Is the War in Ukraine Nearing its End or Will it Get More Destructive?
Is the War in Ukraine Nearing its End or Will it Get More Destructive?
The war in Ukraine is into its fourth week. Destruction continues. Civilian infrastructure and buildings are targeted. Civilian casualties are increasing. Around three million Ukrainians have fled their country.
Russia insists that civilians are not being targeted and everything is going according to plan. That is hardly the case.
The Russian military has been able to advance on several fronts, but is facing fierce resistance. Russia is suffering losses and taking heavy casualties on the field. It is said that it has lost around 30 percent of its military capacity (human and machine) that it is engaged in Ukraine. It is also said that Russian casualties for each day are somewhere between 300 to 500.
The increasing number of coffins carrying bodies of Russian conscripts back home will make internal opposition even stronger.
In case of a prolonged war and especially in case of urban warfare, costs will be even higher. Kadirov’s Chechens, Wagner mercenaries and Syrians are in Ukraine not without reason.
Russia has miscalculated and is isolated.
- It underestimated the determination and fighting spirit of Ukrainians.
- It underestimated Zelensky, whose wartime leadership performance has inspired Ukrainians.
- It underestimated the West, which is united in standing up against Russia’s aggression, unlike in the cases of Georgia and Crimea and also Syria.
Russia has very few friends left. The vote in the United Nations General Assembly on March 2 was very clear about the feeling against Russia.
I would emphasize at this point the saddening incapacity of the United Nations, whose main purpose, as enshrined in Article 1, is “to maintain international peace and security, to take effective collective measures for the prevention and removal of threats to the peace…”.
The structure of the Security Council has become the main obstacle to the Organization in its efforts to do its job. The war in Ukraine is yet another clear case for the need to reform the United Nations and in particular its Security Council.
In the economic field, even though Russia is among the very top natural gas and oil producers and has central bank reserves amounting to $643 billion dollars, sanctions are hurting and this is only the beginning. Putin lashed out on his own oligarchs which shows that sanctions imposed on them have been serving their purpose.
Putin has taken a very serious risk. His reputation, leadership and political future could be at stake. A clear failure of the campaign in Ukraine would strengthen opposition and could eventually lead to his downfall. Thus, Putin cannot go back empty handed.
NATO’s position: The Russian invasion of Ukraine had a uniting effect on NATO. Allies are now mush closer to each other and with a renewed and strengthened spirit of comradeship.
NATO (and its leading country, the United States) has made its position clear from the outset that it will not send troops to Ukraine, nor will it close the airspace as the Ukrainian president has asked for, because such steps would lead to direct confrontation with Russia and war.
NATO also made it very clear that any harm to any of the Allies will activate Article 5 (collective defense) and it will not hesitate to act.
On the other hand, individual NATO member states have a free hand in supplying weapons for self-defense to Ukraine. The US has allocated millions of dollars for this purpose and a couple of days ago, President Biden signed a bill for an additional 200 million dollars for military equipment.
That same day, NATO defense ministers held an extraordinary meeting at the NATO Headquarters in Brussels. Finland, Sweden, Georgia and the European Union were also present. The Ukrainian minister of defense briefed them on the latest developments.
Finland, Sweden and NATO, which already had an active and advanced cooperation partnership, are now even closer. In Finland, a survey found that 62 percent of respondents were in favor of Finland applying for NATO membership. NATO and the European Union, under these extraordinary times, are also institutionally closer.
NATO leaders will meet at an extraordinary session next week in Brussels. We may expect clear messages of resolve and in case of a potential ceasefire agreement, maybe even more.
There have been a number of diplomatic efforts including those of France, Israel, Turkey and some others.
The Russian and Ukranian foreign ministers met for the first time since the war began, actually for the first time in some years, at the margins of the Antalya Security Forum on March 10. Later, the Turkish foreign minister went to Moscow, then onto Lviv in Ukraina, and met with his counterparts.
As far as what is revealed to the public, the results of these meetings can be summarized as messages rather than concrete advances.
In the meantime, Russian and Ukranian delegations met for the fourth time. They have a draft paper and are discussing on a concrete basis. There is talk about a 15-point plan. Russia has confirmed it, Ukraine says it is only Russian demands at this stage. In any case, there is something and it should not be long before we know more.
Yesterday evening President Putin talked to Turkey’s President Erdoğan on the phone. According to what the Turkish president’s top advisor shared with the press after their conversation, Putin spelled out the following:
- Ukraine should be neutral and NATO membership should be dropped.
- Ukraine should undergo a disarmament process.
- There should be de-nazification in Ukraine and the Russian language must be protected.
- Issues regarding (the status of) Donbas and Crimea are to be decided.
There are no surprises in what Putin has put forward. These are obvious issues which any ceasefire or peace deal should include.
I have the following comments:
- The withdrawal of Russian forces from occupied Ukrainian territories is imperative, but which territories could be a matter of debate.
- The independent republics of Luhansk and Donetsk joining Russia at a later stage is a possibility, but unlikely. A more likely scenario should be the Donbas region as a whole remaining part of Ukraine, but with a status of advanced autonomy, coupled with guaranteed rights for the Russian minority there and elsewhere.
- In the case of Crimea, a reversal of Russia’s annexation seems to be quite remote, if not impossible.
- Russian demands for a Russia friendly government and demilitarization of Ukraine are not even remotely serious, I think.
- Russia’s demand for security guarantees (no NATO membership for Ukraine, no deployment of NATO troops and weapons on its territory, neutrality/non-alignment) are probably easier issues to agree on.
Moving beyond bilateral:
- An updated European security structure should be there to alleviate alleged security concerns. The Vienna Document on confidence and security building measures, disarmament and arms control measures and Open Skies like mechanisms may be the answer.
To conclude, the international community has shown this time that aggression will not go unanswered. Clearly, Ukraine is the victim and Russia the aggressor.
Putin’s aim may be to make Russia great again, but in reality, he is making Russia and himself weaker and vulnerable.
There are some hope raising moves to bring the war to an end. For the sake of success, both sides should be able to have something that can be presented as a victory or achievement. That is where political leadership, tough decisions and creative diplomacy are most needed.