Time of political solistice in Kyiv. Will “hybrid peace” emerge? And will Europe shoulder burden of supporting Ukraine?

Kyiv has enough money to ensure the country’s functioning in October. In November it won’t be possible without payments from abroad. The situation is dramatic.

Much suggests that the course of the war from now on will be determined more by political events in the West than by military achievements. The front is increasingly stabilising, the Zaporozhian offensive of the past four months has penetrated the Russian defences by a few to a dozen or so kilometres, in the east the fighting around Bakhmut continues with changing fortunes, but any military gains on land are only tactical in scale.

The upcoming weather change will make it even harder for the army to advance. The undoubted success in the Black Sea in forcing the Russians to withdraw some of their warships from the Crimean base at Sevastopol, where they were too exposed to Ukrainian long-range missiles, is of course spectacular. But anyone expecting this to make the shipping lanes used for grain transport less dangerous, will be disappointed. Less doesn’t mean “at all”.

Kremlin still important for Berlin

In this situation, Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s refusal to provide Ukraine with Taurus missiles (which have a range of 500 kilometres and can hit targets all over Crimea and deep inside Russian territory), is of course painful, but it doesn’t mean that Ukraine will be deprived of important capabilities, without which it will be impossible to wage war. Indeed, this may come as an unpleasant political surprise to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his team who have recently been flirting intensely with Germany, as the justification for the refusal clearly indicates that it is Russia that remains Germany’s main point of reference. For Scholz fears that Ukraine could use his missiles to destroy the Kerch bridge which carries all supplies, including military ones, to Crimea. The bridge was built after the seizure of Crimea in 2014 and is a source of pride for the Kremlin. Surely, peace talks with Putin, let alone a later return to “business as usual” would be considerably hampered if that pride were to be destroyed by a missile made in Germany.

The military resources that can be transferred from the warehouses of the Western armies to the needs of the fighting Ukrainians are also running out. After the famous statement by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki – which was twisted and is used in this form in the Western media to prove that Poland had stopped supporting Ukraine for political reasons – messages from Great Britain appeared: much more discreet, but with the same content. An anonymous British military officer allegedly said that they would deliver one more company of Challenger-2 tanks and that would be the end. It can be assumed that many countries found themselves in the same situation, but decided that the best communication for such a message would be no communication at all. No one wants to act as a brake on aid to a struggling country.

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It is worth noting, by the way, that this war has shown that there are no “miracle weapons” or – as the excited Twitter (X) strategists like to say – “game-changers”. The biggest change was introduced last summer by the delivery of GMLRS missiles, commonly known as HIMARSes, thanks to which the Ukrainian army was able to destroy many supply points located close to the front, which significantly helped in the Kharkiv offensive. However, the Russians relatively quickly changed the location of logistics bases, moving them to a safe distance, and the situation returned to normal from their point of view. Much was promised about the German Leopards, but it quickly turned out that without proper protection they were as vulnerable to destruction as all other tanks. Now the weapon that is to change the course of the war is to be F-16 fighters, but those who harbour such hope forget that even the best planes and tanks cannot win the battle alone and can only be effective within a system. Let us add – a system that has been practiced and tested many times, for which Ukraine has neither time nor opportunities.

Mass wins, not precision

Prominent American analyst Andrew Michta recently wrote that the campaign in Ukraine should teach Western military officials that in a war between states, “mass trumps precision”. For decades, Americans have been fascinated by the technical possibilities that allowed them to precisely destroy selected targets, but in the face of what is happening in Ukraine, this fascination should be rejected, Michta wrote. For “the effects of mass are felt immediately at the point of combat, while the effects of precision strikes are felt at the back and are delayed, so they can work when the battle is already decided”. It turns out that two factors will determine the fate of a long-term war: the number of soldiers and the ability of the defence industry to quickly deliver weapons and ammunition to the front, and, above all, to reproduce losses. A conclusion of “Zeitenwende” significance for many Western military personnel from countries with small, well-equipped and trained armed forces.

