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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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The coming of the third phase of the Russian-Ukrainian war or its radical turn?

Photo: Volodymyr Zelenskyy visiting Kharkiv region
Source: Office of the President of Ukraine


The counteroffensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Kharkiv region proved to the whole world that Ukraine can and will return the occupied territories, despite the skepticism that was heard in many media. While most officials and analysts were in favor of supporting Ukraine, the assessments of experts incompetent in military science could be seen in well-known and authoritative publications such as The New York Times, Foreign Affairs or Foreign Policy. 

In their publications, they argued the inexpediency of military assistance to Ukraine, often justifying this by the inability of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to achieve success in offensive operations and emphasized the need to start negotiations with the Russian Federation on its terms as soon as possible. In response, the Armed Forces of Ukraine proved in practice that with sufficient support, Russia would be kicked out of Ukraine. However, as for now, it is too early to say that in the future Ukraine will certainly receive the level of support that would be sufficient to achieve a military victory over the aggressor and return the territories within the internationally recognized border as of August 24, 1991. 

The doubts and assessment of the so-called experts are not a key factor in determining the further course of the Russian-Ukrainian war, but the hesitation of international leaders, unfortunately, is such a factor. At present, their ardent desire to end the armed confrontation between Ukraine and Russia through negotiations as soon as possible is observed, even despite the successes of Ukrainian troops in the Kharkiv and Kherson regions. 

As the conflict progressed, Recep Erdogan received more and more criticism from Ukrainians. His unequivocal support for Ukraine at the beginning of the full-scale invasion has changed to the traditional ambiguity: on the one hand, Turkey continues military aid to Ukraine, on the other hand, it has become a haven for Russian capital, continues economic cooperation with Moscow, and occasionally accuses the West of Russian aggression. The issue of the Russian-Ukrainian war has become an internal political issue for Erdogan, and therefore mediation initiatives are not aimed at supporting Ukraine, but at strengthening his authority among the population and on the international arena. After the meeting with Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Lviv, Recep Erdogan seems to have realized that Ukraine does not need mediators, but allies, and will not go to negotiations with the Russian Federation. That is why the Turkish president has at least put peace mediation proposals on hold. Another potential "mediator" is Emmanuel Macron, a supporter of the diplomatic approach, which, however, has not been working for longer than the full-scale aggression of the Russian Federation. Even before February 24, the French president spent hours on the phone with Vladimir Putin. The position of France has not changed the behavior of the Russian Federation. Attempts to further maintain communication between Paris and Moscow regarding a peaceful settlement proved futile and only cause distrust in Kyiv. 

On September 11, the President of France held talks with Vladimir Putin. On September 13, Chancellor of Germany Olaf Scholz negotiated with the head of the Kremlin, and already on the 14th, Russia launched missile strikes on critical infrastructure in the city of Kryvyi Rih. In the current war, Russia has done everything possible to make the international community finally understand what the modern Russian Federation is and the fact that this state understands only force. However, some leaders are still vacillating between unquestioning support for Ukraine and the desire to end the war, even at the expense of concluding a hopeless truce. 

And even Anthony Blinken, a representative of a part of the American politicians who are in favor of increasing military assistance to Ukraine, unexpectedly visited Kyiv at the time when the Ukrainian Armed Forces broke through the front near Balakliya. The head of the State Department probably discussed the future plans of the Ukrainian leadership, and also probed the ground for possible negotiations between Ukraine and the Russian Federation. The Biden administration is still hesitant to increase military support. Ukraine has not yet received ATACMS missiles capable of striking 300 km, aircraft, modern tanks or MQ-9 Reaper drones. Thus, Russia maintains a military advantage as Joe Biden attempts to direct the course of the conflict for fear of escalation. For the lack of additional assistance in the form of modern technology, Ukraine pays every day with the lives of its citizens. Due to partners' hesitation, Ukraine's offensive remains limited and there are occasional calls for negotiations. 

Considering that Russian officials started talking about negotiations, such a development of events would suit Russia, because the signing of a truce would fix the positions of the Russian Armed Forces on the territory of Ukraine and give time to adapt to the sanctions, partially restore military forces and time for diplomatic work. aimed at breaking up the coalition of Ukraine's partners. 

This is well understood by the Ukrainian leadership, whose position remains unified and unequivocal. After the successful actions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the Kharkiv region, the main high-ranking officials of Ukraine responsible for foreign policy: the President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Defense, gave interviews and speeches in which they expressed their intention to continue the fight until the entire territory of Ukraine is liberated. The Yermak-Rasmussen plan on security guarantees for Ukraine was also published, indicating the rejection of the possibility of fixing Ukraine in a gray zone with the imposition of a neutral status on the state. 

That is, the position of Ukraine has changed dramatically since the March talks with the Russian Federation. Sooner or later, Ukraine will sign an agreement with Russia, but without a future military victory, the state will not be able to avoid limiting sovereignty and territorial concessions. “I believe that this winter is a turning point, and it can lead to a rapid de-occupation of Ukraine. We see them escaping in some directions. If we were a little stronger with weapons, we would de-occupy faster,” Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at the YES forum. "Ukraine can't afford to stop," Zelenskyy said, it was his response to the leaders of some countries, whose names he did not specify. At the same time, the President of Ukraine understands the risks associated with winter. The main risk is the loss of European countries support, whose economies have suffered losses due to Russian aggression and sanctions. 

Ukraine and its leadership are ready for a difficult winter. The question remains how prepared Europe and the US are. The SCO summit demonstrated that Vladimir Putin is losing influence and authority not only in the European direction, but also in the Eurasian one. Europe must use this and demonstrate its power. The success of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will not only allow Ukraine to restore its territorial integrity, but also demonstrate the strength of the West, both of Europe and the United States in the international arena. This success will rebalance Europe and will give opportunity to focus on economic renewal. Therefore, it is very important to ensure support for Ukraine over the next 6 months. If Ukraine and Europe can overcome the winter, Russia will not be able to continue the war either economically or on the battlefield.