Is Ukraine losing the war The Excelsior 02 May 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


Is Ukraine losing the war

Is Ukraine losing the war The Excelsior 02 May 2024

          After stalling for months, the US Congress finally approved USD 61 billion military assistance for Ukraine. Of the funds cleared, USD 23 billion will be expended to replenish US military stockpiles, thereby enabling future transfer of war-like stores to Ukraine while 14 billion for the Ukrainian Security Assistance Initiative, permitting Washington to procure new weapon systems directly from their own defence contractors. 11 billion will fund ongoing military cooperation including training of Ukrainian forces as also intelligence sharing. Only 8 billion will go to Ukraine for salaries and other purposes.

          The Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, thanked Washington for its assistance, though most will be expended by the Pentagon on its own defence manufacturers. This announcement came after a six- month delay during which Kiev lost ground mainly due to critical shortfalls in high calibre artillery ammunition, which could not be provided by their European allies. The incoming package will include air defence systems, medium range missiles and artillery shells. The question is whether this will really make a difference and for how long.

          The Russian spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, criticized the aid by mentioning, ‘The Russian armed forces are improving their positions at the front … The money allocated and the weapons that will be supplied will not change this dynamic.’ Zelensky, the ever hopeful mentioned that once US weapons arrive, ‘we will repel the enemy.’ He has been stating that since the beginning to no avail.

          While the Biden administration battled its Congress, Europe was unable to meet requirements of Ukraine. Europe defence manufacturers have not enhanced their production lines. With the US heading for elections at the end of the year and both major proponents for Presidentship having differing views on assisting Ukraine, future assistance is uncertain. Ukraine has displayed its troop shortfalls predicament by passing a new controversial conscription law, which reduces mobilization age by two years to 25.

          Colonel General Oleksandr Syrskyi, the Ukrainian army chief, stated on telegram, ‘The situation on the eastern front in recent days has grown considerably more tense.’ He also claimed that Russian offensive actions increased in tempo post their presidential elections. Russia’s next major offensive is expected to commence in end May/ early June.

          As per SIPRI (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) Russian defence spending in 2023 was USD 110 billion which was an increase of 24% over the previous year and 57% since its takeover of Crimea in 2014. It was 16% of government expenditure. Ukraine’s defence spending increased by 51% to USD 64.8bn, not including USD 35 billion it received as aid from its allies. 60% of Kiev’s government spending was on defence. The difference may appear less but import costs are much higher.

It is also evident that sanctions on Russia have had limited impact. Military equipment continues to flow from North Korea and Iran while dual use technology is shared by China. The Moscow-Pyongyang-Tehran-Beijing axis is becoming stronger. Putin’s first overseas visit, post his re-election, is to Beijing in May. The US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, visited Beijing seeking to push them to stop supporting Moscow militarily or face trade embargoes from Europe and Washington. It is unlikely that the Chinese will listen.

          Meanwhile the Swiss government announced that it would hold a high-level international conference in mid-Jun hoping to obtain a consensus for peace in Ukraine. The Ukrainian foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, was in Delhi in end March, to convince India to participate. The Swiss spokesperson mentioned that President Biden might attend but were uncertain on Russian participation, though they had approached Moscow.

          Shortfalls in support from the west and war fatigue have resulted in Ukrainian youth dodging enforced conscriptions. Euphoria of fighting for the nation has ended in Ukraine. Youth, within the draft age, are either moving abroad or bribing officials to avoid being conscripted. Zelensky has been warning the west claiming Ukraine may lose the war, opening doors for an invasion of Europe. The question remains as to what would constitute a Ukrainian defeat.

          It is unlikely that Russia will be in a position to capture Ukraine or even Kiev and compel the nation to submit. Nor would the world permit it. At best Russia could take Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city and its earlier capital. Simultaneously, despite all bravado, Kiev will never be able to regain lost territory including Crimea. Ukraine will remain a proxy of the west, continuing to battle with dwindling military support. For Washington, all losses in combat are acceptable, unless they are US soldiers.

Russia is expanding the war and determining where pressure must be applied. It possesses the resources. Kiev is forced to react and adopt defensive measures. While Russia has the population to recoup its losses, Ukraine does not. While Kiev is pushing for peace talks sticking to its original demand of withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory, Russia sits quietly, aware it holds the cards.

Funding fatigue is setting in amongst western nations. Added is US intent to arm Israel while it battles Hamas and other Iranian proxies. Israel is a priority state and cannot be permitted to fail as it remains a major US ally in the region. In case tensions rise in the Middle East, funding to Ukraine may be further impacted. In addition, in case Trump wins US elections, the whole scenario can reverse.

Nations in Europe are also re-considering funds they can allot for Ukraine. While Putin has not given any indication of his intent to challenge NATO, there is considerable concern in erstwhile USSR states, mainly Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. With Trump arriving again in the White House, Europe may have to recalibrate its military expenditure. It also has no intent to expand the war by joining in.

Talks have to ultimately happen as India had been insisting from the beginning. The stronger the Russian position on the ground the more difficult it would be for the west to reject its conditions. Its demands, apart from holding territory it considers as Russian, would include the resignation of Zelensky as also permanently stalling entry of Ukraine into NATO and the EU. It was solely on this subject that Russia launched its initial offensive. A full circle, immense destruction, high casualties, gross expenditure and zero end result.   


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