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Second anniversary — Ukraine’s fading fortunes are in the hands of Trump and Europe

Second anniversary — Ukraine’s fading fortunes are in the hands of Trump and Europe
Ukrainian civilians in military training near Kyiv on 17 February 2024. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Sergey Dolzhenko)

As Ukraine’s war effort falters, it is vital for the West to put its economies on a war footing. But Europe seems unwilling and Trump is capricious.

The second anniversary of Russia’s invasion has rolled around (24 February), and it has become sadly all too clear that past and would-be future US president Donald Trump holds Ukraine’s faltering fortunes in his unreliable hands.

It has not been a good time lately for Ukraine. Last Sunday Russian forces captured the key city of Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region after a bloody four-month campaign. It was a Pyrrhic victory for Russia, which lost about 16,000 soldiers in the battle, according to Western sources.

But Ukraine also lost many and the fall of Avdiivka might have opened the path to further territorial gains for Moscow. Many Ukrainian soldiers were also captured in the hasty retreat from the city.

The cost of politics

The fall of Avdiivka can largely be blamed on Trump and the spineless Republican Congress representatives whom he browbeat into opposing a deal with President Joe Biden’s administration, which would have tightened up illegal immigration across America’s southern border in exchange for Republicans supporting $61-billion of aid to Ukraine. Trump evidently needed to keep the illegal immigration issue alive for his presidential campaign against Biden.

For lack of US support, the Ukrainians were simply outgunned in Avdiivka. They just didn’t have enough ammunition to counter the massive and relentless artillery bombardment from Russia. One Ukrainian officer told Time magazine Russia had fired 11 times more artillery shells than Ukraine.

It now seems unlikely that the US aid package will be passed before the US elections in November. And if Trump beats Biden then, the future will be even grimmer for Ukraine as Trump, an admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, could very well abandon Ukraine, and weaken Nato.

To its credit, the European Union recently adopted its own $54-billion aid package for Ukraine. But European officials acknowledge that they cannot save Ukraine alone. They need US support.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Once-bitten Europe is better prepared for Trump’s Nato tirades

It seems extraordinary that Nato, which commands a combined GDP of more than $32-trillion, cannot muster the weapons to outgun Russia with an economy less than one-tenth the size, at about $2.3-trillion. According to calculations by the Estonian Defense Ministry, quoted by Foreign Policy, Western countries would need to invest 0.25% of their GDP in military assistance to Ukraine to enable the country to continue defending itself in 2024 and prepare for a counteroffensive in 2025.

The immediate problem, one is told, is that Nato countries lack the weapons production capacity. It doesn’t help that South Africa’s ally Iran and North Korea are meanwhile both supplying Russia with artillery and missiles.

But Nato’s 32 member states could, if they chose, summon the political will to put their economies on a war footing. This war is surely worth that effort since it is about preserving democracy and a rules-based international order against dictatorship.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky awards a serviceman during a visit to the battalion command post of the 14th separate mechanised brigade – named after Prince Roman the Great – near the frontline in the Kupyansk area of Ukraine on 19 February 2024. (Photo EPA-EFE / Presidential Press Service)

Withstanding Russia

Ultimately, it is the political will and nerve that is lacking in the West. And perhaps the gravest consequence of the fall of Avdiivka is that, perversely, it might persuade the West that Ukraine is not worth supporting. That would hand Putin the victory by politics he has so far failed to gain by warfare. Or at least an indefinitely frozen conflict – a perpetual stalemate – which would also suit him.

Such outcomes would be tragic for a nation that for two years has withstood the might of Russia by courage, the inspiring leadership of President Volodymyr Zelensky – and the help of Western weapons.

Read more in Daily Maverick: War in Ukraine

Almost everyone, including apparently Putin himself, expected Russia to simply walk over the Ukrainian forces within days of the invasion on 24 February 2022. Three weeks after that, Russia’s ambassador to South Africa, Ilya Rogachev, told a seminar that Russian forces were being welcomed by Ukrainians as their liberators from their own “neo-Nazi” government. The reality was rather different. The Russian “liberators” hit a wall of steely resolve. Often armed only with the handheld Javelin missiles the US had given them, the Ukrainian soldiers stopped the Russian tank convoys in the northern parts of Kyiv and drove them back.

Still, Russia had managed to occupy large swatches of the eastern Donbas region and southeastern Ukraine.

But during its first major counteroffensive in 2022 Ukraine recovered about half of its lost territory, mainly around Kharkiv in the east as well as Kherson in the south.

These victories inspired hope in Ukrainians and their allies, prompting the West to keep supplying weapons. But they were always too few and too late.

So, when Ukraine launched its second major counteroffensive in mid-2023 it lacked the weapons to penetrate Russia’s defences. The fight had become a World War 1 stalemate, stated Ukraine’s military chief, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, irritating Zelensky, who fired him several months later.

