The show must go on: No one will be held accountable for Ukraine’s failed counteroffensive strategy

Despite huge losses for Ukraine in its failed counteroffensive, political pressures mean the war must continue, and this time with higher stakes, writes Paweł Lisicki, the chief editor of Poland’s Do Rzeczy weekly magazine

editor: Grzegorz Adamczyk
author: Paweł Lisicki
A Ukrainian military medic treats his wounded comrade at the field hospital near Bakhmut, Ukraine, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Just a few months ago when I predicted that the Ukrainian counteroffensive was unlikely to succeed, I was attacked for being defeatist and a coward. Now, the military experts are openly predicting that the Ukrainian counteroffensive is stuck. 

Italian general Marco Bertolini has said that from a military perspective, a Ukrainian victory is unimaginable and that it is time to negotiate, stating that Russia is simply too strong. 

According to the Washington Post, U.S. intelligence predicts that Ukraine cannot cut Crimea off from the Russian forces in the east of Ukraine. Other Western media are not only reporting that the Ukrainian offensive has stalled, but have also begun to publish estimates of Ukrainian casualties being in the range of 150,000 soldiers, and that half a million lives have been lost in total during this war. 

These costs should lead to some reflection, but this is not the case. Kyiv seems to be willing to accept the costs and is demanding more weapons so that a future counteroffensive boosted by F-16 fighter planes might succeed. 

On the Western side, the failure of sanctions and the massive arms deliveries to Ukraine do not seem to be making a difference either. More of the same is promised, even though the objective of weakening Russia and bleeding it dry is not being realized, and never mind Ukraine actually recovering its lost territories. 

We hear nothing about any attempts to negotiate peace, even though it is clear Russia is fighting a much smarter military campaign than it did at the beginning of the war. Militarily, we are in a state of stalemate, and ditto for diplomacy, as Washington seems unwilling to contemplate a deal. This is because a deal would involve embarrassing concessions of territory to Russia.

The U.S. seems to have been banking on Russia collapsing. For Biden, to admit this assumption was wrong, would be embarrassing in an election year. 

The alternative may be to make Ukrainian soldiers the scapegoats and blame them for mishandling the counteroffensive. The trouble with that scenario is that it risks the uncontrolled collapse of the Zelensky government, since the Ukrainian president himself is unlikely to fall on his sword just to please the Americans. 

This means that a scenario in which the stakes are raised by introducing new military resources to Ukraine in order to keep the show on the road until November 2024 is likely. However, it will be hard to persuade the U.S.’s Western allies that this makes sense. This is why the sobering military analysis is not accompanied by any diplomatic initiatives. 

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