Author: Samir VELIYEV
While the war in Ukraine continues and will soon hit a three-month mark, global events continue to unfold in an unpredictable pattern, giving rise to more questions than answers.
Battle for Donbass
Since April 25, we have seen significant changes in the military operations taking place in Ukraine. This phase of the war was conventionally dubbed the Battle for Donbass, as the primary hostilities have concentrated in and around the Donetsk and Lugansk regions of the country. Redeployment of the Russian army units from north and north-east to east of the country, according to the Russian side, was supposed to lead to progress and ensure full control over the territories of these regions, which host the unrecognised republics of Donetsk and Lugansk. Thus, the establishment of control by the Russian army could be interpreted as an important sign symbolising the fulfilment of at least the immediate objectives of the military campaign.
During a week, Russian troops have come close to and began encircling Severodonetsk, the alternative administrative centre of the Lugansk Region. If the city is occupied, Ukraine can lost control of Lugansk. Meanwhile, shelling of Odessa has increased. It is believed that it was part of preparations for an offensive against Ukraine's largest city on the Black Sea.
Fights around the Azovstal plant in Mariupol, from where some civilians have been evacuated earlier through UN and International Red Cross, continue as well. At the time of writing, the parties continued negotiations for the evacuation of another 500 people, including the medical staff and the injured, as well as people from other parts of Mariupol.
Balance of power
As to the nature of military operations, the continued massive military support of Ukraine by the West allows Kiev to deter offensive operations by Russian troops.
Over the past couple of months, a significant infrastructure has been established in Europe to train the Ukrainian military in the use of Western military equipment and the combat skills used in NATO. This includes a whole network of training bases in Poland, Germany, the UK and other countries with instructors from NATO.
The main military aid continues to come from across the ocean. On April 28, the US House of Representatives passed a bill to supply arms to Ukraine under a lend-lease programme not used since the Second World War. Following the president's approval of the bill on May 9, the US will be able to supply arms and other aid to Kiev for two years faster and without standard bureaucratic procedures.
Tanks and anti-aircraft weapons, ammunition, artillery, drones, and howitzers are expected to be supplied as before. It is likely that Ukraine receives more advanced US weapons, such as the Abrams tanks or the Bradley infantry fighting vehicles.
In this case, aid can be donated partly or wholly at no cost. When this mechanism was first used during the Second World War, the Allies only paid for surviving equipment and weapons they chose to keep.
German lawmakers have demonstrated synchrony with their American couterparts. On the same day, April 28, the Bundestag voted to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine.
Kiev is known to be asking Berlin for deliveries of Leopard tanks. However, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has made it clear that as long as America and other allies do not send Western battle tanks to Ukraine, Germany will also refrain from deliveries. In doing so, Berlin once again demonstrated extreme caution in its approach of supporting Ukraine as a result of closer cooperation between Germany and Russia.
Meanwhile, the UK has announced a new package of military assistance to Ukraine. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in his speech to the Ukrainian parliament on May 3 that London would continue supplying weapons to Kiev. These include anti-ship missile systems, armoured vehicles for evacuating people, as well as a new package of military assistance worth 300m pounds.
Perhaps it was this massive military support that allowed the Ukrainian army to launch a partial counter-offensive near Kharkov. However, according to Russian sources, the Russian army started to withdraw their units from near Kharkiv and redeploy them in the Lugansk direction.
What’s Hitler got to do with it...
Completely unexpected was the announcement made by the Israeli authorities about discussions on the supply of weapons to Ukraine amid the emerging tensions with Russia. This was prompted by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's remarks about Hitler's Jewish roots and anti-Semitic Jews, which provoked a harsh reaction in Israel.
In his interview with Italian broadcaster Mediaset, the Russian minister compared Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky to Adolf Hitler, suggesting that the latter, under whose leadership 6 million Jews were exterminated, had Jewish blood.
The next day, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called Lavrov's words a lie and an attempt to place responsibility for the extermination of Jews on the Jews themselves. Bennett also demanded that any references to the Holocaust for political purposes were stopped and an immediate apology to Israel.
According to many observers, the reaction of the Israeli prime minister to Lavrov's words and the summoning of the Russian ambassador to the Israeli Foreign Ministry indicated that Israel might abandon its neutral position in this war and openly support Ukraine. After all, main allies and partners of Israel in the West have long offered it a choice.
Meanwhile, the deepening crisis in relations between the countries was prevented by a personal apology by Vladimir Putin for his minister's words. "Prime Minister Bennett accepted President Putin's apology for Lavrov's words and thanked him for clarifying his attitude towards the Jewish people and the memory of the Holocaust," the office of the Israeli Prime Minister stated.
Interestingly, there was no report on Mr. Putin’s apology on the Kremlin website.
Meanwhile, the EU continued to tighten its rhetoric and approach. Apparently, the EU leadership is increasingly interested in having its own military force to counter the challenges from the east.
Thus, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell, speaking in Florence at a forum on the future of Europe, stated that the EU has become a strong geopolitical player, making decisions in the military and energy spheres that go beyond regulatory. This may hint at Brussels' intention to continue the efforts to build the European army.
It is argued that Europe's limited resources would be more effective if they were integrated. If we add up the defence budgets of the 26 EU member states (Denmark has withdrawn from the EU defence policy), it makes around $200 billion (2020), or 1.5% of the combined GDP of these countries. The US has spent about $800 billion, or about 3.7% of GDP. There is an increasing number of supporters of this idea in Europe, which finds support in the EU leadership as well.
In parallel, Borrell announced a new package of sanctions against Russia. However, given the appeal of Greece and Malta, the European Union was forced to amend the sixth sanctions package against Russia to exclude the ban on maritime transportation of Russian oil. These countries possess about half of the EU's tanker fleet. Thus, new sanctions would seriously undermine the economic situation in both states. According to Bloomberg, some EU member states have also proposed postponing the embargo decision on Russian oil and proposed to continue working on the rest of the sanctions package should the union fail to convince Hungary to support the embargo.
However, Brussels and Washington make it clear that they have no intention to stop and will continue to support Ukraine until Russia finally abandons military action. Ukraine says it intends to fight until its territorial integrity is fully restored. Moscow is no less insistent in its intention to see it through victory.
Unfortunately, there is no point in expecting peace in Ukraine any time soon, given the extreme categorism and maximalism of the opposing sides, especially after the talks have grounded to a halt.