The counteroffensive was not all in vain. Helped by Western missiles, Ukraine drove back Russian ships and aircraft from its Black Sea ports, breaking Moscow’s blockade and enabling Ukraine to resume exports of grain and other supplies to sustain its battered economy, and to feed the world. But clearly that is not enough.

Hope for peace

What hope for a negotiated peace? There have been several attempts. In June 2023 President Cyril Ramaphosa led a delegation of seven African leaders to Kyiv to meet Zelensky and to Moscow to meet Putin, presenting a peace plan.

But the Africans were vague about the essential point: Russia must withdraw from Ukraine. Even their call for respect for the territorial integrity of both Russia and Ukraine prompted Putin to suggest that the Africans needed to take account of the “new realities” of Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territory.

That is completely unacceptable to Ukraine, which understandably wants back the 20% of its country Russia has stolen.

Zelensky’s own “peace formula” talks, in which South Africa is now participating, do not include Russia for the same reason.

This all comes back to the West, as Anders Fogh Rasmussen, founder of the Alliance of Democracies and former secretary-general of Nato, points out in Foreign Policy. He notes that an opinion is growing in the West that Zelensky should settle for a peace deal, which entails giving up the Donbas and the southeast – not to mention Crimea.

Read more in Daily Maverick: To Russia with Love and Hopeless Devotion, from Fikile Mbalula and the ANC

Calling Putin’s bluff requires instead offering Ukraine Nato membership and also putting Nato economies on a war footing to provide the country with the weapons it needs to defeat Russia, he says.

“After two years of war, a dangerous narrative has emerged in Western debates: the conflict is at a stalemate, and Ukraine is close to the limits of what it can achieve on the battlefield. This assessment is wrong – the means to deliver a Ukrainian victory remain firmly in the West’s hands. But leaders in Europe and the United States must show the political courage to make it happen.” DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Andy Miles says:

    Investing article. The key word is courage. At 71 my observation is that the couragous to deal with bad people are a diminishing breed. Vested interest is today’s most powerful forces driving all aspects of life, essentially shaping the world we live in. There is a shallow interest in the need to act with a moral conscience, or decency, especially where power, self interest and enrichment have become the order of the day. Hopefully, there are still “a few good men” (people) that when the Putin style evil reaches a level that international stability, be it economic, military, social, is threatened, they will step up to plate. Again, hopefully, the solutions will buck what for most part have been military solutions and rather be negotiated settlements. In the meanwhile, perhaps, as I believe Whinston Churchill said “speak softly but carry a big stick”. We best hope the US comes to it’s senses and supports its NATO partners. SA has it’s own toxic brand of trouble. Gangstarism, human trafficking, money laundering, violent crime, the list goes disappointingly on, corruption, most notably amongst the Government, with the ANC preferring rules set by ANC as opposed to moral democracy, the rule of law and all provisions of our Constitution, and the checks and balances of the separation of powers, the reporting requirements of Government and the Chaper 9 institutions mostly ignored. Again hopefully, we find the “few good men” (people) in SA.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    From the onset America’s approach was to provoke Russia to start the war because Intel at their disposal indicated Russia was preparing to invade.
    Putin had clearly issued his concerns that he didn’t want NATO on Russia’s borders.
    The European block played Ukraine by insisting Ukraine had a right to join NATO and get protection.
    Has Ukraine joined NATO ?
    They rejected any dialogue with Putin and promised weapons by word of mouth.
    The whole aim was to activate their dormant weapon factories and invested the money donated for Ukraine.
    At the same time it gave them a chance to test all sorts of weapons and check Russian arsenal.
    The reason why there is an issue with congress is because these are secret intentions that are not passed in parliaments.
    Who is the guinea pig?
    The same goes for Israel America supplies billions to buy their own weapons to help Israel slaughter the valueless Palestinians, the money goes to weapon factories and come back through taxes boosting the economy?
    I have a problem how Iran and North Korea is phased as allies of south Africa when discussing their supply of weapons to Russia this is mischievous and sarcastic, every country in the world is an ally of south Africa except the apartheid state of Israel, why single out the two.
    Also it is mischievous to down play the Africa delegation that insisted for dialogue and respect of international law, were they supposed to interpret it for Russia.
    European contradicting response to these wars is nowhere.

    • Alley Cat says:

      And 9/11 never happened either? Covid was a plot by the Americans? Global warming is a myth or as some would have you believe; it is deliberate manipulation of the weather? REALLY????

      • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

        And I believe it’s not a mistake that you mentioned 911 the same propaganda used by Israel to get sympathy from Europe and mostly American population.
        It almost worked but the genocide could not be ignored, they filled up the streets in protest.
        Trump will stop this war by pulling the support and forcing Ukraine to have dialogue with Putin and he is a property mogul not a rocket scientist.

    • Dietmar Horn says:

      “They rejected any dialogue with Putin”
      Every informed and thinking person knows that this is not true and recognizes that dialogues with Putin are useless.
      “The whole aim was to activate their dormant weapon factories”
      “The reason why there is an issue with congress is because these are secret intentions that are not passed in parliaments.”
      Dialogues with victims of conspiracy theories are also useless.

      • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

        Sometimes you have to make dialogue with the most imaginable person to save lives, would it have stopped Russia? maybe not Ukraine is a sovereign state like Palestine was once a sovereign state then colonized by Britain then occupied by Israel. War should happen when all else fails.
        Funny because the Ukraine war will end by dialogue with Putin, why not do it in the first place?

    • Rodney Weidemann says:

      One question: did you believe that the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were illegal, and contrary to accepted international doctrine on a nation’s right to its own sovereign territory? I certainly did, and so did the SA government, which (rightfully) condemned the fact that the US totally ignored established international practice.

      Now if those invasions were against international doctrine, and our government rightfully complained about their invasion of another nation’s sovereign territory – why is the ANC now being hypocritical and not condemning Russia doing exactly the same thing in Ukraine? Or is it simply because the Russians are bankrolling the criminal cartel that masquerades as our government, and they don’t dare criticise the hand that feeds them, despite how obvious their hypocrisy is?….

    • John P says:

      Your reply is completely delusional and ignores the basic fact that Russia has invaded the sovereign territory of Ukraine and presented absolutely nonsensical “reasons” for doing so.
      Exactly as they did before in Georgia and Chechnya.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Wow, so the latest “victory” by Putin is Ukraine is Trump’s fault. Man that takes delusional to the next level

    • Steve Davidson says:

      For sure. If The Chump hadn’t interfered with the GOP congress members, the vote would have gone for the full package of aid to Ukraine and Israel, and the weapons would have been flowing to the former already. You really should stop watching Fux News, or whatever far right bulldust you rely on. Or do you get your news from RatPutin’s mouthpiece, RT??

    • John P says:

      Trump has used his extensive influence over Republicans in congress to prevent every bill involving funding for Ukraine to be passed. Ukraine are now in the position of having huge shortages of artillery shells, tank shells, Himars missiles and Javelin missiles. Yes, Putin’s current victories are a direct result of Trump’s meddling.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Kenneth – you have warped view of this conflict by blaming the US and NATO for the conflict. Firstly, any nation that was under the bestial and murderous subjugation of Soviet communist rule and by extension Putin’s evil one, would run a mile given the the opportunity to be free. That is human nature and reality throughout history, including our own. Secondly, as long as the odious Putin rattles the sword and war-cry, these free nations can only look for security in numbers, which means NATO. Even countries like Finland and Sweden, who were always neutral since WW2, decided to join NATO – not because of the US & NATO, but because they needed security! Thirdly, you have a deranged, delusional and bestial murderous monster in Putin who wants to restore the evil, brutal and frankly, revolting, Soviet/Russian empire as his pathetic, overblown and brittle ego can’t handle that his empire is no more. No empire lasts forever as history has shown, but Putin’s warped and wicked mind can’t grasp this. Double down on war, killing, terror, rape, destruction, kidnapping etc etc. He doesn’t care how many people are murdered, maimed or killed, including the many tens of thousand of his own soldiers and is nothing but an evil murderous beast like Stalin & Hitler. If he is not stopped, the Baltic states, Poland, Moldova etc. will be next. Stop being an apologist for him!

    • Steve Davidson says:

      Well said, thanks. Actually, the person I blame the most for the current situation is Angela Merkel. Why? Her reliance on Russkie gas is what gave RatPutin the ability to do what he’s doing now – going back to the Crimea takeover in 2014 – without getting any blowback from the EU, who themselves were accomplices in believing the man could be trusted.

      • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

        Good option was to send weapons but make sure Ukraine does not win in order not to upset monster Putin otherwise he will escalate, that is what Biden has been doing, dump move wouldn’t you say?

  • eish Effedup says:

    This war could have been prevented with proper diplomacy. Ukraine should have stayed neutral and be a buffer between NATO and Russia. Zelensky just brought severe misery onto his people and the rest of the world and the Democrats ,supported by the US war machine mafia, were only too happy to go along with this madness. I hope Trump wins the election and this nightmare can end.

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:


    • B M says:

      How? How would diplomacy have prevented the “military exercise” by Russia within another sovereign state’s border? How is Ukraine supposed to stay neutral when they were invaded? How is Trum going to end the invasion?

      Blame the victim for the acts of the perpetrator? Please, stop THIS madness.

  • Andre Louw says:

    Ultimately this war will end and Ukraine will lose the Russian speaking territory to Russia. In the meantime the killing and material destruction will continue. The only beneficiary of this proxy war is the US military industrial complex. Weapons testing sales and recycling “past use by date” weaponry a huge benefit to this multibillion dollar industry.
    As much as we commiserate with Ukrainians and hate Putin he can not be beaten. The time has come to face reality.
    Elon Musk’s proposal to have a UN supervised referendum in the Donbas as to whether the inhabitants wanted to be part of Russia or not and abide by their wish was shot down by the MSM and he was described as a Putin supporter. His reply to this was that in that case innocent lives will continue to be lost

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