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Zelensky’s challenges as his fate unfolds on the battlefield

#Zelenskys #challenges #fate #unfolds #battlefield

Launched into a war he didn’t start, Volodymyr Zelenskyy now has no choice but to take military action against Russia, analysts told AFP.

After denying President Vladimir Putin a quick victory, Ukraine’s leader has no desire to negotiate as the conflict is expected to drag on.

Here is a summary of the key challenges facing Zelensky as his future unfolds on the battlefield:

– reclaim territory –

In the first weeks of the Russian invasion, Zelenskyi appeared ready to negotiate, but the situation has now escalated into a war of attrition, costing many soldiers lives and military equipment.

“He is convinced that the war must take its course, that it has its weapons and that the Russians have their weaknesses,” said Elie Tenenbaum of the French Institute for International Relations IFRI.

“In the beginning he was willing to make concessions because he was very scared, but now he has gained momentum,” said Tenenbaum.

“The concept is clear,” said William Taylor, former US ambassador to Ukraine and currently at the US Institute of Peace. “He stops momentum, he attacks and pushes back toward disposition on February 24,” the day Russia invaded.

This would align with a statement by Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov to Britain’s The Times newspaper that he has yet to throw “a million” troops into combat.

“The political decision to launch a counter-offensive has already been taken,” said Ukrainian political scientist Anatoly Oktysyuk. “The campaign to liberate the occupied territories has already begun.”

– Wear down the enemy –

The Ukrainian army has shown that it will only retreat if there is no other option, as in Severodonetsk and Lysychansk in the east, where it has resisted the Russian army for as long as possible.

“The Ukrainians made them pay pretty hard for this country,” said a senior US defense official, who asked not to be named.

Both sides seem to think time is on their side, said Ivan Klyszcz, a researcher at the University of Tartu in Estonia.

One side has to miscalculate, and that will be the side “least able to sustain the kinds of demands that the war imposes,” he said.

The warring neighbors also know that logistics are crucial and they seek to cripple each other’s supplies, as when Ukraine called for an attack on a Russian ammunition depot in the occupied southern Kherson region.

– Protect his aura –

Zelensky, a former television personality, was a controversial figure in pre-war Ukraine.

“Reforms were not implemented … and there was all sorts of political intrigue,” said Angela Stent, an expert on Western relations with Russia at the US-based Brookings Institution.

But since then, she said, he’s evolved into a “very effective wartime leader who obviously uses all the skills he learned as a comedian and television actor to communicate well.”

Maintaining that image is critical to Zelensky’s future standing, analysts said, even in the face of mounting pressures that observers say seem to have little impact on his energy levels.

“I didn’t see any indication that it was wearing him down,” Taylor said.

“He is doing an excellent job. The strength he has seems to be his bond with the Ukrainian people,” he said.

Klyszcz agreed, saying there were no reports of Zelensky having “collapsed mentally, emotionally or physically over the past few months.” Instead, he projected the image of a “determined leader, focused and determined to win the war”.

– Preserving the unity of Ukraine –

Despite the deaths, deprivation and fear among the Ukrainian population, the nation’s unity persists and there appears to be little public support for negotiations with Moscow.

“That doesn’t mean it won’t happen,” Taylor said. “There has to be a limit to how much pain they can take.”

At the moment, he noted, “they haven’t hit it yet”.

Should cracks appear in the Ukrainian united front, it will most likely be due to disagreements between those who reject any territorial concessions and those who do not.

Currently, any calls for negotiations “could only be pushed by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine” that are “on the fringes” of Ukrainian politics, Oktysyuk said

But opinions could change if the conflict continues.

“The cost of the war has become clearer to the Ukrainian people,” Klyszcz said, adding that any major setback on the battlefield or tactical error could result in talks of compromise becoming public.

– keep west aside –

The war has deepened relations between Ukraine and Western governments, with Kyiv even being granted candidate status for joining the European Union.

Zelensky’s message to his Western allies “is that he is fighting for us. He keeps making that point and I’m sure he believes in that,” Taylor said.

But analysts suggest he also knows that western support will only last as long as his resistance on the battlefield.

“If Ukraine is capable of conducting a successful offensive with Western weapons, then many would be heartened by the prospect of Ukraine retaking some territory,” said Michael Kofman of CNA, a US think tank.

But if not, “many people would be disappointed, or perhaps disheartened, and assume that even with a significant stockpile of Western weapons and equipment, Ukraine is best trying to win back its territory at the negotiating table rather than on the battlefield,” he said.

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