Political activity, political impact of social problems and war effects (29.05-05.06)
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The Ukrainian government has been keeping on promising to launch an offensive in the near future (or declaring that it has already begun), and at the same time explaining why it cannot be started in current conditions.
These mutually contradictory messages were repeated by Zelensky in his interview with the Wall Street Journal, published on June 3. He declared that Ukrainian army is ready to conduct a counteroffensive. But before it starts, Ukraine “would like to have some things”, though we ”can’t wait for months” for delivery of military equipment. It should be noted that Zelensky didn’t indicate what Ukraine was waiting for. He also acknowledged that Russia has air superiority over Ukraine, which according to the rules of air-land battle makes large-scale offensive operations completely impossible. As Zelensky pointed out: “The lack of protection from enemy aircraft means that many soldiers will die during the counteroffensive”. Zelensky seems to be determined to wait until F-16 and other fourth-generation fighter jets are supplied, though the timeframe of their delivery remains unclear. .https://www.wsj.com/video/series/in-depth-features/wsj-exclusive-an-interview-with-ukraine-volodymyr-zelensky/DF7422A2-778B-403B-83ED-3F9490192C1A
Zelensky also demanded a significant increase in supply of air defense systems. He stated that “Ukraine needs 50 Patriot batteries,” adding that without them “any counteroffensive” is going to be very dangerous. It should be noted, that only five Patriot batteries were promised to Ukraine and only two have been delivered so far. Zelensky’s expanded demands for fighter jets and Patriot batteries has been interpreted as a clear indication that Ukrainian government is not confident in in the success of its existing counteroffensive plans and has been trying to adjust them. https://eurasiantimes.com/ukraines-counteroffensive-on-hold-seeks-more-air-defense/
The gap between Ukraine’s appeals and actual delivery cannot be filled in short time. Because of that the Ukrainian government will be able to have an opportunity to postpone it or reduce to it small- scale operations aimed mostly attract media attention.
Russia’s air supremacy cannot be overcome without dramatic increase in supply of air defense systems and fighter jets, that significantly exceeds current plans.
The offensive, if started, might become a high risk action with the only hope of success based on possible mistakes of the Russian troops and their lack of motivation.
Ukrainian officials have been trying convince both foreign and domestic audiences that the delay of the offensive isn’t a setback. And it will be definitely started after the arms arrive from the West. But it has become obvious that a decisive victory over Russia cannot be achieved in the near future and Russian troops cannot not be expelled from the Ukraine territory thanks to Ukraine’s military accomplishments, at least in the current circumstances that looks unlikely. https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2023-06-04/mcmanus-ukraine-spring-offensive-delayed-war-russia
Prominent political scientist and expert on foreign relations Mark Galeotti thinks that “it is harder than ever to predict what will happen next in Ukraine“. He considers the results of an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive to be uncertain and the war to remain unpredictable. https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/its-harder-than-ever-to-predict-what-will-happen-next-in-ukraine-vdcm97np5
Neither side of a conflict seems to be able to gain the decisive advantage. According to Galeotti, even the new equipment provided by the West to Ukraine will not ensure the Ukrainian victory, because Russia is well-prepared for repelling the anticipated attacks. Unpredictable and incalculable decisions will not be supported at the higher levels of the Ukraine’s command structure, where schematic, rigid and unimaginative way of thinking will be dominated due to the fear of making a mistake.
Nevertheless, the Ukrainian government is going to maintain expectations of the offensive in order to make the Western allies increase military and financial support. Deputy Head of the Presidential Office Igor Zhovkva stated that the offensive has not yet begun because the Ukrainian army still lacks sufficient weapons and ammunition to take back the territories, occupied by Russia. Ukraine needs to have at its disposal all the weaponry, required for a successful offensive, including artillery, armored vehicles and tanks, and it does not have enough of them yet.https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/we-still-dont-have-enough-weapons-for-counter-offensive-against-russia-ukraine-says-89qj3p8cp
This statement of Zhovkva can be considered as the explicit example of the current rhetoric of theт Zelensky’s administration.
Ukraine is ready to begin an offensive, but it cannot be launched at the moment, because Ukrainian troops lack the weaponry they need for success. When all the required weapons and ammunition are be delivered, the Ukrainian army will start a successful assault on Russian troops. It should be noted that it is never clearly indicated which weapons and in what amount should be provided to give the Ukrainian army an opportunity to achieve success. But the demands of the Ukraine’s administration considerably exceed existing plans.
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” that he believes the Ukrainian will be successful and stressed that the US administration is not “grading Ukraine’s counteroffensive“, because “this is not an exam“. According to Sullivan, the US wants Ukraine to make as much progress as possible on the battlefield, in order to have “the strongest possible position at the negotiating table.” https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/4033861-sullivan-us-believes-ukrainians-will-meet-with-success-in-counteroffensive/
Sullivan as as it seems wanted to persuade Ukrainian military and state leader to be more undaunted in their decisions, assuring that they will not lose the US support in the case of failure. He also confirmed that the US expects can only be ended with negotiations and the main task of the offensive is not to achieve a decisive military victory but to improve “the position at the negotiating table”.
