Ukraine Is Approaching the Point of No Return. Moldova too?

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Sergiu CEBAN
Ukraine is gradually approaching the moment when it will have to choose how to proceed in the emerging new reality on the battlefield and fronts of international politics. The Moldovan authorities will also soon have to make hard decisions about their relations with Moscow
The beginning of November marked the end of the summer military campaign in Ukraine and, with it, the Ukrainian offensive on its southern borders. Many experts began predicting the failure of this operation as early as August, but the West gave time to break through the Russian defenses until the end of October. Kyiv was pushed to continue low-intensity fighting mainly by a series of new international circumstances (Middle East), which began to affect the level of support for Ukraine. The article by commander-in-chief Valeriy Zaluzhnyy published in the well-known magazine The Economist has become a sign signaling the end of the Ukrainian army’s offensive operations. In the article, the military commander admits that military circumstances and Russia turned out to be stronger than the capabilities of the AFU, and NATO textbooks and methods are absolutely inapplicable in the conditions of the Russian-Ukrainian confrontation, as a result of which the situation on the front line has reached a stalemate. For this reason, Ukraine needs new types of weapons to achieve its military goals, which could provide a technological advantage over the enemy, as the current balance of power between the armies, according to Zaluzhnyy, is difficult to tide with the existing forces. Amidst the lack of tangible military successes, the question on the expediency of further financial and military support for Ukraine from its Western allies is becoming more and more acute. Moreover, due to the lack of major successes on the battlefield, Volodymyr Zelenskyy finds it increasingly difficult to convince the leadership of partner countries that assistance to Ukraine directly correlates with their national interests. Grasping a certain weakening of the Ukrainian leadership’s position, foreign media are intensifying their attacks on Zelenskyy personally, accusing him of not quite adequate assessment of the situation and stimulating the growth of opposition sentiments inside the country. The most vivid example is the almost synchronous publication of a critical article in the magazine TIME, which, among other things, speaks about the loss of optimism of the Ukrainian leader and that he feels betrayed by Western allies. The author summarizes his article by saying that Zelenskyy deludes himself and does not see that Ukraine is losing on the battlefield.  Such a discouraging tone of publications in foreign mass media is, in fact, a reflection of the pessimistic mood in the Western political elites. We may assume that the controlled leakage of defeatist sentiments, both in the entourage of the Ukrainian president and in the army commander-in-chief’s office, reveals a growing split in Ukraine’s elites that will sooner or later lead to an internal political crisis. Zaluzhnyy’s revelations have already resulted in the murder of one of his aides, which serves as a hint that the commander-in-chief is under threat of resignation. However, the high level of public and military confidence in him forces Volodymyr Zelenskyy into a dilemma, as his dismissal may become not only an acknowledgement of the summer counter-offensive’s failure, but also a catalyst for disorganization processes within the army. The military stalemate, coupled with unmet expectations, is increasing fatigue and distrust within Ukrainian society. One of the latest polls conducted by the International Republican Institute (IRI) among Ukrainian citizens showed a halving of the absolute trust rating for the country’s president (from 74% to 42%) between April 2022 and September 2023. Such trends, one way or another, make the Ukrainian president’s office think about how to ensure Zelenskyy’s re-election in the future. The situation on the frontline is not in the best way overlapping with the achievement of an internal American consent on the allocation of new funding for Ukraine. This issue has led to a fierce confrontation between the US President and the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, which demands from the White House criteria for the effectiveness of support to Ukraine and a “victory strategy” with precise assessments, an end goal and conditions for ending the war. In addition, Republicans are speculating on separating aid to Israel and Ukraine, putting the latter “on hold.” In response, the White House has announced its intention to veto a funding bill for Israel without aid to Ukraine. So far, there is no serious reason to believe that Washington will completely stop helping Ukraine. However, given the U.S. presidential election and the Republicans’ desire to continue hitting Biden with the Ukrainian issue, it is likely that support will be reduced and more sporadic. In case of a noticeable drop in funding, Kyiv will primarily receive fewer weapons and will likely be forced to almost completely abandon offensive operations. Under such conditions, the strategic initiative is smoothly passing to Moscow, which, as seen, is not ready to accept the current balance on the frontline. In accordance with the laws of military science, Russia will surely organize several offensive operations from various directions in order to make the situation of the defending Ukrainian army as difficult as possible, primarily by transferring its reserves, and thus attempt to collapse the front. Apart from the battles near the Robotyne village, the intensity of the fighting has generally shifted to the towns of Avdiivka and Kupyansk. According to experts, the risk that the former could fall into the operational encirclement of Russian forces is quite high, and the loss of this important stronghold would inevitably lead to unpleasant military and political consequences. Now even a minimal tactical success by Russia could turn into a powerful political blow to Ukraine and President Zelenskyy personally, strengthening the position of sceptics in the West who are trying to persuade the political elites of allied countries to induce Kyiv to negotiate with the Kremlin. Thus, Ukraine is gradually approaching the Rubicon, when Kyiv’s elites will have to choose how to proceed in the emerging reality on the battlefield and the fronts of international politics. Whether to soften their principled positions and moderate their military objectives or to put their remaining forces, going all-in, no matter what. Such trends will sooner or later lead to the fact that Kyiv will need support not so much to liberate the occupied territories as to prevent a complete defeat and politico-military capitulation. It is too early to talk about U.S.-Russian talks, but the United States, according to State Department officials, recently invited Russia to the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit to be held in San Francisco in the middle of the month. In addition, according to preliminary plans, the long-awaited meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden is expected to take place on the summit’s margins, from which experts expect shifts on key international issues, including Ukraine. We should admit the fact that sooner or later our authorities will also have to make difficult decisions about resuming communication with Moscow. It is easy to imagine how this will affect the ruling party’s weakening rating. But, to be fair, the PAS has driven itself into this, to put it mildly, hopeless situation with its rigorous anti-Russian course, narrowing the space for foreign policy maneuver as much as possible. Anyway, the phase of negotiations is getting closer, so Moldovan diplomacy should start preparing for this difficult challenge now.