IISWU expert group
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Ukraine is paying too much for temporary advantages again

There can be no doubt that Ukrainian authorities  have gained certain benefits from the cross-border attacks in the Belgorod region, which were claimed to be conducted by the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) and Freedom of Russia Legion (FRL). First, it helped to create perception that Ukraine is increasing pressure on the battlefield and the Russian army is going to have worries at its own rear and because of that it can be easily forced to withdraw. From a political point of view, such perception of the development of the conflict is in great need both domestically and abroad.

Second, it made the inhabitants of the Russian border regions feel insecure and unprotected. RVC and RFL have promised to strike again, and their new actions even if they are so limited in their scale as the recent attacks, can provoke panic in the towns and settlements near the border. With a bit of luck it might  hamper supply of the troops, though not for long.

Lastly, it will make Russians scatter their troops throughout the border regions, in order to prevent new attacks or quickly suppress them wherever they happen. Due to that, they will have to slow down their advance in Donbass, and Ukraine will get time to improve its defense lines in this key region.


Of course, theses are good things.


But it seems that they have been bought at extremely high cost. Ukraine got current gains and diminished its strategic advantage.

The international support of Ukraine mostly depend on its image of the country, which has been brutally assaulted by a much stronger neighbor. This aggression has been unprovoked and inexcusable, because Ukraine had never threatened Russia and had no intention to do that in future.

The cross-border attacks can destroy this image. Even those who do not know that RVC and RFL constitute a part of the Ukrainian Foreign Legion, realize that these formations could not have made an assault on the Russian region without Ukrainian support. The essential assistance cannot be denied and it spoils the whole picture. Most people, who live in India, China, South  America and even Western Europe know next to nothing about the relations between Russia and  Ukraine.

And now it might appear to them, that Russia really had reasons to be afraid of Ukrainian belligerence, because Ukraine supports forces, which try to cut off Russian border regions. Maybe it would have not looked that bad if the RVC and RFL had been greeted as liberators by the local population. But unfortunately the locals were trying to flee away from the self-proclaimed freedom fighters as fast as possible.

Besides, there is another important questions related to the use of weaponry, provided by the Western allies. Ukraine promised that it would not be used for the strikes on the Russian regions. Because of the cross-border attacks, the US and the EU got into an unpleasant situation.

They cannot reprimand Kyiv, because the do not want to take part in destroying the international image of Ukraine. But they cannot just ignore the overt violation of conditions, on which the military equipment has been supplied to Ukraine. 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/

It should be regarded as a serious warning to the Ukrainian government. Though as Miller stressed, it was left to Ukraine to decide how to conduct military operations, but it should remain obvious that Russia “has been the aggressor in this war”. And Ukraine may face problems with military supplies, if there is a danger that this perception can be changed.

Now when the decision on the arrangement of jet fighters supply is being taken, the Ukrainian authorities should be very careful in their actions that can attract international attention. The benefits should not be obtained at the cost of the destruction of the appealing image.


 Molchanov Kyryl,

director of the International Institute for study of the Consequences of the war in Ukraine