No end in sight to Ukraine war even as global calls for ceasefire get louder

With both Russia and Ukraine digging their heels in, it is the global south that is most impacted by the long-drawn war.

Published : Jun 29, 2023 11:00 IST - 8 MINS READ

This picture released on June 15 shows the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut destroyed by Russia.

This picture released on June 15 shows the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut destroyed by Russia. | Photo Credit: VIA REUTERS

The chances of the Russia-Ukraine war ending any time soon are getting dimmer by the day. In fact, the Ukrainian military launched a counter offensive in the first week of June, aerial bombing sorties have accelerated, and fighting has intensified along the 1,000-km war front.

Before the June offensive, Ukraine suffered a major military reversal when the south-eastern city of Bakhmut was captured. The battle for the city, which Russians call Artyomovsk, was the bloodiest thus far in the conflict and lasted more than 10 months. According to Russian military strategists, controlling Bakhmut, which has a population of 70,000, opens a direct route to the strategically located city of Dnipro. In March, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had said that Bakhmut’s fall would help Russia gather more international support for a negotiated settlement to end the conflict.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the “Wagner Group”, a Russian private military force that was in the forefront of the fighting in Bakhmut, said that more than 50,000 Ukrainian soldiers perished in the battle. The Bakhmut win was the first significant military gain for Russia since its capture of Soledar in January. The Ukrainian counter-offensive has not been able to make any decisive gains yet, with several Western military commentators describing its performance on the battlefield as “underwhelming”. Zelenskyy told The Wall Street Journal that “a large number of Ukrainian soldiers will die” in the ongoing operations.

In order to pump up Ukraine’s military resolve, NATO has provided Ukraine with even more lethal weaponry and training. The US realises that it does not have too much time left to deal a decisive military blow to Russia.

Also, in the US, public support for the war has been waning rapidly. With the presidential election due next year, Ukraine could become a polarising issue. The “progressive” Democrats have been the first to question the Joe Biden administration on the proxy war being waged in Ukraine.

Also Read | West’s Ukraine response exposes ‘double standards’: Amnesty report

But the Biden administration continues to egg Ukraine on. After providing German Leopold and American Abrams tanks along with Patriot missile batteries, it is now preparing to supply advanced F-16 fighters, which can fire missiles at ranges over 2,000 km. Meanwhile, the UK has announced that it too will supply long-range missiles to Kyiv. Reports indicate that the Ukrainian army is waiting for the arrival of the 60 Leopold tanks from Germany, to start a full-scale offensive. Thousands of Ukrainian soldiers have been trained in US military bases in Germany and other NATO countries in preparation for this.

The Ukrainian army has also been using the US-supplied M-142 Himar multiple rocket launchers to target Russian towns along the border. Residents of many towns in the region have been evacuated.

Emergency employees and police officers evacuate an injured pregnant woman from a maternity hospital hit by a Russian air strike in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 9.

Emergency employees and police officers evacuate an injured pregnant woman from a maternity hospital hit by a Russian air strike in Mariupol, Ukraine, on March 9. | Photo Credit: EVGENIY MALOLETKA/AP

Paramilitary raids

For the first time since the conflict began, two Russian paramilitary groups raided the Belgorod region, whose capital is only 40 km from the Ukrainian border. A group of neo-Nazi Russians under the banner of “Russian Volunteer Corps” was responsible for some of the raids. The leader of the group, Denis Kapustin, has been officially identified as a neo-Nazi by German authorities. He has been banned from entering the Schengen visa zone. Russian President Vladimir Putin had previously said that one of the important reasons for carrying out the “special military operation” in Ukraine was to cleanse the country of neo-Nazis and fascists. Another group involved in cross-border raids is the “Free Russia Legion”, which according to media reports has American, British, and Polish citizens fighting under its banner, backed by the Ukrainian army and with NATO training. Three US-made armoured vehicles were destroyed when they made an incursion into Russian territory.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian saboteurs and intelligence personnel have become more active inside Russia, and have been accused of assassinations, bombing oil depots and electricity grids, and carrying out other acts of terrorism. Ukraine’s aim appears to be to stretch Russia’s military defences ahead of the planned counter-offensive. In a bid to escalate the war, there was a drone attack on the Kremlin in the first week of May on the eve of Russia’s annual Victory Day celebrations.

“The Biden administration continues to egg Ukraine on. After providing German Leopold and American Abrams tanks along with Patriot missile batteries, it is now preparing to supply advanced F-16 fighters, which can fire missiles at ranges over 2,000 km.”

