It is interesting how the dominant media narrative over the course of this war has/is changing since the full scale invasion on February 24, 2022.
Herein we can see a number of distinct phases:
First, from the early days when it appeared to be around the idea that a Russian victory was inevitable within days/weeks;
Second, months in and the realisation that the plucky Ukrainian defenders could resist for some time but were still ultimately vulnerable/doomed to defeat as Putin went thru the gears and was prepared to cross red lines (WMDs). The idea was still that he wanted Ukraine more than the West, and was prepared to win the battle of escalation.
Third, to a realisation, or relief, that Putin had limits and was not prepared to use means which ultimately got him into a direct fight with NATO or annoyed the Chinese, WMD, et al. The realisation that Putin had limits, and that the West could push him by going thru the gears in supplying ever more sophisticated military kit, without the risk of escalation to NATO.
Fourth, the period last autumn when Ukraine achieved major counteroffensive victories in Khakhiv and Kherson and the realisation then that Western weapons could eventually lead to Ukraine’s victory;
Fifth, then to the hard slog of Bakhmut, and Russia’s offensive against Ukraine’s key infrastructure, and the play for more time to allow those Western weapons and training to come, so that eventually the spring counteroffensive could deliver;
Sixth, the greet expectation then placed on that the Spring Offensive, and hope that Russian forces could collapse quickly under pressure from better motivated, and trained, Ukrainian troops, equipped with better Western weapons;
Seventh, a brief interlude of the days around the Wagner mutiny and hope that this could also see a speedy disintegration of Russian forces in Ukraine;
Eighth, growing disappointment, and a realisation, that given delays in securing Western kit for Ukraine, Russia was given enough time to build a formidable system of defences in Eastern Ukraine to slow/halt the Spring offensive. The latter has been dominant up to a few weeks ago, and perhaps a malaise set in that Ukraine simply could not break the land bridge in southern Ukraine, with some then arguing that to prevent a long war Ukraine had to concede ground - quite literally - in peace talks with Russia.
Criticism here seemed levelled at Ukraine and Ukrainian commanders for not doing enough to retake the initiative.
The view seemed to be that Russia had now retaken the advantage and could just wear Ukraine down, and out wait it, until US elections brought Trump back to power, and then the assumption that he would pull support for Ukraine, forcing Kyiv to bow to Russian pressure and its demands;
Ninth, and I think now a new phase is emerging that with some gains, however modest, on the battlefield around Robotnye, and leaving scope for a push to Topmak, Ukraine which could still leave the land corridor to Crimea vulnerable.
The attached CEPA.org piece sums up the latest nuance quite well. But the idea I think is that the counteroffensive still has time, and that it does not have to push all Russian forces out of Ukraine, but my moving to within striking range of the land corridor, and making it, and Crimea, insecure, that should be enough of a victory to put it in the prime position in the end game - either in continued warfare or negotiations.
I would add in here Ukraine’s move to take the war to Russia itself, with numerous drone strikes now on Moscow, and military facilities in Russia itself. And also a marked increase in Ukrainian strikes on Crimea itself - with a pyrotechnical show last week with the destruction of a Russian S400 missile system in Crimea.
I think all this is trying to push back on the idea that time is on Russia’s side, and herein Ukraine is demonstrating that it can make life very difficult for Russia, Russians and Putin. The war is coming home to Russia. And, with attacks in Crimea itself, and the land corridor and the Kerch bridge, and Russian shipping in the Black Sea coming under attack the clear message is that while the invasion was partially sold as an effort to improve Russian security, it has made Crimea and Russia less secure for Russian forces. And it is only going to get worse as long as this invasion continues.
The Ukrainian side are sending a clear message that they are in this for the long haul, they have no other place to go. Notable herein I think it is counter to the view that Ukraine only has an 18 month window, until potentially Trump takes back power in February 2025, to fight, after this Western arms and financing will stop, and Russia will again inevitably win. Perhaps that is supposed to be the tenth phase for some.
The problem with the latter, and which I think is now panning out in the ninth phase I detail above is how Trump winning, withdrawing support for Ukraine, still inevitably leads to a speedy win for Russia. Even in that scenario, I don’t see how Russia enforces a win against a country that refuses to surrender, is willing to continue the fight, still has plenty and likely even more Western military kit by then, and likely still financing from European, and non U.S. allies. Ukraine can still drag on the war for Russia a very long time after February 2025, making this a still massive drain on Russia, it’s economy and population.
I guess the above suggests that the Ukrainians are signalling that everything does not just rest on the counteroffensive, but they still have plenty of options which are all bad, even worse, for Russia. So the message still for Russia is concede now, or things only get much worse. It is a message of defiance still, and unity - opinion polls show no change in Ukrainians willingness to fight.
Just on this Trump idea of stopping funding for Ukraine, and the war will stop. What does that look like, even if Russia was able to enforce the military win? I think that means mass out migration from Ukraine - think tens of millions of Ukrainians moving West, and the largest migration Europe has seen since WW2. That would suggest that even should Trump halt funding for Ukraine, Europe has no choice but to continue to give Ukraine the cash and equipment to stop Russia. So in Trump’s scenario, the war will not stop, but slowing or halting weapons support to Ukraine will just extend the war, and the destruction and instability in Europe. It will just weaken Europe, a key ally still of the US, and therein undermine the US in its seemingly pre-eminent battle for hegemony with China. A victory for Russia in Ukraine will be a huge geopolitical defeat for the U.S., and a win for not only Russia, but China. But that is just a bit too obvious for Trump and his crew.
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