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New Aid to Ukraine Won’t Break Stalemate

May 08, 2024
  • Xiao Bin

    Deputy Secretary-general, Center for Shanghai Cooperation Organization Studies, Chinese Association of Social Sciences

The U.S. Congress recently approved a $61 billion aid bill for Ukraine, aiming to undercut Russia’s military advantages while bolstering Ukraine’s capabilities. But new arms are unlikely to break the current stalemate on the battlefield. Neither immediate victory for Ukraine nor immediate defeat for Russia are likely.

Oleksandr Syrskyi, commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces, publicly stated in mid-April that the situation on the eastern front continued to deteriorate, as Ukraine could only rely on drones to attack Russia’s pivotal infrastructure and delay its offensive. Following the passage of the aid bill, a wave of optimism swept through Ukraine and its supporters. Many believe that new weapons and ammunition will help Ukraine stall Russia’s momentum and change the course of the war, which is in its third year.

For example, MP Oleksandra Ustinova, who heads Ukraine’s special parliamentary commission on arms and munitions, said the U.S. aid bill undoubtedly lights a lamp of hope in a corridor with no end in sight and provides strong spiritual encouragement. In Kiev, residents said they are looking for any opportunity to halt Russian attacks. U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell said that things are moving in the right direction. Leaders of NATO, the European Union and Poland also voiced their support. All these demonstrate a growing global expectation that Ukraine can win the war and maintain its sovereignty. 

Arms key to security 

An examination of current Russian and Ukrainian actions reveals that both nations are reluctant to accept failure. They believe that by increasing the cost of the war to their opponent, they can eventually compel concessions. However, even after additional U.S. military assistance arrives, it will take a long time for Ukraine to organize a large-scale counteroffensive capable of breaking the stalemate. According to projections from the Ukrainian military, any substantial improvement in their position is not expected until June. Even then, the improvement may only prevent an aggressive Russian offensive instead of securing a decisive defeat of the Russian army.

Of course, Russia will not allow Ukraine to achieve such a goal without resistance. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at a defense conference that Russia will intensify strikes on Ukrainian storage bases that house Western-supplied weapons. Therefore, the next few months are a critical juncture for both Russia and Ukraine. Moscow will continue to unlock its considerable arms production capacity, refine its military organization and develop and deploy new weapons and equipment. At the same time, Kiev will need to enhance its military strike capabilities and take stronger action to rebuild its forces and arms industry. Clearly, a prolonged war is a reality that both Russia and Ukraine must face. 

Fragile international order 

The war in Ukraine shows that the current international system has no substantive binding force on major countries whose foreign policies are driven primarily by their national security interests. That is exactly why the U.S. Congress passed the aid package for Ukraine.

At present, it is difficult to predict the impact of the $61 billion on the international order. While the United States has provided up to $113 billion in aid to Ukraine over the past two years, Ukraine has failed to reverse the situation on the eastern front and has remained entrenched in a stalemate. In this regard, Anton Hofreiter, chairman of the German Bundestag’s European Affairs Committee, said, “This may be the only assistance that the United States can provide for the foreseeable future; it may even be the last. Europeans themselves should do more things for Ukraine.”

To break the battlefield stalemate as soon as possible, Russia and the United States will try to take control by deploying all tools at hand. For example, Moscow continues to exert its influence in Northeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Asia and Southeast Asia, trying to stretch Washington’s resources thin. Meanwhile, Washington is encouraging the formation of political, economic and security alliances to contain Russia. It also frequently applies pressure on China — for example by restricting China’s exports of dual-use goods to Russia to weaken Russia’s military capabilities.

Further, Washington has strengthened relations with its Asian allies — particularly Japan and the Philippines — and intervened on disputes over the sovereignty of islands and delineation of maritime boundaries. These actions have strained China-U.S. relations and disrupted an already fragile international order.

Whenever international turmoil intensifies, there is a collective expectation that peace will come soon. In an international system in which anarchy rules, America’s involvement in the Ukrainian war is partly driven by moral imperatives; but it will also exert influence over Ukraine’s military actions out of concerns for its own future security. This could increase NATO’s reliance on Washington while draining Russian power. But it will be difficult for the new U.S. aid bill to break the tactical stalemate on the battlefield in Ukraine. 

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