The threat of an open war between Russia and the West is a real one. Moscow has hinted at unconventional tactics if pushed into a corner by NATO. It has stationed tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, its staunchest ally in the region. Putin, however, has declared that Russia does not need to resort to non-conventional means since it is winning the conventional war.

Ukraine has said it is not responsible for the drone hit on the Kremlin or the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam in the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine, which was a vital source of irrigation, electricity and drinking water. The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said that Russian defensive lines were pushed back 10 to 12 km in many areas as a result of the flooding.

Also Read | Russia-Ukraine war continues without an end with no signs of de-escalation

Responding to Ukraine’s denial, the Russian Defence Ministry said there were previous documented attacks by Ukraine on the dam, and the Kremlin spokesman also blamed the US.

Ukraine denied any involvement in the drone strikes in Moscow, but US officials said that the Ukrainian military “most likely” orchestrated the attacks and it claimed to be “unhappy” with Ukraine for authorising it.

The drone attacks elicited a strong military response from Russia, with the port city of Odessa and the Ukrainian capital Kyiv targeted by a barrage of drones and missiles, including a hit on a Patriot missile battery. The US said that the expensive missile system it had gifted Ukraine was only damaged. Each Patriot Missile Battery system costs $1.1 billion; the US has spent more than $75 billion so far in weapons support to Ukraine.

Many countries, including China, Brazil, and Indonesia, have offered their help to bring an end to the conflict. Pope Francis was among the first to call for a ceasefire, in February 2023, and has been appealing for peace on a weekly basis since then.

Highlights
  • NATO has provided Ukraine with lethal weaponry and training.
  • In the US, public support for the war has been waning rapidly.
  • Ukrainian saboteurs and intelligence personnel have become more active inside Russia.
  • The threat of an open war between Russia and the West is a real one.

Ukraine’s position

Zelenskyy has said that only a complete Russian withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory, including the Donbas region and the Crimean Peninsula, could end the war. His 10-point peace plan includes a demand for the creation of a “special tribunal” to prosecute “Russian war crimes” and the creation of a European-Atlantic security architecture with guarantees for Ukraine. For Russia, the substantive demand is that Kyiv remain militarily neutral, like Sweden and Finland before the war started.

Russia will not part with Crimea at any cost and has said that any large-scale Ukrainian military attack on the peninsula will be viewed as an “act of war” against the Russian Federation. The peninsula hosts the only all-weather Russian naval base at Sevastopol.

Russia-Ukraine War: The Fallout
22.6 million border crossings from Ukraine to other countries as of June 6.
24,862 civilian casualties in Ukraine as of June 18, with 9,083 killed and 15,779 injured.
35% estimated fall in Ukraine’s GDP in 2022.
521 is the number of foreign companies that have completely withdrawn from Russia.

During his meeting with the African Union delegation, Putin told the African leaders that a peace deal had almost succeeded in March last year after talks that Turkey mediated. Russia, he said, had withdrawn troops from Kyiv on the understanding that Ukraine would enshrine the concept of “permanent neutrality” into its Constitution.

According to Putin, Ukraine had even agreed to a draft treaty agreement and he showed a copy of the draft to the AU delegation. An article in Foreign Affairs magazine published last year had also quoted leading US and European officials as saying that Russia and Ukraine had tentatively agreed on a peace deal.

“Only a complete Russian withdrawal from all Ukrainian territory can end the war.”Volodymyr ZelenskyyPresident of Ukraine

Denmark, despite being a NATO member, has offered to host a peace summit if Russia and Ukraine agree to talk. Danish Foreign Minister Lokke Rasmussen said that countries like China, India, and Indonesia, which have also called for a peaceful solution to the conflict, could lend a helping hand. Many of Ukraine’s neighbours are reportedly asking the Zelenskyy government to start peace talks so that the five million Ukrainian refugees can return home.

China’s peace proposal also seems to be making some incremental progress. Its special representative, Li Hui, has met both Putin and Zelenskyy, and has also held meetings with many high-ranking EU officials. China, which has the most influence over the Kremlin, is well placed to play the role of a mediator.

Also Read | China, Russia forging united front against US-dominated international system

Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who has said that Zelenskyy is also responsible for the conflict, has formed a “peace hub” of like-minded countries to find a solution. His special envoy, Celso Almorim, has met Russian and Ukrainian leaders. Africa under the leadership of South Africa has also launched a peace initiative.

The global south is the most affected by the war, with rising petrol prices and shortages of grains and fertilizers adversely impacting the poorest countries.

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