky will try at all costs to get results that can prove Ukraine’s military capabilities by the NATO summit in Vilnius. The price of these military achievements, which will hardly be able to influence the general situation on the battlefield, can be the depletion of Ukraine’s economic resources.
Besides, Ukraine is threatened to lose a significant part of the younger generation. The mass mobilization have already started in Chernihiv Oblast, Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast and some districts of Kyiv. https://antikor.com.ua/ru/articles/636988-eshche_odna_oblastj_prizvala_vseh_podlehashchih_mobilizatsii_muhchin_javitjsja_v_voenkomat_bez_povestki
Ukrainian politician V. Medvedchuk believes that while residents of Western Ukraine are sitting in public places during the curfew, military commissars in Kharkov and Odessa seize men and send them to the front, as the Ukrainian oppositionist writes in his new article: Zelensky is an enemy, and therefore he has long been implementing a new “Plan Ost” to exterminate the inhabitants of the South-East of Ukraine. Now his electoral base is in Western Ukraine. And the fewer voters there are in the South-East, the more they are overwhelmed by anxiety for themselves and their loved ones, the better. The publication says that it was precisely those regions that voted for Zelensky that became dangerous for him, so he unleashed genocide there. In his words: “Zelensky not only cruelly deceives Ukrainians, sells Ukrainian land, drives the country and its future generations into space debt, turns it into a NATO training ground, but also removes witnesses to his crimes.” https://smotrim.ru/article/3416994?utm_source=smm&utm_medium=vgtrk&utm_campaign=r24
If the hostilities continue the mass mobilization will be spread to other regions and eventually bring Ukraine to the brink of demographic catastrophe.
Notwithstanding, there is little opportunity to achieve military in current circumstances Zelensky will keep on rejecting all the proposals to establish truce. It is necessary for him to accomplish the liberation of occupied territories or get an opportunity to do that thanks to the collapse of Putin’s regime.
Otherwise, Zelensky will not be able to reserve the power after the peace is established. He cannot agree to end the hostilities on any conditions other than complete surrender of Russia, though it seems very unlikely to happen in the near future and in spite of devastating consequences of the continuation of the war for Ukraine’s economy, infrastructure, political system and social development.
In his interview with BBC Zelensky declared that “victories on the battlefield are necessary” and confirmed that he is not going to start any negotiations with Moscow until Russia has agreed to withdraw from Ukraine’s territory. According to Zelensky, even if the offensive fails to achieve its goals and Ukrainian advances are halted “we will not agree to a frozen conflict because that is war, that is a prospectless development for Ukraine.” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-65971790
Before the offensive started, Western officials and military experts cautioned that Russian forces had fortified their defensive lines and learned how act effectively and coherently in defense. The Ukrainian government have not taken into consideration these warnings and Ukrainian troops seem to be completely unprepared for the increased competence and coherence of Russian forces, which retain air and artillery superiority.
The lack of any significant success of the Ukrainian army, in spite of hard efforts and heavy losses appears to have been inevitable and this situation can hardly be changed until the Russian regime is seriously weakened by domestic political and economic problems.
CNN reported that two western officials and a senior US military official revealed in their comments that Russian lines of defense have been proving well-fortified and Ukrainian forces do not have combat power to breach them. Besides, Russian forces have successfully deployed missile After a meeting of the Defense Contact Group in Brussels, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned that Ukrainian advance will likely come at a high cost and “take a considerable amount of time and”. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/06/22/politics/ukraine-counteroffensive-western-assessment/index.html
Ukrainian military leaders have started to acknowledge that Ukrainian forces are facing serious challenges in their offensive operations. Oleksandr Syrskyi, the head of Ukraine’s ground forces, admitted that “the situation is really difficult.”
According to Syrskyi, the Russian forces “are trying to seize the initiative” and they should not be underestimated. Syrskyi confessed: “The enemy has anticipated and continues to anticipate the most dangerous directions of our movements, and builds up strong defenses there which are quite difficult to penetrate”. He urged to be prepared that achieving victory will “take some time because there are a lot of forces massed on each side, a lot of materiel, and a lot of engineered obstacles”. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jun/23/everything-is-still-ahead-inside-a-secret-military-base-with-top-ukraine-general
It remains uncertain whether Ukraine has enough resources and resilience to prolong the hostilities without grave repercussions, which can for a long time impair its development.
