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Peace still elusive for Ukraine crisis

Two years after the conflict broke out, analysts warn of growing fatigue

China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-26 07:16

Firefighters work on the site of a burning building destroyed during an attack in Odesa on Friday. UKRAINIAN EMERGENCY SERVICE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Editor's note: As the Russia-Ukraine conflict marked its second anniversary on Saturday, China Daily takes a look at gains and losses from the conflict as well as the possibility for peace, which has remained elusive so far.

MOSCOW/KYIV — As the full-scale fight in Ukraine reached its second anniversary on Saturday, Russia appears to have the upper hand with the capture of Avdiivka, a strategic stronghold in the Donetsk region, leaving Kyiv and its backers in an even harder situation than before.

The weariness caused by the two-year-long conflict has been dubbed by some analysts as "Ukraine fatigue".

In recent months, Russia and Ukraine have both focused on the strategic importance of Avdiivka, about 20 kilometers from Donetsk. According to Russia's Defense Ministry, Russian troops have taken full control of Avdiivka.

Sean Bell, a British military analyst, said the fall of Avdiivka has given Russia its most important battlefield victory since it seized Bakhmut after months of grueling attritional warfare.

Many analysts believe the balance of war is tipping in Russia's favor but not to the point where Ukraine is at risk of a full-scale collapse.

The front lines of the conflict have barely moved since 2023 as Ukraine's midyear offensive failed. This also holds true even after the fall of Avdiivka.

"Militarily, it's not a big loss," said Rob Bauer, chair of the NATO Military Committee, concerning the fall of Avdiivka.

"They destroyed the whole infrastructure. So, you don't have a city. You have another couple of hundred meters," he said of Russia's territorial gains.

As the former commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, said recently, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has now entered a phase characterized by stalemate and attrition.

According to analysts, it is seemingly difficult for both sides to achieve a major breakthrough on the battlefield this year, but the intensity of the conflict may decline.

Ukraine will probably switch from offensive to defensive, while Russia will also find it hard to expand its territory beyond the four areas it controls.

In the two years of the conflict, the US defense industry has experienced a boom in orders for weapons and munitions, The Wall Street Journal reported recently.

Business is coming from European allies trying to beef up their military capabilities as well as from the Pentagon, which is both buying new equipment from defense manufacturers and replenishing military stocks depleted by deliveries to Ukraine, it said.

The year 2023 started with high hopes for Ukrainian troops planning a counteroffensive against Russia, but ended with disappointment on the battlefield.

"Whatever else the war may be achieving, it has not been good for Ukraine," said Charles W. Freeman, a retired US diplomat and writer, adding that Ukraine's bargaining position against Russia has been greatly weakened.

Both Russia and Ukraine have repeatedly said they want the conflict to end, but on their terms.

In January, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that a cease-fire then would only give Russia a chance to regroup and replenish its units and weapon stocks.

The Kremlin said in December that it saw no current basis for peace talks, and called Kyiv's peace plan an "absurd process" as it excluded Russia.

For most analysts, a negotiated solution in 2024 does not look promising at this point.

A survey conducted in January across 12 EU countries found that pessimism about the conflict's outcome was being fueled by Ukraine's failed counteroffensive, a potential US policy shift and the possibility of Donald Trump being reelected president.

Though support for Ukraine among Europeans remains high, some form of "compromise settlement" is seen as the most likely solution in the survey of more than 17,000 respondents by the European Council on Foreign Relations. However, it marks a shift in sentiment, as a majority of Europeans said upon the first anniversary of the conflict that Ukraine must regain all of its lost territory.




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