Political activity, political impact of social problems and war effects (24.04-30.04 )
The hour-long phone conversation between Volodymyr Zelensky and President Xi Jinping on April 26 appears to be the most significant Ukrainian political event of the last week. Its importance is related not with its actual impact, which still remains uncertain, but with its indication of the lack of confidence of the Ukrainian government in the long-lasting Western support.
The Ukrainian president, who has been trying to present the call to Beijing as his diplomatic triumph, should realize that he helps China make a strong impression as a successful mediator, capable of finding solutions to international conflicts and listening to all sides of the geopolitical confrontation. China has achieved a remarkable success as a mediator recently, helping Saudi Arabia and Iran to cut a deal, which allowed them to return to normal diplomatic relations. The mediation between Ukraine and Russia may allow China to improve its growing reputation as a peacemaker, offering an alternative to the US, which has been considered to be the most important Ukrainian ally.
China announced that it would send a special representative to Ukraine and other countries involved in the crisis, and promised not to “exploit the situation for profit”, insinuating that the US is using the war in order to reach its own geopolitical goals.
Zelensky described his conversation with Xi Jinping as “long and meaningful” and expressed the hope that it “will give a powerful impetus to the development of” relations between Ukraine and China. https://twitter.com/ZelenskyyUa/status/1651184756623802368?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1651184756623802368%7Ctwgr%5E57b314e8fa4c4a251c8a8a22947805dcf6880d13%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.skynews.com.au%2Fworld-news%2Fchinas-xi-jinping-to-send-peace-envoy-to-ukraine-following-first-phone-call-with-volodymyr-zelensky-since-russias-invasion%2Fnews-story%2F5e180f2293f0a32b38b2f79492f43041
Immediately after the end of the phone call the new Ukrainian ambassador to China was appointed. The pace of this decision should be regarded as an act of showing that the Ukrainian government is interested in establishing good relations with China and is building hopes on Chinese mediation. There can be there can be little doubt that Zelensky would not have made such steps towards political interaction with China, if he had been confident in the long-lasting support from the US and the EU.
Besides, after the end of the war Ukraine is going to face huge economic difficulties and the Ukrainian government in order to alleviate them is trying to find new economic partners. Zelensky has become aware that the Western allies of Ukraine are not going to provide a large-scale economic support to Ukraine, once peace is restored.
So “Ukraine has little choice but to accept the risk” of Chinese assistance, unless the United States and its allies can offer an alternative. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2023/04/27/ukraine-china-zelensky-xi-jinping-call
In the current situation main concerns of Zelensky and his government are connected with the prospects of the anticipated offensive. The Ukrainian political leaders seem to be uncertain if they can rely on the Western support if the offensive fails to reach its goals.
Though they high-ranking Ukrainian officials have not come to the agreement about the main task of the offensive, – some of them continue insist that the offensive operations should be aimed at liberating the Crimea, – it is obvious that it has to bring significant military success. The Ukrainian society has been expecting remarkable territorial gains to compensate the sufferings and shortages it has to endure. If it is not achieved, the position of the President and his associates will be seriously undermined.
The Ukrainian government seems to realize that it does not have resources necessary for successful offensive actions. But it cannot refuse from the promised offensive or even postpone it for a long time, because it is afraid of the consequences of the unfulfilled public expectations it has inspired.
So the high-ranking Ukrainian officials have started to criticize the US and the EU for the shortage of the military equipment and ammunition needed for the military success. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in his interview to CNN complained that Ukraine’s supply of ammo needed to destroy Russia’s defensive lines is “critically low.” https://edition.cnn.com/videos/world/2023/04/25/exp-ukraine-intw-042501pseg2-cnni-world.cnn
Nevertheless, the Ukrainian civilian leaders and military commanders are not going to lower the level of expectations. They keep on insisting that Ukraine can achieve a decisive military victory that will dramatically change course of the war.
Chief of the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine Kyrylo Budanov declared that the offensive will lead to the “liberation of the temporarily occupied territories”. Budanov called it “the priority task for Ukraine”, which can be fulfilled if Ukraine will receive the military equipment it has been promised.
