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Opinion | Has the high-tide of Ukraine passed?

By Tom Fowdy

The war in Ukraine has arguably, through the usage of social media, become the most actively propagandized conflict on the planet. Backed by a near unanimity of support from the mainstream media, combined with the clandestine censorship of sources supporting Russia, coverage of the war has always been overwhelmingly one-sided which depicts Kyiv as winning against Moscow. While it is of course true that Putin made a number of large-scale strategic mistakes in his decision to invade the country, chronically underestimating Ukraine and its willingness to resist, the bombastic coverage depicting Kyiv's imminent victory and the social media algorithm rigged in its favor nonetheless obstruct an objective picture of events on the ground. The weaknesses, struggles and setbacks of Ukraine are subject to a comprehensive media blackout, contrasted to an obsessive focus of that on Russia's.

Following Russia's catastrophic collapse in Kharkiv Oblast, however, the Kremlin has completely overhauled its game plan for the war. Discarding the failed assumptions of the "Special Military Operation" (SMO) which naively believed Ukraine would eventually give in, Putin moved to mobilize 300,000 reserves, formally annex territory, and pursue a campaign of destroying Ukraine's electricity and power infrastructure, all while toying with the usage of nuclear weapons. Within the course of a month, the picture of the conflict has started to become remarkably less optimistic for Kyiv, and reality has begun to loom again that victory against Russia remains improbable.

First, Ukraine's forward momentum has stalled. Kyiv's rout against Russian-occupied territory in September, most notably in Kharkiv, was a strategic success that exploited thinly manned Russian lines. Kyiv used concentrated force to push back in certain areas, and captured the north of Kherson oblast. This development has set the stage for what the media have repeatedly depicted as a "looming battle" for the city itself. While Russia has evacuated civilians from the city, there is otherwise no sign of Ukraine making any more progress. Likewise, it seems improbable that Moscow would readily abandon the city it has placed so much stake in keeping, and legally affirmed as its own territory.

Secondly, western support for Ukraine has peaked and is starting to waver. Although the United States has continued (as it has throughout the war) announcing a new package of aid for the country every two weeks, it is notable that Washington has made the strategic decision not to supply any higher caliber weapons to Kyiv which might escalate the conflict further. This shows that fears of Russia escalating further have had an impact on their decision-making. Likewise, stories have circulated around the western media that the US is pushing Ukraine to reopen negotiations and to drop certain pre-conditions. As a Guardian byline reads: "Ukraine's position with allies is wearing thin as fears grow over economic effect of protracted war, officials tell newspaper" with one having quoted that "Ukraine fatigue is a real thing for some of our partners".

Ukraine's absolutist position of course, that there be no negotiations with Russia lest all territory is reclaimed, is one which was formulated on the backing of western support following Moscow's first setback in the north of the country towards April. However, the unwillingness of the west to now escalate the conflict further now means Russia is fact emboldened. Putin has in fact been forced to propel the conflict, having initially sought not to, in order to avoid domestic humiliation at home and to make a point against NATO who otherwise committed themselves to completely defeating him. As it is with Ukraine, Russia is in a corner whereby "total victory" is the only acceptable option, as opposed to compromise.

When all of this is viewed together, the window of Ukraine to snatch victory is closing. Russia's military objectives in the short-term will be to stifle Ukraine's offensive momentum, erode their morale and to continue to destroy the country's energy supplies in the run up to winter, which will plunge the country into a deeper economic and humanitarian crisis. For now, it is a war of attrition. Then in the long term, as western support depletes, he may contemplate the option of future offensives. While Ukraine constantly has the narrative in its favor, it is nonetheless difficult to keep up the façade of "winning" when evidence points otherwise, which as it happens is the lifeblood of the push and justification for increased support for the country. Of course, this predicts and guarantees nothing. If Ukraine could retake Kherson city, the game will change again. The outcomes of wars are often decided in the apex of decisive moments, but nonetheless, Kyiv's ability to seize another victory is becoming less probable by the day.


The author is a well-seasoned writer and analyst with a large portfolio related to China topics, especially in the field of politics, international relations and more. He graduated with an Msc. in Chinese Studies from Oxford University in 2018.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.

Read more articles by Tom Fowdy:

Opinion | The only propaganda is targeted at Confucius Institutes themselves

Opinion | How one fake story illustrates the West's ignorance of China

Opinion | What next for Russia


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