The Ukrainian infrastructure have been heavily damaged and can be hardly restored to the prewar level. The recent destruction of the Kakhova dam is going have the irrevocable consequences for the economy and social situation of the large region. The Kakhovka reservoir was once the second biggest in Europe and now it has been nearly drained out and the areas depended on its water for the irrigation are turning into a desert. https://news.obozrevatel.com/ukr/society/visohlo-yak-u-afritsi-u-merezhi-pokazali-yak-zaraz-viglyadae-kahovske-vodoshovische-foto-i-video.htm?utm_source=wpush&utm_medium=push&utm_campaign=webpush
The reservoir water was supposed to be going into a vast network of canals for the irrigation of the region that used to produce two million tonnes of grain a year. The towns situated along the shore of the reservoir are badly affected by a shortage of water and have lost lose an ability to support a functioning social infrastructure.
Apart from destruction of infrastructure the Ukrainian society can be severely affected by the collapse of the financial system.
Ukraine is incapable to cover social and military expenses by the revenues of the state budget. Ukraine finance minister Serhiy Marchenko has warned that there will be a budget gap in 2024 and Ukraine needs help of its Western allies to balance its budget.
Ukraine’s budgetary and urgent reconstruction needs are estimated at $110 billion and though the EU aid package is going cover 45 percent of them it remains unclear if Ukraine will be able to obtain the rest of the required amount. https://www.politico.eu/article/ukraine-finance-minister-serhiy-marchenko-warn-huge-budget-gap-2024/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=Twitter
Ukraine’s economy shrank by 29.2% in 2022 and earlier this year the World Bank estimated the cost of reconstruction and recovery at $411 billion. In his interview with the BBC Zelensky demanded the support not only for recovery but also for transformation of the Ukrainain economy. He urged to take “quick steps” to rebuild the destroyed Kakhovka dam and decentralize the energy network. But Ukraine besides renovation of its energy and agriculture and industrial complexes, he wants Ukraine to be given an opportunity to develop advanced technologies. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-65971790
The continuation of hostilities can be regarded by the Ukrainian government as a guarantee of Western financial assistance, which is needed to avoid collapse of the Ukrainian financial system. Furthermore, the prolongation of the war allows the Ukrainian government to impose restrictions on civic space, media freedom and activity of its political opponents.
Due to the functioning of democratic institutions is being hampered and the incumbent government seize an opportunity to postpone presidential and parliamentary elections required in October 2023 and in the spring of 2024. In his interview with the BBC Zelensky stressed that there will be no presidential elections until the end of hostilities in Ukraine. He expressed hope that there would be peace in Ukraine next year, and life would be returning to normal. But it cannot be expected that Russia would capitulate by that time and accept the conditions on which Zelensky insists.
Speaker of the Ukrainian parliament Ruslan Stefanchuk, who was one of the top managers of Zelensky’s presidential campaign, stated that the issue of parliamentary elections was not on the agenda, since, according to the law, they could not be held during martial law. https://english.nv.ua/nation/ukraine-to-hold-elections-after-war-ends-says-zelenskyy-50333899.html
The forecast for potential development of current trends:
- Until the decisive military victory is not achieved Zelensky will try prolong the hostilities as long as possible in order to postpone the elections and ensure Western aid.
- The mutiny of the Wagner group showed that the regional elite groups (as well as the national economic, political and cultural elites) are inclined to remain loyal to the incumbent regime. There were no gestures or words of support to the rebellion from the people of political importance or from any influential figures either on national or on regional level. The Russian elites groups seem to be determined to preserve social stability and they continue to control political behavior of Russian citizens. Under the circumstances the use of the military formations claimed to be the armed Russian opposition for the destabilization of the border regions can only help to strengthen the support to the regime from the elite groups. These tactics will not be able to change the Russian political climate until the elite groups are convinced that the incumbent regime is capable to preserve stability within Russia.
- If the Ukrainian government has an opportunity to prolong hostilities until the decisive military victory is achieved, it will impose new restrictions on media and political activity, prevent the probable rivals of Zelensky from becoming popular. In the current situation Klitschko appears to be especially endangered.
- Ukraine is facing severe challenges caused by the economic slump, infrastructure destruction and demographic changes causes by the war. The continuation of hostilities will push Ukraine to the brink of collapse.
Recommendation for the European institutions and organizations:
- The Ukrainian government has demonstrated an inability to react effectively on the events in Russia or influence the Russian public opinion and determination of Russian troops. It needs to be assisted in obtaining means to fulfill these tasks.
- The Ukrainian government will try at all costs to achieve military success in advance of Vilnius summit. The price of such achievements can be extremely high and it can cause long-term consequences that should be prevented. It seems important to make clear that the cessation of hostilities is inevitable even if the conditions of truce can undermine populatity of Zelensky.
- The probable political rivals of Zelensky should be supported in their political and media activity in order to help them overcome restrictions imposed by the government and preserve political competition.