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Has the endgame in Ukraine already begun?

Ukrainian President Zelensky is likely to be in trouble in the absence of tangible gains in the war with Russia

With more than 600 days after its start, the military conflict in Ukraine, which triggered the deepest international crisis since the end of World War II, is finally moving to a strategic crossroads.

The latest reports from the battleground come as a growing  evidence that the much-advertised Ukrainian counteroffensive, launched early June with the active support of the West, had lost its steam. In the early days of November the fighting looks rather like a “war for meters” – a conflict of reduced intensity or a lull before a storm.

While the Kremlin’s Ukrainian strategy is not publicly questioned by anyone in Moscow, radical changes are brewing in Kiev. On the eve of the presidential election in Ukraine, scheduled for next March despite the ongoing hostilities, several members of President Zelensky’s inner circle broke the unspoken taboo that existed in Kiev since February 2022, when Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine.

Political and public figures along with the top military brass  who  confidently declared that Ukraine would fully regain its lost territories, reach the borders of 1991 that existed at the time of the collapse of the USSR, and even celebrate Victory Day over Russia in Moscow has dramatically changed the tone of their statements.

In a new twist  they not only doubt the possibility of achieving a military victory over Russia, but go even further, modeling bleak future of war-torn Ukraine. Reluctantly they acknowledge that Kiev will have to accept the loss of part of its territory and seek peace with Russia to avoid a crushing defeat in an unfavorable scenario fraught with the complete loss of Ukrainian statehood.

One of the main news-makers in Kiev, Ukraine’s Armed Forces  Commander-in-chief  Valery Zaluzhny, who is considered the number two person in the hierarchy of Ukrainian power and potential presidential  hopeful has seemingly thrown his hat into the ring,  challenging President Zelensky’s war strategy.

In an article published in The Economist which was followed by his interview to the same publication, General Zaluzhny admitted that there would most likely not be a “deep and beautiful breakthrough” of the front by Ukrainian troops. Summing up the results of 20-month armed conflict with Russia, the Ukrainian commander-in-chief warned of the risk of the war entering a new phase – a “positional war” of attrition, which, in his opinion, is beneficial to Russia, but not to Ukraine.

In his article in The Economist, the Ukrainian general admits that Russia retains a significant superiority in aviation. Meanwhile, for any major ground operation, including a counteroffensive, Ukraine would have needed to achieve air supremacy.

The Ukrainian general also recalls that Russia has modernized its electronic warfare (EW) and this also turns against the Ukrainian army. When Western modern artillery was just delivered to Ukraine, Kiev gained an advantage, but then, with the improvement of Russian electronic warfare, this superiority was nullified.

Adding to this, Ukraine is facing increasing difficulties in clearing the territories in the combat zone from the minefields. A year and a half ago, Ukraine had a small number of outdated equipment for mine clearance. Western models of equipment cope with this task much better, but their number is not enough.

And finally, Ukraine is facing an acute shortage of personnel. It could be fixed only by changing the legislation in order not to allow citizens to evade the recruitment to the Army.

Arguing that fighting has reached an impasse, which can “exhaust Ukraine,” Valery Zaluzhny criticizes NATO military strategists as well. According to NATO textbooks, Ukrainian troops were supposed to reach Crimea in four months, but eventually they got stuck in densely mined fields, Zaluzhny argues.

“To break the deadlock, we need something new, comparable to the gunpowder that the Chinese invented and which we still use to kill each other,” Valery Zaluzhny sums up. At the same time, according to him, although a technological breakthrough is not expected in the near future, the Ukrainian army will have no option but to continue the counteroffensive as high hopes are pinned on it by the West.

In another publication, echoing  General Zaluzhny confessions, which appeared in Time  magazine, famous Ukrainian journalist and TV presenter Simon Schuster, referring to unnamed persons from the entourage of President Zelensky, makes a conclusion that sounds like dissent.

Schuster notes that as of today, only the Ukrainian leader himself and few people in his team still believe in Kiev’s military victory and the possibility of reaching the borders of 1991.

The Times story also describes the growing rift between Ukraine’s political and military leadership, especially in situations where the authorities set tasks to achieve successes at the front, while the military command has no resources for this.

Commenting on the statements made in Kiev, President Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov said that Russia “consistently continues to conduct a special operation.” “All the goals that were set must be fulfilled. Even to talk about any prospects for the victory of Kiev on the battlefield is absurd,” Peskov said.

According to him, the sooner Ukraine “understands this for itself, the sooner some prospects will open up”.

Meanwhile, another bombshell in Kiev was exploded by former adviser to President Zelensky, Alexey Arestovich, who is seen as another possible participant in the race for the presidency next March.

In his telegram channel, Alexey Arestovich unveiled his 14-point political program, in particular, calling for abandoning the counteroffensive and switching to “strategic defense”, and changing the personnel policy in the army to “human-centered” approach.

“The proposal to the collective West is that we are ready for Kissinger’s option: we demand entry into NATO with an obligation not to try to reconquer the territories occupied at the time of entry, but to seek their return only by political means,” Alexey Arestovich added.

All in all, a new dramatic turn is seemingly shaping up in the conflict in Ukraine, which we can probably see already at the beginning of next year – during the presidential election of Ukraine, due to take place a just months before the presidential election in the US.

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