There is no hiding the fact that across key Western nations the mood is darkening in relation to the Ukraine war.
Kyiv’s counter-offensive, which transfixed the world’s attention throughout most of this year, is now widely seen as a costly failure. When the Ukrainian army began its much-anticipated push back in June, this column warned of the “worst-case scenario” where Kyiv’s “ painstakingly-assembled strike force…is shattered against the Russian defences for little or no strategic gain.”
Unfortunately, the worst has come to pass. Despite huge losses – very likely, vastly under-estimated in official reports from Kyiv – the brave Ukrainian forces hardly even made it to Russia’s first main line of defence.
The Russians decided to defend forward and rely on constant counter-attacks rather than fall back as expected. This was also very costly to them, but General Gerasimov can more easily replace the gaps in his armies’ ranks than General Zaluzhny is able to on the Ukrainian side.
As Russia has also managed – again, against Western expectations – to maintain an adequate flow of war materiel to the front, the net result is that Moscow has now largely compensated for the mistakes of its 2022 campaign.
Meanwhile, Kyiv is on the backfoot. Fairly minor river crossings in Kherson aside, Ukraine is now hard pressed on the defensive at Avdiivka, an important bastion in the Donbas. President Zelensky and his top general have been as forthright as they can be in acknowledging the difficult situation at present and the dangers ahead.
The grim situation on the battlefield is combining with both political fatigue in the West and with the knock-on effects of the crisis in the Middle East, to create a vicious circle.
Increasingly, politicians in the US and Europe are holding up the war aid because the Ukrainians are not making progress; and the Ukrainians are not making progress because politicians are increasingly holding up the war aid. The US Congress is still blocking some $60 billion in military support for Kyiv, while the EU’s current €50 billion aid package is also in limbo for now.
But it is too early to jump to conclusions. If the West can ride out the current political wobble and keep Kyiv in the fight, there is every chance that the situation can be turned around, especially over the longer term.
Ukraine’s military difficulties are by no means terminal. In war things change. On current trends, Russia appears to be building an advantage going into 2024, but it needs to be building a much bigger – i.e. “decisive” – advantage in order to mount a major offensive of its own and overcome Ukrainian defences. That is a very tall order.
Against this backdrop, the great paradox is that the West appears to be losing its nerve just when some of the deeper defence-industrial trends that are fundamental to Ukraine’s war effort – and that have worked against it so far – are now starting to turn, particularly as regards ammunition production.
This is a rapidly-expanding success story but because it is unfolding in the background and its details are perhaps a bit more tedious, it is not getting the coverage it deserves – but it should.
Read the rest at Brussels Signal.
Gabriel Eleftieru is a fellow at Yorktown Institute.