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The South Asian Insider

As War Enters Third Year, World’s Losing Interest in Ukraine

As the Russia-Ukraine war enters its third year, news from the front is missing from daily newspapers. Gaza has pushed Ukraine onto the back pages. Casualty figures in Ukraine are ignored, while those of Gaza grab attention. The UN Security Council no longer passes or even attempts to pass resolutions seeking peace in Ukraine or accusing Russia, while major powers veto those on the Israel-Hamas war including where Israel or Hamas is blamed for the conflict. Pictures of the destroyed town, Avdiivka, captured by Russian forces recently, are missing from social media sites, while damages to hospitals of Gaza are prominent. The world has learnt to ignore Ukraine. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian President, has assumed the role of a dictator, backed by the US and its allies, while Putin already was one. It is currently two dictators fighting for their own survival, while their people die. Vladimir Putin’s popularity remains high, while Zelenskyy, desperate to stay relevant, attends every global event requesting for funds, while turning a blind eye to the devastation of his country. The Ukrainian army is struggling to stay afloat, with mercenaries drying up, while the Wagner army, now backed by the Russian state, continues to hire them from third world countries. Ukraine remains an expendable proxy for the West.The Ukrainian army is compelled to pull people off the street and send them into the war zone with little training, while the Russians have employed approximately a third of their military power. Western powers are pumping Ukraine with weapons and ammunition while Iran and North Korea, alongside China, provide Russia with armaments and drones. Sponsors of Ukraine are slowly pulling back, funding fatigue setting in. The loss of Avdiivka is possibly because Ukraine faced shortfalls in arms and ammunition largely blocked by the US House of Representatives. The only gainers of the conflict are armament industries, garnering maximum funds allocated for Ukraine. With US funds slowly drying, pressure mounts on Europe to fill the gap, which it cannot. Peace talks are nowhere on the horizon as the war is directed not by Kiev but Washington and London, which determines what approach Zelenskyy should take. The grandiose plans of the west to bleed Russia economically, compelling its breakup and drawing it into a second Afghanistan have faltered. Washington led crippling sanctions on Moscow did dent the Russian economy but hit Europe equally. Large parts of the world refused to adhere to US sanctions on Moscow, India included. Exports of Russian oil and gas continue as before, enabling Russia to fund its campaign. A report published by the Finland-based Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air in February this year, mentioned that India has increased its purchase of Russian crude by 13 times, implying India is partially financing the Russian campaign. The belief that Ukraine will save Europe from Russia’s future onslaught is not being bought by anyone anymore. The war is largely fought on Ukrainian soil with limited impact on Russian assets. Military lessons to be drawn from the war have been collated. Initially it was believed that the age of tanks has passed but that was wrong. Armoured warfare would continue albeit with change in tactics, structure and redesigning of tanks. However, what came to the fore was innovative employment of drones, UAVs, loitering munitions, long range artillery, missiles and other instruments of non-contact warfare. Cheap drones can now destroy equipment costing hundreds of millions of dollars. These will dominate future conflicts.Both sides had the opportunity to test their counters against these weapons. It also signalled the end of short, intense conflicts. Finally, if a nation has allies, war-like stores would always be available, even if the domestic military industry lacks production capability, especially as most weapon systems are of a common calibre.What has been most pronounced is the huge loss of lives on both sides, hundreds of thousands. Ukraine has lost a generation. This could all have been avoided had the west opened its eyes post the Russian annexation of Crimea as also heeded its warnings on expansion of NATO. However, these were ignored, setting the stage for the current conflict. Talks pushed by Turkey for a ceasefire were dumped at the last minute under directions from the west which hoped to draw Russia into a deeper war. For major powers, it is their long-term goals which count, loss of lives implies nothing. The fact that this is being repeated in Gaza on the pretext of ensuring the destruction of Hamas is another issue. Yes, a major benefit of the war was that Europe’s eyes opened and nations began investing in enhancing their military capabilities. Russia achieved what Trump had attempted in his first presidency and failed, which was increasing Europe’s spending on defence. For Russia, Finland and Sweden have moved from being neutral to NATO members, bringing NATO to its doorstep. Just what it had sought to avoid, has happened. Rebuilding Ukraine would cost trillions of dollars as would Gaza. While Gaza may be funded by the oil-rich Middle East, possibly with conditions, who would fund Ukraine. Neither Europe nor the US can pump unlimited taxpayers’ funds into its reconstruction. Ukraine has been pushed decades behind in development. Russian military aims have been achieved while those of Ukraine and the west remain. Putin is open to talks but without losing the 20% of Ukraine, largely the mineral rich parts, which he currently controls. At the end of the day, Putin has come out stronger while Zelenskyy survives by overriding all opposition. The west has no power to dictate its terms on Russia. Forthcoming elections in the US could alter the scenario forcing talks on Putin’s terms, which would restrict expansion of NATO as also Moscow holding onto territory it controls. While Russia would claim victory by displaying it captured Russian speaking parts of Ukraine, Kiev would project it managed to stall the powerful Russian army. Economically both have suffered, Ukraine much more.