Opinion | Internal strife in Ukraine grows as leadership clashes over war path
By Tom Fowdy
Over the past several weeks, the political messaging of Ukraine has drastically changed. Several days ago, the country's military commander Valery Zaluzhny denounced the war as a "stalemate", an extraordinary admission from a country who has always insisted it is winning to the extreme. This comment was then denied by Zelensky. Later, news was then publicised of a Russian strike hitting a Ukrainian award ceremony and killing 21 soldiers.
For Ukraine to announce this was an extraordinary admission given for the entire course of the war it has kept an absolute media blackout over its own losses, while exaggerating Russian ones over a hundred-fold, creating in a turn lopsided media environment which as I have emphasised for nearly two years, dramatically misled the western public and hoodwinked them into believing Kiev's victory was inevitable. But all of a sudden, the messaging is changing, the question is why?
It is because internal division and strife is emerging within Ukraine's leadership on what direction the war should be taken next, which is subsequently now playing out in the form of conflicting narratives. The failure of Ukraine's counteroffensive has shattered the tightly controlled and enforced mythology that Kiev, backed with western support, was on the verge of driving out Russia from its territories. This has now been exposed as the wishful thinking and propaganda campaign it was, leaving the country without a concrete roadmap to ending the war. Zelensky has been politically weakened in the process.
In April 2022, Russia's initial attempt to take Kiev failed. Moscow used this failure as an incentivisation for Ukraine to engage in peace talks and end the war quickly, withdrawing from the area. However, the United Kingdom and United States undermined this peace appeal deliberately, manipulating Ukraine that they could support them to win the war on maximalist terms and in their interests, impose a crippling strategic on the Russian federation. Ukraine bought into this, and thus the mythology of Ukrainian invincibility was depicted through the mainstream media on a contrast of Russian incompetence.
Ukraine were then able to take advantage of Russia's ill-organised and miscalculated invasion, regaining land in Kharkov and Kherson by the end of the year. However, Russia then got serious about what it was facing, with Putin responding by announcing a new wave of mobilisation and formally annexing the held territories. Having failed to defeat Ukraine in a swift decapitation conflict, it switched to a defensive war of attrition which has been premised on wearing down the political resolve of the other side, in particular Ukraine and its backers in the west, to fight.
The past year has yielded results in this direction. Ukraine has failed to make any additional major headway in a full 12 months, with its full-blown counteroffensive with western backed equipment having failed to yield meaningful results against overwhelmingly entrenched Russian defences. For most of 2023, Ukraine's cheerleaders in the west didn't seem to realise this because they had been blindsided by the one-sided absurdist propaganda which amplified Russia's losses and masked their own. But then not only did Ukraine's counteroffensive fail, but the Israel-Gaza war broke out, diverting public interest, political priority, and media attention.
With this turn of events, western political will to offer support to Ukraine has begun to evaporate, not least when one considers the logical development that if this support is not enough to win the war, then what will be? And thus, what risks come with that? Thus suddenly, stories about western leaders urging Ukraine to sue for peace have emerged in the mainstream media. A year ago, this was unthinkable. In turn, these developments have subsequently divided Ukraine's leadership and undermined the authority of Zelensky who has built his entire image around being a larger than life hero figure who will win the war in triumphal fashion. Reality has beckoned as the country now comes to terms with the severe costs of war.
As this has materialised, I've watched as the reality has slowly dawned on the masses of Ukrainian supporters on social media. One gets the impression of a bubble bursting. These people followed Ukraine more fanatically than even the most devoted football fans, and had been warped into a superficial reality generated by social media echo chambers and media cheerleading. I called this out from the very beginning and I endured so much abuse and pushback for daring to do so, but I have always prided myself in having a remarkable ability to decode propaganda, discourse, messaging and narratives in media and politics.
That's why I never bought into the mythology of a Ukrainian victory. To their credit, they have fought relentlessly hard to defend their country and defend their national sovereignty, but in the process that involved a great deal of deception. Yes, their country was invaded, but all these Ukrainians have died for the illusive pipe dream of NATO and the risks of openly antagonising Russia. That could have all been avoided, without even the loss of further territory, beyond Crimea and Ukraine's leadership will be judged negatively by history for that.
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.
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