Political activity, political impact of social problems and war effects (22.05-29.05)
The inability of Ukrainian military to launch an offensive in current conditions and the Russian advance in the Donetsk region has determined the ongoing political activity of the Ukrainian government, which remains the dominating political actor.
In spite of absence of any political rivals, the government has been facing problems in maintain control over the reaction of media to the current events, because the government has failed to produce well grounded and reasonable explanation of the events on the front lines.
It was stated by several high-ranking officials that the offensive has to be delayed due to the weather conditions and the shortage of munitions that should have been delivered by Western allies. But Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the head of Office of the President of Ukraine, who is regarded as a close associate of the President, has declared that the offensive has already begun and has been underway for days. In his interview with Italian radio station Rai1, Podolyak said that the “offensive actions have already started.” and the offensive will be combined of “dozens of different actions to destroy the Russian occupation forces in different directions” and will include as well “destruction of enemy logistics”. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12123383/Ukraines-counter-offensive-begun-Zelensky-advisor-says-multiple-operations-underway.html
Such contradictions, confusing and undermining the anticipations of military success in the Ukrainian society has become inevitable, because the Ukrainian government feels necessity to compensate the loss of Bakhmut, but cannot start an offensive due to the advantage of Russian troops in artillery and Russian aerial supremacy.
The fall of Bakhmut, which has not been officially acknowledged by Ukrainian political leaders, will have a strong influence on the political situation in Ukraine, if it is not compensated by the significant military success.
Bakhmut, a crossroads town in the Donetsk region, has little military significance but has become politically important due to the efforts of the Ukrainian government, which was trying to persuade the Ukrainian public that the successful defense of Bakhmut would help to achieve a decisive victory. The Ukrainian government is trying to create an impression the the battle for Bakhmut is still going on and the Russian troops have been entrapped in the town and are being encircled.
It should be noted that General Oleksandr Syrskyi the military commander with the most active media presence.
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny was not in touch with the press for the considerable time, and that provoked rumors about his death or heavy injury in a Russian rocket attack on a command post near Kherson. To dispel the rumors Zaluzhny took a photo at his workplace, but he did it only after the gossip had been circulating for more than a week. https://www.kyivpost.com/post/17521
It can be surmised that Zaluzhny deliberately lost contact with media in order to avoid connection with the military failure in the public mind. It can indicate that he is afraid of losing popularity and keeps considering the prospects of political career after the end of the war.
The fall of Bakhmut has to be regarded as a clear sign that the impending Ukrainian offensive will not be able change the shape of the war significantly. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian public is expecting that thanks to successful offensive operations Ukraine will reconquer all the territory, occupied by Russia. But there’s no grounds for anticipating the collapse of Russian defense and the strategic defeat of Russian troops, which will bring Ukraine a full victory.
The current expectations of the Ukrainian society, which cannot be fulfilled, can turn into mass political apathy or even into public discontent in a few months. It will dramatically undermine the resilience of the Ukrainian society and should be prevented by starting the negotiations on ceasefire before the lack of success of the Ukrainian offensive operations has become obvious.
To achieve this goal, the efforts should be made to increase international pressure on Russia and change the attitude of the Ukrainian public to the issue of temporarily territorial and political concessions in exchange for peace. Now such an opportunity is widely denied in the Ukrainian society, that remains determined to continue the war until the complete liberation of Ukrainian territory.
But it is very important that you take the Ukrainian people – peace or war, self-destruction in the name of foreign interests or cargo, proven for centuries, the path of development together with Russia, according to opposition politician V. Medvedchuk. “It is impossible to go back to yesterday, when Ukraine could have been a bridge between Russia and Europe. All these bridges have been burned and destroyed, and the shore must be chosen. You need to remember that those who created the state of shahid with the growth of anti-Russian psychosis do not need Ukraine, no matter what riches it was promised.”
A stalemate on the battlefield, which Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley predicts after the Ukrainian offensive, may lead either to a negotiated settlement of the conflict, or to a prolonged war of attrition. The Biden administration is considered to be averse to the latter scenario, but it also is not interested in a negotiated peace, that can be interpreted as a Russian success.