SIGN UP TO OUR PAGE Meanwhile, Moscow has shown that it is capable of mobilising, securing ammunition and replacing destroyed equipment with new or refurbished equipment. The “partial mobilisation” carried out a year ago – despite the initial problems that raised such hopes among observers in our part of the world – proved that society is obedient and will provide recruits in the required number. It is true that Minister Sergei Shoigu recently said that he does not expect a new mobilisation, but this can only mean that he will change his mind tomorrow. Ammunition is produced and additional supplies are provided by allied North Korea. Finally, although Russian tanks are destroyed by the hundreds, the industry has the ability to restore their current state. Jarosław Wolski, an expert on armoured vehicles, said recently that officially reported data show that production and repairs are able to compensate for losses, even with a certain surplus.

In addition, Putin decided to send a strong signal that he intends to continue the war and even increase pressure on Ukraine. This signal is provided by budget plans. The official military expenditures, i.e. those included in the budget plan for 2024, will increase more than threefold compared to the pre-war year of 2021. They amounted to 3.4 trillion rubles then, and in 2024 they are expected to amount to 10.8 trillion, i.e. at the current exchange rate, about $110 billion. Russia’s Finance Minister has publicly assured that military spending is an “absolute priority” and will be covered even at the expense of other needs. Russian expert Vladimir Milov, who was deputy energy minister two decades ago and is now in exile and observing events in the country as an oppositionist, has no doubt: even if this spending is not used effectively enough, what matters is the intention and the signal Putin wants to send to Ukraine and the West. And the signal is: “he doesn’t want to negotiate. He wants war”.

Hybrid form of peace

One may have doubts about this, because it is much more likely that Putin wants negotiations, but negotiations from a position of strength. It may turn out that by showing sensitivity to Russia’s critical infrastructure, Chancellor Scholz is preparing to once again be at the forefront of change and bring the long-awaited peace to the world. One can even imagine what concessions he will be able to obtain from the Russian dictator: demilitarisation of the border areas and holding “fair referenda” there. The former will definitely be beneficial militarily, and the latter will not be a problem at all, because Putin is a sincere democrat and has always listened to the voice of the people. And the fact that the path to the referenda will be full of unexpected obstacles created by the hostile West and the “Nazis” from Ukraine is another matter.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy among world leaders at the recent G7 summit in Hiroshima, Japan – left German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission. May 21, 2023. Photo: PAP / PA
Therefore, it will not be a real peace (although it will certainly be called that many times), but a truce that, while letting Putin maintain the current territorial gains, will enable him to consolidate his forces and resume the war at a conveniently chosen moment. Recently, one of Russia’s international affairs analysts, Ivan Timofeev, published an article titled “Hybrid War and Hybrid Peace”. It is more than certain that the time of cessation of armed fighting in Ukraine (I prefer not to call it peace) would be a time of such a “hybrid peace” for our part of Europe. We could expect cyber-attacks, increased migration pressure combined with intensified information and propaganda attacks, sabotage and a whole range of provocations.

President Zelenskyy, who, politically speaking, has recently invested heavily in relations with Germany and the EU and would even like to welcome Germany as a “guarantor of security”, may feel cheated by this development, but he may have no choice. You may be faced with a choice: either you continue the war and we reduce funding and eventually withdraw it completely, or you agree to peace terms and in return you are promised a fast track to joining the EU and resuming funding at a higher level. Currently, an accession model based on sectoral integration is being promoted, which allows financing of certain areas even before formal adoption, which may take up to a decade or more. Kyiv may have no choice, because after the GDP drop by about 1/3, emigration and the shift of the economy to war tracks, virtually all of the state’s peaceful activities – i.e. maintaining officials, teachers, doctors, etc. – are financed from abroad. Next year, more than €40 billion will be needed for this purpose, and this amount is likely to increase in the subsequent years.

