Kiev’s Western benefactors have reportedly turned from optimism to seeking a “new theory of victory” over Russia
Discouraged by Ukraine’s failed counteroffensive and no longer seeing a “convincing theory of victory” over Russia, Kiev’s Western allies have reportedly shifted to looking for a way to claim success by freezing the conflict in place along the current lines.
Even some of Ukraine’s most ardent backers are discussing the need to persuade President Vladimir Zelensky’s government to “accept a frozen conflict and declare victory” over Russian President Vladimir Putin, Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman reported on Monday, citing a former US official. “We have to flip the narrative and say that Putin has failed,” the unidentified official said.
The idea behind such a strategy would be to seek a “de facto freezing” of the conflict, which would involve moving Ukrainian forces into a defensive posture to hold off further Russian gains, Rachman wrote. The intensity of the fighting would dwindle under such a scenario, he said, leading to an armistice like the one that ceased combat operations in the Korean War in 1953. None of the “underlying political issues” would be settled.
“Once the fighting in Korea stopped, the South Koreans were able to concentrate on rebuilding their economy, with enormous success,” Rachman added. “Crucially, Ukraine still has access to the Black Sea and controls the port of Odessa. It has also been given the green light to begin negotiations to join the EU, which should be combined with more financial and technical aid to begin the process of rebuilding the economy.”
Such a prospect marks a far cry from the optimism conveyed by Western leaders earlier in the Ukraine crisis, such as when US President Joe Biden vowed in February that there was “no possibility” that Russia would defeat Ukraine. In July, Biden claimed that Putin had “already lost the war.”
However, as the FT columnist noted, Biden’s rhetoric has shifted in recent days. After pledging repeatedly since the conflict began in February 2022 that the US would give Ukraine all the weapons and funding it needs for “as long as it takes” to win, he revised that promise last week to “as long as we can.”
With the continuation of aid from Western benefactors increasingly in doubt, Ukraine “could be in serious trouble” by next summer, Rachman wrote. Even if new aid packages are approved by lawmakers, keeping the conflict in a “stalemate,” time could be on Russia’s side, he added.
“After the failure of the counteroffensive, there is also genuine skepticism about Ukraine’s prospects,” Rachman said. “If the country and its backers are to win the argument to do whatever it takes, they will have to do a better job of defining what ‘it’ is. Without a credible theory of victory, the pressure on Ukraine to negotiate with Russia will mount.”