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05/08/2023

Ukraine: Counteroffensive for victory… or for an honorable negotiation?

Ukraine: Counteroffensive for victory… or for an honorable negotiation?

A deathly silence covered the room where the four-star general Christopher G. Cavoli, commanding general of the United States Army in Europe and Africa, denied Rep. Joe Courtney, in his appearance before the Congressional Armed Services Committee.

In said meeting, Cavoli stated: “… a large part of the Russian army has not been adversely affected by this [Ukrainian] conflict. One of those forces are the submarines. It is very difficult to speak in public, as you know, sir, about submarine warfare and our efforts in this regard. But I can say that the Russians are more active than we have seen in years and their patrols across the Atlantic are at a high level most of the time. And this happens, as you have pointed out, despite all the efforts that are being carried out inside Ukraine”.

For a good understanding with just few words, with extraordinary delicacy given the scenario in which he found himself in, Cavoli let these war feverish know that despite being involved in the war in Ukraine, Russian submarines carrying hypersonic missiles are hovering around the coasts of the United States “at a level higher than we have seen in years.”

Commenting on the event, journalists from the far-right website Trunews expressed surprise that the media were claiming that Ukraine was winning the war and that the Russian army was going to collapse. “Everything is a lie,” one of them claimed, saying that such an assertion was mere propaganda because in reality “the Russians are winning and […] the only reason the Ukrainians are still there is because Western nations have spent billions of dollars collectively to promote a corrupt government led by Zelensky who is stealing unknown amounts of money and if we don’t support them, the Russians would have wiped him out a year ago.”

That is the crude situation exposed by the military and journalists far from sympathizing with Russia and it is the reality that the West tries to hide. It is also the objective framework on which a conflict develops in which a space for negotiation seemed to be opening up. It would also be the reason for the much-vaunted Ukrainian counter-offensive that Kiev seems to be preparing, more because of the need to broaden its specifications in view of eventual negotiations, than because of the assumption that it can obtain a military victory that today seems distant.

No one else but the United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken himself could have said it so clearly. In an interview with Fox News, when asked about Ukraine’s prospects in the conflict, he stated that: In the end, your success on the battlefield is the best and perhaps the fastest path to negotiations that will bring about a just and sustainable”.

The problem is that hardly anyone with a healthy mind believes that Ukraine can mount a successful counteroffensive. The London newspaper The Times, owned by tycoon Rupert Murdoch, citing British intelligence sources, assured that Ukraine was not prepared for the counteroffensive. Likewise, according to US intelligence sources also cited by said media, Ukraine “no longer has a choice” even knowing that it is unlikely that they will achieve [anything] more than “modest territorial gains”.

The Times argues that the Ukrainian armed forces lack adequate air defense to carry out an offensive campaign, which would make them easy prey for Russian aircraft. Nor does it seem likely that they will be able to overcome the solid Russian engineering system of trenches and fortifications built over a year, which appears impregnable to the gaze of satellites.

For his part, Czech President Petr Pavel, who before entering politics served as Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces 2012 to 2015 and as Chairman of the NATO Military Committee from 2015 to 2018, stated that the Ukrainian Armed Forces do not have the capacity to confront Russia effectively due to the “critical shortage” of ammunition. He believes that Ukraine actually needs ammunition to structure a successful defense because such a “critical shortage” […] limits their ability to carry out a successful counteroffensive”

Within this framework, initiatives to search for a negotiated solution are multiplying. President Xi Jinping’s phone call to his Ukrainian counterpart on April 26 sent a strong signal, especially after Beijing’s success in achieving rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia with the innumerable repercussions that this agreement has had for all of Western Asia and North Africa.

It was already difficult to assume that this initiative could have prospered since Moscow was not going to cede the territories that they decided to incorporate, yesterday’s drone attack on the Kremlin removed any possibility in that regard.

China had stated that the only way out was dialogue and negotiation, but its plan was based on the existence of conditions that are not observed in the scenario of a conflict that, on the contrary, goes in the opposite direction. The United States and NATO assumed that they could win a military, political, and economic victory that would destroy Russia forever, and that this could be done at the cost of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who would sacrifice themselves to uphold the values and dominance from the West.

