Realizing the need for extending the country’s sources of diplomatic, economic, and military support beyond the United States and Europe at a time when Ukraine’s defense against Russian invasion seems to have reached a stalemate, a group of Ukrainian researchers close to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s office is traveling to eight countries in the world, including India, to present Kyiv’s viewpoint.
Following an interaction with the team led by Dr. Hanna Shelest, Director of Security Studies and Global Outreach Programmes at the Kyiv-based Foreign Policy Council “Ukrainian Prism” (its other members are Olha Vorozhbyt, Mykhailo Samus and Nataliya Butyrska) on December 15 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia in Delhi, one could summarize the following narratives that Ukraine would like the rest of the world to support:
One, the ongoing war in Ukraine is an “existential war” for Ukraine.
Two, Putin is a big liar, as Russia’s real goal is to conquer the whole of Ukraine and annihilate the country’s culture, language, and democracy. In this sense, Ukraine’s is also an “anti-colonial war.”
Three, Ukraine has to win this war at any cost and recover every inch of territory, including Crimea, from Russia’s control.
Fourth, there is no question of agreeing to a temporary truce with Russia to save the loss of lives and the economy and then negotiate with the support of the powerful countries to recover the lost territories.
Five, Ukraine wants Peace but that will only come with Ukraine’s victory. With more vigorous and sophisticated military/ technological help from the US and Europe, Ukraine can win this war as early as March/April next year.
Six, Ukraine understands India’s strong traditional ties with Moscow since the days of the erstwhile Soviet Union and would not expect military support from Delhi. However, since Ukraine now accepts India as one of the leaders of “the South,” it is incumbent on Delhi to provide at least moral and diplomatic support to Kyiv, particularly when it has diversified its procurement of oil and weapons from Russia and come closer to the West and the United States on many geopolitical issues.
Dr. Hanna Shelest admitted that so far, Ukraine’s foreign policy was Euro-centric, but now the country’s policymakers are realizing the importance of an Asia strategy, although this realization had dawned on them even before the Russian invasion.
As a strong votary of democracy and democratic values, their “global outreach” plan, to begin with, aims at close ties with eight countries – Australia, South Korea, Singapore, India, Qatar, Israel, Brazil, and Canada.
According to the visiting Ukrainians, Ukraine now has wholehearted support from Canada, Australia, and South Korea. In fact, Seoul, the team’s next destination, has started providing military support to Ukraine, it was revealed.
The team was not obviously impressed by the recent suggestions that it was time for Ukraine to be realistic for some time and look at the possibility of opening the door for some talks with Russian President Putin to halt the war so that the prospect of a peaceful settlement of the dispute could be explored.
This was all the more important when there seems to be war fatigue not only in the United States, which is about to enter elections, but also in Ukraine itself. Besides, the global attention seems to have been diverted to a considerable extent from Ukraine to Gaza.
As it is, Zelenskyy’s third visit to Washington last week to get new military aid did not achieve much. Unlike last year when he was given a hero’s welcome by a joint session of Congress and treated to a red-carpet reception at the White House with a $50bn aid package, this time, his reception in the US capital was a low-key affair.
He had a session with US senators behind closed doors. He sat down with Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, who did not even make a public appearance with the Ukrainian president. And his welcome at the White House was with minimal pomp and ceremony. It will not be wrong to say that he returned empty-handed, Biden’s assuaging promises of help notwithstanding.
Even the European Union, which has promised Ukraine $56bn, is not able to release the money as it has been held up by Hungary, and there is the additional constraining factor of budgetary problems in Germany. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is also said to have been wary of the extent of help to Ukraine.
Despite all the assistance from Europe and the US after the Russian invasion, the fact remains that a fifth of Ukraine’s territory continues to be under Moscow’s control. Tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed.
In fact, Ukraine is now finding it hard to have enough soldiers to fight the war. 15,000 soldiers are reportedly missing. Across the country, the families of soldiers have started taking to the streets to demand a cap on military service time and the return of those who have served 18 months or more.
