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Turbulent times in Ukraine

Apr 4, 2024 | Featured, The View From Here - Walter Kish

It would be safe to say that the political situation has gotten a little problematic in Ukraine as the stresses and challenges of the war are taking their toll on President Zelensky and the country as a whole.

No doubt, a major cause of this has been the lack of recent success on the battlefield as the war has deteriorated into a virtual stalemate. To a large extent, his has been the result of a growing deficit of required military supplies and technology, specifically aerial defense systems, fighter aircraft, artillery shells and long-range missiles which Ukraine’s western allies have been strangely reluctant in providing. The end result of all this has been that Ukraine’s offensives over the past twelve months have petered out in the face of incredibly dense minefields in Russian-occupied territories, as well as strongly entrenched Russian defenses. One should also mention the Russians’ inhuman willingness to sacrifice mind-boggling numbers of their own troops in the pursuit of their own poorly planned and dubious military objectives. Whatever the reasons, Ukraine’s military has not been able to react meaningfully to the conditions on the battlefield and have been treading water for quite some time now.

It was not altogether surprising that President Zelensky’s patience with the lack of military progress came to an end recently when he reshuffled the top ranks of the country’s armed forces. General Zaluzhnyi may have been a hero in the eyes of many for successfully resisting Russia’s initial onslaught, but when it comes to war, results are what matter, and over the past year, he was unable to follow up on his initial successes on the battlefield and got bogged down fighting a desultory defensive war. For this he suffered the historically precedented fate of being dismissed and shuffled off to the consolation prize of an ambassadorship to the U.K.

Zelensky followed this up by shaking up his own inner circle, dismissing a large number of his advisers and staff in the Office of the President, while giving strong hints that more changes are in the offing to the top ranks of his government. He is determined to implement a hard “reset” of both the military as well civilian leadership in order to bring in some new ideas and creativity so that Ukraine can once regain the initiative and start showing some tangible progress in this war against an increasingly barbaric Russian foe.

Whether he will succeed or not still depends on whether Ukraine’s allies can overcome their political lethargy and provide Ukraine with the military aid it so desperately needs. The key in all this, of course, is the U.S. where the highly partisan divisions within Congress have stymied the provision of crucial military supplies to Ukraine. Mike Johnson, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Congress has stated in recent days that he will schedule a vote on a military aid for Ukraine bill after the Easter recess, but it remains to be seen whether that will come to pass, or whether the partisan impasse between the White House and Congress over Ukraine continues.

Zelensky is also facing some domestic political problems of his own. Although his Servant of the People Party gained a comfortable majority of 254 seats in Ukraine’s 450 seat parliament in the 2019 elections, that majority has been steadily eroding trough defections, resignations and dismissals so that currently, Zelensky cannot count on the support of more than 210 deputies. In terms of personal popularity, Zelensky’s approval rating fell from 90% in May of 2023 to 77% in December of 2023. Although he is still trusted by the vast majority of the population, the trend must be disturbing. It doesn’t help that ex-President Petro Poroshenko has been active and maintaining a high-profile image, no doubt hoping for another crack at the Presidency.

The one thing President Zelensky has not lost is his resolve, confidence, boundless energy and dedication to victory. I never cease to be amazed at how he manages to do as much as he does. How he manages his travel and meeting schedule leaves me in awe.

What happens next in Ukraine is hard to predict. After two years of war, Ukraine stands at a crossroads. The willingness to continue the fights is still there, but there is no argument that a certain degree of war-weariness has set in, and Ukrainians need some positive news to bolster their spirits. Hopefully, in the coming weeks, the U.S. Congress may grant them that blessing.

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