In Other News – Ukraine and Allies Demonstrate a Committed Defense – 5-18-2023

May 18, 2023

Ukraine and allies demonstrate the impact of a committed defense. This week, Russia intensified its assault on Ukraine, launching over 30 cruise missiles into Ukrainian territory on Thursday morning alone. Thankfully, effective Western air defense systems and a concerted military training effort have allowed the resilient Ukrainian troops to largely defend against these attacks in Kyiv. Ukrainian President Zelenskyy recognizes how essential these defensive weapons are to his nation’s security, and this week he made in-person visits to some of his most critical European suppliers like Germany and the United Kingdom.

While Zelenskyy is requesting to reequip his troops with weapons like drones and tanks, he’s also asking for F-16 fighter jets. But Washington is still reluctant to send them. Over the past year, however, Ukraine’s allies have slowly but surely increased the sophistication of the weaponry that they’re willing to share. With every advance in sophisticated equipment, Ukraine and allies have watched for direct repercussions from Russia. And so far, the Russian response has not increased in way that should deter Ukraine’s allies from holding back on providing Zelenskyy with what he needs.

Many of Ukraine’s allies gathered on Thursday at the G7 meeting in Japan, where the discussion largely addressed both Russia and China. The G7 will focus on ways to counter China’s “economic coercion”, and it’s notable that China is simultaneously holding its own gathering with leaders of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. These five strategic former Soviet republics won’t be easily swayed to view China as the dominant regional player, and there are historic and security reasons why they are so closely tied to Russia, but the gathering still can’t sit well with Putin.

Russia also probably has mixed feelings about China and its other traditional allies like South Africa increasingly raising the issue of a Russia-Ukraine peace deal. While any deal remains untenable given the current state of the battlefield, this week President Zelenskyy received a visit by Beijing’s newly appointed special envoy for Ukraine- the highest ranking Chinese official to travel to Ukraine since the Russian invasion. The two reportedly discussed China’s potential role as a peace broker, and the imperative for a “political settlement of the Ukraine crisis.”

Likewise, South Africa is also vying for a leading diplomatic role, and this week President Ramaphosa reportedly spoke separately to Putin and Zelenskyy regarding the idea of an “African leaders peace mission.” Both Putin and Zelenskyy agreed to participate, but the parameters of the talks have yet to be determined. Even though the discussions won’t likely lead to any viable peace deal, it’s notable that Russia’s allies from the Global South have been increasingly stating their interest in ending the battle, and over time the political pressure on Putin is likely to increase in kind.

It will also be interesting to watch how and if President Erdogan’s foreign policy will shift in the aftermath of such a close presidential election in Turkey. Erdogan, and other global leaders like India’s Modi, have been navigating a balance between maintaining ties with Russia and with many key Ukrainian allies. But as the battle continues, they are also likely to become exasperated by the economic ramifications of the conflict.

Thus far, India has benefited from cheap Russian oil prices and Modi knows that he can get away with it considering his nation’s critical role in countering China. But India has been circumventing EU sanctions by purchasing the Russian oil and selling refined products back to European nations, and this week EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for a crackdown on the Russian-originated products. India won’t be happy to have its European customer base threatened, and if the loopholes that have benefitted global players like Modi continue to be tightened, it’s likely that Putin will increasingly feel the squeeze.