For the duration of the war in Ukraine, we’ve received regular military updates from Frank Ledwidge, an expert in military strategy at the University of Portsmouth. A few weeks ago Ledwidge got in touch to say that he was moving temporarily to Kyiv, where he is a visiting fellow with the leading Ukrainian thinktank the Transatlantic Dialogue Center.
This week we published his update and it made for sobering reading. He quoted a senior Ukrainian government official with whom he had shared a meal: “”We are losing this war,” he was told.
Ukraine has achieved some high-profile victories over Russia, especially when it comes to the battle for Kyiv, Chernihiv and Kharkiv in the north and west of the country. But the army is now bogged down in the Donbas region in the east and Ukraine’s southern coastline is in the invaders’ hands and its ports blockaded. Ledwidge’s message is that Ukraine needs more – lots more – advanced weaponry and it needs it soon. “While Ukraine is not winning, it is losing”, he concludes.
This is our weekly recap of expert analysis of the Ukraine conflict.
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In last week’s recap, we flagged the recapture of Snake Island to the south of Odesa and promised an update as soon as we could manage it. You may recall that Russian troops took the island, which before the war had hosted 100 inhabitants (including 13 Ukrainian soldiers), a lighthouse and a weather station. The defiant defence of those 13 soldiers became something of a symbol of stout Ukrainian resistance: defenders had given a Russian warship the finger and told the commander via radio: “Go fuck yourself.”
Basil Germond, an expert in maritime power at Lancaster University, has been following the Snake Island story and says that Ukraine recapturing the island is symptomatic of Russia’s failing control of the Black Sea. This is important, as it should allow Ukraine to break the naval blockade of the south coast ports and resume food shipments. On the broader diplomatic front, it represents a chance for Ukraine to demonstrate that the grain crisis is of Russia’s making, Germond writes.
We’ve also had the benefit of regular updates from the field from French academic Romain Huet who has been reporting on the course of the conflict since April. His latest – also his last – dispatch finds Huet in the Donbas, where he has been working with volunteers ferrying humanitarian aid into conflict zones, including the cities of Kramatorsk and Severodonetsk which are hard pressed in the slow Russian advance across eastern Ukraine. It’s dangerous and stressful work, running the gauntlet of Russian artillery strikes pretty much the entire time.
“Fear and dread are palpable, but expressed by no one,” he writes. “They take hold of our bodies and our innermost thoughts, repeating over and over that something even more horrific might happen. But we must keep these feelings to ourselves.”
As I said, this is the final instalment in a series and I can heartily recommend you find the time to read them all – they are vivid pieces of reportage and Huet is clearly a very brave reporter.
The Russian front
One of the big fears that has plagued Europe and the west since well before Vladimir Putin sent his military across the Ukraine border, was what might happen to oil prices and how the conflict might affect the flow of Russian oil. Immediately after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, world oil prices jumped above US$100 per barrel and prompted fears that restrictions on the flow of oil would lead to massive shortage.
In fact, writes Carole Nakhle – an energy economist at the University of Surrey – Russian oil production has stabilised, while many of its customers are making significant progress in implementing plans to acquire their supplies elsewhere. But, as Nakhle points out, Russia’s oil production was already in decline before the invasion and this trend is likely to continue as the country comes to terms with a shrinking market share. “This will make it much harder for Moscow to finance future wars,” she concludes.
More bad news for the Kremlin came on June 27, when the country defaulted on US$100 million (£83 million) in interest payments, despite still receiving revenues of about US$1 billion per day from the sale of oil to China, India and other Kremlin-friendly importers. While this is bad news for western investors, write Nasir Aminu and Rodrigo Olivares-Caminal, economics and finance law experts from Cardiff Metropolitan University and Queen Mary University of London respectively, it is likely to have a far more deleterious effect on Russia’s ability to attract investment in the future. Here they walk us through the likely consequences.
Finally, one thing that has exercised my mind since February is how the Russian public – 77% of whom still approve of the war (or so we hear) – were persuaded of the worthiness of Putin’s cause. Does the average Russian really believe that Ukraine is run by a “Nazi gang” and that innocent ethnic Russians in the east of Ukraine were being victimised – even murdered – by right-wing skinheads and folk-costume-wearing psychopaths?
Greg Dolgopolov, a senior lecturer in film studies from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, has come across a movie released in Russia last year that has become popular viewing on government-run TV channels and is still doing brisk business via various streaming services.
Solntsepyok (Sunbaked), writes Dolgopolov, “is a brutal war film that is purposefully confusing, devised to prime Russian audiences for rationalising the invasion through a series of ethnic caricatures and lies”. It’s a textbook example of propaganda, says Dolgopolov, who walks us through some of the most egregious falsehoods and concludes that “connections to the truth are not as important as the ideology of shaping a motivation for war”.
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