Since Russia invaded Ukraine last February, the war has seen its fair share of ups and downs. Now, for the very first time since the beginning of the conflict, Russia appears to be in a pole position to emerge victorious — perhaps not any time soon, but eventually.
And Vladimir Putin, Russia’s strongman president behind the invasion, is as powerful as ever, less than six months after the Western Media was scrambling to write his obituary during the Wagner rebellion.
How did things come to this? And can Ukraine still spring a surprise?
All about endurance
With the much-hyped Ukrainian summer counter-offensive a colossal failure, the war in Ukraine has reached an uneasy and costly stalemate, with neither army capable of pushing the other out from the land they currently control. This makes it a war in which endurance is key.
While Russia’s battlefield casualties exceed and outpace Ukraine’s, as a much larger country, it is also far more capable of sustaining these losses. Same is the case for the war’s material costs. While the Russian economy continues to hold fort, with Putin completely bypassing the West’s scheme to limit Russian oil revenues, Ukraine has lost up to 35 per cent of its GDP since the war began.
The bottomline is this: the longer the war drags on, the more costly it gets for both sides, but one side is far better placed to deal with these costs than the other.
West’s weakening resolve
Ukraine’s endurance is especially questionable given the West’s waning appetite to continue its support.
Only 41 per cent of respondents in a Reuters/Ipsos poll from October agreed with the statement that Washington “should continue to provide weapons to Ukraine.” Joe Biden’s $60 billion funding package is stuck in Congress, and Donald Trump, increasingly better placed to succeed him next year, has notoriously been non-committal about continuing any US support.
Crucially, Europe is not doing much better. A 50 million Euro aid package remains stuck with Hungary and Germany (for budgetary reasons), and recently, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni let slip that “Europe was weary”. Recently, Ukraine has had somewhat of a falling out with Poland over the issue of grain export.
“For its own sake as well as Ukraine’s, the West urgently needs to shake off its lethargy,” a recent editorial in The Economist said.
Endurance, however, is not just about material and human resources. Morale matters — soldiers constantly risking their lives, as well as civilians facing daily hardships, must believe that their suffering will not be for nothing. In this regard too, Kyiv is faring far worse than Moscow.
Under relentless pressure from the Russian war machine, and amidst faltering support from the West, the mood in Ukraine is somewhat despondent. With this despondency, cracks in the once-united body-politic are beginning to emerge.
President Volodymyr Zelensky is no longer the beloved unifying force he once was, with scandals and corruption denting his image. And amidst the army’s failure to deliver on its lofty promises at the beginning of the summer offensive, war fatigue is slowly, but certainly, gripping the nation.
Russia and Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, are perhaps even better placed than they were at the beginning of the war. As the above-quoted article by The Economist noted: Putin is winning because “he has strengthened his position at home… Ordinary Russians may not like the war, but they have become used to it.”
By framing the conflict to his citizens as “a struggle for survival against the West,” Putin has galvanised support for the war to an extent Western commentators, till recently, did not think was possible.
Ukraine’s path to ‘victory’ — whatever that means
Can Ukraine still come out of the war more favourably than Russia? Yes, but not because of any miracle it can pull off on its own. At this moment, Ukraine is completely dependent on either internal turmoil in Russia breaking down its war effort, or a sudden emergence of political will in the West to manifold increase its support.
The latter is unlikely any time soon, if ever. The former, however, has been more speculated about. Less than six months ago, when Wagner troops were racing towards the Kremlin during their short-lived coup attempt, Western commentators were quick to announce a premature demise of the Putin regime. Many opinion pieces were written about how Russia was going to be thrown into chaos, and why that is good for Ukraine.
But Putin prevailed. He is likely to stay in power for the foreseeable future. As The Economist puts it: “By 2025 the strain of running a war may start to catch up with Mr Putin. Russians may increasingly resent the forced mobilisations, inflation and diversion of social spending to the army. Yet simply hoping that his regime collapses makes no sense.”
For now, Russia is winning the war, whether the West likes it or not.
Read Nore:How Russia is winning the war in Ukraine