Attrition, attrition and more attrition. Ukrainian ground forces are not advancing. And even when they manage to do so, as they did last week, opening a gap in the invader’s defense lines wide enough for armored vehicles to pass through, they are unable to consolidate their flanks, exposed as they are to a wide range of weapons from the air and sea and held back by the appearance of new minefields ahead. However extensive the front, the abundance of reconnaissance drones and increasingly versatile technology makes it extremely difficult to count on any surprise effect.
In the meantime, an electoral cycle has begun, starting with voting in Eastern European countries and continuing through the U.S. election campaign to the spring European elections, in which the nationalist and sovereignist right feels almost everywhere that it only has a strong chance if it exploits the frustration fueled by the obvious effects of the war itself, with a stance both protective of its electoral base and leveraging established interests.
As an example, the mood around the Polish elections can be felt everywhere, pervaded at the same time by anti-Russian, anti-Ukrainian and anti-European sentiment. And it’s almost superfluous to recall that a Europe of sovereignisms is a very weak Europe.
This is the scenario that Vladimir Putin has long been waiting for, to give him a breather on the military front; all the while, exploiting the algorithms, anonymous commentators and trolls are raging just about everywhere, affecting a nonconformist attitude and declaring themselves “outside the mainstream,” trying to catalyze the support of leftist public opinion for the current agendas of the alt-right, being pushed everywhere. These operations are nothing new, and have often been dissected by analysts.
What is new is that Elon Musk has finally come out of the closet against Ukraine on the X platform (formerly Twitter) that he owns. This is no small issue, given the impact he can have, both on the ground (the Starlink satellite technology being used by the Ukrainians) and on public opinion in many different countries.
The war is unlikely to end any time soon. The attrition of combat will continue to wear down both sides; tactical innovations will follow, logistics will continue to be targeted, the deployment of new weapons and equipment will shift the axis of confrontation, and international politics will continue to produce novelties and reconfigurations.
What is certain is that the Kremlin, after the piles of deaths and war crimes that are continuing (most recently the bombing of a cafe on Thursday with dozens of civilian casualties), has not shifted the stated objectives of its “special operation” in the slightest. Not unlike what Erdogan is doing in Kurdistan or the Caucasus (via his Azerbaijani ally, ready for a new offensive in southern Armenia), Putin will not stop unless he is stopped.
There is a serious challenge here for democracies to hold the line, in the face of their own contradictions, those at home as well as in the conduct of their foreign policy. Much like the war in Syria, which is experiencing a new phase, the war in Ukraine is connected with the growing tensions that are building up along international fault lines.
The end of the war is nowhere in sight. Those who strive for peace will have to continue to defend the crucial distinction, threatened by constant propaganda campaigns, between refusing to surrender to the logic of war and surrendering to the supremacy of brute force.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.