Ukraine has a path to victory

Ukraine has a path to victory

CIUS weekly report on North American media coverage of Ukrainian affairs, 07–13 January 2023

Five publications (Foreign Policy, The Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, The National Interest, and CBC) were selected to prepare this report on how Ukraine has been portrayed in the North American press during the past week. The sample was compiled based on their impact on public opinion as well as on their professional reputation, popularity among the readership, and topical relevance. These publications represent centrist viewpoints on the political spectrum.

This report covers only the most-read and relevant articles about Ukraine, as ranked by the respective North American publications themselves in the past week. Its scope covers promoted articles on home pages and articles from special sections on Ukraine, with the hashtag #Ukraine, from the paper editions of the publications, and about Ukraine from opinion columns and editorials.

  • The world and Ukraine: Ukraine has a path to victory; Ukraine must change to win.
  • Russia at war: the war in Ukraine is a catalyst for the collapse of Russia; the Russian economy is overheating.

Ukraine has a path to victory. Rose Gottemoeller and Michael Ryan (Foreign Policy) are convinced of the fallacy of the widespread belief that the stalemate in the war between Russia and Ukraine is beneficial to Moscow. Ukraine’s successful actions against the Russian fleet in the Black Sea have deprived Moscow of the opportunity to use its naval and air forces in southern Ukraine with impunity. This success was ensured by precision strikes, the most powerful of which were carried out from the air with Ukrainian-made and NATO-provided missiles. While this strategy is effective, it is not enough to defeat the Russian army on land and protect civilian infrastructure. According to Gottemoeller and Ryan, the Russian army can be defeated by taking advantage of “Ukraine’s willingness to fight in new ways,” combining relentless and accurate air attacks with the manoeuvres of combined arms forces on the ground. The Ukrainians are making excellent use of their technical capabilities, but they need to be more effective from the air. Better weapons would make them more successful along the entire front line. These include, first, armed UAVs that use reconnaissance to coordinate attacks with artillery; second, armed UAVs to suppress enemy air defences and medium-range surface-to-air missile simulators to deter Russian pilots; and third, “unmanned vehicles to breach and clear mines.” According to the authors, “If Ukraine can achieve the momentum in the ground war that evaded it during its failed summer offensive, Kyiv will have a real pathway to victory. That pathway will run through Ukraine’s demonstrated prowess at sea and in the air, joined to an embrace of a sophisticated combination of techniques on the ground. It will be a pathway to victory not only for Ukraine, but also for the United States and its allies.”

The war in Ukraine is a catalyst for the collapse of Russia. Alexander J. Motyl (National Interest) emphasizes that there is no reason to start negotiations with Russia at the moment. The argument put forward by those supporting negotiation between Ukraine and Russia—that Moscow is getting stronger—is false. Objective indicators show the opposite: the positions of Putin’s regime, the Russian army, and the economy are weakening. Nearly all theories of system breakdown lead us to expect that something deeply destabilizing will happen in Russia: “It could be tomorrow; it could be five years from now. Either way, collapse is coming, though perhaps not ‘two years on.’” According to Motyl, “Putin’s weakness means his regime’s weakness, since he’s its essential core.” Therefore, President Putin’s demonstration of confidence is nothing more than a tactic to preserve the status quo. This is especially important for the Kremlin given the dissatisfaction of Russian political and economic elites with the war. The economic situation in Russia is no less challenging: GDP growth is based only on the military-industrial complex, while the standard of living of Russian citizens is rapidly falling. Western sanctions have intensified these destructive processes in the economy: “With industrial might below that of Chile, Putin’s Russia survives merely by seizing assets. The increasingly state-dominated economy is cannibalizing its own companies to maintain Putin’s war machine.” There are also problems with the country’s population: protest moods are present and waiting to happen. According to Motyl, time is not playing in Moscow’s favour, and “The West should therefore refrain from negotiating with Putin until his country and regime weaken beyond easy repair.”

What needs to change for Ukraine to win? Anne Applebaum (Atlantic) argues that a beleaguered state confronting Russian aggression “needs more than volunteerism and chutzpah to protect its version of democracy.” Russia’s war against Ukraine has turned into a “war of attrition.” Therefore, not only the “number of bullets” is important for Ukraine’s victory but also state-sponsored narratives and psychological factors. Moscow has been actively spreading narratives among Western politicians and journalists about its readiness for a long war and large numbers of casualties on its side. At the same time, it describes Ukraine as “corrupt, politically divided, and, above all, certain to lose,” hoping that the West will back down. According to Applebaum, in order to “beat the Russians militarily and psychologically, to undermine the Russian propaganda repeated by Orbán and the MAGA right, to maintain their alliances and defend their territory until the Russians have had enough, [Ukrainians] have to change.” Volunteerism, which drove the army and society forward in the first days of the full-scale invasion, must be “transformed into systems, institutions, and rules.” Today, Ukraine needs a best-practices-managed army, a modern defence industry, and “finally, Ukraine’s government needs to eliminate any remaining corruption and mismanagement.” In the defence sector, Ukraine needs to take the following steps: (1) address ineffective management in the Ministry of Defence; (2) solve the problem of quantity and quality deficiencies in the composition of the Armed Forces of Ukraine; and (3) reduce tensions in the Ukrainian political debate. According to the author, “Ukraine’s battle against Russia has always been a civilizational clash, between an open society and a closed one, a rule-of-law society and a dictatorship. Ukrainians are still betting that their version of democracy is not just more attractive than Russian autocracy but more effective.”