But this message seems to be incapable to influence the behavior of the Ukrainian government. It is going to remain expectations of the offensive, postponing it and at the same time increasing the demands for ammunition and military equipment. Such way of behaving allows Zelensky to increase Western support, reject peace plans and maintain political dominance inside Ukraine. Besides, Ukraine does not have enough military personnel and combat power to launch an offensive without a high risk of failure, which might have severe political consequences for Zelensky and his associates.
In order to create an impression that the situation on the battlefield has been changing to the advantage of Ukraine, the Ukrainian government has been conducting operations aimed to demonstrate that Russia is facing serious challenges. The Ukrainian administration is determined to continue cross-border attacks in Belgorod region, regardless of violation of conditions on which the Western weaponry was supplied.
It puts some European governments in a very difficult position, because due to domestic political reasons they have to react on such violations. Following the cross-border attacks, in which the Belgian assault rifles were used, the government of Belgium required clarifications requested for clarifications from the Ukrainian authorities. It was stressed by Belgian officials that weapons deliveries were “intended for the Ukrainian Armed Forces to protect their territory and population against Russian invasion” and it was “indicated in the documents accompanying each delivery”. Therefore they were not authorized to be provided to military groups, which identify themselves as fighters with the incumbent Russian regime, and to be used on Russian territory. https://www.lesoir.be/517390/article/2023-06-04/guerre-en-ukraine-la-belgique-demande-des-clarifications-quant-lutilisation
The drone attacks on Moscow appear to be even more harmful to the Ukrainian international image, than the cross-border operations of Russian volunteers. They brought no military results and they allowed Russian propaganda to claim that Russia has been endangered by Ukraine and has been compelled to start the war in order to ensure its national security.
This interpretation can of the drone attack be accepted by the public opinion in some countries of the Global South and allow the Kremlin to preserve or even intensify its relations with their governments. It seems that the Russian government has become confident that it is gaining the support of some of the Global South countries, especially in Africa. It might be the main reason of Russia’s confrontational approach to the Black Sea grain deal, which is being used by Russia to promote its own economic interests.
Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food of Ukraine Mykola Solsky stated that Russia had already blocked the use of Ukraine’s major port of Pivdennyi and severely limited the amount of Ukrainian grain export. Russia promised to lift restrictions when the transit of Russian ammonia is unblocked. Russia wants ammonia to be delivered via a pipeline through Ukrainian territory to Pivdennyi for further export. Solsky expressed confidence that export of Russian ammonia would not be allowed by the Ukrainian government even if the Ukrainian grain export through the Black sea ports is completely blocked as a result of it. He offered to exclude Russia from the Grain deal and promised that the Ukrainian military would be able to establish a corridor for the ships, which transport Ukrainian grain. https://www.reuters.com/markets/commodities/ukraine-has-plan-b-continue-exports-if-grain-deal-collapses-minister-2023-06-02/
Later National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov told Ukrainian broadcaster Rada, that Kyiv is ready to discuss the transit of Russian ammonia via Ukrainian territory. Danilov mentioned that “this issue is very difficult“, but Ukraine has international obligations, which have to be considered, and therefore the Grain deal cannot be rejected. Though this does not mean that Ukraine would agree to allow Russia to export ammonia through the Ukrainian territory.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian grain has been accumulating in ports and it cannot be transported until Russian restrictions on the deal remain. It makes the Ukrainian agreement to allow export of Russian ammonia highly probable. https://www.urdupoint.com/en/world/kiev-ready-to-discuss-transit-of-russian-ammo-1702101.html
If the Ukrainian government makes such a decision, its public support will be inevitably diminished. Though it might not be a serious problem to the government, because it might anticipate the decrease of popularity due to the delay of offensive or insignificance of its results. It makes the government try to prevent the resume of political rivalry by putting pressure on potential opponents.
A very important nuance, how are polls and measurements of public sentiment conducted in modern Ukraine? He is touched upon by the opposition politician V. Medvedchuk. In his article “The Chimera of National Unity of Ukrainians or the Sociological War”, he raises the question “how are sociological studies used as a tool to manipulate public opinion”?
According to such polls, the citizens of Ukraine do not want peace with Russia, they believe in a quick victory, and they show stable unanimity and unity. In his opinion, two aspects of the discussion of these studies arise – either the inevitable legalization and continuation of a total war, or all these studies are cheap lies and manipulation: “The Ukrainian authorities are seeking from citizens not unity, but mass hysteria, which they use in the system of international begging. hysteria is aimed precisely at causing Europeans to feel fear of Russia and guilt before Ukraine. Therefore, Ukrainian hysteria is a way to cover up US interests in Europe”
The attitude to power, which is not directly related to the war, is also interesting. Control over the restoration of the destroyed infrastructure of the central government would be entrusted by 19% of citizens. But to international organizations 57% (sociological group “Rating”). That is, they do not trust the authorities that will win?” V. Medvedchuk asks rhetorically.
