Ukraine: Reconstruction Amid Ongoing Conflict

By Nina Bachkatov

Daily devastation and loss of life persist in Ukraine as the counter-offensive rages on, with no decisive outcome at present. Optimists are now openly acknowledging the possibility of military operations continuing until 2024 or longer. Despite the ongoing war with no end in sight, the urgent issue of reconstruction has become a paramount concern for Ukraine’s survival, placing the burden on the ‘Friends of Ukraine’ group. This paradoxical situation might be a way for the West to reframe its unwavering support for Ukraine, extending far beyond military assistance.

Since the fall of Kherson in September 22 and subsequent events in spring 23, even with the supply of sophisticated offensive weapons, the expected counter-offensive failed to materialise, leaving Kiev unable to negotiate from a position of strength. Additionally, public expressions of frustration emerged during the NATO Vilnius summit between Ukrainian and Western representatives. More recently, Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory and escalating tensions in the Black Sea have further complicated the situation.

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Zelensky’s Diplomatic Gamble: Seeking Support in a Divided World

By Nina Bachkatov

On May 26th, Mikhailo Podolzhak, a trusted aide to President Zelensky, stated during an interview with an Italian channel that the Ukrainian counter-offensive “has been underway for several days”. This statement supported the speculation that a summer counter-offensive had replaced the much-anticipated “spring counter-offensive.” The Ukrainian offensive began in early May with heavy shelling targeting Russian defense lines, border villages, and even infrastructures deeper into Russian territory. During this period, both sides engaged in an unprecedented use of drones, with reports of thousands of drones being deployed. These drones varied in size and sophistication, ranging from small, unsophisticated devices to more advanced ones. The drones not only inflicted casualties but also created an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty.

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May Celebrations Cancelled, a Symbolic Victory for Ukrainians

By Nina Bachkatov

While speculations about the Ukrainian counter-offensive are mounting up, the Kremlin’s decision to “downplay” the celebrations of 1st and 9th May offered an unexpected bonus for president Zelensky, just confronted with leaked unflattering American Intelligence reports questioning the preparedness of its armed forces and the wisdom of some decisions. Those 2 days are really popular dates on Russians’ calendar, each with its specificity. The 1st of May, the Day of Workers and Peasants in Soviet times, is a civilian event, with an accent on the international dimension of a day celebrated through all the world. The 9 May is different, the anniversary of the 1945 victory against Nazism in Europe, remembered a day later than in the West due to different time zones. The day includes a military parade in the morning followed by waves of festive crowds, taking over the boulevards and public parcs. Since 2012, a third element has been added – a cortege of ordinary people carrying pictures of relatives killed during WWII, known as The Immortal Regiment.

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Still Waiting for the Ukrainian Counter-offensive

By Nina Bachkatov

For weeks, the late spring Ukrainian counter-offensive has the object of intense speculation as it has been in late September, when the fall of Kherson seemed to pave the way for a roll back of Russian troops. But the situation is different today. During the winter, the West has responded to president Zelensky’s requests for the delivery of sophisticated offensive and defensive weaponry, and trained thousands of Ukrainian soldiers to man them. In those conditions, Ukrainian forces should be able to succeed in a counter-offensive, providing their country with a strong position at the negotiation table. In the meantime, the West has been scouting the world, to find ammunitions compatible with Ukrainian guns, sometimes bidding against each other or using dubious intermediaries. The Ukrainian forces consume ammunitions in huge quantities, which means more of it before and after the counter-offensive’s start.

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Crimea: the End of a Taboo

By Nina Bachkatov

The taboo concerning the fate of Crimea had just started to crumble, when the incident of 15 March involving a Russian fighter plane and an American unmanned drone put the Black Sea region under renewed international scrutiny – a region involving Ukrainian southern ports and the peninsula that Ukrainian forces want to regain. It was the first direct confrontation between two countries, Russia and the U.S., that are not technically at war which each other, but are actively involved on the dividing line about the European continent’s security. This kind of incident was due to happen in a region where Russians and the “allies of Ukraine” are testing the reactivity of each other in international airspace (or waters). In this case, the test concerned so-called “restricted zones”, unilaterally announced by Moscow in the framework of its invasion, extending Russian rights to occupied Ukrainian territories in 2014 and 2022.

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A  Long Year for Ukraine and the World

By Nina Bachkatov

The 24 January passed on without the anticipated Russian offensive. In the Western world, thousands of people took the streets to express solidarity with the Ukrainian people.  Their leaders promised again to be on Ukraine’s side “up to the end”, “the time it will take”. In Kiev, Volodymyr Zelensky attended low key ceremonies focused on prayers for the victims and thanks to the fighters. A year after the invasion, peace seems a distant reality, an issue that will be decided on the battlefield. This conviction is reinforced by the slow effects of the economic war, with its sanctions and counter-sanctions, declared by the West to limit the Kremlin’s capacity to finance its war. Now the accent is still on broader sanctions, but the accent is back to military aspects, notably the delivery of arms requested by Ukraine to push Russians out by its own forces. In those conditions, diplomacy is relegated to the sideline, albeit some discreet channels stay open, witnessed for instance by the regular exchanges of prisoners. In fact, nobody wants to expose itself as the one that will raise a white flag, while staying on the save side by talking about the need to keep contacts with Russia.

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The Importance of Perceptions: President Zelensky in Europe

By Nina Bachkatov

Back from his European tour, on 9 February, Ukrainian president Zelensky had addressed the nation as he does almost daily. He told his compatriots that he got “important agreements and good signals… This goes from long range missiles and tanks, to a new level of cooperation including fighter jets. But work has still to be done on that issue”. Evidently, Zelensky has only met supportive interlocutors and enjoyed standing ovations, keeping successfully world attention on his country. But, if he indeed got a lot of promises, a lot of hugs, and another European flag to enrich his collection, he came back home without clear conditions, and dates, for the jet fighters deliveries; nor an agenda for EU adhesion. Anyway, the training of pilots and engineers is “already starting” and the general consensus has been since that taboos about the deliveries of Western jets to Ukraine were falling, the way those concerning battle tanks did earlier.

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