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Tuesday, 16 August 2022
Ukraine – Preparing for the Long War
James Denselow

The G7 meeting has no secretariat or traditional agenda but instead provides a more informal space for this community of allies to address the most pressing issues of the day. Unsurprisingly Ukraine has headlined the affair with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky telling G7 leaders he wanted Russia's war in Ukraine ended by the end of the year before the winter sets in. Addressing the G7 Summit in the Bavarian Alps via video link, Zelensky said battle conditions would make it tougher for his troops as they mount their fightback against Vladimir Putin's men. 

Zelensky is understandably focused on urgency considering how pivotal the amount and type of Western arms will be to slowing or reversing Russian gains in the east of the country. Yet G7 leaders are focused on a different timeline and over 120 days into the escalation are looking to reassure both Kiev and their own publics that this is a long-term endeavour that will be costly but ultimately worth it.  

Indeed, a G7 statement explained the group’s commitment to ‘continue to provide financial, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support and stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes’. British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has gone even further in interviews where he is clear that "the price of freedom is worth paying.” Johnson invoked World War Two as taking "a long time" and was "very expensive" but brought "decades and decades of stability" and delivered "long-term prosperity". 

There is an interesting strategic analysis that looks at the conflict from Moscow’s perspective and sees a strategy that saw two key scenarios for victory. One was the success of the rapid thunder run effort to seize Ukraine’s capital at the start of the escalation. A short, sudden and overwhelming use of force could have captured Kiev and replaced the government with a pro-Moscow entity, is the supposed logic. 

This of course failed, but that doesn’t rule out the second path to victory. A slow grinding seizure of land in the east including the land bridge that now joins Crimea to Russia. Russia has paid quite the price for this operation to date in terms of losses to its armed forces and the massive range of sanctions – economic and other - that have been leveraged against it, yet Moscow could imagine that such is European reliance on its oil and gas that time will dilute these sanctions.  

The European Union should stop adding sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine and instead push for a ceasefire and the start of negotiations, a senior aide to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said last week. Low level splits in the Western-led unity towards the conflict in Ukraine was perhaps inevitable as the conflict grinds on. Russia’s ability to use energy supplies as a tactic means there is a very real prospect not just of the high price of energy continuing to spike in Europe, but fuel rationing being introduced in the winter period to come. This will result in public anger that will be felt by politicians in these countries.  

Estonia’s prime minister, Kaja Kallas, spoke out at the start of June saying that “we are at a point when sanctions start to hurt our side. At first the sanctions were only difficult for Russia but now we are coming to a point when the sanctions are painful for our own countries, and now the question is how much pain are we willing to endure”.  

G7 leaders are aware of this prospect so are doubling down on the theme of unity. “We have to stay together, because Putin has been counting on, from the beginning, that somehow NATO and the G-7 would splinter, but we haven’t and we’re not going to,” President Biden said after meeting with his German counterpart, Olaf Scholz.  

A key component around unity is support Kiev’s decision to seek peace talks at a time they feel is right, rather than being forced into them as part of a process of concessions to Moscow. Whilst peace talks spluttered along in the first few weeks of the escalation they have largely broken down as both sides see a military route to success. With no clear sense as to when this equation changes it’s time to prepare for the conflict going on into the long term.

BY: James Denselow