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2024: The Last Chance for Ukraine?

  • Geopolitics
  • 1 Months ago
  • 5 min read
2024: The Last Chance for Ukraine?

Left to Right: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, former Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin ICNN

Mykhailo Samus
Mykhailo Samus - Director, New Geopolitics Research Network (Ukraine)

Ukraine's partners should abandon their hopes that Ukraine will abandon its plans to turn the tide of this war and agree to negotiate (surrender) with Russia. It is better to strain their political and economic capabilities (which, in fact, still have enormous potential, unlike Russia) and help Ukraine take a decisive step in this war in 2024.

Introduction

A vigorous debate is taking place within Ukrainian and Western media, political spheres and expert circles. Certain publications and influential figures argue that Ukraine cannot expect to achieve success through offensive operations and should instead move to "strategic defense". Essentially, some Western allies believe that the Ukrainian-Russian front has reached a stalemate, a notion that has been circulating for some time within both Ukrainian and Western military and political contexts. This suggests that Russia has effectively transformed the conflict into a prolonged phase, contrary to the intentions of Ukraine and the West.

However, in light of this, one must consider: What if Ukraine indeed decides to transition to "strategic defense" in 2024, and begins gathering the requisite military assets and resources? Would Ukraine then be in a position to shift to a "strategic offensive" by 2025? Will the military and international circumstances be favorable for such a move? Furthermore, could Russia (and the so-called "Axis of Evil") exploit the year 2024 to bolster its military and military-industrial capabilities?

In my view, the outlook for this question is rather bleak.

The "axis of evil", comprising Russia, North Korea, and Iran (with economic and conceptual support from China), is actively bolstering its capabilities to manufacture essential military resources, particularly artillery ammunition, missile systems, and long-range drones. Notably, Russia is leveraging North Korea as a significant military production hub to fulfil the requirements of its Armed Forces along the Ukrainian front. Concurrently, Russia is providing missile and nuclear know-how to North Korea, potentially enhancing the production of ballistic and cruise missiles for both nations.

While this Russian "military-industrial project" in North Korea has yet to reach full operational capacity, it's expected to peak by 2024. The ramifications of this collaboration will extend beyond the Ukrainian frontline, impacting East Asia profoundly. Threats to South Korea, Japan, Taiwan and the United States are poised to escalate significantly.

The dynamic of cooperation between Iran and Russia mirrors that of North Korea. Scaling up the production of long-range attack drones and, once more, ballistic missiles can bolster the Russian military's capabilities while enhancing Iran's capacity to disrupt the Middle East. Such developments could have far-reaching implications on the global military-strategic and economic landscape. The menace posed by Iranian proxies frequently disrupts global oil and commodity transportation routes, thereby shaping geopolitical developments across entire regions.

Meanwhile, Ukraine's Western allies are approaching an "election year" which, while not altering the strategic imperative to support Ukraine and counter Russian aggression, may prompt significant adjustments to specific approaches regarding the Russian-Ukrainian War.

Elections in the US and Europe

The pre-election turmoil in the United States is already stirring up heated debates regarding the likelihood of Ukraine receiving comprehensive support in 2024. Europe indeed feels a mounting responsibility to safeguard its own security and bolster Ukraine in its standoff with Russia. Regrettably, the EU will be unable to entirely make up for the decrease in US assistance in terms of both the quantity and variety of weapons and other military resources.

In my perspective, the suggestion from our partners to adopt a "strategic defense" approach reflects more their own anxieties and the challenges of forecasting political developments in Europe and the United States, rather than a true reflection of the situation on the front lines or anticipation of shifts in the global military-strategic landscape.

If we envision a scenario where the Ukrainian Defense Forces halt active offensive operations within a year and focus on bolstering their capabilities in a "strategic defense" framework, it suggests that by the end of 2024, Russia will likely be even more prepared for significant hostilities. This preparation could involve a new wave of mobilization, extensive ammunition supplies from North Korea and Iran's Shahed attack drones, along with an amassed arsenal of missiles. It's around the autumn of 2024 that the Kremlin might be poised for a fresh attempt at a large-scale offensive, potentially including operations from Belarusian territory.

Moreover, if Ukraine refrains from initiating new asymmetric, more potent operations in the Black Sea, it would provide Russia with the opportunity to enhance its capabilities for countering Ukrainian naval drones and cruise missiles, thereby undermining the effectiveness of Ukraine's asymmetric "mosquito" tactics. Concurrently, Russia has already initiated the production of its own maritime drones, capable of actively targeting civilian vessels, warships and other assets of Ukraine and NATO member states as early as 2024. Additionally, Russians may escalate mining activities in the Black Sea near Ukraine's territorial waters, reviving efforts to impose a naval blockade on Ukraine.

In essence, when we revisit the fundamental parameters of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, it is important to highlight that the Ukrainian military command identifies Crimea and its de-occupation as the focal point (Centre of Gravity, per Clausewitz's theory) of this war. Based on this premise, initiating a blockade of Crimea and commencing a ground operation to reclaim the region would set the stage for a strategic turning point in the conflict. Without this pivotal moment, the continuation of the conflict in a "strategic defense" framework, with the prospect of an offensive in 2025 or beyond, would only exacerbate the stalemate on the battlefield and create advantageous conditions for Russia to pursue its own strategic objectives.

Russia’s Objectives

Russia's objectives stand in stark contrast to those of the Ukrainian military: they aim to breach the front lines in Donbas, thwart the Ukrainian Defence Forces' efforts to reclaim Crimea, and coerce Ukraine into negotiations (essentially, to freeze the conflict and capitulate on Russia's terms).

In reality, if Ukraine adopts a defensive stance for an entire year, it will significantly facilitate Russia's ability to accomplish these objectives compared to a scenario where the Ukrainian Armed Forces conduct active offensive operations (not necessarily of a strategic magnitude) throughout 2024, with a clear focus on the conflict's center of gravity. Moreover, offensive operations in the southern direction should not negate the implementation of measures to fortify robust defensive lines in the east, north, and relevant areas of the Zaporizhzhia region. These areas demand maximum attention to establish an impenetrable defense against Russian forces. The prospect of occupying the entire Donetsk region or launching a repeat assault on Kyiv should be rendered an insurmountable challenge for Russian generals.

Certainly, theory must always be supported by resources. Carrying out offensive operations with a focus on Crimea necessitates the provision of suitable tools, primarily modern aviation and long-range precision strike weapons. This brings us back to the initial point: if our partners do not furnish Ukraine with the requisite weapons systems now, our prospects for success in 2024—and consequently, for a favorable outcome in this war overall—will be exceedingly dim.

Conclusion

This leads us to the conclusion that our partners should abandon their hopes that Ukraine will abandon its plans to turn the tide of this war and agree to negotiate (surrender) with Russia. It is better to strain their political and economic capabilities (which, in fact, still have enormous potential, unlike Russia) and help Ukraine make a decisive step in this war in 2024.

In order to continue to destroy the "axis of evil" and maintain global leadership in 2025, regardless of the outcome of the US and European elections. Because the alternative may not be as constructive and sound.

(Exclusive to NatStrat)


     

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