Ukraine: stalemate or temporary situation?
Despite many discussions surrounding the topic, the war in Ukraine isn’t at a stalemate. In fact, as the Ukrainian and Russian armies enter winter maneuvers become more difficult. However, the logical question is why there hasn’t been a decisive breakthrough from the Ukrainian side, especially on the Southern frontline. There are several factors behind this.
High expectations, low supplies
In Spring of 2023, both international media and the Ukrainian government started speaking about the counteroffensive and how successful it would be, which has overheated the expectations for the counteroffensive. This rhetoric ignited high expectations, which shaped public opinion about the situation on the battlefield. However, the situation on the ground was reportedly very different.
The Ukrainian army lacks weapons. A counteroffensive on the Southern front isn’t possible without air superiority, jets, and generally munitions for long-range weaponry, which Ukraine severely lacks. In addition, during their stay on occupied territory, Russian forces managed to build fortifications, which prevents Ukraine from effectively attacking, bringing the losses even higher.
Ukraine could have followed the Russian tactic of bringing more and more people to the frontline and virtually killing its own soldiers for a couple more kilometers of land, as the Russian army does, but this tactic isn’t feasible.
The active frontline is now equal to 1,300 km: the distance from Kyiv to Prague, along which the combat is ongoing on a constant basis. It is not a line where there is no activity: all 1,300 km are engaged in active confrontation every day. Russia tries to break through this line, and so does Ukraine: Russia is trying to pass Kupiansk and encircle Avdiivka, generally attacking in Donetsk, Luhansk, and Kherson regions. On the other hand, Ukraine has had some success on landing on the left bank of the Dnipro river. This success isn’t still sufficient to establish a base for a full-scale offensive. The war became positional and Ukraine needs more weapons to change it.
Reluctant helping hand
Currently, the main concern is the military support from the West. However, the West is scared by the perspective of the collapse of Russia in case of a “too quick” Ukrainian offensive and the possible consequences of this process. In this perspective, the positional war is considered the safest option for the West.
However, in the long run, in this type of war, Russia has an advantage: right now, it is developing new military technology and buying new weapons, plus the significant amount of manpower is also a Russian advantage. General Zaluzhnyi says that Ukraine needs weapons now, not in the future, as otherwise Russia will have more time for military development.
How does Ukraine see Belarus and Belarusians?
Ukraine sees the current regime in Belarus as a puppet state of Russia. In this perspective, Lukashenka is fully controlled from Moscow. However, there is a separation between people and the state. Even though Russia has attacked Ukraine from Belarusian territory, Ukrainians realize that it is the fault of the Belarusian regime.
Despite some fears from the Belarusian democratic movement, Ukrainians won’t reevaluate the role of the Belarusian regime in the current situation in the country. Many people have seen Russian tanks coming from the Belarusian territory by the permission of Lukashenka. Due to this, there is little to no possibility of thinking about the current regime as something good.
Until the first Belarusian soldier kills a Ukrainian
Unlike the Belarusian state, Ukrainians don’t have any hatred towards Belarusians.Conversely, it is common understanding that Lukashenka is heavily influenced by Russia. There is an opinion that Belarusians aren’t active enough to prevent the war, but the fact that the Belarusian army doesn’t physically participate in the war is relatively beneficial for Ukrainian-Belarusian relations. However, this state of affairs is rather fragile: if a Belarusian soldier kills a Ukrainian, the hatred towards Belarusians will become comparable to that towards Russians.
What can the Belarusian democratic movement do?
Ukrainians know about the contribution of Belarusians to Ukrainian independence and freedom. For instance, people are aware about the Kalinouski regiment that fights on the Ukrainian side. However, the main problem in Ukraine right now is weaponry. Regardless how brave the soldiers are, there is a natural disproportion between the number of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers, which can only be compensated by the weapons.
Therefore, to receive more credit from the Ukrainian side, the Belarusian democratic movement should engage itself more into advocating for quicker weapons supply to Ukraine at their talks with Western partners. In addition, such measures should be public so that Ukrainians are aware about the actions of Belarusian democratic forces.
