July 23, 2024


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Ukraine's hopes for victory are dwindling amid declining Western support and Putin's relentless war machine.

Ukraine's hopes for victory are dwindling amid declining Western support and Putin's relentless war machine.


A year ago, assertive President Volodymyr Zelensky traveled directly from the battlefield of Bakhmut to address the US Congress and meet with President Joe Biden. He was honored as a hero. Ukraine's determination to resist Russian aggression has met with strong bipartisan support in Washington.

A year later, the outlook looks even bleaker. The long-awaited Ukrainian offensive in the south has made little progress. Russia seems to have been spared International sanctions Currently, it has turned its economy into a war machine.

The Russian way of war worked, which absorbed hideous losses in men and materiel, but threw more into the fighting It weakened the tactical and technological superiority of the Ukrainian armyAs its top general admitted in a frank article last month.

The public mood in Moscow appears grim: the goals of the “special military operation” will be achieved, and the fighting will continue until they are achieved.

As the long front line becomes more calcified than ever, the Kremlin senses greater doubts among Kiev's Western backers that Ukraine can regain 17 percent of its territory. Of its territories still occupied by Russian forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is enjoying the partisan atmosphere in Washington, where many in the Republican Party are questioning the purpose of sending another $61 billion in aid to Ukraine at the request of the Biden administration, arguing that it will not achieve much on the battlefield.

At his first year-end press conference since the conflict began, Putin quipped: “Ukraine produces almost nothing today, everything comes from the West, but one day we will run out of free materials, and it seems they already are.”

Gavriil Grigorov/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin enjoys a more partisan stance in Washington.

Meanwhile, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban blocked a $55 billion EU financial aid package for Ukraine, prompting one German politician to say it was like Putin himself sitting at the table.

This puts government spending at risk on everything from salaries to hospitals.

Zelensky, who recently admitted he is tired, faces a more difficult job as Ukraine's top sales representative, as events in the Middle East distract from Ukraine as the number one international crisis.

On the first anniversary of the invasion And he expected That “2023 will be the year of our victory!” He is unlikely to offer the same optimistic forecasts for next year.

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Russia is not without its own weaknesses, but they are longer lastingcondition. The conflict has exacerbated its demographic crisis through migration and battlefield losses. Nearly 750,000 people left Russia in 2022; Analysts expect that there will be a greater number of voters who voted with their feet this year.

The labor shortage leads to higher wages and thus inflation. Evading sanctions and maintaining industrial production has come at a cost, with much of that production now allocated to offsetting staggering battlefield losses and thus exploding budget deficits.

The long-term prognosis for the Russian economy is bleak – and this may be Putin's main legacy.

But as the economist John Maynard Keynes once said: “In the long run we will all die.” In the short term, Putin appears invincible. The re-election in March is a formality (the Kremlin has already acknowledged this). In contrast, in the United States, where a hectic year of election campaigns may end with Donald Trump preparing for his second term. This is Kiev's nightmare and Moscow's dream.

The deeply partisan mood in Congress thwarted the Biden administration's request for more aid to Kiev. The funds currently allocated for military equipment have been almost exhausted. “We are about to give up on Ukraine,” said one Democratic senator, Chris Murphy, starkly.

The prevailing slogan in Western capitals regarding support for Ukraine was “as long as it takes.” But President Biden, standing alongside Zelensky this month, said the United States would support Ukraine “as long as possible.”

While Ukraine's global metrics deteriorate, the front lines offer little joy.

The long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive that began in June was intended to demonstrate the superiority of NATO's combined-arms warfare strategy, which had trained newly formed Ukrainian brigades on the muddy fields of Germany. But it was alien to Ukrainian military culture and had no equal in the sky.

What should have been a push south into the Black Sea turned into a quagmire filled with dense minefields, as Russian drones and aviation picked up Western armor from the air.

