As the New Year approaches, it is a fair expectation that the big-power alignments in international politics will largely depend on the trajectory of the war in Ukraine. The current stalemate cannot last. Transform it must, and it will. The protagonists are conscious that they made mistakes. For Russia, there is profound realisation that its two main assumptions were deeply flawed — that with a display of shock and awe in February/March, the government in Kiev would cave in, and, two, that the US would not actively undermine a peace process.
Ten months into the conflict, the West is showing greater divergence on the Ukraine issue, with mounting calls for dialogue and diplomacy.
On the other hand, the US and its allies were overconfident of an early end to the war with Russia meeting its Waterloo. Whereas, the brutal reality today is that western sanctions not only failed to achieve their stated goal of denying Moscow the resources to fight a prolonged war but also boomeranged on the western economies, fragmenting global energy and commodity markets, which translated into headline inflation rates, with dramatic economic and political consequences. The West’s strategic goal of regime change in Russia turned out to be a chimera.
Russia is far from defeated. It ‘liberated’ an area in Donbass that is five times bigger than before February 24. The Sea of Azov has again become Russia’s internal sea as it was during 300 years of its history. Land connection with Crimea by road and rail has been restored. Rail service with Donbass will soon be returned to normal. Cargoes have been delivered to Mariupol, Berdyansk and other liberated ports for several months now. Control of the North Crimean Canal has made it possible to restore water supply to the Crimean Peninsula. A 194-km waterway from the Don river is under construction, which will guarantee water supply for Donetsk. Something like one-fifth of Ukrainian territory has become an integral part of Russia.
Russia is doubling down to pursue its military objectives. The chief of the Russian General Staff, Gen Valery Gerasimov stated at a briefing in Moscow on Thursday that Russia will continue the special military operation in defiance of the massive western aid to Ukraine. Russia is enhancing the combat readiness of the nuclear triad by rearming the strategic missile forces with hypersonic warheads, and may increase the size of the armed forces to 1.5 million service personnel. The alliance with Belarus is deepening, which gives Russia greater strategic depth in the north.
The current situation benefits the US, which seeks to take advantage of the proxy war with Russia to replace it as Europe’s top energy supplier extracting windfall profits, and boost arms exports to Ukraine under Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022 by deferring required payment for the transfer of weaponry as well as to NATO allies to replace the equipment supplied to Ukraine out of their inventories. In political terms, European allies have been reduced to a subaltern role.
However, the advantage lies with Russia. The mobilisation of 3 lakh people drafted into the armed forces gives Russia superior strength for the first time. The induction of advanced weaponry gives Russian forces massive firepower. The layered fortification of the line of contact, extending to some 815 km, makes it impossible for the Ukrainian military to make any breakthrough. Continued Russian missile strikes on Ukrainian critical infrastructure is undermining Kiev’s war effort. Most importantly, China has aligned with Russia strategically.
Ten months into the conflict, the West is showing greater divergence on the Ukraine issue, with mounting calls for dialogue and diplomacy. President Biden has admitted that France and Germany oppose any war with Russia, and ignoring that ‘would have a prospect of breaking up NATO and breaking up the European Union.’ Biden said this in the presence of President Zelensky.
France and Germany who constitute the European policy debate’s centre of gravity historically, see the war through the prism of their strategic interests focused on the wider Eurasian continent, which is fundamentally at odds with the Anglo-Saxon commentariat and northern and eastern European politicians. French President Emmanuel Macron recently said (after a visit to the US) that any peace deal would have to respect Russian security interests. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has also used similar words.
Berlin is in strategic communication with Beijing regarding Ukraine and is urging China to play a greater role. Indeed, Russia has in recent days repeatedly shown willingness to engage in dialogue, and can be expected to share its true feelings and thoughts on this issue with China. Thus, there is an intriguing dimension to the surprise visit by chairman of the United Russia party and former president Dmitry Medvedev to Beijing and his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping recently.
Xi and Medvedev discussed the Ukraine crisis. The Chinese readout said Xi ‘expressed the hope that relevant parties will remain rational and exercise restraint, engage in comprehensive dialogue, and address their common security concerns through political means.’ Xinhua News Agency cited Medvedev as saying that there are reasons for the Ukraine crisis, and it is very complicated, and Russia is willing to solve the problems through peace talks.
Beijing, with strong support from Germany and France, may opt to pursue a diplomatic settlement at some stage. For the present, though, time is not yet ripe for a peace agreement. The ‘winter offensive’ by the Russian forces will first run its course. An outcome keeping Russia down and restoring Ukraine’s pre-February borders is not to be expected. Even Biden no longer speaks of ‘total victory’. The western strategy of forcing Russia to its knees is not going to work.
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