The Ukrainian response to the Chinese initiative was immediate. Although Kiev initially expressed lukewarm views in favor of the proposal, Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to Zelensky’s office chief, ruled that Beijing would have to distance itself from the Russian Federation to remain a strong economic and political player. Podolyak, a man very close to Zelensky, doubted the Chinese position. He stated that:

“For a year, China could not decide on a position and now it has to make a decision: either it works within the framework defined by international law and then replaces Russia in the full sense of the word, or it is done to one side and then it will gradually lose its influence, including the economic one.” I don’t know if it was, but it was very similar to the death certificate of the Chinese proposal.

Other lesser-known initiatives are those of Pope Francis who, during the return flight after his visit to Hungary, announced that the Vatican was involved in an “ongoing mission” to end the conflict, but that it was not yet public. The problem with this offer that is supposedly being managed is that one of the parties denied knowing anything about it. This was made known by the Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov who concisely assured that: “No, nothing is known”, leaving Francis in an uncomfortable situation, which should be interpreted as a new move against him by the Vatican diplomacy that still today, ten years after his enthronement, he is unable to control.

From another perspective, also on April 26, the Turkish analyst Mehmet Perinçek in an article published on the United World International portal announced that Finland was mediating in unofficial talks between Russia and Ukraine. In this regard, it reported that the Finnish foundation for peace CMI Martti Ahtisaari, an independent organization from that country, “published a document in early April 2023, […] which suggests that [Russia and Ukraine] had reached an agreement on certain points” although he warns that this agreement was “the result of unofficial conversations between the representatives of the two countries.”

Dissimilar characters have joined the chorus of the many voices that issue opinions on eventual peace negotiations in Ukraine, such as the United States ambassador to Hungary, who with total impudence criticized the “cynical” positions of Budapest, which called for a ceasefire in a country “invaded and partially occupied by Russia”.

For his part, in a rather ambiguous position that reflects the multi-party nature of the coalition that brought him to power, Brazilian President Lula da Silva has stressed that he condemns the violation of Ukraine’s human rights by Russia but that “it does not it is useless to say who is right” because in his opinion the most important thing now is to stop the war. “You can only discuss and talk when the war stops,” he said.

In Europe, where the war has begun to manifest itself in all its complexity, different and sometimes even conflicting opinions are beginning to be observed regarding the pursuit of negotiations. The French presidency welcomed the telephone exchange between the leaders of Ukraine and China and stated that Paris “encourages any dialogue that can contribute” to achieving peace in accordance with “the fundamental interests of Ukraine” and international law.

From another perspective, the King of Spain in his meeting with Lula has asked for a peace based “on the territorial integrity” of Ukraine. Felipe VI has argued the defense of “multilateralism and international law” as a common vocation of Spain and Brazil. However, the King recalled that for peace to be lasting “it must be based on respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The Spanish monarch forgot that in relation to Venezuela he thinks the opposite, justifying interference, disrespect for national sovereignty and violation of international law, so his point of view seems irrelevant.

Reality has been fickle when it comes to assessing the state Europe is in, especially in economic and financial terms, and also in military aspects. It is this context that is motivating his desperate search for a pro-Ukrainian peace through diplomacy. It is also what explains the urgent trips to Beijing by the presidents of Spain and France, as well as the president of the European Commission and the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy of the European Union. They desperately want China to do for them at the negotiating table what they could not achieve in the military arena and in the economic and financial sanctions arena.

In fact there is a war, and wars end when one of the parties triumphs over the other, an armistice is signed, a peace agreement or a capitulation. The latter is what the United States, NATO and Europe want to avoid at all costs, given their inability to provide a “solution” to the situation created, by force,

May has arrived, spring is beginning to shine, the soils are drying up, and according to specialists, conditions are improving for the Ukrainian counteroffensive to take place. The question is whether this will lead Kyiv and its leaders to victory, to the negotiating table or to the scaffold. In this situation it is good to remember Carlos III of Sweden in Poltava in 1709, Napoleon in Borodinó in 1812 and Hitler in Stalingrad in 1943. Could it be that Zelensky wants to join the list on behalf of the 21st century?

Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein
Sergio Rodríguez Gelfenstein
A Venezuelan international relations expert, Gelfenstein was previously Director of the International Relations of the Presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, his country’s ambassador to Nicaragua and an advisor for international politics for TELESUR. He has written numerous books, among them “China in the XXI Century – the awakening of a giant”, published in several Latin American countries. You can follow him on Twitter: @sergioro0701

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