Last week saw fierce battles continue around the city of Bakhmut, Donetsk region. Meanwhile, foreign policy work focused on the less public, but ardent struggle, for the provision of new modern weapons for the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), along with generators, transformers and financial resources to restore Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

In other important developments, a major international donor conference took place to agree on financial assistance to help restore Ukraine’s critical infrastructure; and Ukraine tackled its “homework” as a candidate for membership of the European Union (EU)

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Read more about these and other events in the weekly review prepared by the Information Defense Project.

General Zaluzhnyi’s signals to Western partners

On Dec. 15, the Commander-in-Chief of the AFU, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, gave an interview to authoritative Western magazine The Economist. Since the publication is primarily read by the Western elite, it was no doubt a considered choice for disseminating the General’s current assessment and main theses.

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What signals did the interview send to the West?

First, Zaluzhnyi identified three main strategic tasks for the defense forces: to hold existing lines; prepare for a possible February offensive by the aggressor, including in the direction of Kyiv; and to ensure the country’s air defenses, as energy infrastructure teeters on the brink of collapse.

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Second, Zaluzhnyi emphasized that, to finish these tasks, he does not need new fighters or, a new wave of mobilization, but he does need equipment – specifically 300 new tanks, 600-700 infantry fighting vehicles (BMPs) and 500 howitzers.

With such forces, Zaluzhnyi believes it is possible not only to stop the advance of the Russian invaders, but to carry out planned new attacks.

And what do our Western partners think?

It seems that they fully understand the AFU’s needs, which Zaluzhnyi has conveyed both publicly, and in private conversations. From expressing their “deep concern” about mass rocket terror and the total destruction of civilian infrastructure, they seem to have taken tangible steps.

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I would not be surprised if it is officially announced in the near future that Ukraine will take delivery of the ultra-modern Patriot air defense/anti-missile systems. It should also be noted that German Leopard-2 tanks and Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighters have already been sent to Ukraine. Such supplies could finally change the strategic situation at the front in favor of Ukraine.

Bakhmut trench warfare

Heavy and fierce battles are taking place in and around Bakhmut, which has been termed, including by Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the infamous Wagner mercenary group, the “Bakhmut meat grinder.” This is a reference to the “Verdun meat grinder” – a ferocious ten-month battle for Verdun, France, during the First World War.

But we should not repeat the infamous Verdun experience, where each side believed that another reserve battalion sent to the front would tip the scales in their favor.

We should instead look for “another solution”, as was the case in the Battle of Stalingrad, which saw the 6th German army of Field Marshal Paulus surrounded by more than 90,000 soldiers.

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The situation remains difficult and hectic, but we are convinced that with the military and technical assistance of the West, the AFU can eventually claim the much-desired – albeit expensive, in all senses of this wordvictory.

International assistance to restore critical infrastructure

On Dec. 13, representatives from 45 countries and 20 international organizations convened at a donor conference in Paris to discuss support for Ukraine against the backdrop of constant missile attacks on critical infrastructure by the Russian aggressor.

Almost one billion euros in aid was announced to help Ukrainians survive the winter: Some 415 million euros will be allocated to the energy sector, 25 million euros to water supply, 38 million euros to food, 17 million euros to health care and 22 million euros to transport.

The conference and package of one billion euros sends a powerful signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime – namely that the international community will not abandon Ukrainians in the face of the cold winter, and will help restore the Ukrainian energy system and key infrastructure destroyed in Russian airstrikes.

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EU integration and “homework” for Ukraine

In spring 2022, Ukraine received candidate status for membership of the European Union (EU). However, to move forward, Ukraine has “homework” to do, consisting of seven points:

1.     Carry out a reform of the selection of judges of the Constitutional Court, complete the integrity check of the members of the High Council of Justice, and carry out the selection of candidates for the High Qualification Commission of Judges;

2.     Strengthen the fight against corruption, in particular, at the highest level, appoint a new head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAP) and a new director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU);

3.     Ensure compliance with anti-money laundering legislation to meet Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards;

4.     Adopt a comprehensive strategic plan for reforming law enforcement structures;

5.     Introduce a real mechanism for the implementation of anti-oligarchic law in accordance with the conclusions of the Venice Commission;

6.     Adopt a law on mass media, which harmonizes the legislation of Ukraine with the EU Directive on audiovisual media services; and

7.     Complete the reform of legislation on national minorities in accordance with the recommendations of the Venice Commission.

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In a step forward, the Verkhovna Rada on Dec. 13 adopted three laws under the status of “European integration,” which introduced new competition rules for the appointment of members of the Constitutional Court, defined new rules for the media, and introduced regulation covering the status of national minorities.

However, upon analyzing Ukraine’s "homework", the Coalition “Resuscitation Package of Reforms” is convinced that "the implementation of none of the recommendations of the European Commission has been completed so far.” This, it says, depends on the adoption of relevant bills by the Verkhovna Rada (some have already been adopted, but others have not and need more votes), as well as on the completion of tenders for anti-corruption and judicial institutions.”

That said, the Council of the European Union noted the significant efforts Ukraine has made to achieving the goals defined in the recommendations of the European Commission regarding candidate status.

The EU plans to present its first assessment of Ukraine’s progress and recommendations for “working on mistakes” in October 2023.

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On the one hand, this gives Kyiv time to finish its “homework” and correct political mistakes, and, on the other hand, time to speed up the start of negotiations on EU membership.

Bringing Putin to justice

Finally, the leaders of the G7 group of nations, which with Ukraine's participation is increasingly turning into the “Big Eight,” emphasized in their statement that “we will bring President Putin and his entourage to justice in accordance with international law.”

Let me remind you that, in recent days, French President Macron announced the need to provide some guarantees to Russia and Putin.

Today, we are talking only about guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with the norms of international law for Putin and his henchmen.

Ihor Zhdanov is a co-founder of the Open Policy Foundation, a National Government Organization (NGO) in Ukraine.

 The views expressed are the author’s and not necessarily those of Kyiv Post.

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