Wednesday June 01, 2022

Policy and strategy twists in Ukraine war

Policy and strategy twists in Ukraine war

Demonstrators demand an embargo on Russian oil during a protest in front of EU institutions prior to an extraordinary meeting of EU leaders to discuss Ukraine, energy and food security at the Europa building in Brussels. AP

Two major developments in the Ukraine war have been the decision of Russia to focus on eastern Ukraine territory, especially the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, and the European Union (EU) leaders agreeing in Brussels to cut off 90 per cent cure oil by end of 2022 and refined products by early 2023. The Russian resolve to take eastern Ukraine was made by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday. The Russian war aims have changed since Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24. The earlier aim was to demilitarise Ukraine, and to eliminate the ultra-nationalist Ukrainian groups which was called de-Nazification. After three months of war and in the face of stiff Ukrainian resistance, Russian strategy had to be modified, and what seems possible is the consolidation of Russian control of eastern parts of Ukraine. It has to be seen to what extent the EU embargo on import of Russian oil would weaken the Russian economy and how it would enable Ukraine to survive.

Meanwhile, Russian talks with Turkey seem to suggest that Russia would be amenable to let Ukrainian ports function, which would enable Ukraine to export grains. But Russia is insisting that the freedom of navigation should be guaranteed in the Black Sea and n the Sea of Azov. Meanwhile, the United States had decided that it would not give Ukrainians missiles that would reach into Russian territory, and Russia has described the American decision as rational. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky continued to criticise the EU for being too soft on Russia, and how EU purchase of Russian oil allows Moscow to earn a billion dollars in foreign exchange every day, and how it impacts the war in Ukraine. The EU embargo on Russian oil allowed a small window allowing import of Russian oil through overland pipeline to landlocked countries like Hungary, Slovakia and Czech.

The situation on the ground as well as in the EU, without any clear divisions. The EU and US support for Ukraine fall short of Ukraine’s expectations that the Western countries would choke Russia with economic sanctions, including those on oil. The EU has felt compelled to shut Russian oil imports only gradually, while leaving open 10 per cent of Russian imports into central and eastern Europe to continue, at least for now. The conditional American arm supplies to Ukraine makes the situation frustrating for the Ukrainians. Americans are not willing to give unconditional military support. And Ukraine, it is becoming evident, now recognises that it will not be hold on to the eastern region for too long though the Ukrainian forces have been fighting to the last man as it were. It would seem that both Ukraine and Russia may be keen to resume their agricultural exports even if the hostilities between the two countries were to continue. Russia is not averse to the idea to let Ukrainian ports resume the exports.

The Russia-Ukraine war seems to be winding towards a stalemate though the war is likely to continue. Zelensky is keen to defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine as a whole, in the east as well as in the west. But news from the eastern front is disheartening. Russia is fighting a dogged war of steady destruction of the Ukrainian cities in the east, and the whittling down of Ukrainian defence. And it seems that Ukraine would not be made member of the Nato, the western military alliance, until the war ends. It is quite likely that Sweden and Finland would make their way into Nato, ahead of Ukraine, if they manage to cross the Turkish hurdle. Despite moral and material support of the EU and the US, Ukraine is left to fight its battle against Russia all on its own.

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