The Ukraine War: What Lies Ahead?

The war in Ukraine entered in the sixth month. It was anticipated to be a quick battle when it started. As months go on, the conflict’s complexity worsens, deteriorating the global situation of oil and food scarcity. Now, the strategic objective of the Russian military is to go beyond the East of Ukraine. Kremlin wants to focus on the Southern regions of Ukraine invading Kherson, Severodonetsk, Donetsk, and Luhansk. In addition to setting up Russian bank branches and issuing Russian passports to the populace of these regions, Russia plans to organize referendums for these occupied territories. On the other hand, the West is already diluting its myriad sanctions against Russia since they are more detrimental to Europe than to Russia. The fact that the fight in Ukraine is moving from land to sea is another eminent development that has recently taken place. As a result of Russia’s invasion of the majority of Ukraine’s southern coastline and subsequent conversion of it into a landlocked state, the Sea of Azov and the Black Sea has emerged as the new geopolitical flashpoints in the country’s conflict. On the other hand, as Western assistance is about to decline, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is open to concession and open to abandoning his quest for NATO membership. 

Some recent developments in the Ukraine War may be mentioned to understand its future directions. Firstly, there is a divergence in Europe regarding the response to the Ukraine War. Moscow is waging a war in the backyard of Europe, but Europe can’t decide how to respond. There is a lack of unity on most issues like selling weapons to Ukraine, purchasing Russian oil and so on. 

Europe is now in a vehicle with four flat tires and is seated inside of it: It is abundantly evident that this strategy will not allow them to win the war. As a result, the European Union announced to amend its sanctions on Moscow allowing the unfreezing of some funds of top Russian banks that may be required to ease bottlenecks in the global trade of food and fertilizers. 

In 2021, it is anticipated that the European Union and the United Kingdom imported natural gas, petroleum products, and crude oil from Russia for $147.8 billion. Russia is a major supplier of energy to the EU, especially when it comes to pipeline-delivered natural gas. Following the Russia-Ukraine war, imports of gas and petroleum products have come under intense scrutiny as the EU works to wean itself off of its reliance on Russian gas and oil.

Secondly, Western support for Ukraine is following a decline and is only confined to merely military aid and sanctions. The Western approach to Ukraine can be perceived based on four tenets: 1. Ukraine can defeat Russia militarily with NATO weaponry, 2. sanctions will weaken and destabilize Russia’s government, 3. sanctions will affect Russia more than Europe, and 4. the rest of the world will stand with Europe. However, this policy has failed as European countries are falling like dominoes, energy prices have risen, and a fresh approach is a crying need. On both sides of the Atlantic, inflation is surging, in part due to the war’s aftereffects.

Thirdly, Russia and Ukraine signed a grain deal agreement brokered by Turkey and the United Nations. These agreements paved the way for the export of millions of tons of Ukrainian grain, as well as Russian grain and fertilizer, both of which were urgently needed. The UN, the West, and the EU instantly embraced the agreement as it is an unprecedented development between two parties embroiled in a bloody conflict which can be a new turning point that will rekindle hope for peace. 

Fourthly, Western strategy in Ukraine is at a standstill on the battlefield. Western resolve to undertake a forceful, values-based response is eroding as the war gets longer. Europe seems to be divided on Ukraine even though NATO members intend to come together at their recent summit in Madrid. More pressing security issues for nations like Italy, Spain, and even France are in North Africa and the Sahel, as well as the potential for a fresh migrant catastrophe. 

The political viability of economic penalties is also in doubt given rising prices and sluggish economic growth. The West’s fight against Russia has not always gained widespread backing outside of Europe. On the other hand, the sanctions against Russia didn’t work as expected. West anticipated the collapse of the Russian economy with its sanctions and alienation from the international market. However, European sanctions are basically boomeranged. Now the twenty-seven EU members are scrambling to fill their gas storage. 

Finally, the strategic miscalculation of Zelensky regarding the support of the West is becoming gradually visible. Zelensky promised to defend every inch of Ukraine’s territory but now he got a taste of the reality of overestimating Western support. The economy of Ukraine was devasted due to the ongoing crisis. The collateral damages are unbearable. 

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) verified a total of 5,237 civilian deaths during Russia’s military attack on Ukraine as of July 24, 2022. Furthermore, 7,035 people were reported to have been injured. However, OHCHR specified that the real numbers could be higher. Before the war started, the West promised all kinds of support to Ukraine. However, when the time came, NATO stood back and watched. Now, Zelensky’s optimism has come to an end observing the repercussions of his miscalculations regarding the Ukraine war. 

Right now, Russia is enjoying a kind of leverage regarding the Ukraine war as the West’s artificially orchestrated financial crisis has failed to collapse its economy or political order. However, the West has not yet abandoned its desire to demote Russia, and as a result, it disapproves of the peace talks being held by Ukraine. The Ukraine issue will worsen if both the West and Russia are unwilling to talk.

[Photo by JnoCC BY-SA 1.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Saume Saptparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs, Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

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