Is the West Prolonging the War in Ukraine?

Marking the first anniversary of the Russo-Ukrainian war on February 24, 2023, the United States (US) announced additional security assistance for Ukraine. It levied more sanctions on Russia, targeting over 100 entities within Russia and abroad. In his recent visit to Kyiv, US President Joe Biden made it clear that Washington will back Ukraine in its contest against Russia “as long as it takes”. It is often believed that the US “meddling”, along with other European allies’ support to Ukraine, might instead expand the duration of the conflict this year. Currently, neither side seems ready to put an end to the conflict or at least to think about an armistice. Instead, the growing backing of the West to Kyiv has rather aggravated the ongoing situation. Observers are also wary of President Vladimir Putin’s tactical nuclear option in Ukraine. Given the threat of nuclear weapons, former deputy secretary general of NATO, Rose Gottemoeller, recently urged the international community to deter Russia from using tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) in Ukraine.

Since Moscow started its “Special Military Operation,” both sides suffered thousands of causalities, witnessed the loss of thousands of tanks, armoured vehicles and other weaponry along with huge infrastructure damage on the Ukrainian side. Following the prolonged war, Ukraine’s economy declined by 30.4% in the previous year. Around 30 % of the country’s population was evacuated in the same year, making the total number of refugees almost one-third of the country’s total population. Still, a phenomenal upsurge in the intensity of the conflict is predicted as Russia strengthens its military offensive in Eastern and Southern Ukraine.

The Battle of Bakhmut further spurs tensions in the West as NATO allies have sought more arms support for the Ukrainian military to counter the Russian artillery attacks on the city. On February 27, 2023, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) reported that around eight missiles and 28 strikes had been conducted by the Russian forces in only 24 hours. The calculation depicts that the US aid to Ukraine and putting more sanctions on Russia angered Kremlin to turn even more offensive against Ukraine.

The unwillingness or failure of the West to resolve the ongoing war will lead to a more brutal quagmire not merely in Ukraine but in the entire Europe.

Despite the US’ unceasing support to the Ukrainian military, the military strategies of the Ukrainian armed forces are still doubtful as the Wagner group has claimed to seize the entire city of Bakhmut. The Wagner group’s founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin, claimed in a video that the Bakhmut city of Ukraine is “practically surrounded” by his forces. This Russian advance in Bakhmut will uplift the moral ascendency of the Russian forces and lend them the vibes of victory at the start of the second year of the operation. This will give Russia strategic importance to move ahead of the region and capture other parts like Donetsk and advance its offensive in the country’s Eastern region.

As the political settlement of the war in Ukraine does not seem plausible, the US-led NATO states individually further added fuel to the fire by sending strong military, political and moral support to Ukraine. Besides, negotiation does not seem to be an option, given the Western inclination toward winning the war. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken along with other European leaders such as Finish Prime Minister Sanna Marin, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutti, and German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius, firmly articulated that “Ukraine must win the war” against Russia. Such remarks blatantly signify that the West eagerly expects Ukraine to defeat the Russian military in the confrontation through its backing. Nevertheless, it does not seem like what they might have expected due to the uncertainty of the war, as uncertainty and friction are central to the nature of warfare.

Furthermore, the EU’s closeness with Ukraine amid the war may result from the US’ overwhelming influence and diplomatic coercion to follow what America wants. The US diplomatic coercion and carrot and stick approach mostly appear as a significant pillar of its foreign policy agenda. As a leading state in NATO, the US has a robust influence over other states in the organisation. Along with this, the European defence per se is still heavily dependent on the US.

Besides, the Russian military and mercenaries cannot be evaded as the situation has altered after the battle of Bakhmut. However, initially, while launching the “Special Military Operation,” Putin might have thought of defeating Ukraine in a few weeks or a month. However, the conflict went on for a year, and it still remains in its rigorous phase. Leaders sometimes miscalculate such situations. It seems he miscalculated the Russian military prowess, Western meddling and the sanctions on Russia by EU states and America. Similarly, Biden, along with other European allies, miscalculated the Russian military might, too, due to which the war further expanded.

What seems fascinating during the war in Ukraine, with the US backing, is the shift in global power relations. The American support for the war in Ukraine galvanised China and India (being a strong strategic partners of the US) to become even closer strategically to Russia. Beijing’s trade cooperation, military exercises and diplomatic contacts with Moscow witnessed a phenomenal expansion since the latter invaded Ukraine a year ago. Though it is quite clear that China’s position on the war in Ukraine does not seem in favour of Russia, the country’s stance can be observed through the lens of geopolitical competition with the  US. Similarly, India, amid these developments, drifted more towards Russia. In his visit to Moscow, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar expressed that India will intensify economic cooperation with its Cold War ally. He reiterated that “for us, Russia has been a steady and time-tested partner.” Benefiting from the steeply discounted rate, both New Delhi and Beijing have also increased their oil purchases from Moscow since the West imposed sanctions on Kremlin as a result of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Besides, most recently, South Africa joined hands with Russia and China in a joint naval drill in South Africa that attracted Western criticism. The US embassy in South Africa criticised the exercise as it permitted Kremlin “to test its military capabilities” and demonstrate itself having the support of the allies during the war in Ukraine.

As for as the solution to the war in Ukraine is concerned, the US can still play its role in resolving the war through peaceful negotiations. Otherwise, the unwillingness or failure of the West to resolve the ongoing war will lead to a more brutal quagmire not merely in Ukraine but in the entire Europe. The present stance of the West in the Ukrainian war will allow China to present itself as a responsible global power that cares about international peace and security. China has already shown its 12-point “China Peace Plan” for the resolution of the ongoing war. The West’s unceasing support to Ukraine might lead Putin’s already waving nuclear sword to practice it under the “escalation to de-escalation” option. Because Putin seemingly might never compromise on Russian victory as he deems the war not only with the Ukrainian forces but the entire West.

Sajad Ahmad

Sajjad Ahmad is working as a Communications Assistant at CSCR.

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