Harsh V. Pant
Already, there are voices in the United States and Europe questioning the duration of the West’s support for Ukraine given the precarious economic state in most Western nations.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, made it clear recently that the much-awaited counter-offensive of his nation against Russia has begun. With this, the war in Ukraine has entered a new phase: some are anticipating a dangerous escalation while others view this as an opportunity to start a negotiating process to bring some sort of conclusion to the conflict.
As part of the counter-offensive, Ukrainian troops seem to have made advances in the southern and eastern parts of the country. While acknowledging the offensive, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has suggested that attempted advances by Ukrainian forces have failed. Ukraine’s troops had been probing Russian defences for months now and the latest moves are an extension of those operations.
If, last year, Ukraine surprised the world by not only putting up a strong defence in the initial phase of the conflict, denying the Russian forces their surge into Kyiv, but also retaking Kharkiv and Kherson later in the year, the latest offensive seems to be focused on the key Zaporizhzhia region. But the calamitous flooding caused by the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam could constrain Ukrainian options in the region.
Russian defences, though vulnerable, remain strongly fortified. But Russia has also suffered from huge costs, especially in the realm of manpower. As friction has grown between the Kremlin and the Wagner mercenary group, Moscow has tried to assert its control by suggesting that “volunteer formations” would be required to enter into contracts directly with the Ministry of Defence. This was strongly repudiated by the Wagner boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
Preparations for this counter-offensive have been going on for some months with Ukraine rallying Western support and trying to push a narrative that with requisite support, victory would be within the reach of its forces. Despite reservations in some quarters, most Western nations came out in support and Ukraine ended up receiving the Patriot air defence system from the United States of America and Germany as well as ‘Storm Shadow’ cruise missiles from the United Kingdom. Justin Trudeau also announced new military aid for Ukraine to the tune of 500 million Canadian dollars.
Support from Other Countries
For Ukraine, a lot rides on this counter-offensive as Western support is unlikely to continue in perpetuity. Already, there are voices in the US and Europe questioning the duration of the West’s support for Ukraine given the precarious economic state in most Western nations.
A leadership change in any of the major nations can tilt the scale against Ukraine. Donald Trump, for example, has questioned Joe Biden’s commitment to Ukraine. Russia only has to wait and watch. Putin has been banking on the divisions among Ukrainian allies to break the will of the Ukrainians. So far, he has not had much success but Zelensky recognises that Western support won’t be an open-ended affair and that it is reaching a tipping point.
It is this that makes this moment in the Ukraine war an important one. It is clear from the war efforts of the last 15-odd months that Russia, despite its overwhelming military superiority to begin with, has not been able to give Ukraine a decisive jolt. Ukraine has been successful in pushing back Russian forces time and again from key areas with the help of Western technology and the sheer force of will. But Russia has time on its side.
For Ukraine, it is now important to make some decisive gains on the battlefield so that it can go to the negotiating table in a position of strength. The West would also like some sort of a settlement soon so that the economic toll this war has taken can be ameliorated. But would Putin, after destroying the reputation of Russia as a credible military force, be interested in a negotiated settlement? Whichever way this latest counter-offensive goes, it will have a significant bearing not only on the Ukraine war but also on the emerging global order.
The article was first published in The Telegraph Online as A Decisive Moment: All Eyes on the Emerging Global Order on June 19, 2023.
Read more by the author: Introduction of Submarines in Indo-German Realignment