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A decisive moment

Already, there are voices in the United States and Europe questioning the duration of the West’s support for Ukraine given the precarious economic state in most Western nations

Harsh V. Pant Published 15.06.23, 04:55 AM
For Ukraine, a lot rides on this counter-offensive as Western support is unlikely to continue in perpetuity.

For Ukraine, a lot rides on this counter-offensive as Western support is unlikely to continue in perpetuity. Sourced by the Telegraph.

Ukraine’s president, Vo­l­odymyr Zelensky, made it clear recently that the much-awaited cou­nter-offensive of his na­tion against Russia has beg­un. With this, the war in Uk­raine has entered a new phase: some are anticipating a dangerous escalation while others view this as an opportunity to start a negotiating process to bring some sort of conclusion to the conflict.

As part of the counter-offensive, Ukrainian troops seem to have made advances in the southern and eastern parts of the country. While acknowledging the offensive, the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has suggested that attempted advances by Ukrainian forces have failed. Ukraine’s troops had been probing Russian defences for months now and the latest moves are an extension of those operations. If, last year, Ukraine surprised the world by not only putting up a strong defence in the initial phase of the conflict, denying the Russian forces their surge into Kyiv, but also retaking Kharkiv and Kherson later in the year, the latest offensive seems to be focused on the key Zaporizhzhia region. But the calamitous flooding caused by the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam could constrain Ukrainian options in the region.


Russian defences, though vulnerable, remain strongly fortified. But Russia has also suffered from huge costs, especially in the realm of manpower. As friction has grown between the Kremlin and the Wagner mercenary group, Moscow has tried to assert its control by suggesting that “volunteer formations” would be required to enter into contracts directly with the ministry of defence. This was strongly repudiated by the Wagner boss, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Preparations for this counter-offensive have been going on for some months with Ukraine rallying West­ern support and trying to push a narrative that with re­quisite support, victory wo­uld be within the reach of its forces. Despite reservations in some quarters, most Western nations came out in support and Ukraine ended up receiving the Patriot air defence system from the United States of America and Germany as well as ‘Storm Shadow’ cruise missiles from the United Kingdom. Justin Trudeau also announced new military aid for Ukraine to the tune of 500 million Canadian dollars.

For Ukraine, a lot rides on this counter-offensive as Western support is unlikely to continue in perpetuity. Al­ready, there are voices in the US and Europe questioning the duration of the West’s sup­port for Ukraine given the pre­carious economic state in most Western nations. A lea­dership change in any of the major nations can tilt the scale against Ukraine. Don­ald Trump, for example, has questioned Joe Biden’s co­mmitment to Ukraine. Ru­s­sia only has to wait and wat­ch. Putin has been banking on the divisions among Ukrainian allies to break the will of the Ukrainians. So far, he has not had much success but Zelensky recognises that Western support won’t be an open-ended affair and that it is reaching a tipping point.

It is this that makes this moment in the Ukraine war an important one. It is clear from the war efforts of the last 15-odd months that Russia, despite its overwhelming mi­litary superiority to begin with, has not been able to give Ukraine a decisive jolt. Ukraine has been successful in pushing back Russian forces time and again from key areas with the help of Western technology and the sheer force of will. But Russia has time on its side. For Ukraine, it is now important to make some decisive gains on the battlefield so that it can go to the negotiating table on a position of strength. The West would also like some sort of a settlement soon so that the economic toll this war has taken can be ameliorated. But would Putin, after destroying the reputation of Russia as a credible military force, be interested in a negotiated settlement? Whichever way this latest counter-offensive goes, it will have a significant bearing not only on the Ukraine war but also on the emerging global order.

Harsh V. Pant is Professor of International Relations, King's College London

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