But according to the forecasts made by the US officials, such aspirations are not backed up by Ukraine’s actual capabilities and due to that cannot be accomplished. The Ukrainian army suffered heavy losses – about 100,000 people – who were either killed or were wounded. The troops spent great amount of ammunition and weaponry, and Western supplies cannot meet their current demands. U.S. officials have warned that Ukraine appears to be over-expanding its ambitions and over-scattering its troops. It should be considered that “Ukraine’s armed forces are preparing for one of the most daunting undertakings any military can attempt: dislodging an entrenched enemy“. And the Russian forces are more well-armed than the Ukrainian troops, which are going to attack them. https://www.wsj.com/articles/ukraine-gears-up-to-hit-russiansand-show-west-it-can-win-89c43105
But despite that the Ukrainian army is not ready to carry out a large-scale offensive, the Ukrainian government is compelled to launch it in the near future due to the internal political reasons and fears to lose the Western support without such actions. Meanwhile, the Biden administration has been reported to start to preparing for the possibility of the Ukraine’s failure. If Ukraine cannot retake a significant portion of Russian-occupied territory, the US administration will have to change its approach to the military and financial aid to Ukraine in order to silence critics both home and abroad. Ukrainian leader still hope (or at least declare such intentions) to sever Russia’s land bridge to Crimea. But US officials are thought to doubt that it can be achieved in the current circumstances. Moreover, U.S. intelligence indicates that Ukraine will not be able to push Russian troops from where they have been deeply entrenched. The US administration is trying to make Kyiv adjust its goals, because “modest aim might be easier to be sold as a win“. Some US officials suggest to start negotiating a ceasefire, which will allow Ukraine to resume fighting for its territory in future. https://www.politico.com/news/2023/04/24/biden-ukraine-russia-counteroffensive-defense-00093384
It seems that such plans of the US administration can be accepted by the Ukrainian government only in extremely dangerous military situation or under a threat of severe cutting of the Western aid.
The Ukrainian society will regard a ceasefire established without previous military success as a defeat, and the incumbent government will have to suffer heavy political consequences of such an agreement, which will lead to the final collapse of democratic institutions. The authorities will try to keep the political situation purely on the basis of force, and not on authority. When Western politicians say that Ukraine stands for democracy, one should always remember the massacre of people in Odessa on May 2, 2014, who were burned alive. Then it will become clear what kind of democracy and what values the government in Ukraine is defending today, opposition politician V. Medvedchuk notes, on the anniversary of this tragedy, when 48 people were burned to death.
The internal situation of Ukraine will be exacerbated by the critical economic conditions, which after the ceasefire is established will gain greater impact on the political behavior than in the period of hostilities.
The only way to improve the Ukrainian financial situation is to reduce social spending but Zelensky is unable to take such measures, because of the wide-spreading poverty and the inevitable reprimands from his rivals, who will become more active and daring after the truce is established. Even in the wartime the Ukrainian government have to support the populist proposals of its opponents in order to prevent them of winning public support, despite that it threatens to make more complicated the relations with the international financial institutions.
The National bank of Ukraine (NBU) warned that the decision of the Ukrainian parliament to restore additional payments for military personnel in the amount of UAH 30,000 is going to hinder the negotiation process between Ukraine and the IMF. Chairperson of NBU Andriy Pyshnyi stated that “it does not give a positive sign to the international partners” and the implementation of this decision will significantly suspend the agreements on the memorandum with the IMF”. According to Pyshnyi, this initiative will demand additional state budget expenditures of 100-120 billion hryvnias.
The forecasts economic growth although quite moderate will not be fulfilled in case of the additional payments to the military personnel are adopted. But if the government block additional payments, the president will have to suffer a strong image blow on.
Andriy Pyshny also declared that a prolongation of hostilities and their highly probable intensification could have a significant negative impact on economic activity and lead to a deterioration in inflation and exchange rate expectations. This will create additional challenges for macro-financial stability.
The forecast for potential development of current trends:
- Zelensky will have to launch an offensive that doesn’t have strong chances for success. But he cannot cancel or postpone offensive actions without undermining his political position. The social and political stability in Ukraine can be sustained only if a ceasefire is established by means of external pressure on warring parties.
- The economic situation cannot be improved by government actions because Zelensky fell into a trap by supporting populist decisions in order to prevent political competition. The Ukrainian public should gain confidence that the postwar restoration will be assisted by the Ukrainian allies. It will help to increase endurance of the Ukrainian society and will give the government the opportunities to use strict measures.
- If the offensive will not bring obvious success the government will try to restrict the political and media activity in order to retain control over the country. It will create the threat social unrest which can have unpredictable circumstances.
Recommendation for the European institutions and organizations:
- The apparent pressure should be imposed on the Ukrainian government in order to provide it an opportunity to start negotiating the ceasefire without posing threats to internal political stability.
- The interactions between Ukraine and China should be supported in Europe in order to increase chances for ending the hostilities which has started to endanger the Ukrainian social stability and democratic development.
- The main burden of supporting Ukrainian economy and military efforts is going to be imposed on the EU. Due to that the European political entities should find a way to end the hostilities as soon as possible without compromising European values.