The West needs to keep its cool when it comes to Ukraine

Is the Ukraine war finally turning on Vladimir Putin? The Russian army is pushing forward in the Donbass. If Putin’s military can conquer Ukraine’s industrial heartland and cut the land off the sea, Ukraine’s survival as a viable state would be jeopardized.

This grim scenario is certainly possible. But it’s not inevitable — or even likely. However, to prevent a sham Russian victory, the western coalition behind Ukraine must keep its cool and increase its support for Kyiv. The momentum of the war must shift back to Ukraine before there is any prospect of an acceptable peace settlement.

The war in Ukraine is essentially being fought on three fronts and between three protagonists. The first front is the battlefield itself. The second front is economic. The third front is the battle of wills. The three participants are Russia, Ukraine and the western alliance behind Ukraine.

The Ukrainians are increasing nervous because they fear western support is waning. You know that in a direct fight with Russia, Ukraine has an advantage only on the third front – the battle of wills. As a country fighting for its freedom and independence, Ukrainians are much better motivated.

When it comes to firepower and economics, however, the bilateral advantage tilts toward Moscow. Russia has more heavy artillery and more aircraft than Ukraine, and it’s finally making that clear in the Donbas. Sabine Fischer, a German scientist, says the mood in Moscow “pivots back to ‘we can win this thing'”. Russia has suffered heavy casualties, but so has Ukraine. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said recently that his country is losing up to 100 men a day. Actual number may be higher.

Ukraine has also suffered much more serious economic damage than Russia. The Russian economy is expected to shrink by 12 to 15 percent this year. But Ukraine’s economy, which is smaller anyway, is expected to do so contract by 45 percent.

Aside from higher morale, the great advantage of Ukraine is the support of the West. If the Western alliance gives the Ukrainians the weapons and economic aid they need, the balance of the war will swing back toward Kyiv.

There was palpable nervousness among the large Ukrainian delegation at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week that Western support might wane. Ukrainians are alarmed by the slowdown in arms shipments from the US and Germany, making it harder to repel the Russian advance. They fear that Western countries will focus more on their own economic problems than Ukraine’s plight until September.

They fear some countries – likely led by France or Germany – will stick to illusory peace talks and drastically reduce support for Ukraine. These Ukrainian fears will have been raised by the recent ones Phone call between Putin and Olaf Scholz and Emmanuel Macron, the leaders of Germany and France.

These fears are understandable. But I think (and hope) they are wrong. scholz Speech in Davos showed a clear understanding of what is at stake in Ukraine. The Chancellor argued that Russia was waging an imperialist war and declared that “Putin must not win”. Importantly, the Germans are saying the same thing in private – they insist they have no intention of forcing Ukraine to cede territory and have full intention of delivering the promised arms.

If the West keeps its cool, keeps its promises and accelerates arms deliveries, the pressure on the Ukrainians to make territorial or other concessions to Moscow will ease. With heavier weapons, the Ukrainians should be able to repel the Russians and then push them back. Professor Laurent freedman points out that “Russia now has to defend a long front and a considerable occupied territory. Its forces are already overstretched and Moscow is scrambling to find reserves.”

On the economic front, however, Russia’s position could weaken dramatically over time. The Russian army has lost much military equipment. Replacing it is very difficult in an economy battered by Western sanctions.

The Russians are so short on semiconductors now, they say they are use computer chips from dishwashers and refrigerators in military equipment. The US government claims Russia lost around 1,000 tank in combat and that two of the country’s tank manufacturers had to stop production due to missing components.

The financial pressure on Putin is also increasing. At present, Russia still receives about 1 billion euros from the export of oil and gas. But the EU plans to end imports of Russian oil by the end of the year and drastically reduce gas imports as soon as possible. Germany is building and renting now new terminals for the import of liquid natural gas, which will allow the process of cutting off gas imports from Russia to begin in earnest next year. The Russians do not have the pipelines to divert this gas to China and are therefore facing a catastrophic blow to their public finances.

The prospect of a long war is frightening. But as long as the Russian government abandons its goal of conquering new territory in Ukraine, there can be no prospect of genuine peace talks. That might only work if Putin’s troops run out of equipment and his government runs out of money.

gideon.rachman@ft.com

https://www.ft.com/content/5d415345-e9cf-4138-80d3-debdf9396d72 The West needs to keep its cool when it comes to Ukraine

Adam Bradshaw

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