Political activity, political impact of social problems and war effects in Ukraine (26.02.23-13.03.23)
Recently there have been signs that the Ukrainian government is trying to avoid an increase of escalation of the conflict. It seems to be happening not only due to the foreign policy reasons, but as because of the growing weariness of the Ukrainian society from the war. A clear manifestation of this policy was the reaction of the Ukrainian government to the publication of data proving the involvement of structures associated with Ukraine in the explosion of Russian gas pipeline.
Thanks to some media reports now there are reasons to suggest that a pro-Ukrainian group carried out the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines last year. The Kremlin has already used this allegations to justify a new massive missile attack which was depicted as act of vengeance by Russian propaganda.
U.S. officials declared that theere is no evidence that either Zelensky or any of his lieutenants were involved in the operation, or that the perpetrators were acting at the direction of any Ukrainian government officials (1).
The news about the participation of the Ukrainian intelligence in Russian gas pipeline destruction might have been greeted by nationalist circles. But despite that Ukrainian government and military officials rushed to deny any connection with the explosion. Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to Presiden Zelensky, asserted that Ukraine “has nothing to do with the Baltic Sea mishap.” (2).
Zelensky also officially negated the possibility of Ukrainian involvement.
It proves that the Ukrainian government is confident that no actions that can lead to the escalation of the war would not be supported by Ukrainian society.
In such circumstances the offensive that the Ukrainian government to demonstrate the improved Ukrainian military performance and increased capabilities of the Ukraine’s military can create threats to internal political stability. It would strengthen the government’s position only if it was obviously successful. Bit the probability of that is not high. So the government afraid of an evident lack of success or even a failure which can lead to a political catastrophe is trying to postpone the launch of offensive actions.
But on the other hand the prolongation of war increases the risk of diminishing the military and financial aid to Ukraine from its Western partners.
Trumpist republicans have been demanding to restrict military support for Ukraine and Trump himself has insisted on negotiations with the Kremlin stated in his recent interview for Fox News that Russia should be allowed “take over” parts of Ukraine in exchange for peace (3).
There is a certain possibility that Trump or a candidate endorsed by him will come to power after the 2024 elections. And the continuation of the war up to the start of election campaign might increase the chance of such a scenario.
The other dangerous consequence of the continuation of the war will be the further curtailment of democratic institutions in Ukraine. The new steps to restrict the political activity of the opponents of the incumbent government have been made recently.
In March 2022, the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskyi, signed a law which allows to liquidate political parties if they have members convicted of collaborationism (4).
Later the Ukrainian parliament introduced a bill according to which former members of political parties that were officially recognized as “anti-Ukrainian” are prohibited to participate in political activities for ten years. The supporters of claimed that this law would help to purge the Ukrainian political system from the founders and members of anti-Ukrainian political forces (5).
Recently the official list of traitors of Ukraine has appeared and it was proclaimed that the list is going to be constantly supplemented. The authors of the idea to create an official list of “traitors” called on Ukrainians to inform them about the facts of connections of politicians and media persons with Russian structures and entities. The goal is claimed to be not only reveal such connections, but also to prevent them (6).
There can be little doubt that after the possible fall of Bakhmut, which according to Jens Stoltenberg might occur within days, the Ukrainian government will try to distract public attention away from its own mistakes by new actions against “internal enemy”.
The Ukrainian government inflated the symbolic significance of Bakhmut’s defense and feels apprehensive about the retreat from the town. Because of that the Ukrainian troops keep defending it despite the continuously worsening situation and heavy losses.
The Ukrainian government is trying to rationalize its attempt to keep on with the battle despite the diminishing chances of achieving success in it. Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said the fall of Bakhmut would give Moscow an “open road” for offences deeper into Ukraine (7).
Zelenskiy also stated Ukrainian leadership is united behind Bakhmut and he wants to deny Russia a symbolic victory after Moscow has suffered a year of setbacks in the war effort.
Commander of the Ukrainian Ground Forces Alexander Syrsky said that the importance of holding Bakhmut is only growing and the forces that are defending the town are not going to retreat (8).
The defense of Bakhmut demands resources that are needed for the large-scale offensive promised by Zelenskiy to Western leaders. It makes Voldymyr Zelensky pushing for more military assistance from the U.S. and EU countries.
In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer Zelensky renewed a plea for the Biden administration to supply F-16 fighter jets as Ukraine struggles to fend off repeated Russian missile strikes on critical infrastructure. This demand was made despite Biden’s previous declaration that Ukraine does not need advanced fighter jets in the current state of the war. Zelensky also told that Ukraine will need additional “new weaponry”, including long-range artillery, from western allies in order to carry out a counteroffensive against Russian forces in occupied regions of eastern Ukraine (9).
The forecast for potential development of current trends:
- The continuation of hostilities will make inevitable the appearance of new reasons for the intensification of the conflict, which the Kremlin will definitely try to use for the justification of new attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure. This, in turn, will increase the fatigue of the Ukrainian society from the war and compel the government to poorly planned actions aimed at achieving an evident military success.
- The highly possible fall of Bakhmut might urge the government to launch offensive despite to demonstrate Ukrainian military capabilities to the Western partners and silence the expressions of disapproval inside the country. The probable non-success of the offensive might undermine the political stability.
- The prolongation of the war will cause the destruction of the Ukrainian fragile democracy. The political groups connected with the incumbent President will keep on using the Russian aggression as a pretext for banning the political opposition and expelling the opponents from the political space.
Recommendation for the European institutions and organizations:
- A political reconciliation of the conflict must be ensured before the start of the US presidential campaign. Otherwise the ongoing war will be used Trump or a candidate endorsed by him for criticism against the incumbent administration. Plans of pacification devised by European political parties and think-tanks should appear as soon as possible.
- The European political parties have to make efforts in order to prevent the destruction of democratic institutions in Ukraine. The opponents of the incumbent Ukrainian government and independent political experts should receive the opportunity to share their opinion with European politicians. Since it is impossible in modern Ukraine to express openly critical attitude towards the actions of the Ukrainian government, opposition politicians and experts should be given an opportunity to express their position beyond Ukraine’s jurisdiction.