Whatever the outcome of the Ukrainian offensive launched, it would most likely become a catalyst for peace processes that will end hostilities and freeze the conflict, at least temporarily
In late May and early June, the conflict in Ukraine entered the long-awaited intensification, mainly due to the actions of Ukrainian troops. Kiev still does not openly acknowledge the start of the long announced and media warmed counteroffensive. However, the counteroffensive quite obviously has been lasting for the second week using heavy weapons and armored vehicles, as well as the latest Western equipment, and regular redeployment of units and reserves to the battlefield.
The main battles are now concentrated in the southern section of the contact line, which is of strategic importance to Ukraine. The main task for Kyiv is to break through Russian engineering and defensive facilities with subsequent access to the Sea of Azov. The concentrated actions of the Ukrainians in the south were preceded by strikes on the Russian rear and logistics, as well as several military psychological operations with raids by volunteer detachments and sabotage and reconnaissance groups into Russian territory.
The transition to large-scale counterattack activities followed the end of hostilities around Bakhmut, and can be considered an attempt to intercept the operational and complete seizure of the strategic initiative. At the same time, the current actions of the Ukrainian army are more of an initial stage, with contact reconnaissance aimed at finding soft spots in the Russian defense. Therefore, we see small group assaults so far, involving company task forces. After a few weeks of “probing” the front, we can expect the introduction of larger units and the main strike(s).
Meanwhile, the first phase of Kyiv’s offensive operations did not bring at least the visible and much anticipated results. A significant factor was the neighboring country’s lack of attack aircraft, as well as a sufficient volume of long-range systems and missiles. The overall information ambience, overflowing with shots of Western equipment shot down and personnel losses, as well as the lack of serious advance and breakthrough deep into the occupied territories, is not in favor of Ukraine so far. In addition, the Western press and expert community express undisguised pessimism and more than moderate forecasts about future possible successes of the Ukrainian army.
So far, the most notable event of recent weeks has been the breach of the Kakhovka dam. According to analysts, this occurred because the left bank of the Dnieper River and the occupied territories of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions were the most promising and likely direction of further Ukrainian offensives. The expansion of the Dnieper delta and the flooding of coastal territories, including Russian defensive lines, temporarily removed the Kherson front from the general context of offensive operations and allowed both sides to free up additional reserves.
From a humanitarian point of view, the losses after this anthropogenic hazard are enormous. The region will become a zone of disaster and ecological crisis for years to come, and several regions of Ukraine will experience serious shortages of drinking water for several years. In addition, the work of the Zaporizhzhya NPP, which fed its cooling system from the “Sea of Kakhovka”, will be seriously hampered. Crimea may also be left without water resources, although the provision of the peninsula’s irrigation systems was among the tasks of the Russian invasion.
The coming months will most likely show whether Ukraine has been able to reverse the course of the war and whether it can expect to de-occupy its territories. Otherwise, returning lost areas to its control will take a long time, and the most acceptable outcome in such circumstances would be to hold negotiations to freeze the conflict in a temporary truce. It must be admitted that the information and diplomatic field, unlike last fall and this spring, when Kyiv’s allies were expecting a powerful Ukrainian counterstrike, is now more saturated with all kinds of peace initiatives aimed at ending hostilities as soon as possible and fixing current positions.
At the same time, despite the fact that the Ukrainian leadership has long refused to acknowledge objective reality, signals from Western partners that Ukraine could join the European Union and NATO only after the end of the conflict have recently become increasingly explicit. It is likely that the allies want to encourage Kiev to act more decisively, both on the battlefield and in diplomacy. The soft pressure from the allies is a sign of fatigue and a desire to clarify as soon as possible where and in what direction the war between Ukraine and Russia will continue.
Therefore, no matter how hard Ukrainian diplomacy tries, the country’s membership in NATO still has no support from key Western capitals. We cannot rule out that the decision of the Ukrainian leaders to launch offensive actions exactly in June is related with the aim to demonstrate more or less serious military successes by the next NATO summit in Vilnius (July 11-12) and use them to overcome internal disagreements in NATO on the issue of Ukraine’s membership.
We see hints of a gradual change in Western attitudes for a long time. Obviously, it is not about a complete cessation of political, economic and military support, but its volume may be adjusted depending on the outcome of Kyiv’s offensive operation. The possible revision of the Western allies position can be explained by the fact that the U.S. and several key European countries will enter an election period in the fall, and voters would like them to justify investments of significant resources in Ukraine.
It is important to understand that the counteroffensive failure or minimal results will undoubtedly also fuel aggravation of the internal political situation in Ukraine, which is growing due to contradictions between the central authorities and the regions. Social tension is also growing due to Kyiv’s largely forced, unpopular measures in tariff policy and banking monitoring. This indicates a squeeze on the state’s financial and economic resources, which will force Ukraine’s leaders to make tough political decisions by autumn.
For Moldova, freezing of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict has no obvious benefit, since the risk of constant military aggravation will remain because of the security vacuum. Weakened and tormented by economic, infrastructural, humanitarian, demographic and other crises, neighboring Ukraine will become a permanent source of instability for years to come. No matter how much our country clings closely to neighboring Romania and the EU, we will face serious challenges in the coming years that will predetermine our place in the future of European history.