Opinions #47/23

Opinions #47 / 23

What is happening in Ukraine? Nearly twenty months into the conflict, which monopolized the media and international political debate, a curtain of rapprochement has descended on the war. Messages from the front are now less noteworthy. Smaller headlines and shorter articles, more individual stories. Of course, cooling can be physiological, especially in the context of today’s conflict that has (re)exploded in the Middle East.

However, the war that Russia started as a “special military operation” is far from over. And a non-military solution seems very far away. The conditions for continuing to stir up intentions and fears are the same as in 2022 and as three months ago. Because the clash between Moscow and Kiev, which has quickly become a show of force between NATO and Russia and is designed to widen the fault line between the West and much of the rest of the world, is indeed the piece that could change the global puzzle.

But the narrative about what is happening has changed. At least, in terms of intensity. Returning to this, we can say that such an attitude goes back to the end of summer. After exaggerating expectations of the results of the Ukrainian spring counteroffensive, announced in autumn and launched almost in summer, the mainstream appears to be taking note of the evidence repeatedly expected by American military leaders, starting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, or by political leaders who led their country’s armed forces, such as the President of the Czech Republic Petr Pavel. “It’s hard to imagine that Kiev could recapture territories occupied by the Russians,” is Millie’s leitmotif. “I don’t see any possibility for a Ukrainian counteroffensive,” is Pavel’s opinion.

However, the momentum of the narrative continued unabated, highlighting the arrival of ever more effective weapons on the scene. First the HIMARS missiles, then the German Leopard tanks and the French Leclerc, then the American Bradley armored vehicles, then the ATACMS missiles. An arsenal supplied by Europeans and Americans that was supposed to decide the fate of the war. Now waiting for the last ace in the hole, which Zelensky refers to, the F-16 fighters.

Meanwhile, none of Kiev’s goals were achieved. The decision to defend outposts such as Mariupol and Bakhmut to the last man cost lives, but instead exposed deep cracks in the top of the Ukrainian government. President Zelensky is an advocate of all-out resistance, despite several hundred soldiers killed or wounded every day, and his generals are becoming less and less convinced of this strategy.

A split that has since deepened, with the sacking of generals and commanders, the dismissal of ministers and deputy ministers, prosecutors and judges, and with former Zelensky supporters announcing their candidacies for next year’s presidential elections.

At the same time, by conducting an anti-corruption campaign at the request of Brussels, the president was able to get rid of the insidious allies who had shown themselves. However, he decided to put an end to all their ambitions by canceling the 2024 elections “due to the ongoing war.” An explanation that evokes all the less hidden moans. Moreover, even official polls show that a growing part of the Ukrainian population favors ending the war, with various compromises regarding the loss of Crimea and Donbass. The feeling, evidenced by the detention at the borders of tens of thousands of men who, in defiance of the ever-expanding martial law, are trying to avoid conscription, is exacerbated by the forced conscription of every woman with medical or nursing experience.

The state of mind in a country that is about to experience another very harsh winter and that goes hand in hand with the loss of American support momentum. The Republican-majority Congress has already cut off Biden’s aid to Kiev, with a big-name independent candidate like Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who entered the field defending Russian interests, with sectors of the Pentagon that see the Ukrainian match as too expensive compared to the priority of Taiwan on the horizon.

Moreover, the weakness of Biden, who also faces slippery legal proceedings over his “family business” in Ukraine, has been exacerbated by the loss of control over Israel’s response to the October 7 Hamas attack. This is confirmed by the publication of non-hostile public opinion polls, which show that he is the loser in a possible new presidential confrontation with Trump.

Development of scenarios that will put the leaders of European institutions in a difficult position. The Brussels quartet – von der Leyen, Borrell, Michel, and Metsola – since the very beginning of the war found an easy political and diplomatic path to advance. The changes, coupled with the upcoming campaign for the European elections in June and the impending reshuffling of the cards, leave them in disarray. Even repeated commitments in favor of EU expansion to include Ukraine are now met with growing skepticism in the offices of the 27 countries.

The next twelve months, with the American elections as a turning point, will be decisive for the war and the possible start of some kind of negotiations. But in the meantime, a ruthless analysis by ISW, the widely cited US institute for military studies, has stepped in to further cool down the coverage of the conflict in the media, which, long fueling Kiev’s hopes, has portrayed a difficult situation for its troops. From the beginning of the year until September 30, including four months of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, the front line has barely moved. And the shift was in favor of the Russians, who captured about 200 square miles of territory.

Before February 24, 2022, Russia occupied a little more than 7 percent of Ukraine’s territory, now it is just under 20 percent. From an electoral standpoint, such figures risk being inconvenient for Zelensky.

Senior correspondant

Alessandro Cassieri