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Is Ukraine losing support in the war?


After six months since its launching, the much expected Ukrainian counter-offensive has yielded just around 350 km2 of territory gained over Russia, less than the 480 km2 that Russia gained in the first months of 2023, and most military experts agree that the conflict has stagnated in a war of trenches, very similar as in World War 1. Even among the Ukrainian army there is a growing consensus that the war cannot be won without NATO sending ground soldiers into the battlefield.


Also, since last month, during meetings of representatives from more than 50 nations supporting Ukraine, including NATO members, known as the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, US media have reported that western officials "have begun quietly talking to the Ukrainian government about what to give up in order to start peace negotiations with Russia that might entail to end the war". These discussions are an evidence that there is a growing acceptence inside NATO that the war against Russia cannot be won in the battlefield, and that public opinion is demanding to try to end the hostilities.


It is true that with western help, Ukraine may have better weapons, but Russia has around three times more population (145M vs 44M), and this is crucial in trenches warfare. Certainly, the number of casualties since February 2022 is very difficult to know exactly, as both countries refuse to release publicly these numbers. But western intelligence agencies and some media outlets place the Ukrainian military deaths close to 70,000, with 120,000 wounded. Whereas Russia's military casualties have been around 300,000, including as many as 120,000 deaths and 180,000 injuries.


With all this, Ukraine is having real problems to find men to be sent into the front. So much that draft offices have been forced to call up ever older personnel, raising the average age of a soldier in Ukraine to around 43 years. Maybe motivation to participate in the war has diminished as it has been revealed that Ukrainian elites have been able to profit from the war and skip conscription in a country that is ranked in corruption at 116th place out of 180 in the world. Also, many of the youngest soldiers may have been already killed or escaped the country.


On the other hand, there are many testimonies that in March 2022, Biden and Boris Johnson stopped Zelensky from signing any deal with Russia and pushed him to continue the war effort. Some of these include former Israeli PM, Naftali Bennett, German chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, who both participated in peace negotiations back in March 2022, the Kremlin itself, and many independent investigations from Ukrainian and western news outlets.


Support for Ukraine from mainstream western media has been very clear since February 2022. But as a matter of fact, it is the same western media that is increasingly publishing criticism towards Zelensky and reporting about corruption in Ukraine. The most notorious expression of the first came last week in an interview with The Economist by the commander-in-chief of Ukraine’s armed forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi:


"The war has reached a stalemate, there will most likely be no deep and beautiful breakthrough, as Russia is a bigger country. Ukraine will run out of the required volume of missiles and ammunition while Russia, despite sanctions, is increasing its production capabilities. And even if it didn’t run out of weapons, it will run out of men: a war of attrition leads to the lack of Ukraine's ability to achieve superiority over the enemy in reserves by increasing their number".


Another article published also last week in the Time magazine with one Zelensky's advisors stated that:


"Despite the recent setbacks on the battlefield, he (Zelensky) does not intend to give up fighting or to sue for any kind of peace. On the contrary, his belief in Ukraine’s ultimate victory over Russia has hardened into a form that is worrying. It is immovable, verging on the messianic. He deludes himself. We’re out of options. We’re not winning. But try telling him that".


Indeed, Russia has built extremely strong defense lines that only an army with a clear superiority in technology and manpower can break through. But western support has not been enpugh. Since Russia launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the U.S. has provided around $50 billion in military aid and $45 billion in humanitarian and financial aid to Ukraine. As a comparison, that is 15% of the total US education budget for elementary and secondary schools.


However, this aid might stop anytime soon, as US public support for continuing the war in Ukraine has been eroding over time, and now around 40% of Americans oppose sending any more aid, 35% say it should stay the same and just 25% say it should increase. Moreover, the US Congress has not approved yet more aid to Ukraine, because the House of Representatives is still defining who will be its next speaker. Many Republicans in Congress do not want to send more money to Kiev saying that this money should be spent at home. Also the argue that this war is a regional issue but US support could instead provoke WW3. And Democrats do not have a majority to approve these bills with more aid to Ukraine.


Trump has said that he would end the war in 24 hours if he is elected by forcing Zelensky and Putin to seat on a negotiating table. Amid this presidential campaign that has already started with full force, Biden has experienced a downward approval rating in the last months, landing at just 37% currently, and all recent polls (CNN, NYT and CBS), show that Trump would beat him in a presidential race election. Also, Trump would win in five of the six crucial swing states that Biden narrowly took in 2020 (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania, but not Wisconsin). Additionally, the percentage of black voters that support Trump is 22%, the highest for any Republican candidate since the 60s and much higher than the 8% he got in 2016.


Finally, the war in Israel-Gaza may be affecting the willingness of some to support the war effort in Ukraine, but it is also true that both conflicts are essentially opposing the same sides: the liberal democracies of the world against more authoritarian nations, that are often former colonies of the first ones, and that seek to break the global hegemony of the West. Right now, it seems, however, that the destiny of the territorial status of Ukraine lies mostly on the outcome of the following presidential election in the US.

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