Since 1947 we have never been so close to “midnight” of the Doomsday Clock, the metaphorical time with which the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists signals the risk of a nuclear catastrophe. It’s true, we’re not talking about an exact science, and for some time now this clock has also been trying to quantify other risks of irreversible damage to the planet, such as those due to climate change. But it is equally true that it is a further signal that shows how the war in Ukraine is preparing to enter a new phase which risks being particularly dangerous for the global balance.
After eleven months, the conflict has not reached a decisive outcome. Russia has failed to bend Ukraine, but still has a war potential that allows it to carry on the war, on the other hand, Ukraine has managed to avoid succumbing to Russia, but has failed to definitively stop the his military effort. And in this situation, both sides believe that they can achieve a better battlefield situation than the current one, which clearly contributes to putting aside the possibility of a dialogue leading to the suspension of hostilities.
The massacre continues
Ukraine, for its part, knows it can count on strong support from NATO and its allies, who are continuing to supply it with ever more sophisticated weapons, but Russia is aware that, thanks to a much larger population than the Ukrainian one can mobilize many more people to the front than would allow it to sustain a war effort over time. A situation that risks turning into a further escalation of the conflict.
The West, in order to support Ukraine in repelling the Russian offensive, has sent ever more powerful weapons during the conflict: from the Javelin anti-tank to the Himars rocket launchers, the next armaments on the way to Kiev are the modern tanks armed Abrams and Leopard. In fact, NATO and its allies are aware that easing support for Ukraine would risk nullifying the results obtained by Kiev, also due to an issue that has been making headway in recent days, linked to the risks due to the numerical difference between the two warring parties in a war that day after day seems destined not to end soon.
While the Russians announced the capture of the mining city of Soledar, many media reported that Washington would have advised Kiev to put Bakhmut’s front in the background and concentrate elsewhere, due to the excessive number of losses compared to a strategic value considered secondary. In fact, the losses out of a population of about 40 million, marred by war dead and waves of refugees, risk weighing heavily in a conflict against a country of 140 million inhabitants.
The news released by Bloomberg also goes in this direction which, quoting a source inside the Kremlin, said that Russia would be preparing a major offensive to regain the initiative, after having found itself defeated on several fronts since last summer, but He added that Moscow has no problems preparing for a long war due to its greater ability to accept losses due to its population superiority, despite the fact that there have been difficult times in the past eleven months.
All elements that suggest the arrival of an increasingly violent phase of the conflict, in which more and more men and weapons are preparing to arrive in Ukraine. Whatever position one has towards the conflict, it must be clear that its prolongation and the arrival of an ever higher number of weapons and the involvement of ever more subjects makes every risk higher, as we saw on the occasion of the missile (later revealed to be Ukrainian) which fell in Przewodow, on Polish soil, last November 15th. And with an ever deeper involvement of NATO countries which the alliance is keen to underline is a way to defend Kiev and not to threaten Russia, but which Moscow sees as an ever more direct involvement of the West.
In the short term, therefore, Russia is expected to launch a new offensive, as Defense Minister Guido Crosetto also declared in an interview with Corriere della Sera, and as confirmed by Bloomberg’s indiscretions, using that part of the military mobilized last September but not yet sent to the front, to which others could be added, as suggested in the UK Defense Bulletin published on 30 January. The same Russia that recently chose its Chief of Staff, Valeri Gerasimov, as commander of operations in Ukraine, thus giving a signal of strong involvement of the military in the conflict.
The spaces for diplomatic solutions, cherished on some occasions but decidedly distant in the phase that lies ahead, do not seem easily feasible. On the one hand, the West cannot afford to recognize territorial changes through an aggressive war, with all the ensuing risks for global peace after a precedent in this regard. On the other, Russia, in launching what it defines as a “special military operation”, has not clearly stated its objectives (“demilitarize” and “denazify” are rather vague concepts). As much as some may assume, this makes it difficult to understand what outcome Moscow might be willing to settle for, whether at the negotiating table or on the battlefield, especially after eleven months of war.
While Russia is studying how to regain the initiative, therefore, the West is sending ever more powerful weapons to ensure that Ukraine is able to respond, but the specter on the horizon is that of a long war in which everyone thinks they still have something to gain. We cannot know how it will end, nor at what cost, but the phase that lies ahead does not seem destined to leave room for negotiations of any kind, but for an attempt by both to reach a more favorable situation than the current one, with weapons more powerful and sophisticated and other men at the front. It is what many are calling escalation.
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