Ukrainian units captured at most 200 square kilometers of territory within six months. The goals of reaching the coast and the Crimean Peninsula and dividing Russian forces in the south remained a distant dream.

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Kanyuka Ruslan/Ukrinform/Future Publishing/Getty Images

By his own admission, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky feels tired.

With the front lines frozen, Kiev's intelligence agencies have resorted to more dramatic attacks: sinking a Russian landing ship in Crimea this week, and even sabotaging railway lines as far east as Russia. Success in the Black Sea has allowed relatively safe passage for commercial ships, despite Moscow abandoning a UN-brokered deal last summer.

However, despite their boldness, such operations will not change the basic balance of the conflict.

Zalozny put it Frankly: “The level of our technological sophistication today has put us and our enemies in a state of astonishment.” The use of reconnaissance aircraft and drones deprives both sides of the element of surprise within the boundaries of the battlefield.

“The simple truth is that we see everything the enemy does, and they see everything we do.”

But Russia's vast reserves of manpower and equipment (Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu boasted that he could raise 25 million men if necessary) mean they can continue to pummel the smaller Ukrainian military establishment, and achieve additional gains at enormous cost.

This is how it was around Bakhmut last winter; The same may be true of the devastated city of Avdiivka in Donetsk in the next few weeks.

The number of military recruits in Ukraine has greatly diminished; Losses on the battlefield deprived the army of tens of thousands of experienced soldiers and middle-ranking officers. “Sooner or later we will discover that we simply do not have enough people to fight,” Zaloznyi told The Economist in November.

The arrival of F-16 fighter jets in the spring will undoubtedly help the Ukrainian air force challenge Russian fighter jets and support its ground forces, but they will not be a silver bullet. Basic training one thing; Flying into the teeth of other Russian air defenses.

The same would be true even if the United States agreed to supply Ukraine with longer-range military tactical missile systems (ATACMS). (Storm Shadow missiles supplied by the UK helped target the Russian rear.)

In any case, funding paralysis has blocked the US arms pipeline, and Europe does not have the capacity to fill this gap.

Some leading analysts conclude that it is clearly time for a reassessment.

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“Ukraine and the West are on an unsustainable path, one marked by a stark mismatch between ends and means,” Richard Haass and Charles Kupchan wrote in Foreign Affairs.

Ukraine's goal of regaining all of its territory is 'elusive' They say frankly. “Where we are now looks at best like an expensive dead end.”

They recommend that Ukraine go on the defensive in 2024 to stem losses, which would “boost Western support by demonstrating that Kiev has a workable strategy aimed at achieving achievable goals.”

Thus the Russian army, which has proven largely incompetent in offensive operations, will find it more difficult to control territory.

Others argue that such a shift would essentially reward aggression, enabling Russia to pause and regroup, with potentially dangerous consequences for others in Russia's immediate abroad. It would also send the wrong message about US commitment to other allies, such as Taiwan. This is unfortunate at the political level in Kiev.

Ozge Elif Kizil/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Ukrainian soldiers fire artillery towards Russian positions to support front-line forces in the direction of Avdiivka, Donetsk Oblast.

President Biden said during Zelensky’s visit, “Putin is counting on the failure of the United States to provide assistance to Ukraine. We must, we must, we must prove him wrong.

She reeked of despair. “Ukraine would be wiser to devote incoming resources to its long-term security and prosperity rather than spending them on the battlefield for little gain,” Haas and Kupchan say.

There are certainly signs of tensions within Ukrainian society as the conflict approaches its second anniversary and the economy struggles to start growing again, after shrinking by a third. The longer several million Ukrainians live elsewhere in Europe, the less likely they are to return.

For now, Zelensky and his inner circle show no sign of compromise. Zelensky will not support a truce or negotiations. “For us, this means leaving this wound open for future generations,” he added. Time said In November.

Instead, barring an unexpected collapse in morale on either side, the same towns and villages destroyed over the past two years will continue to be fought over next year. Ukraine will have the means to survive, but not to win.