For that reason, the US administration may foster the turning the war in Ukraine into a “frozen conflict”, without a formally concluded peace treaty. The result of such an agreement will be a situation akin to those existing on the Korean Peninsula and in the disputed region of Kashmir.
The main problem seems to be public expectations of a decisive military victory widespread in Ukraine.
According to a poll recently conducted by the Razumkov Center, The majority of Ukrainians (68.5%) believe that the war should continue until Russia is completely defeated and reject the possibility of the reconciliation between Ukraine and Russia. Approximately the same number of Ukrainian citizens (63.9%) do not approve direct negotiations with the Russia aimed to immediate achieve peace. The majority of citizens (66.8%) also will not support any peace agreements that will not require the withdrawal of Russian troops from all Ukrainian territory, up to the borders of 1991. https://zn.ua/ukr/UKRAINE/jak-ukrajintsi-stavljatsja-do-rosiji-ta-jiji-hromadjan-bratami-mi-nikoli-ne-buli.html
The Ukrainian authorities have to take into account such aspirations, and until the public approach to the necessity and conditions of the ceasefire is not changed, the government will try to create an impression that the decisive military victory can be achieved, trying to preserve its current popularity.
Meanwhile, the activity aimed to persuade the Ukrainian public that the military pressure on Russia is being increased, may cause undesirable international consequences. The Western allies of Ukraine can be brought into difficult situation, because they cannot neither publicly reprimand Kyiv, without damaging the international image of Ukraine, nor ignore the overt violation of t heir own demands.
The cross-border attacks in the Belgorod region of Russia were conducted with the weaponry, provided to Ukraine on the condition that in will not be used for the operations on the Russian territory. First, the US administration was trying to justify this action by the necessity to counter the Russian aggression despite that they acknowledge that such behavior is not approved by the US administration.
Matthew Miller, the Spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, told at his press briefing: “We have made very clear to the Ukrainians that we don’t enable or encourage attacks outside Ukrainians’ borders, but I do think it’s important to take a step back and remind everyone, and remind the world, that it – of course it is Russia that launched this war”. https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-may-22-2023/
Later the US administration had to express its disapproval more clearly. National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communication John Kirby stated in an interview with CNN: “We don’t want to encourage or enable that, we certainly don’t want any US-made equipment used to attack Russian soil. And we have gotten assurances from the Ukrainians that they will respect those wishes”. Kirby added that the conversations with Kyiv took place “very recently, within the last day or so”. https://www.pravda.com.ua/eng/news/2023/05/26/7403964/
In spite of the affirmations of the Ukrainian representatives that the American demands will be respected, the new cross-border attacks should be anticipated. Although they can bring some military gains (like scattering the Russian troops throughout the border regions), they are going to be caused mostly by political reasons in order to strengthen the public faith in the upcoming Russian defeat.
The Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine has been reported to be be planning “ambitious operations on the territory of the Russian Federation”. And some of these plans of Ukraine’s military intelligence even scare Western partners. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-ukrainian-military-spies-are-beating-their-russian-rivals-q7n2kqch2
Though the Ukrainian government avoids starting an offensive in current conditions it can be compelled to do that, because the US administration expects the Ukrainian troops to take back a part of Ukrainian territory, though it does not believe that Ukraine has the potential to accomplish the offensive operations with decisive military victory. https://www.npr.org/2023/05/25/1178015627/what-are-realistic-expectations-for-ukraines-military-offensive
It means that the negotiations on ceasefire can start after the completion of the Ukrainian offensive, when the preliminary conditions for Ukraine might be better.
Western officials supported the rejection by Ukraine of China’s calls for an immediate ceasefire during the European tour of Chinese Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui. https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-pushing-ukraine-cease-fire-gets-cool-reception-in-europe-614774dd
It does not mean, that the US administration consider this scenario to be completely impossible. But it certainly wants to be the main mediator in peace negotiations, instead of Beijing, which seeks an opportunity to establish political cooperation with the EU countries.
