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Uncertainty continues to surround the Ukraine-Russia conflict

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-While the European aid plan appears to have been resolved in some manner, it not only slowed down the process but also revealed that the aid was provided reluctantly out of a sense of obligation

-The year 2024 poses significant challenges for Ukraine. The new aid earmarked for bolstering defense lines indicates that Ukraine’s Achilles heel is its dwindling ammunition supply

-Amidst the fragmented political landscapes of the EU and the US, it is perhaps time for accomplished mediators such as Türkiye, to produce a negotiated settlement and offer an off-ramp to this conflict   

The author is a researcher at the TRT World Research Centre based in Istanbul, Türkiye

ISTANBUL 

As the Ukraine-Russia war enters its third year, the enduring conflict and the unsuccessful spring counteroffensive have deepened divisions within the European Union (EU). Delays in military assistance, ambiguities over new sanctions, and concerns about their circumvention raise questions about the EU’s commitment to Ukraine. The looming question remains: Who will emerge as the dominant force in potential peace talks?

The situation appears bleak for all sides. Amidst the devastating losses endured by both sides, millions of individuals have been directly impacted by the war, while billions more have felt its indirect effects. Ukrainians have been compelled to flee their homes for safer regions, while countless others around the globe have faced the looming threat of grain shortages.

An extended conflict

The conflict involves more than just Ukraine and Russia. Russia initially aimed to assert control over Ukraine through a surprise onslaught on Kyiv, which, if successful, would have acted as fait accompli. However, this blitzkrieg operation failed due to the unexpected resistance from intrepid Ukrainian units and the general population.

Subsequently, United States (US) and EU support poured in, providing military and intelligence assistance to Ukraine. While the military assistance was sufficient for the initial period, it was inadequate for Ukraine’s counteroffensives. Thus, Kyiv was unable to make significant gains and recently began losing ground as in Avdiivka. [1]

The current geopolitical environment favors Moscow

Israel’s onslaught on Gaza has played in favor of Moscow as the bulk of US military assistance went to Tel Aviv. European governments have been divided about the course of action, wasting time in byzantine arguments whether to assist Kyiv and, if so, to what extent.

Russia maximized its benefits from the current geopolitical environment. Moscow has been receiving assistance from different nations, obtaining substantial quantities of ammunition and artillery shells. Notably, it has obtained Shahed drones from Iran and artillery shells from North Korea.

Russia’s transition to a war-focused economy, along with certain EU nations finding ways to sidestep sanctions for economic benefits and Russia’s inflexible political framework, has sustained its economic and military capabilities. This adaptation has not only preserved Moscow’s war machine but also boosted arms production, giving Russia an advantage in any future war scenarios.

Trump’s looming shadow

Former US President Donald Trump’s open declaration that the EU does not provide enough support to NATO essentially underscores the notion that the EU undervalues the importance of the defense industry. While it is too early to say for sure, the prospect of a second Trump term could compel Ukraine into a peace agreement process where its influence at the negotiating table is diminished, leaving the EU to deal with Russia alone on the continent. An emboldened Kremlin, buoyed by such a victory in Ukraine, would present a significantly greater threat to Europe.

US President Joe Biden administration recently announced a new $60 billion aid package for Ukraine, while the EU has long sought consensus within the Union for a €54 billion aid package. Whispers about the potential use of Article 7—the most serious political sanction on a member country, involving the suspension of its right to vote on EU decisions—against countries opposing this package indicate the EU’s inability to act in unison. While this aid plan appears to have been resolved in some manner, it not only slowed down the process but also revealed that the aid was provided reluctantly out of a sense of obligation. Furthermore, the countries accused of delaying this aid understand it won’t bring Ukraine a miraculous victory. In such a scenario, as Russia stands firm, the West’s indecisive actions undermine Ukraine’s position.

The Kremlin maintains that the aim of the “special military operation” is to “de-Nazify” and demilitarize Ukraine, implying regime change and the dissolution of the country. Russian President Vladimir Putin anticipates that upcoming elections in the US and Europe will usher in leaders less supportive of Ukraine. Ukraine is engaged in an existential battle for its survival as an independent, sovereign state. However, internal political turmoil prevails amidst this struggle, leaving the Ukrainian populace weary of political discord. All these uncertainties prompt a reflection on the essence of victory.

An uncertain outcome

None of the involved parties—neither the US and Europe nor Russia or Ukraine—should seek victory on the battlefield, as such an outcome only serve to perpetuate the violent facets of the war. While the US and its allies should not compel Ukraine to negotiate with Russia unless they can offer sufficient military support to tip the scales, they must acknowledge that doing otherwise risks more Ukrainian lives in a futile bid to extend the conflict’s duration.

The year 2024 poses significant challenges for Ukraine. The new aid earmarked for bolstering defense lines indicates that Ukraine’s Achilles heel is its dwindling ammunition supply, suggesting that the war of attrition along the border will likely persist.

Amidst the uncertainties surrounding the conflict and the fragmented political landscapes of the EU and the US, it is perhaps time for accomplished mediators that have balanced relations with all protagonists, such as Türkiye, to produce a negotiated settlement and offer an off-ramp to this conflict.