Can Lukashenka win back the credibility of Kyiv?
The short answer is no. The longer version consists of three points.
First, Ukraine is building defense lines on the border between Ukraine and Belarus, which has never been the case. This demonstrates a severe degree of distrust between the Ukrainian and Belarusian states.
Secondly, Ukraine is a democracy. Hence its leaders have to listen to people’s opinion to be reelected in the future. Although Ukrainian people don’t support the reconciliation with Lukashenka, such a movement from any Ukrainian politician will be met with public discontent.
Thirdly, Lukashenka is not considered an independent figure who can go autonomously from Russia. For example, Russia has deployed massive weapons in Belarus, and the only reason why it takes them off is that they need them somewhere else. The Ukrainian government clearly understands the nature of Lukashenka’s actions and isn’t ready to fall into this trap.
War and post-war destiny of Belarus
After a closer look, the correlation between the Belarusian future and the liberation of Ukraine seems rather dubious. In the situation if Ukraine wins the war, Russia somehow disappears and gives freedom to Belarus doesn’t seem certain. The current positional war makes the situation even more depressing for Belarusians, as no movement or change becomes almost worse than a loss.
Incentives to change
We can analyze the current situation from the prism of incentives. As we know, often, when Lukashenka experimented with his politics, there was a significant incentive to do it: some level of discomfort from Moscow, such as integrative processes, trade wars, etc. Positional war and the lack of palpable changes in the frontline mean that there is a lack of motivation for Lukashenka to change his domestic and foreign policy.
Russia will still need Belarus as a potential military district and will require Lukashenka to be loyal. There is no acute need for Lukashenka to open up to the West, since Russia would support the regime in Belarus anyway, even if its economic demands grow. In the scenario of a positional war, Lukashenka could be relatively safe from being forced into the war, since the conflict of such intensity doesn’t necessitate Belarusian involvement. This also keeps Russia busy, which precludes more integration attempts.
Subsidies to Belarus
When Russia is occupied by the war, it doesn’t have enough energy and incentives to complicate relations with its last European ally. The only more or less realistic source of destabilization is the economy. The Belarusian economy depends on the markets of fertilizers, where the activity of Chinese competitors makes the situation rather uncomfortable for Lukashenka: he cannot control this situation. In theory, this can produce an economic shock, which will increase the demands on Russia, which could destabilize the relations.
However, Belarusian demands, in any way, are rather insignificant compared to the Russian military budget. It would be even logical to include the subsidies for Lukashenka as a part of military expenditures, as they de facto maintain the stability and loyalty of one of the allies, which is located close to the conflict zone.
(Im)permeable western isolation
As time passes, the communication between Belarus and the West is not impossible: the direct presence of Russian troops on Belarusian territory decreases, the migration crisis becomes less acute and can easily be halted by the decision of Lukashenka. In fact, the Belarusian regime can be flexible on these smaller issues if there is enough incentive to do it.
If the current situation in the region freezes for, let’s say, a couple of years, we can easily approach the question of political prisoners in the form of dialogue with the West. The reason is simple: all the other issues that irritate the West in the current Belarusian regime are non-negotiable: new elections are almost unfeasible, while the incident with Ryanair cannot be reversed. Therefore, we can see some diplomatic attempts from the West in the future.
The main problem with the approach of the West to the war and its consequences is the fact that it is perceived as an extraordinary event. As a result, the situation is addressed through emergency measures. However, after almost two years of the war, it is time to address the situation more systematically.
This issue affects all the domains of the war: starting from the supply of weapons and ending with the conflicts on Polish-Ukrainian border. The European Union and the West in general should address those problems, passing multilateral bills that would approach the situation holistically.
The current phase of the war is hardly sustainable from an economical perspective for either of the participants, including the West, which, guided by this discomfort, can initiate some policy changes. Overall, the “all quiet” situation that we have today is beneficial neither for Russia nor for Ukraine, so we can expect some attempts to break this “stalemate” from all the participating sides in the near future.
Photo: Getty Images