Where is the war in Ukraine, six months after the Russian invasion? | War in Ukraine

How is the war in Ukraine, six months after the Russian invasion? | War in Ukraine

The Russians continue their offensive in Ukraine.

On February 24, Russian tanks entered Ukraine, sending shock waves across the planet. The fighting, the bombs, the exodus of Ukrainians… for weeks, the war was on everyone's mind. Gradually, however, interest waned in a conflict that seems set to drag on forever. Where are we today? And where is this war going?

We discussed it with Yann Breault, assistant professor at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean and co-director of the Eurasia Observatory at the University of Quebec in Montreal (UQAM).

We are in a period of stagnation. The minimum Russian military objective, the reconquest of the two breakaway republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, is still not achieved. The city of Sloviansk is beyond their control.

In addition, the Ukrainians are preparing a counter-offensive in the city of Kherson. They have mobilized enough troops to the area to force the Russians to deploy valuable resources there.

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Do the Ukrainians have the military capabilities to reconquer that territory? I doubt. On the Russian side, it is not certain either. We are therefore in a situation of exhaustion of forces on both sides, with no prospect of a diplomatic settlement on the horizon.

“We present the war as if it was something that happened in the last 180 days, but the Ukrainians have been in a situation of war since 2014 and, presumably, we will continue to talk about it for the next ones months or even years to come. »

— Yann Breault, assistant professor at the Royal Military College of Saint-Jean

But the game is also played out in theaters other than the military.

On the one hand, you have analysts who try to give courage to Ukrainians by saying: Hold on, Russia is on the verge of economic collapse, Vladimir Putin's regime is weak. In the Russian media, it's just the opposite. We see images of the decay of a West ruled by an increasingly pathetic gerontocracy with a major recession looming, inflation, energy costs and food costs rising. Ultimately, they believe, this will erode public support for the Ukrainian cause.

Russian President Vladimir Putin

“The Russians are fighting a game that takes place over a longer period of time. longer than the electoral timelines of democracies. »

— Yann Breault, assistant professor at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean

What they consider to be the weakness of our institutions is have politicians who are committed to short-term deadlines.

Putin, on the other hand, is at a stage where what worries him is the mark he will leave in the history books in Russia. Will he be the one who conceded that the heart of their civilization fell into American orbit or the one who tried something to prevent the fracturing of Slavo-Orthodox space? He plays this big game, which is very dangerous, not with the aim of positioning himself for the next presidential election in 2024, but to leave his mark.

It was thought that the Russian regime's sanctions and $350 billion foreign exchange freeze would lead to a collapse of the rouble, but that did not materialize. The Russians responded by raising the Central Bank's policy rate and imposing restrictions on capital mobility.

Given the fact that the value of the ruble is based on hydrocarbon resources, that the world is thirsty for these resources and that there are alternative markets on which oil production can be sold, the value ruble held steady. It is even higher than before the outbreak of hostilities.

Jagal station in Germany receives gas Russian.

On the other hand, in terms of restrictions on the export of sensitive technologies to Russia, this is starting to have an impact. Industrial production is down sharply and car manufacturing is virtually at a standstill. Even in the military industry, there are components essential to the production of aircraft or armor that are more difficult to get your hands on.

That said, there are ways around sanctions. I saw figures on the dramatic increase in Italian exports to Turkey and an equally dramatic increase in Turkish exports to Russia. So, one can suspect that there are components that are sent to Russia through a third country like Turkey, which is not in solidarity with the economic sanctions regime.

“Sanctions are complicating the economic situation in Russia, but they are not the silver bullet that will derail the Russian economy. »

— Yann Breault, assistant professor at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean

I think that, despite the extraordinary public relations campaign led by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky , we are beginning to feel a certain cynicism in the population. The momentum of solidarity at the start can wear off after a while. And that is precisely what the Russians are betting on.

