"There will be an understanding of peace and security in the future only if Russian troops are not on our territory," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said during an interview with international media organizations in Kyiv. By sticking to his demand for a complete Russian withdrawal, Zelenskyy, in effect, stated that the possibility of peace talks or a ceasefire remains remote.
But, the fact is, Kyiv is on shaky ground. The much-touted counter-offensive, planned for spring and finally launched in the summer, has been "unsuccessful," according to prominent Ukrainian figures and Western analysts. With another winter upon the fighters, many agree that the war is now at a "stalemate."
With Kyiv's biggest ally, the Biden administration, embroiled in a domestic crisis trying to stave off government shutdowns and distracted by the Israel-Hamas war, Zelenskyy is beginning to feel the heat of a "Ukraine fatigue."
Across the border, Moscow has boosted the production of some of its military hardware as much as ten times. Reports suggest that factories are churning out more missiles, drones, combat vehicles, and artillery for its troops fighting Ukraine. By some estimates, Russia will likely hike its military spending by as much as 67% in 2024. That would account for almost 30% of the Russian GDP.
Meanwhile, Ukraine is still waiting for arms and weapons promised to Kyiv by the EU. Only 30% of the one million rounds of ammunition pledged to be delivered by next March has reached Ukrainian soldiers. During the interaction with the international media, Zelenskyy acknowledged that his forces were "still not fully equipped with the brigades, with the weapons we needed...There is simply not enough air defense equipment."
The EU's defense manufacturing sector is struggling to meet Ukraine's needs as the war enters its twenty-second month. The European Defense Agency (EDA) stated that the bloc's defense spending had increased 6% over the past year, touching €240 billion in 2022. Six countries' military budgets have increased by 10% year-on-year, while Sweden saw a more than 30% hike.
Notably, France did not augment its military coffers significantly – increasing spending by just 0.7% in 2022. Despite the substantial increase, the figure hovers at 1.5% of a country's GDP, well short of the 2% target proposed by NATO.
The Ukraine war has shattered the relative sense of security on the continent. Countries are shoring up their defenses, partly in response to the wild claims that Russia may attack other nations now that it has invaded Ukraine. But, with many EU countries reeling under high inflation and slow growth, Europeans may soon grow tired of the "as long as it takes" war. Calls for a ceasefire are growing, and more leaders want Kyiv and Moscow to give peace talks a chance.
The third installment of the Ukraine peace summit held in Malta last October did not make significant progress, unsurprisingly, as Russia was absent from the table. Zelenskyy opined, "The next meeting, we believe, will be the first summit at the level of leaders." Getting China to participate in peace negotiations and cease its military support to Moscow will be critical to a breakthrough.
The war has directly cost Western taxpayers over $200 billion, displaced nearly 13 million Ukrainians, impoverished parts of Europe, and brought parts of the world closer to famine. The conflict brought the world dangerously close to a nuclear confrontation with Russia and has deeply divided it. All of these events were eminently avoidable.
Kyiv is banking on a distracted Biden administration and struggling EU members to keep its troops supplied with arms and ammunition. Countries are diverting critical funds to defense spending to support a war that should never have been.
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