From a political standpoint, the nation lacks the essential foundation for mounting electoral campaigns. The prevailing focus centers on the victorious resolution of the war, leaving little room for substantive policy discussions. Under martial law, there exists a justification for postponing elections—a decision that would likely garner acceptance from Ukraine’s international allies, provided the conflict’s trajectory becomes less precarious than it was just weeks ago.
A sudden spotlight shines on a hitherto little-known Ukrainian village, Robotyne, where Ukrainian forces, bolstered by brigades equipped and trained abroad, have breached the formidable Russian defense lines. Pundits now speculate on the timeline for reaching the Azov Sea and disrupting Russian supply lines to Crimea.
August marked an intense month not only on the Ukrainian frontlines but also in the realm of politics and diplomacy, underscoring the far-reaching consequences of the ongoing “special operation.”
Significant developments include:
Ukrainian Incursions into Russian Territory:
Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory have intensified. On August 31, a report by the BBC recorded a staggering 190 drone strikes since the year’s outset. Notably, all these attacks have been executed with equipment of Ukrainian origin, as Ukraine has steadfastly adhered to its commitment not to employ Western-made weaponry on Russian territory. This adherence has, to some extent, mitigated the risks involved, as Ukraine has judiciously repurposed certain components in the construction of drones and missiles within its own specialised facilities.
One of the most audacious moves in this series of attacks occurred on August 30 when a strike targeted an airport in Pskov, situated a thousand kilometers from Kiev. Officially ascribed to an origin “from inside Russia,” this incident underscored the high-stakes nature of Ukraine’s actions. Estonia’s unease regarding these strikes in close proximity to its borders was palpable, citing the potential for human error inherent in the operation of Ukrainian drones and the attendant intensification of Russian anti-aircraft defenses.
This unease extended beyond August, with an incident involving the debris of a Russian drone falling within Romania’s borders, a NATO member. These developments point to the escalating volatility and international repercussions of Ukraine’s aerial forays across Russian territory, as regional actors navigate the complex geopolitical landscape.
The changing of the Guard at the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense:
President Zelensky’s move to replace the Minister of Defense, Andrii Reznikov, has been positioned as part of an anti-corruption drive, addressing concerns over corruption within the military and its impact on soldiers and conscripts’ families. While Reznikov’s personal involvement in corruption remains unproven, his department’s perceived loss of control and mismanagement necessitated change.
The appointment of Rustem Umerov as Reznikov’s successor has been ratified by parliament, with Umerov bringing both business acumen and experience in state property privatisations to the role. President Zelensky announced the change to the nation, saying that the current situation was demanding a “new approach” and “different formats of interaction with both the military and society at large.” Beyond domestic changes, Zelensky and his Foreign Affairs Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, had already undertaken a whirlwind diplomatic tour that has taken them across Europe, the Middle East, and African nations, countering Russian arguments.
In the intricate dance of international diplomacy, the spotlight now falls upon the distinctive religious and ethnic heritage of Rustem Umerov. A Crimean Tatar born in Uzbekistan, Umerov’s family history carries the weight of post-World War II deportations, driven by accusations of “mass collaboration” with German forces. He returned to Crimea with his parents, only to depart once more in 2014. This time, Umerov joined in Kyiv a radical pro-Ukrainian Tatar minority that fervently seeks the complete reconquest of their peninsula. Umerov’s background aligns with President Zelensky’s efforts to maintain international support and national unity, particularly when engaging with countries in the “global south” that adopt a ‘neutral’ stance in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. His unique background is seen as a bridge to the Arab world, forging connections that transcend mere diplomacy. In Turkey, the key actor on the Black Sea and host of a Crimean Tatar community, the appointment of Rustem Umerov has not gone unnoticed. Some publications have gone so far as to speak of “the Ukrainian army entrusted to a Muslim Turk,” drawing intriguing parallels with Russia’s Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, who shares partial Tuvan Turk heritage. This narrative resonates with Turkey’s long-standing posture, developed since 1992, of fostering a narrative of “Turkish brotherhood” with post-Soviet republics that share Turkic cultural bonds.
However, the depiction is not without its nuances. Turkey’s stance towards ethnic minorities within its own borders remains a complex matter. Some commentators have already raised questions concerning Umerov’s educational background, allegedly association in institutions linked to the outlawed Gulen movement—an entity that occupies a central place in President Erdogan’s list of adversaries.
In short, while maintaining unwavering pressure for F-16 plane deliveries and launching his army into a more assertive counter-offensive in line with Washington’s preferences, Zelensky has embarked on a calculated gamble with Umerov’s appointment. The multifaceted “assets” that Umerov brings to the table are a double-edged sword, capable of both enhancing Ukraine’s diplomatic standing and introducing complexities that may lead to contradictory policy directions and tasks.