The heart and pocket of Europeans

So far, the war effort and the functioning of the state have been financed by the Americans who are implementing Joe Biden’s famous slogan “for as long as it takes”. In this way, since the beginning of the war, Ukraine has received almost $77 billion from the United States in various forms. This is a huge sum, and if you look at the list of amounts allocated for foreign aid, it is definitely the largest. As a percentage of the US budget, however, this is a small amount, constituting 0.68% of the total. Supporters of continuing aid say, not without reason, that spending such money in exchange for significantly weakening one of the world’s rivals in a war in which no American soldiers died is a good investment in national security. The problem is that opponents of this view are now becoming more and more vocal.

The dispute over aid to Ukraine was one of the reasons for the removal of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, which was facilitated by supporters of Donald Trump, who would like to immediately end the war, which he promises, and to stop aid. It can be expected that after Trump’s possible re-election next year, such a scenario will come true. For now, however, the effects of this vote are less final and involve freezing the $6 billion in aid planned by the White House. Since Congress cannot adopt resolutions without a chairman, the money is suspended indefinitely until a new chairman is elected, which may take some time. Kyiv says it has enough money to ensure the country’s functioning in October. In November it won’t be possible without payments from abroad. The situation is dramatic.
Presentation of the epaulettes to the 82nd student cadets in front of the monument to Volodymyr the Great in Kyiv, September 29, 2023. During the 15 years of its existence, the 23rd High School Cadet Corps has trained more than 400 soldiers. The students took the oath and paid tribute to the graduates who fell in the war during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Photo: PAP / Vladyslav Musiienko
Will Europe take responsibility for maintaining Ukraine? There are many indications that talking about this was the primary goal of President Biden’s sudden teleconference on October 3 with the leaders of the most important countries and the EU, in which President Andrzej Duda took part. About a month ago, the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, which has been regularly publishing data on aid to Ukraine from individual countries since the beginning of the war, surprised its readers with the triumphal-sounding title of the next summary. It read: “The commitments of the United States clearly lag behind those of Europe”.

For many months, the German institute honestly compared aid and commitments provided by various countries, showing in charts that American aid was many times higher than European aid, and also – which certainly hurt “old Europe” – that aid from Poland and the Baltic states exceeded that of Germany or France. Finally, it was possible to proudly show that Europe was taking responsibility, putting aside the embarrassing discussion about allocating at least 2% of GDP to military spending, which the Germans and the French have not done so far.

This success was due to some delicate manipulation, which, however, was present only at the level of the general conclusion, while the data gave a true picture. The point is that the amounts spent and promised were added up, often over many years, and only in this comparison did Europe fare better. The problem is that Americans cannot make commitments beyond a given year’s budget, and any additional spending requires congressional approval. Europe’s long-term liabilities have been compared with America’s short-term liabilities. As it happens, no one on either side of the Atlantic bothered to correct this little deception. Europe, especially Germany, which was just taking the role of leader in aid to Ukraine, liked the message that they were giving the most. But the Joe Biden administration also wanted to be able to tell the public – increasingly reluctant to incur additional expenses – and political opponents that America is not alone and has finally managed to make Europe pay the bill for its security.

But there it is: for a moment, Europe has been left alone on the battlefield. The President of the United States cannot bear financial obligations on his own, and it is unclear how long the clinch will last. And even if it is overcome by the end of the year, it will be increasingly difficult for Biden to push further spending through Congress in the heat of the election campaign. In this situation, Europeans must face the truth and tell themselves that the financing of the war will fall solely on their shoulders for the foreseeable future. And if Trump wins in 2024, it will be at least another four years.

Are Europe's leaders decisive enough? It’s permissible to doubt. This “product” has always been in short supply in Brussels. So perhaps the offer made by Scholz, who is currently saving the Kerch bridge from an irresponsible Ukrainian attack, will be accepted. And probably, as usual, the only protester who will decide to break this famous “European solidarity” will be a Pole.

– Robert Bogdański

TVP WEEKLY. Editorial team and jornalists

– Translated by Dominik Szczęsny-Kostanecki
Main photo: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy at a press conference after a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in Kyiv, September 28, 2023. Photo PAP / Viktor Kovalchuk
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