The US administration will try to question China’s ability to serve as an effective mediator in ending the war, and depict Chinese peace plan as a pro-Russian initiative. These inclinations perfectly correspond with the statement of Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba at the meeting with the Chinese envoy that Ukraine wouldn’t accept any peace proposal that can result in territorial surrender or freezing of the conflict. https://kyivindependent.com/wsj-ukraine-nato-dismiss-chinese-peace-plan-set-to-benefit-russia/
In order to exclude Chinese mediation in reaching a truce, the US administration may support the Ukraine’s immediate accession to NATO. Though it does not seem to be highly probable, the Ukrainian government appears to expect related decisions to be made at the NATO Summit in Vilnius.
However, this cannot not to be supported by a majority of NATO members, and the US will not use its influence to achieve Ukraine’s accession in order not to arouse a controversy inside the alliance. According to NATO diplomats, the crucial challenge for the Vilnius summit will be to find a balanced formula to confirm NATO’s “open door policy” without promising a fast-track accession.
This task seems to be extremely important for the preserving the resilience of the Ukrainian society. The Ukrainians expect NATO to ensure their national security and prevent the recommencement of the Russian aggression in case if the truce is reached. If the mechanism for providing of security guarantees for Ukraine is found, the approach of the Ukrainian society to the issue of ceasefire will start changing. In its turn it will increase the chances to reach a truce.
The possible impacts of the current tactics of the Ukrainian government:
- The Ukrainian offensive has not started yet because of high risk of failure. The Ukrainian authorities will try to delay it as long as possible trying to obtain more Western weaponry before launching offensive actions. But it should be considered, that according to prominent American expert on foreign relations Stephen Sestanovich, the conflict in Ukraine has become a serious challenge for the Biden administration. And if the incumbent president is associated with failure, he will face severe difficulties with the re-election. https://zn.ua/war/pereizbranie-bajdena-budet-zaviset-ot-toho-budet-li-uspeshna-ukraina-posol-sestanovich.html Because of that it can be expected that the US administration will compel the Ukrainian government to launch an offensive in order to start negotiations on freezing the conflict after its completion. This scenario contain a high risk of the Ukrainian failure and the negotiations on the cease-fire should be initiated before the Ukrainian offensive is completed. The peaceful initiatives of China and African Union can be used to achieve this goal.
- The inability to launch a large scale offensive, that has been expected by the Ukrainian society, the government will concentrate efforts on creating the impression of the increasing military pressure in various areas. Some of these actions can be interpreted as a new violation of the conditions on which the Western weaponry was provided to Ukraine. At the same time, Ukraine will try to use the expectations of a successful offensive to obtain new types of weapons, including F-16 jet fighters.
- Due to the lack of opportunity to ensure Ukraine’s accession to NATO, Kyiv will be offered some options for cooperation that it will not be able to accept without undermining public support of the incumbent president. In order to avoid disagreement, the new models of cooperation should be first promoted among the Ukrainian public. It should be made clear that Ukraine could be provided with guarantees for weapons and advanced technology without entering NATO on the model of Israel. Only after the Ukrainian society becomes acquainted with this ideas, they can be offered to the Ukrainian government, which otherwise will be forced to reject them in order to remain popular. If the Ukraine’s accession to NATO is postponed without offering the new models of cooperation, acceptable for the Ukrainian society, its resilience will be undermined. It will influence the situation on the battlefield and cause the social unrest. Ukraine’s accession to NATO in current circumstances will dramatically increase cost of the war for the EU countries.
Recommendation for the European institutions and organizations:
- The models of military cooperation without Ukraine’s accession to NATO should be devised, promoted to the Ukrainian public, and then offered to the government.
- The Chinese idea of establishing an immediate ceasefire could be accepted as a starting point for the EU peaceful initiatives. It is important to the EU to demonstrate willingness to play an active role in establishing ceasefire in order to be regarded as an independent and fair actor by the Global South.