The Russian economy is overheating. Alexandra Prokopenko (Foreign Affairs) argues that the Kremlin’s war against Ukraine will lead to the decline of the Russian economy. In 2023, despite the war against Ukraine, the Russian economy grew faster than the global economy. Russia’s economic growth is likely to exceed 3% in 2023. Also in 2023, Russia demonstrated an abnormally low unemployment rate of 2.9% and a decrease in the percentage of Russians living below the poverty line to 9.8%. However, these indicators are by no means indicative of economic health, but rather a symptom of an overheating economy. Economically, Moscow is facing a triple challenge: (1) financing Russia’s war against Ukraine; (2) maintaining the living standards of Russian citizens; and (3) ensuring macroeconomic stability. According to the author, “Achieving the first and second goals will require higher spending, which will fuel inflation and thus prevent the achievement of the third goal.” Even if Moscow manages to cool down the economy by the end of 2024, the problems caused by Russia’s aggression against Ukraine are inevitable. The costs of the war (6% of GDP, and over 8% when national security spending is added), continued financing of occupied Ukrainian territories (over $18 billion in 2023), rising inflation (over 7%), lack of skilled labour, and imbalance between the military and civilian sectors will have fatal consequences for the Russian economy. Purchasing the loyalty of Russians on the eve of the presidential election could further complicate the situation. According to Prokopenko, “Overheating—often a precursor to recession—is a growing threat, especially when institutions designed to mitigate shocks are either dysfunctional or being obliterated by the exigencies of war.”

Canada’s delay in providing air defence system raises questions, adds to Ukraine’s uncertainty. Sarah Ritchie (CBC) reminds readers that despite Canada’s announcement a year ago to donate a $406-million surface-to-air missile defence system (NASAMS) to Ukraine, the system has not been delivered yet, and there is uncertainty about when it will be. The procurement process can take months or years. “While Canada paid for the NASAMS system last March, it remains unclear exactly when it will get to Ukraine. It’s not even clear if the Defence Department itself knows when that will happen,” Ritchie writes. The delay raises concerns as President Volodymyr Zelensky emphasizes the urgency of effective air defence to defend against potential Russian attacks. Canada’s Department of Defence is working with its U.S. partners to determine the timeline, but details remain unclear, and there are indications that the Norway-based Kongsberg (one of the companies involved in building NASAMS) does not yet have a contract for the Canadian donation. The lack of clarity regarding the timeline and contractual status of the Canadian donation adds a layer of uncertainty to Ukraine’s defence strategy, emphasizing the need for efficient coordination and expedited processes to ensure the timely deployment of crucial military assets. The situation prompts questions about the broader effectiveness of international partnerships in responding to urgent security needs. 

As war drags on, Ukraine needs to navigate military challenges, gaps in allied support. Briar Stewart (CBC) underscores the complexity of Ukraine’s front-line situation as it grapples with both military and logistical challenges. The country’s counteroffensive in the past year yielded few gains due to a shortage of ammunition and troops, prompting the need for a reset and rebuild. Despite facing an entrenched Russian defence, support from key backers, including the United States, appears uncertain. “It leaves Ukraine having to fight a defensive action … with insufficient resources,” said Tim Willasey-Wilsey, a visiting professor in the war studies department at King’s College London, quoted by Stewart. “I think most people estimate that Ukraine could hold out in 2024. But that leaves a big question about 2025.” Despite facing a defensive stance, Ukraine has strategically built fortifications along the front line while attempting a counteroffensive. The delay in receiving crucial military aid, such as the promised air defence system from Canada, adds to the urgency for strategic planning. As Germany’s Chancellor criticizes the European Union for inadequate weapon deliveries, there is a growing consensus that international support is pivotal for Ukraine’s ability to sustain its defence. The decisions Ukraine makes in 2024, Stewart indicates, will be critical in addressing immediate challenges and laying the groundwork for a more sustained and resourceful approach to the prolonged conflict. 

As Russia invests in infrastructure in occupied Ukrainian territories, Ukraine urges increased assistance from its allies. Murray Brewster (CBC) highlights Russia’s strategic focus on infrastructure projects in occupied portions of Ukraine—specifically, the construction of a new railway line between Rostov-on-Don, near the Sea of Azov and Russia’s border with Ukraine, and Yakymivka (Melitopol district, Zaporizhia oblast), about 10 kilometres north of the annexed Crimean peninsula. Experts view these projects as part of the Kremlin’s broader attempt to integrate captured territories more closely into Russia. The construction is seen as an economic and political move by Moscow. Analysts interviewed by Brewster emphasize the crucial necessity of economic stability and modernization for Ukraine in order to prevent potential long-term political control by Russia. “I think Putin [could] still win the war, in the post-fighting period… If Ukraine doesn’t become a modernized, economically stable and prosperous country, then eventually Putin can exert the kind of political control over Ukraine that he was trying to do by military means and failed to do,” says Matthew Schmidt, an expert on Eastern Europe at the University of New Haven Connecticut. Thus, Canada and the United States must fulfil their commitment to support Ukraine economically through financial aid and by facilitating significant foreign direct investment. Meanwhile, analysts from the Kiel Institute highlight a significant decline in pledges by allies for aid to Ukraine, with newly committed assistance experiencing an almost 90 percent drop between August and October 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. The U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War also notes Russia’s increased investment in occupied Ukrainian regions, emphasizing the Kremlin’s efforts to integrate these areas into Russia through ongoing infrastructure programs.

Media Monitoring Service

Media Monitoring Service (MMS) critically assess dominant narratives, including a special focus on disinformation, in selected key Canadian and US publications regarding contemporary Ukraine. The purpose of MMS is to inform experts and the general public about how Ukraine and Ukraine-related events are covered and reported on and to alert them to contentious ideas and claims that may be perpetuated in the media to Ukraine’s detriment. Read more

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Stay Up To Date

Subscribe to our email list for regular updates, direct to your inbox.