Besides, a petition demanding a change to mobilization rules has reached the 25,000-signature threshold for presidential consideration, further complicating Zelenskyy’s push for more troops.
As if this is not bad enough, there are also reported differences between Zelenskyy and Ukraine’s commander-in-chief, General Valery Zaluzhny. In an interview with the Economist magazine, General Zaluzhny admitted that the war with Russia had reached a stalemate and was evolving into a long war of attrition — one in which Russia has the advantage.
This, in turn, led to a public confrontation between Zaluzhny and Zelenskyy, who rebuked the general’s assessment and repeated his refusal to negotiate any ceasefire deal with Moscow.
As it is, though he still remains the tallest leader in Ukraine, Zelenskyy’s popularity at home is on a decline, according to a recent opinion poll. The Economist has reported that trust in the president has fallen to 32%. What has further eroded his image is his reluctance to hold the general elections due next March. The postponement is justified under the plea that the country is under martial law that proscribes polls.
Simon Shuster has written in Time magazine that “Zelenskyy’s associates themselves are extremely skeptical about the [current] policy,” describing the President’s belief in Ukraine’s ultimate victory over Russia as “immovable, verging on the messianic.”
As noted earlier, General Valery Zaluzhny is worried about the stalemate, which has been interpreted by experts that he would not mind negotiating a deal with Russia.
In fact, Oleksii Arestovych, Zelenskyy’s former presidential advisor now turned critic, has argued that “the war could have ended with the Istanbul agreements, and a couple hundred thousand people would still be alive,” referring to a round of peace talks that took place in March and early April 2022, mediated by Turkey.
At that time, Russian and Ukrainian negotiators had apparently reached a tentative agreement on the outlines of a negotiated interim settlement — whereby Russia had agreed to withdraw troops along the lines prior to February 24, 2022, in exchange for Ukraine’s neutrality.
Even David Arakhamia, the parliamentary leader of Zelenskyy’s own Servant of the People party who led the Ukrainian delegation in peace talks with Moscow, recently claimed that Russia was “ready to end the war if we accept neutrality” but that the talks ultimately collapsed for Zelenskyy’s reluctance, though some European leaders like former British Prime Minister Borris Johnson had advised him not to listen to any talks about a deal and continue fighting.
Is it time to revive the idea of some sort of deal with Putin? Richard Hass and Charles Kupchan have argued recently in the prestigious Foreign Affairs magazine that it will not be politically easy for either Ukraine or the West to confront the strategic realities that the US military has only finite resources and limited production capacity for enough arms to be supplied to friends and allies like Ukraine and Israel simultaneously.
“Washington needs to take the lead in launching consultations with Ukraine and Western allies aimed at persuading Kyiv to offer a cease-fire in place while pivoting from an offensive to a defensive strategy. The West should not press Ukraine to give up on restoring its 1991 borders or on holding Russia responsible for the death and destruction that its invasion has caused. Yet it must seek to convince Ukrainians that they need to adopt a new strategy to pursue these objectives.
“A cease-fire would save lives, allow economic reconstruction to get underway, and enable Ukraine to devote incoming Western arms to investing in its long-term security rather than to quickly expending weaponry on a deadlocked battlefield. The precise terms of a cease-fire—the timing, the exact location of a line of contact, the procedures for the pullback of weapons and forces, the provisions for observation and enforcement—would have to be hammered out under broad international supervision, most likely under the auspices of either the United Nations or the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe”, Hass and Kupchan have written.
However, when pointed out the above suggestions by this writer, the visiting Ukrainian team of Dr. Hanna Shelest and her colleagues were not convinced. For them, Ukraine must be made a member of NATO, as Russia can never be trusted.
They consider the reports on Zelenskyy’s differences with the generals to be dirty disinformation. They assert that Ukraine cannot afford free and fair elections during a war. Above all, they are supremely confident that Ukraine will win the war, and this victory alone can bring peace.
- Author and veteran journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the Editorial Board – EurAsian Times and has commented on politics, foreign policy, and strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Scholarship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.
- CONTACT: prakash.nanda (at) hotmail.com
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