It is important to Zelensky to restrain the restoration of popularity former professional boxer and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko. During last several days Klichko has been under political and media attack conducted by Zelensky’s administration. It should be noted that Klichko has been fighting back, though he is trying to avoid direct conflict with the president.
Public discord between Zelensky and Klitschko started after three people, including a nine-year-old girl, died during the Russian during nighttime air raid Kyiv, allegedly due to lack of an accessible shelter in their neighborhood.
Kyiv were blamed for the closed shelter to which the victims of the tragedy were trying to escape from the bombardment, according to media reports. A nine-year-old girl, her mother and another woman were struck by debris from an intercepted rocket after leaving their apartments to seek refuge in the nearest shelter, located in the Desnyanskyi district of Kyiv. The husband of one of the dead women told Suspilne TV channel that the shelter was closed, and the people gathered at its entrance “were knocking knocking for a very long time“, but there was no reaction. https://www.kyivpost.com/post/17777
The Economist’s foreign correspondent Oliver wrote in his post on Twitter: “Those who died on the left back of Kyiv had apparently run to a shelter, but it was closed. They were then hit by falling debris”. https://twitter.com/olliecarroll/status/1664133140330209280?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1664133140330209280%7Ctwgr%5Ed9a6b0d2f2dbd403463a22849d0b6a2380c98841%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.kyivpost.com%2Fpost%2F17777
Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko stated in response to these allegations, that the victims were killed by a fragment of a rocket in just four minutes after the air alert was announced. Klichko promised to start an investigation and establish whether the shelter was open. He asserted that after the building of medical facility in which the shelter is situated had been damaged, ”a group of people was taken out of it by the rescuers”.
Mayor Klitschko also stated that the manager of the medical facility and the head of the district share responsibility for the closed shelter. Simultaneously, Klitschko appealed to the Office of the President, which appoints and dismisses heads of district administrations, urging the President to remove from office Dmytro Ratnikov, the head of the Desnyanskyi district.
The head of the Desnyansky district state administration of Kiev, Dmitry Ratnikov, on the air of the Rada TV channel, offered Vitali Klitschko to resign together, because the heads of district administrations share their responsibility “for everything that happens in the city“ with the mayor . https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CwQl49tDPTk
In a petition appeared on the website of the President Klitschko was accused of neglect of duty and demanded to be temporarily removed from his office until the end of the pre-trial investigation. It was stated that Klitschko failed to control and guide the activity of the heads of district administrations, who are supposed to be supervised by him. https://petition.president.gov.ua/petition/194688
Olena Shuliak, the head of the ruling party (the Servant of the People), wrote on her Twitter that “people are dying on the streets of the capital” because the bomb shelters are closed and there is “nowhere to go during the air raid”. And the city authorities because of their “strange priorities“ are spending money not on the improvement of shelters but “on the expensive project of a new bridge“. https://twitter.com/OlenaShuliak/status/1664196784434868226
Before the Russian invasion Zelensky and Klitschko were stuck in a a long-standing political conflict. Notwithstanding the efforts of Zelensky’s administration, Klitschko managed to be re-elected for a new term. Klitschko was expected to become one of the most dangerous opponents of Zelensky in presidential election due in 2024.
The possible impacts of the current tactics of the Ukrainian government:
- The Ukrainian government is going to pretend that offensive has already started or try to depict the small-scale operations as a part of a wide-ranging offensive. To compensate the lack of significant results, the government will try commit actions, which can gain support inside the country and bring damage to the international damage of Ukraine, impeding the relations between the EU and the Global South.
- The large scale offensive, promised by Zelensky, will be postponed as long as possible. The Ukrainian government might be made to launch an offensive by the US administration, but it will try to avoid implementing decisions connected with high risk, and therefore, large-scale operations. It allows time for the EU institutions to devise and present the European peace-proposals and make the Ukrainian government to take them in consideration.
- The conflict between Zelensky and Klitschko may provoke the direct confrontation, which can result in the attempts of the President’s office to dismiss the Mayor of Kyiv. It may cause the political crisis that should be prevented in order to preserve the remaining Ukrainian democratic institutions from the destruction.
Recommendation for the European institutions and organizations:
- The efforts should be taken to resume the Grain deal and unblock the Ukrainian ports. The EU can play an active part in reaching a compromise, which will have clear international importance.
- The Ukrainian government should not be urged for an offensive, and the idea of an immediate ceasefire as the best way out of the stalemate on the battlefield should be promoted in the Ukrainian media.