At the German Marshall Fund (GMF) in Washington, experts discussed the course of Russia’s war with Ukraine and its immediate prospects.
Lesya Vasilenko, People’s Deputy of Ukraine, recalled how, some time before the Russian invasion, she, as a member of a Ukrainian delegation, went to New York at the UN headquarters and asked foreign diplomats what they would do if a war broke out?
“The answer was that Ukraine should just give up. That “it makes no sense to help Ukraine and supply Ukraine” with any kind of weapons, because Russia has the second largest army world, that this country spans 10 different time zones, “so Ukraine has no chance of surviving. Such responses were extremely insulting,” Vasilenko recalls.
Vasilenko noted that the West was “painfully slow” to react to the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and “almost as slow to react” over the past year.
“It was only very recently, when it became clear to Western democracy that Ukraine is the only tool capable of stopping, or at least suspending the imperialist war waged by Russia, that the decisions finally began to allocate the necessary weapons. But what a waste of time! Can you imagine how many tank brigades could be formed this year? How many military pilots could be trained? However, whenever the issue of military assistance was raised, the response was initially: “You will never get these weapons,” Vasilenko recalls.
The Ukrainian parliamentarian recalls that the first words many Ukrainians learned in English and other languages were “courage and resistance”.
“We didn’t know we had it, and the world didn’t know you could be this resilient, but when you fight for your life, when you fight for your very existence, when you fight an existential war, you you have no choice but not to be persistent,” Lesya stressed.
Kateryna Stepanenko, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War (Kateryna Stepanenko, Russian analyst, Institute for the Study of War), fully agrees that the training of Ukrainian military personnel would have could have started even before decisions were taken on the supply of arms. Furthermore, she noted that she disagreed with the conventional argument that “the situation at the front remains unclear all the time.”
“The Ukrainians have constantly reported the development of the situation at the front. And now it is absolutely clear that during the winter they are preparing for a counter-offensive, ”said Kateryna Stepanenko.
“Now we see that Russia is trying to take the initiative. They are preparing a decisive operation. Russia is gathering troops, having mobilized around 300,000 men, who are currently being trained, although some are being sent to the front lines in areas of the Luhansk region,” Stepanenko explained.
The analyst considers the Liman region to be the most likely direction for Russia’s offensive operation. She is sure that the Russians have a “very short window of time” for an attack, and the degree of their training remains “very questionable, given that they have sent military personnel to Belarus for training, which suggests that they do not have sufficient training capacity”.
“The West must understand that this possible Russian attack will require significant resources from Russia, which, as the previous months have shown, they are unable to focus on. This should be a good basis for the success of the Ukrainian counter-offensive. At this time, Western support will be crucial for Ukraine, especially in late spring and summer 2023,” Stepanenko concluded.
The fighting spirit does not dry up: the army is waiting for weapons
Given that a number of Western analysts, despite the previous successes of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, continue to speculate on Ukraine’s diminishing capabilities, Kateryna Stepanenko, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, suggested “not to engage in political assessments”, but to examine the capabilities and capabilities of a particular army at any given time.
“The Ukrainians have repeatedly proven their ability to integrate Western equipment that has entered service by planning their operations. Whether NASAMS, whether HIMARS or Javelin, they have effectively used each of these means to carry out counter-offensives to liberate the occupied territories. The Ukrainians are playing the long game. They don’t abandon their fighters like, for example, “PMC Wagner” does. They fight strategically,” Stepanenko explained.
Moreover, according to experts, the high morale of the Ukrainian Armed Forces is still important.
Verkhovna Rada deputy Vasilenko recalled how “men and women lined up, wanting to be called out, wanting to go and do whatever they could for their country.”
“It is important to understand what Ukrainian society is,” she said, “we have an understanding of freedom ‘at the molecular level’. All resources can be taken away from the Ukrainian people, but one cannot even try to take away freedom. And we have a very deep understanding of justice,” said the Ukrainian parliamentarian.
Ukraine’s military in the UK being trained to use the latest missile systems (file photo)
Ukraine – an outpost of democracy
Currently, according to the deputy of the Ukrainian parliament, Ukraine “is a key part of global defense and security, especially in the defense and security system of Europe.” At the same time, Russia is now the “number one threat” to international security.
The global defense and security sector is such that weapons and ammunition are “simply not enough” and more production is needed. Ukraine, in “its interest and in the interest of the West”, is already developing this production in the west of the country, as well as in Poland, near its eastern borders.
Vasilenko drew attention to the fact that Russia “started making alliances with other totalitarian regimes” such as North Korea and Iran. Since these countries and some countries of the “Global South” supply Russia with components and critical elements for the military industry, this is “another challenge, not only for Ukraine, but also for the West “.
Kateryna Stepanenko of the Institute for the Study of War suggests that Ukraine has “two or three rather difficult months ahead”.
“Putin is preparing for a protracted war. So, to win this war, Ukraine will need consistent long-term support from the West. And the longer Russia can fight such a slow and debilitating war, the longer this whole war will go on. Thus, the sooner Ukraine receives the necessary resources, the sooner peace will come,” Stepanenko believes.
MP Lesya Vasilenko fully agrees with this: “Russia is a master of protracted conflicts: it knows how to ‘wear out’ its adversaries, as well as all those who help opponents. And we have to be aware of that. Every delay in taming Russian aggression weakens democracy.
The Ukrainian parliamentarian believes that this “war of the beginning of the 21st century is a consequence of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the communist bloc”. This historical inertia imposed by Russia must be replaced and “displaced by the victory of democracy”.
Vasilenko urged “to continue talking about the need to support Ukraine”, the “inevitability of consequences” for Russia, such as “the confiscation of its assets”, the continuation of “the isolation of the Russia on the international stage”. According to her, Russia “now has neither the moral right nor the legal right to sit on the UN Security Council, to have the right of veto and to hold the whole world hostage”.
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