In the month since Hamas’s attack, the reduced coverage of the Ukraine war has been a mixed blessing for Zelenskyy and his international backers, notes ‘UnHerd’. Perhaps most obviously, it has caused Ukraine to plummet among the West’s priorities, at a time when political support for continued military aid was already waning. But it has also concealed an uncomfortable truth from the public: Ukraine — and the West — are losing the war.
Even the most ardent supporters of the maximalist victory-at-all-costs narrative are now starting to admit that the NATO-backed counteroffensive has failed. Despite billions of dollars spent and tens of thousands of casualties, Ukraine has barely made any territorial gains, while Russia continues to make significant advances, mostly in the north-east.
In a repeat of its year-long campaign to capture the town of Bakhmut, Russia is now doubling down on its efforts to capture the eastern city of Avdiivka, which has been a symbol of Ukrainian resistance since 2014.
Last week, in a surprisingly frank interview with The Economist, Zaluzhny said that “just like in the First World War we have reached the level of technology that puts us into a stalemate. There will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough”. This would require some major military-technological innovation — but “there is no sign that this is around the corner”, he added.
Zaluzhny doesn’t go as far as saying that the offensive should be abandoned, but this is one conclusion that could be drawn from his assessment that the war has reached a stalemate.
So, what comes next? Given the situation, there aren’t many options left for Ukraine. One is to hunker down and prepare for a long war of attrition — one in which Russia has the advantage, as Zaluzhny himself notes. But this would require a constant supply of weapons from the West, in even greater quantities than now, for which there is declining political support, especially in the US. Just before Hamas’s attack, Congress had frozen US aid to Ukraine.
Biden hoped to overcome Republican resistance to sending more money to Ukraine by linking aid to Ukraine and aid to Israel (for which there is overwhelming bipartisan support) into a single bill worth a whopping $100 billion.
This situation has been further complicated in the past month. For the wars in Israel-Gaza and Ukraine are more closely related than one may think — not in the simplistic good-versus-evil terms used by Biden, but because they effectively represent two fronts of a global proxy war in which the West is pitted against a growing front encompassing Russia, China and Iran. This is why the West can’t accept a public defeat in Ukraine at the moment. What happens in the Middle East has direct implications for the conflict in Ukraine and vice versa, and both sides know it.
Ultimately, however, just as in Ukraine, it is hard to see how the West can win in Gaza. Even if Israel succeeds in completely eradicating Hamas, the high civilian death count will only harden anti-Western sentiments in the region, and beyond. If the West believed encouraging war would rekindle its waning influence in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, on both fronts, it seems we are fighting a losing battle.