Ukraine, between the European Union and Russian bombs

Tragic endgame in Sievierodonetsk

Let’s start with the bad news from a Ukrainian perspective: the fall of a city that had tragically made headlines for two months, like Mariupol before it.

We envision the Russian army presenting this Ukrainian retreat as a major victory in its conquest of Donbass, an industrial and mining region in the east of the country where fighting has been concentrated for the past two months. Is it a real one? Strategic Lock who just fell Or is it a simple tactical and very limited victory at a huge cost to Russian troops? One thing is for sure, Moscow will try to use this news to inundate Russian audiences with prisoners of official propaganda.

On the other hand, we can state that from the point of view of Ukraine or the United States – but also of independent analysts such as the Institute for the Study of War (English acronym ISW) – it is certainly a defeat tactic for Kyiv, in a place that for weeks fiercely defended at the cost of thousands of lives.

The Ukrainians left Sievierodonetsk on Friday.

Photo: afp via getty images / ARIS MESSINIS

However, this Ukrainian retreat does not necessarily herald subsequent conquests by Moscow or a major strategic shift in the war. The capture of Sievierodonetsk does not open a boulevard to the Russian troops, who would then push towards the center of the country, for example.

no More modestly, it is half of the Donbass that has just fallen (the so-called Luhansk Oblast), the other half (the Donetsk Oblast further west) is still largely under Ukrainian control.

The Ukrainian general staff therefore portrays it as a strategic retreat, arguing that it has become absurd to defend a few hundred yards of land in a city the size of Trois-Rivières that has been completely destroyed by incessant bombing… at the cost of eight violent deaths per hour!

Washington plays down

The United States has also downplayed the importance victory Russian… The Pentagon conjures up the high price that Russia pays for a very small profit, where […] The Russians barely manage to gain territory inch by inch.

Maybe more neutral or less partisan thatISW, in his daily note on the development of this war, speaks of a significant step for the Russians in their quest for the integrity of Donbass and a great loss for the Ukrainians, whose morale is shaken today, especially after the euphoria of the Ukrainian victories in March near Kyiv and Kharkiv when the Russians had been pushed back to the northern border. but it is not a decisive victory .

It is noted that for several weeks the Battle of Sievierodonetsk mobilized an enormous number of Russian soldiers, weapons and equipment, and that they likely lowered Russia’s military capabilities and prevented them from concentrating on other axes […]to the detriment of Russia’s ability to make future advances in Ukraine.

In other words: a tactical victory, but in what way we bet everything. And who could then pay dearly, at the expense of strategic and moral exhaustion.

falling morale

A Ukrainian soldier on patrol in Lysytchansk on Tuesday.


Morale on the Ukrainian side has also dropped locally. We talked about desertions… although we only heard these kinds of stories (often confirmed) from the side of the Russian troops, especially in the first half of the war.

But when you lose 200 men a day – figures admitted by the Ukrainian side, while the Russians don’t report their own losses – you can imagine the impact on morale, on families. Donetsk and its sister city Lysytchansk for two months… it’s hell on earth.

The Ukrainians suffered heavy casualties, but even with less heavy and less numerous artillery, they also inflicted casualties on the Russians. The Russians have a massive advantage in terms of old artillery and ammunition (they’ve pulled all their Soviet-era reserves), but they don’t have – or not many – modern precision weapons: cruise missiles, guided ballistic missiles. Just dirty old bombs galore.

And then there is also a problem of human reinforcement, which under a less violent sky we would call “manpower shortages”.

Many analysts hypothesize that we are heading towards an almost immobile trench warfare rather than the opening of a new phase of the war that would be more dynamic (Russian breakthrough or Ukrainian counteroffensive).

To test this hypothesis, it is necessary to study whether the new modern weapons supplied by the United States (the HIMAR multiple rocket launchers with a range of 80 kilometers that would now be returned to the site) can change the military situation or not in the Donbass.

The hope and power of symbols

French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi were welcomed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv.


All this against the background of relatively good political news for Ukraine. Ukraine, which despite a war fatigue legible in some European public opinion (slight drop in support in Germany and Italy), continues to be strongly supported by European governments.

