Navigating Uncertainties: Ukraine's Strategic Reckoning Amidst Global Shifts
The reality of the Ukrainian counteroffensive has hit Western leaders as a stalemate has been reached at the frontlines, and the territorial gains have been underwhelming. With a second winter at war for Europe approaching, hopes of cutting through Russian defence lines dimmer than ever. Clearly, time is not on Ukraine's side for another year of high-intensity war, especially when resources are running low. Factoring in the apparent drop of political will to keep military and financial support for Kyiv "for as long as it takes", it is time for Ukraine and the West to redefine the terms of success.
Experts in the field are dealing with the uncomfortable reality that the initial aims of the war might not be as achievable anymore; thus, calling for a change of strategy has become a reasonable argument in the broader discussion of the war. This includes a switch from offence to defence and coming to terms with the reality that freeing Crimea and all of the Eastern territory from Russian troops could prove to be unattainable. In these times of uncertainty, it is of utmost importance for Ukraine to reconstruct the country, seek post-war reforms, and preserve Western support.
This deliberation has gained some ground in light of the upcoming U.S. presidential elections that could lead to a Trump presidency in 2024. Trump, who has left little to no speculation on his intentions to refrain from U.S. support for Ukraine if he were to be elected, is a grave threat to the unwavering military and financial backing that the Biden administration has provided thus far. The U.S. has accounted for the most significant portion of aid on a state level to Ukraine, amounting to 50 billion USD. This means that if the U.S. elects Trump as its president, the EU could be left with a very big pair of shoes to fill.
Another quagmire that must be considered is Trump's fondness for Putin and his praise for him on a personal level. Should peace negotiations be left up to his administration, it could lead to conditions being agreed upon that would prove strategically unfavourable for the West and Ukraine. Trump's claim that he would end the conflict within one day has left many wondering which compromises he would be willing to make.
Even without considering the looming effects of a Trump presidency, the recent conflict in Gaza has not done Ukraine any favours. Taking the world leaders' attention, the crisis in the Middle East has raised concerns on whether two theatres are equally sustainable for the United States' foreign policy, having to dedicate resources to both conflicts and leading to a reshuffling of priorities.
Most alarmingly, the unwavering support has begun to falter in Europe. Indeed, Slovakia's newly elected prime minister has already approved policies that halt sending military aid to Ukraine. Furthermore, Orban's continuous claims about the failure of the EU's current strategy and that Ukraine would never come out victorious from this conflict could infect the narratives of other European countries. Another case of concern was Italy's prime minister Georgia Meloni's fiasco, where she fell for a "prank call" by Russian comedians. Thinking she was talking to officials of the African Union, Meloni admitted that "fatigue" was setting in and that "everybody understands" that "we need a way out". Trump's narrative might already have found some support. Thus, the need for pragmatic approaches is crucial to address these harmful narratives head-on.
Persuading Kyiv to restrategize would be considered by many to be a political disaster. While Ukrainians fight for their war for self-determination and sovereignty, the West must understand the geopolitical reality into which it is heading and must swiftly act on it, either by ramping up its support and restoring unity and enthusiasm to help, which was prevalent at the beginning of the counteroffensive, or by persuading the Ukrainians to re-evaluate what their conditions for success look like. Given the ongoing circumstances, recapturing all territories under Russian control seems more like an ambitious feat rather than a sensible strategic objective. This can only change if Western military and economic support is guaranteed, despite economic and stockpiling concerns that have been voiced by those opposing the "as long as it takes" narrative. In light of the new political and military reality that the West is facing, a new way forward is imperative to ensure the most favourable conditions for Ukraine's independence.