The battlefield and political front: a shifting landscape

Blinken’s surprise visit to Kyiv on 14 May aimed to reaffirm Ukraine’s strategic importance to the US amidst its deep entanglement in Middle Eastern affairs. Discussions centered on practical matters, including battlefield updates, the ramifications of increased US security and economic assistance, as well as long-term security commitments and economic recovery efforts in Ukraine. However, the true message behind Blinken’s visit remains a matter of speculation. Rumors abound regarding allied concerns over military decisions driven more by political symbolism than a dispassionate assessment of military capabilities, hampered by poor coordination and sporadic utilisation of allies’ resources and intelligence. In Kyiv, there are even whispers that Blinken’s unannounced arrival may have been linked to discussions about President Zelensky’s succession. Nevertheless, with Western military equipment en route and the looming threat of its deployment, the Russians appear determined to press forward with their offensive, aiming to sow fear among the population before facing Western intervention on the ground or in the air.

Meanwhile, as events unfolded in Washington and Ukraine, the EU adopted its 14th package of sanctions against Russia, in an attempt to tighten the economic noose around the Russian national budget without unduly harming European economies. Concurrently, President Macron’s suggestion of potential French troop deployment in Ukraine, under specific conditions of imminent collapse, injected a new dynamic into the fray, reflecting France’s desire for a leadership role on the European stage.

In Kyiv

Still, the eyes have been largely to Moscow and Kyiv.

President Zelensky continues his military shake-up, which has seen a series of dismissals and appointments within the armed forces over the past year. It included in August 2023 the sacking of all the regional and local officials dealing with recruitment; the sacking of the minister of defence Olexei Reznikov and 6 of his deputies in September 2023; the one of the chief of the armed forces general Zaluzhny in February 2024, now reduced to civilian status and sent to London as ambassador; the rotation of numerous commanders in fighting units, including on 13 May the change of the commander of troops of Kharkiv for “having built the defence on the wrong place”.

Politically, Zelensky finds himself increasingly vulnerable as his term nears its end on May 20th. The parliamentary landscape has also shifted, with the removal of opposition figures accused of serving Russian interests, leaving Zelensky reliant on a dwindling pool of allies. Despite retaining significant popular support, the toll of war, both physical and moral, weighs heavily on Zelensky. His recent address following the arrest of individuals allegedly involved in a coup against him underscores the challenges he faces in navigating Ukraine through this turbulent period, balancing military imperatives with the imperatives of national unity and reconstruction.

In Moscow

In Moscow, the reshuffle reflects a different narrative. Vladimir Putin’s failure to enact significant changes within the elite cadre underscores the regime’s stagnation. Despite beginning his fifth presidential term without a substantive reshuffle, Putin has opted to maintain continuity, retaining key figures in pivotal positions including heads of state agencies whose power is often superior to that of ministers. The economic and financial directions stay in place, as well as foreign minister Lavrov who, as Shoigu, was for years aspiring to enjoy retirement.

The reassignment of Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu to the Security Council signals a symbolic shift, highlighting the challenges posed by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the need for leadership untainted by corruption. He was more than an ally – a personal friend, reason why Putin wanted to provide him with an honorable exit. For more than 2 years, Putin pressured Shoigu to stay in the job, even after two heart attacks which coincided with crucial moments: the failure of February 2022 invasion towards Kyiv, and the saga of Wagner head, Yevgeni Prigozhin, moments when fingers were pointed to Shoigu.


The appointment of his successor, Andrei Belousov, underscores the evolving nature of Russia’s military strategy due to the war in Ukraine – but not only. Military operations have been, and are, in the hands of the head of the general staff, Valeri Gerasimov. But the new defence minister, an economist who always supported state intervention in the economy and taxes on the rich exporters of natural resources, will manage the budget, the militaro-industrial sector, the redirection of investments. Evidently, the Kremlin’s circles came to the same conclusion that Ukrainian ex-general Zaluzhny who in his famous 1 November 2023 interview for The Economist said that military victory will depend on new technology. But parallelly, following a president decree discreetly signed on 11 May, Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) will no longer be subordinated to the Defence Ministry but to the presidency. This confirms the role of arms trade in Russia’s foreign policy.

Putin’s recent visit to Beijing, coupled with Zelensky’s suspension of international engagements, further underscores the geopolitical ramifications of the crisis in Ukraine, as global powers maneuver to shape the outcome of the conflict.

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