#FinancialReview: Putin could have the last laugh in Ukraine

20:18, Wednesday, 27 December, 2023
#FinancialReview: Putin could have the last laugh in Ukraine

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky and his Russian nemesis Vladimir Putin both held televised press conferences just before Christmas. If there was one thing these two exercises had in common, it was this: both men said their side will win the war.

Zelensky was asked directly if Ukraine would lose the battle raging inside its borders. His single-word answer: “No.”

As for Putin, he seemed more upbeat than at any time since the invasion began in February 2022. “Our armed forces are improving their position almost along the entire line of contact … I am certain that victory will be ours,” he said. He even started to make menacing noises towards Finland, now a NATO member.

Putin certainly seems the man with more reasons to be cheerful. Ukraine’s counter-offensive this year had its moments, but it did not land a decisive blow. A sense of demoralisation is starting to seep into the edges of Ukrainian politics and society, fraying unity and chipping away at Zelensky’s authority.

The war may be claiming hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers’ lives, but Putin’s home front is solid. The economy is weakened, but it is pump-primed by its war footing.

Most Putin-pleasing of all, and most frustratingly for Zelensky, the West’s resolve shows signs of wearing thin. Without the money and munitions that the US and Europe are now failing to deliver, Ukraine’s cause is surely all but lost.

And that’s even before the potential resurrection as US president of Donald Trump, who will – at the very least – turn his back on the Ukrainians and their fight for national survival.

“During the initial stages of Russia’s Ukraine invasion, there was something approaching an international consensus that Vladimir Putin had made a colossal blunder … [he] appeared to have isolated his country and inadvertently unified the entire Western world against him,” Peter Dickinson, editor of Ukraine Business magazine, wrote on the Atlantic Council website.

“As Russia’s invasion approaches the two-year mark, the picture is now far more complex and significantly darker … Putin is now more confident than ever that he can outlast the West in Ukraine.”

But the war is not yet won, or lost. The two sides are still locked in a battlefield stalemate, and neither side feels the desire nor the necessity to sue for peace.

A year of grim, pre-Trump stalemate beckons, unless someone, somehow, finds a circuit-breaker and flips the switch.

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