“Ultimately, the cause of the independence of a distinct Ukrainian ethnolinguistic group from Russia, this is not maybe not something that will mobilize Western public opinion for much longer. »

— Yann Breault, assistant professor at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean

In addition, the Ukrainian conflict raises tensions within the European Union (EU) and the Transatlantic Alliance. At the beginning of the war, much was said about this great solidarity, with the imposition of sanctions, military aid and the transfer of lethal weapons. It was reassuring to see countries like France and Germany, which were initially very hesitant to supply arms to Ukraine, finally follow suit.

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But when we talk about a major shortage of natural gas for next winter, and we ask EU states to commit to reducing their consumption by 15% to guarantee the fluidity of the European gas energy market and ultimately allowing German industry to continue to operate, this solidarity is crumbling.

Of course, everyone agrees to denounce the cruelty of this illegal aggression. But at the same time, there is quite a palpable resentment among the population which will certainly increase with the economic difficulties that Europe is facing.

Some say: we are paying the price for the Americans' desire to maintain their hegemony over the Old Continent. Shouldn't we seek to emancipate ourselves from Washington's tutelage and take a fresh look at our relations with Russia?

Russian President Vladimir Putin receives the first Medal of Friendship from Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

We are still in a phase of indignation, but it is not impossible to think that in the medium term, once the conflict has more or less stabilized on a front line, we are not looking to reinvent the relationship between Russia and Europe. Because the alternative is to have a Russia that looks to Asia and offers its vast pool of natural resources to another, counter-hegemonic pole, which is China.

“Is this what the West wants to see Russia continue to bring China closer and supply it with the precious resources it needs to play the role it hopes to play in the 21st century? Not sure. »

— Yann Breault, assistant professor at the Royal Military College Saint-Jean

Putin said, at the beginning of July, speaking of Ukraine, that it has only just begun. There is therefore still, from his point of view, considerable room for manoeuvre. I'm not just talking about an official declaration of war, but the decision to eventually use the only weapons that would allow Russia to hope to be in military parity with the Americans, that is. ;i.e. nuclear weapons.

There are all kinds of signals that have been sent since the beginning of the conflict, especially with the use, near the Polish border, of Kinjal hypersonic missiles which travel at twelve times the speed of sound, then, recently, the Zircon missiles that will be deployed on warships.

An intercontinental ballistic missile is launched on a test somewhere in Russia.

This is the last big card the Russians have in their pocket. But for nuclear power to have a deterrent effect, you have to be able to give credibility to its use. This is the problem we had in the late 1990s, early 2000s, when NATO intervened in Yugoslavia and Putin threatened to use nuclear weapons. Everyone was laughing. The weapons were there, but you couldn't even imagine the Russians being crazy enough to seriously consider using them. Whereas now, when Putin brings up the use of nuclear weapons, we start to think that he might actually be crazy enough to use them.

We start from the principle that there can be no winners in a nuclear war and that the latter must never be started, Vladimir Poutin indicated, on August 1, in a message addressed to the participants of a conference of the 191 signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The problem is that the Russians haven't been clear about their goals.

At first, President Putin was talking about the denazification of Ukraine. But today, in the media, the editorial line is directed much more against the West than against Ukrainian neo-Nazi pseudo-fascism, as in the first weeks of the conflict. It is as if we were preparing public opinion for a renegotiation of the balance of power on an international scale that goes far beyond the Ukrainian theater.

C' it is in this logic that we seem to see the evolution of the world in the 21st century both in Moscow and in Beijing. And when we look at the positions on the crisis in Ukraine, greater Eurasia with India and Pakistan, which are not in solidarity with economic sanctions, all of Central Asia, Mongolia, all these countries are trying to resist American financial hegemony and put in place a trading system that obeys different rules.

We are currently in chapter two, and I' feel like showdown chapter three might be in a different theater. Because in the end, we are in this great game of recomposing the balance of power on a planetary scale.

These remarks have been edited and condensed .

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