Long stories short
- Trump said he had been formally charged with mishandling classified documents (more below).
- Sunak was said to be ready to approve Boris Johnson’s honours list.
- A Hong Kong protest anthem topped the iTunes charts after officials sought a court ban.
Fork in the road
Reports from several sections of the 1,000km front line point to one conclusion: despite massive flooding from the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, Ukraine’s long-awaited counter-offensive against Russian forces has begun.
- Ukrainian forces are conducting offensive operations near Bakhmut and Velyka Novosilka in the Donetsk region, as well as towards Tokmak, southeast of Zaporizhzhya.
- Explosions were reported in Russia-occupied settlements around Melitopol, Tokmak and Mariupol.
- Russian forces are meanwhile continuing ground attacks in the Donetsk region along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line and around Kreminna.
So, what? It’s impossible to forecast how the offensive will unfold, but hard to understate what is at stake. There are three main scenarios to consider:
Liberation. With 12 Nato-trained brigades and large quantities of Western munitions, a breakthrough in the South would allow Ukraine’s army to cut the land bridge to Russia-occupied Crimea, split Russian forces in two and destroy their supply lines. In this scenario Russian forces could be pushed out of eastern Ukraine in the East while Ukraine gained a foothold for the liberation of Crimea. But that would still need
- long-range missiles to take out military targets including warships, ammunition stores and army bases;
- air strikes, including with F-16s, which officials say won’t be deployable until next year; and
- continued western support for ground operations, now complicated by flooding downstream of the Kakhovka dam.
“We have to understand that one operation, even successful, will not be enough for Ukraine to get to 1991’s borders or even the demarcation line as of 23 February 2022,” says Maria Zolkina, a research fellow at the LSE. Bottom line: even an entirely successful Ukrainian campaign is likely to be a long one.
Negotiation. If Ukraine liberates small areas but not enough to consider advancing into Crimea, pressure to negotiate will increase. But Ukraine’s response would be conditioned by
- mistrust based on Russia’s record of violating ceasefires and the Minsk-1 and 2 agreements;
- the practical obstacles to policing a 1,000km demilitarised zone; and
- the history of frozen conflicts between Russia and Chechnya and Georgia as well as Ukraine, all of which unfroze leading to renewed conflict.
Russia’s approach to negotiations would be conditioned by its main goal – to prevent Ukraine joining Nato. Without this assurance Moscow would never sign an agreement, Zolkina says, while Ukraine would seek unconditional security guarantees which so far the West has not been ready to promise. Instead…
- Baiba Braže, Nato’s assistant secretary-general for public diplomacy, has said that to join the alliance Ukraine has to emerge from the war victorious, independent and democratic.
- France’s Emmanuel Macron has backed “something between” Israel-style security guarantees and fully-fledged Nato membership.
- The UK’s Rishi Sunak has said Western governments need “to make sure that we put in place security arrangements for Ukraine for the long-term”.
Ukraine is wary of anything resembling the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, which guaranteed its security in principle in return for renouncing nuclear weapons, but proved worthless in practice.
Attrition. Russia loathes the idea of a common border with Nato states, which is why Finland’s membership rankles so. Ukraine will never agree to a negotiated settlement without firm guarantees – for example, of Nato membership. But as things stand Ukraine cannot join Nato until it has beaten back the invasion, ruling out negotiations and leaving Ukraine to continue fighting alone.
Ukraine is in a Catch-22. Something has to give. If it isn’t the Russian army it may have to be Nato’s refusal to countenance Ukrainian membership while the conflict is ongoing. The alternative is a war that could go on for decades, and a revival of Russian dreams of empire from Moldova to the Stans.
Also, in the nibs
Photograph Aleksey Filippov/AFP via Getty Images
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