The fog of war has thickened

Thank goodness Russia avoids any triumphalism over the surrender of the so-called neo-Nazi Azov regiment at the Azovstal factory complex in Mariupol. The Ministry of Defense in Moscow announced on Friday that a total of 2,439 “Azov Nazis” and Ukrainian servicemen had laid down their arms since May 16, and that the entire Azovstal complex was now under control. Russian forces.

Russia stands by its version that on April 21, President Putin issued an order canceling the initially planned storming of the Azovstal factory, as he deemed it unnecessary and ordered that the industrial area around the plant is tightly cordoned off so that “even a robber could not get through.

Rather, kyiv claims the “end of combat operations”. President Volodymyr Zelensky called it an “evacuation mission…supervised by our military and intelligence officers” with the participation of “the most influential international mediators”.

The fog of war has thickened. The Russian Duma had previously considered expressly banning any exchange of prisoners, but has since resigned. The Russian and Ukrainian delegations are due to meet in Belarus on Monday.

Moscow is also silent on the identity of any foreign servicemen who have visited Mariupol. Last week, US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley called on their Russian counterparts Sergei Shoigu and General Valery Gerasimov respectively for the first time since the start of the war. in February.

The resumption of talks in Belarus after two months suggests that kyiv has a negotiating mandate that bears the imprimatur of Washington and London. These are big “ifs”. The objectives of the Russian operation have not yet been fully achieved. Putin has the final say, but he prefers to focus more on navigating the Russian economy through Western sanctions.

The situation on the Ukrainian front lines in the Donbass remains very complex. There is intense street-to-street, village-to-village fighting as Russian forces continue to advance on the main front lines. Russia is not committing large forces, as the operation is highly tactical aimed at cleaning the region of its “Nazi filth” (borrowing from Putin) if Mariupol is an example.

Russian forces made a significant gain by capturing Izyum with the intention of advancing further southwest towards the town of Barvenkovo, which is the main stronghold of Ukrainian forces in the Donbas region. They are on the outskirts of the city of Severodonetsk, and clashes continue along the road to Lisichansk, which has more than 10,000 Ukrainian troops.

Again, having taken control of Popasnaya, the Russians surrounded the Ukrainian forces in various settlements and broke through their defense lines in three directions. American mercenaries, many of whom are likely intelligence agents, continue to fight within the ranks of Ukrainian forces and several of them have been killed. Documents from Joseph Ward Clark, 35, revealed that he belonged to a special forces unit. Russia strikes key and strategically important Ukrainian targets such as warehouses, railways and bridges.

Militarily, kyiv and its Western advisers hoped to tie up large Russian forces in Mariupol, but were thwarted. Azov Army Commander Svyatoslav “Kalyna” Palamar was taken from the Azovstal Steel Plant yesterday in a Russian special armored vehicle. All this will demoralize the Ukrainian army.

Therefore, the US announcement of an additional $40 billion for Ukraine can be seen as a morale boost. Combined U.S. military aid to Ukraine now stands at $54 billion, or about 81% of Russia’s defense budget for 2021. But, as Americans would say, there’s no such thing as the free lunch. The Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022 Biden signed in May draws inspiration from legislation used during World War II to supply arms to allied nations, stipulating that such aid programs are in incurs debts which must be repaid by Ukraine in time.

Washington can claim compensation if Ukraine fails to repay its debt, for example with the supply of cheap agricultural products by Ukraine, preferential trade agreements for American companies, etc.

The Biden administration is likely hoping to ensure that interest groups at the highest levels of leadership in Kyiv continue the war effort. Ukraine is a notoriously corrupt country and large-scale war profits can be expected. Much of the aid will be stolen by corrupt officials.

Going forward, US diplomacy faces a difficult situation. The EU has all but suspended the ban on Russian oil and stopped talking about ending Russian gas supplies. The political dynamic in Europe is changing. After approving five previous sets of sanctions against Russia with remarkable speed and unanimity, European leaders have reached the point where sanctions against Russia entail growing costs and increased risk of damage to their own economies, and that puts their unity to the test.

France, Germany and Italy, among many other EU countries, have agreed to Russia’s new gas supply payment regime that effectively circumvents EU sanctions. Potentially, the current delay in EU oil sanctions will likely have a domino effect.

In recent weeks, there has been a flurry of ceasefire talks (and negotiations with Moscow) between French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Their words seem to run counter to what the British and Americans are saying. Simply put, the three most powerful capitals on the European continent started singing from a different score, wanting the war to end quickly and everything to “get back to normal” as soon as possible. The fact is that differences over the war aims of the allies are emerging.

However, Russia is unlikely to agree to peace terms that do not meet its demands – a neutral Ukraine and Kyiv’s acceptance of the status of the Donbass region and Crimea. But then Crimean leader Sergey Aksyonov said on May 18 that the Kherson and Zaporizhia regions should be merged into Crimea. Previously, the head of the Kherson region also demanded that the region integrate with Russia. These are sweet reminders that if the war continues, Zelensky will risk harsher settlement terms.

In the final analysis, the tragicomedy of the Azovstal event underlines that there are neither winners nor losers in this war. The United States wants to win this war, while Russia is not waging a war but seeking a successful operation to meet some specific national security objectives. The Ukrainian and Russian peoples have fraternal ties. Ukraine is the neighborhood of Russia, while it is 10,000 km from America. This disconnect threatens to prolong the war.

Europeans no longer have the fire in their bellies talking about the war, which becomes for them a great disruptor of the manicured and predictable life of their continent, which they least expected when Washington pushed them into the war .

It is above all an operation of necessity for Russia, and not of choice. Paradoxically, the choice was entirely up to the United States and NATO to appreciate that there is no such thing as absolute security. Was it not the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who once said, “Absolute security for one state means absolute insecurity for all others.

Cover photo: Azov fighter posing in front of Nazi posters, Mariupol, Ukraine

Ambassador MKBhadrakumar has retired from the Indian Foreign Service. He writes extensively on foreign affairs

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