The summit of 27 heads of state and government on June 23 unanimously approved Ukraine’s official candidacy. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen welcomed a great moment, a very good day for Europe, a decision that strengthens us all, that strengthens Ukraine […] in the face of Russian aggression.

Zelensky spoke for his part of a historical moment and a victory.

But isn’t this just the beginning of a long, uncertain road to Europe for Kyiv? Then why speak historical moment?

Because all the parties, the 27 of the Union, the Ukrainians, the Moldovans, who receive a similar status (but not the Georgians), plus Canada and the United States, who applaud afterwards, decide to bet on hope and symbolism. And to go there, why not, with good public relations.

And that, although you know that it is only an application. That the pitfalls will be enormous! Whether Ukraine is a candidate or not, it remains a country devastated by war.

We can quote Zelenskyj, who is never short of comforting explanations: UE, puis nous nous reposerons enfin. “,”text”:”Maintenant, nous vaincrons l’ennemi, reconstruirons l’Ukraine, deviendrons un État membre de l’UE, puis nous nous reposerons enfin. “}}”>Now we will defeat the enemy, rebuild Ukraine, become a memberEUthen we finally rest. He added that this status benefits not only Ukraine. It is the best European strengthening action we could have taken now, as Russia’s war tests our ability to remain free and united..

The $500 Billion Question

The pitfalls will be immense. For example, how can we politically or economically “upgrade” a country devastated by war? This is the $500 billion question (ie the European Commission’s May assessment of the cost of rebuilding Ukraine).

Take the economic level of Ukrainians: at $4,000 GDP Per capita – and this was before the war – it is three times lower than that of the poorest countries in the Union, namely Bulgaria and Romania, which is around 12,000 to 15,000 dollars a year.

A wrecked ambulance in the city of Lysyhansk in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region.

Photo: Getty Images/ARIS MESSINIS

Political corruption is indeed much lower today than in Russia with Putin’s oligarchyremained at high levels before the war… in a country that, despite its advances on that side, had not completely cleaned up.

Rule of law, democracy… Here Ukraine, with its free and unpredictable elections in which an incumbent president can be democratically ousted from power – unimaginable in Moscow – is much more advanced than Russia in full dictatorial regression.

In recent years, Ukraine could even have challenged Poland and Hungary on this, Member States where the independence of the courts is at risk.

Far from the lip cup

Ukraine is still far from it, but it wants and sees itself on road towards Europe. There is a tremendous longing for the West among the youth of Lemberg, Kyiv and Kharkiv. Psychologically, politically and ideologically, this war made Ukrainians feel like they wanted to be something more democratic and European .

Of course there are a good half dozen countries that are 10, 15 or 20 years after their nomination remained in limbo. We think of Turkey, the official candidate at the very end of the 20th century.e Century, but whose record has completely deadlocked, to the point where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has maintained an open stance of antagonism and hostility towards Europe for 10 years.

Relations between France and Turkey are at rock bottom due to numerous incidents, particularly in Europe.

Photo: Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

There are also several Balkan states hanging around, including North Macedonia (since 2005, with a Bulgarian veto) and then Albania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina. In these countries, leaders are frustrated that things have stalled for years. They ask: Why them and not us? While some of these states are more according to European standards than Ukraine.

We see it: there is politics in there, there is emotion, the imponderable that cannot be calculated. The sacrifice of a country defending democracy and European values ​​is well worth the calculations GDP and requirements of Compliance with legal standards.

There is always a wave of empathy in Europe towards the attacked Ukraine. But let’s reiterate: all this does not mean that this is the case candidacy of the European Union will inevitably lead to accession within ten years, which is the fastest deadline some want to believe in.

Do not despair, Ukrainians

Despite a healthy skepticism in the face of this political spectacle, despite the fact that the Europe of 27 already has many problems, including issues of legitimacy and dysfunction, hostile public opinion, one can understand the joy of this candidacy.

It is ironic to see that this Europe in ruins, wondering about its identity, continues to inspire and attract countries that don’t belong… and that dream of it! Today, the most important of these countries is Ukraine. It is understandable that Zelenskyy and European leaders want to give Ukrainians a little courage and hope, but on condition that they do not tell them stories.

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