While military victories are crucial for Ukraine, a road to lasting peace will need to be political
Updated: Aug 29, 2022
Dr Marina Miron is currently an Honorary Research Fellow in the Defence Studies Department at King's College London. She completed a BA in Politics and American Studies (Joint Honours) and an MA in War and Contemporary Conflict, both at the University of Nottingham. Marina was then awarded a PhD scholarship at the University of New South Wales, Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, Australia. In February 2019, Marina successfully completed her PhD studies in the area of military strategy (with a focus on counter-insurgency campaigns in Peru, Turkey and Sri Lanka).
Among her research interests are Russian strategic and military thought, information warfare, strategic studies, and military strategy.
1. What is your view on the latest developments in Ukraine? What do you think is Russia’s ultimate objective in the war it launched against Ukraine?
The latest developments on the battlefield have shown the capability of the Ukrainian forces to offer effective resistance in the south, especially considering the attacks on military targets in Crimea. Here the use of drones proved to be quite successful. Even though the damage done has not been significant in physical terms, the strategic output was much more critical in that it had a psychological effect not only on the population of Crimea but also on Russia’s forces stationed there. Given that Crimea is heavily militarized showing it is vulnerable is quite demoralizing. Another significant event was disabling of the Antonivskiy bridge in Kherson. Although there are still other ways to supply the troops, the logistical task for the Russian forces has been complicated.
2. What do you think the West can do more to help Ukraine? What should our leadership do more to attract more support?
In rhetorical terms, Western leadership has always condemned Russia’s actions. However, as far as actual help is concerned, it has been slower than expected and desired, despite President Zelensky’s appeals. Ukraine received weapons and ammo from the very beginning, yet the supply was not constant. More so, there has always been fear of crossing the so-called “red line”. This has significantly slowed the delivery of specific weapons systems such as MLRS HIMARS. Given how the sanctions affect Europe, there is a rift between European leaders, the UK, and the US. In Europe, the decision-making has been hampered by fears of escalation and bureaucratic procedures. In July, for instance, the German defence minister – with Germany being a country that was concerned about Russia’s retaliation – declined to deliver armored personnel vehicles “Fuchs” (Fox) to Ukraine.
President Zelensky has been very proactive in attracting Western support. Similarly, Ukrainian ambassadors to European countries have contributed significantly to Zelensky’s efforts in this sphere. However, it is not always up to Zelensky as there are so many factors at play when it comes to the decision-making of the Western leaders regarding what weapons to deliver, when and how. Certainly, the UK and the US differ from their European counterparts in this aspect, where decision-making is much quicker. Also, we must understand that the US has leading military capabilities, so it might be easier for President Joe Biden to allocate aid packages to Ukraine, as we have seen today. The best Ukrainian leadership can do is to ensure transparency regarding where and how the weapons systems are used. This is an essential point as there had been fears that there could be possible attacks deep into Russia if the Ukrainian Armed Forced had received ATACMS missiles. There appears to be a slight degree of distrust, and this is something that should be addressed. The NATO alliance does not wish for any war escalation, and many publications have discussed the potential for spillover.
3. What are the highest risks for Ukraine now, and what can our leadership do to avert them?
The risks for Ukraine are several. Firstly, despite the new aid package, it is not sure when and what will be delivered. Another issue is how quickly the Ukrainian forces can integrate the latest technology and where it will be integrated. It is unclear what will happen on the battlefield between now and when the new weapons will reach the Ukrainian forces. The second issue is that the Russian troops may slowly step up their offensive efforts (especially after the recent mobilization) and deploy more weapons to the theatre, given the efforts to build strategic partnerships with countries like Iran and North Korea.
Thirdly, another important factor that the leadership can certainly address is ensuring that the forces' morale remains high, as this might, in some cases, be more important than equipment. Six months of fighting causes war fatigue, so it is vital to ensure that Ukrainian troops remain motivated.
Last but not least, there is a need to ensure that the societal fabric and social cohesion remain intact. Ukrainian people are undergoing a lot of hardships right now, not just in terms of lack of security but also due to the dire economic consequences of the ongoing conflict. All these factors could polarize society and create distrust towards and dissatisfaction with the government. If the government fails to address popular grievances, there could potentially emerge an insurgency which would be disastrous.
4. Do you think there will be a chance of new peace talks between Ukraine and Russia? Or is it a long way to go?
Peace talks will need to have some grounds acceptable to both parties. From what it looks like right now, both sides seem to reject the idea of peace talks, though efforts have been made to resolve some specific issues (such as the export of grain). However, should peace talks occur, both sides need to make sacrifices for these to be successful. A premature ceasefire can be beneficial in the short term. However, if the underlying reasons for the conflict are not addressed or resolved, it will not last. Military history is replete with such examples, especially if a third party enforces such a ceasefire. The idea here is not just to end the war but also to achieve durable peace, another part of the equation that is often forgotten. This will be difficult to achieve given the current state of affairs, as Ukraine and Russia have diametrically opposed ideas of what that ‘peace’ should look like.
5. What do you think the future holds for Ukraine?
It is challenging to answer this question since there are many possible outcomes: Ukraine winning, Ukraine losing, Ukraine and Russia reaching an agreement, the war not ending and growing into a low-intensity conflict, or the war spinning out of control.
Whether Ukraine wins or loses will depend on many factors, some of which are out of Ukraine’s control, given that there is a dependence on Western support. It also depends on how Ukraine utilizes the resources it receives. There is a need for military and, most importantly, strategic agility here. The latter is much more difficult to master than the earlier, especially in light of so many unknowns, e.g., how will European countries behave when the winter comes? There are already indicators that the support for Ukraine has been waning. How this will affect the efforts of the Ukrainian military can only be speculated.
The third scenario is implausible now, given that each of the countries would want to be able to negotiate from a power position. This would imply military victory for one of the sides. However, we do not know what the political climate in Ukraine and Russia will look like. There is also a possibility of pressure from the West upon the leadership of Ukraine to reach an agreement with Russia. How the Ukrainian leadership will react depends on a careful strategic analysis that would take place then.
The fourth and fifth scenarios can be considered separately or as a sequence. Again, at this point, we can only speculate what this might look like, e.g., a potential insurgency in Ukraine or Russian-controlled territories which spreads beyond the territory of Ukraine if other countries decide to offer sanctuaries and training. Another scenario would be a nuclear holocaust, though feared, it is less likely given that neither Russia nor NATO is interested in a nuclear escalation.