150 Days of War in Ukraine: What Next?

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Sergiu CEBAN
The Russian-Ukrainian confrontation is close to a state of strategic impasse, as neither side, including those indirectly involved in the conflict, has achieved its goals
On the 150th day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, attempts to seize further Ukrainian localities continue. As of today, Moscow has seized and controls about 20% of Ukrainian territory with at least 8 million inhabitants. The overall situation on the battlefields has shifted to positional battles with relatively balanced military resources. Intense actions are taking place over several hundred kilometers with a total front length of 2,500 kilometers. Over the past two months, Russian troops have followed the tactics of a creeping offensive and captured several important localities, but have failed to achieve a collapse of the front and defeat the combat-ready units of the Ukrainian armed forces. Meanwhile, the last few days have seen very heavy fighting in the Kherson region, where the Ukrainian leadership had previously announced a powerful counteroffensive and, according to some estimates, there has already been a strategic shift in the situation. Thanks to the successful actions of the Ukrainian military, Kyiv expects to finally switch from defensive to offensive tactics and regain control of the Kherson region by September, as well as to enter the northern part of the Crimean Peninsula. The Kremlin, for its part, is trying to demonstrate its determination to integrate the occupied territories by all available means, engaging in active development of the invaded regions at the level of the Russian presidential administration. In particular, it is planned to start the new school year according to Russian curricula, for which teachers are being retrained, and educational institutions are being supplied with Russian textbooks. In addition, there are information and administrative preparations for so-called ‘referenda’ on joining the Russian Federation in the occupied territories as early as this autumn. Amidst the ‘victorious absorption’ of the occupied territories, at the same time, Russia continues to suffer significant losses because of Western sanctions, which led to its de facto cutoff from financial resources, including credit. Although Moscow has managed to soften some of Washington’s sanctions decisions and make it possible to export its agricultural products, the main painful shock to the Russian economy will come by the end of this year and the beginning of next year. Sadly, the Ukrainian economy is even worse. According to forecasts the country’s GDP will shrink already this year by 45% in the situation of the increasing dependence on foreign financing. The total loss of the economy is estimated at several hundreds of billions of dollars. At the moment the Ukrainian government declares a monthly requirement of $9 billion. Given the size of the lack of financial resources and the unwillingness of external partners to provide sufficient assistance, the deficit is mainly covered by additional hryvnia issuance, with all the ensuing consequences. In addition, key state institutions in Ukraine are undergoing a kind of audit after five months of hostilities, and it seems that the weakest areas have been identified in the Security Service and the Prosecutor’s Office, whose leadership has been dismissed. Most likely, one can expect further and tighter centralization and the focusing of all hardware resources on the President’s Office. Such decisions are necessary before the two crucial months that are likely to determine the war’s strategic outcome. The results of the latest Ramstein-4 meeting, according to experts, may shift the supplies of military aid, which should strengthen Kyiv’s counter-offensive positions so that it will have a much stronger position than it does today at the negotiation stage. Moscow, for its part, is also quite resolute and uncompromising, stating that in the next phase of negotiations its position and demands will be much tougher, and the geography of the military operation will expand. The operational pause announced by Russia strongly resembles the calm before the storm, as the Russian military is obviously gathering strength and resources before the decisive stage. At the same time, although the sides are preparing for a tough fight and are not in the mood for any negotiations, the experience of the agreement to unblock the export of agricultural products from Ukraine demonstrates Kyiv and Moscow’s ability to negotiate with active international mediation. True, the fact that the Ukrainian and Russian participants in this deal refused to sign a direct bilateral document, while the Russian Federation launched a missile attack on the port of Odesa the very next day, demonstrates the fragility of such interim agreements and the Kremlin’s unwillingness to consider them as a truce in the Black Sea region of Ukraine. According to prominent military experts, the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation is currently close to a strategic stalemate because neither side, including those indirectly involved in the conflict, has achieved its goals. Many expect that a real turning point in the war may come during the winter-spring of 2023, and during the next year peace talks will take place, which may end with the Korean version with a prolonged freezing of the postwar status quo. The combination of negative factors provoked by the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow at the global level will inevitably raise the question of financial and economic stability not only of the warring states, but also of the rest of the world. So far, the situation has managed to keep the situation in a manageable state and the hostilities do not go beyond the current front line, which will apparently shift in one direction or another. However, further escalation has every risk of spiraling out of control and plunging the world into a much more violent conflict. Looking ahead, the best option for ending a still relatively localized conflict should be to freeze the current state of affairs and move to a phase of long-term ‘cold’ confrontation. Since the invention of nuclear weapons, mankind has not invented anything better than the Cold War on a global scale. Therefore, in order not to expose everyone to catastrophic events, all the players involved need to prepare today for a forced truce.