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Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine losing ground as it awaits US aid

'We have to face the truth and recognize that Russia is more effective in its war effort,' than the West, says Ukrainian FM

Reporting | QiOSK

Despite the initial optimism that accompanied the passage of billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine in April, there is a growing sentiment among analysts and American officials that it will serve an important defensive function — but might not be a game changer.

And while Ukraine waits for the latest tranche of American assistance to arrive, the situation on the battlefield is becoming increasingly grim. Over last weekend, Ukrainian forces retreated from three villages in the east of the country as it struggles to push back against Moscow’s latest offensive.

In an interview with Foreign Policy on Wednesday, Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba did not present a particularly optimistic picture of what the new aid may accomplish. While he expressed gratitude for the aid, Kuleba lamented the slow process and urged Kyiv’s Western allies to do more.

“There is a time gap between the announcement of the package and the moment when a Ukrainian artilleryman has more shells to fire back at the Russian invaders,” Kuleba told FP’s editor-in-chief Ravi Agrawal during the Q&A. “And that moment has not come yet, because everything that was announced—we are grateful and we appreciate it—is still on its way. And therefore, in this time gap, bad things may happen, such as the advance of Russian forces on the ground.”

“Unfortunately, I have to admit that Ukraine’s allies are behind schedule, despite their efforts. Some of them are making a great effort. But when I look at what Russia achieved in restoring the production of its defenders’ industrial base and what the entire West has achieved so far, we have to face the truth and recognize that Russia is more effective in its war effort,” he continued. “And this raises a more fundamental question to the West. If it cannot be efficient enough in this particular war effort, then how efficient can it be if other wars and crises of the same scale break out?”

But Ukraine is also confronting a significant manpower problem. The Washington Post reported last week that some in the country believe that President Zelensky’s announcement that 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have been killed since 2022 is a significant underestimate.

Nonetheless, Kuleba pushed back against the argument — notably made by Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio), among others — that Kyiv faced a “math” problem.

“If the war was only about math, you and I wouldn’t be talking today because the position of the minister of foreign affairs of Ukraine would not exist anymore; we would have lost the war already,” the foreign minister said.

Foreign Policy also asked about the prospect of diplomacy with Russia, wondering why Ukraine had so far neglected to invite one of the two warring parties to a series of “peace summits,” including one forthcoming meeting in Switzerland.

“Your point is valid if you address the war that Russia launched against Ukraine with textbook diplomacy, because all textbooks that we learned from tell us that you need two parties to sit down and negotiate,” Kuleba said. “Our approach comes from reality, and from the experience that we gained between 2014 and 2022, because the aggression against Ukraine started in 2014. Between 2014 and 2022, we had almost 200 rounds of talks with Russia in different formats, with mediators and bilaterally. But nothing worked. It ended up in the large-scale invasion [of 2022]. So we know that it doesn’t make sense to have Russia at the table if you cannot ensure that they act in good faith.”

He elaborated that the only ways to get Russia to negotiate in “good faith” are either to win on the battlefield or to build a global coalition of countries that can agree on shared principles and force Russia to agree.

“After that, communication with Russia may take place and Russia can be part of the talks,” Kuleba acknowledged. “Because you are right: In the end, you cannot put the war to an end without both parties.”

Moscow, for its part, has said that the peace conference in Switzerland is not a serious proposal. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Thursday that it is “completely impossible” that a summit without Russia will yield any meaningful results.

In other diplomatic news:

— Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Europe next week for the first time in five years. The trip is seemingly part of an ongoing effort from Beijing to present itself as a global peacemaker. Xi wants to play a “larger role in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine that has upended global political and economic security,” according toThe Associated Press. Earlier reporting said that one of Xi’s goals during his visit will be to convince European leaders to invite Russia to participate in future peace talks.

— Zelensky says that Kyiv and Washington are working toward a long-term bilateral security agreement.

“Also, our teams, Ukraine and the United States, are currently working on a bilateral security agreement, and we are already working on a specific text,” he said during an address this week. “Our goal is to make this agreement the strongest of all. We are discussing the specific foundations of our security and cooperation. We are also working on fixing specific levels of support for this year and for the next ten years, including armed support, financial, political, and joint arms production.”

— The Ukrainian president also said that he expects his country to join NATO only after the end of the war with Russia. "In my personal opinion, we will only join NATO after we have won,” he said during a joint press conference with NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg. “For Ukraine to be accepted into the alliance politically, it needs victory.”

— The U.S. State Department formally accused Russia of using chemical weapons during its war in Ukraine on Wednesday. “The US conclusion tallies with testimony from Ukrainian troops who say they have faced increased encounters with gas and other irritant chemicals on parts of their frontline with Russia’s forces in recent months,” according to CNN. The Kremlin quickly denied the accusation, saying that they were “absolutely groundless, not supported by anything.”

U.S. State Department News:

In a Tuesday press briefing, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel denied reports that the U.S. was easing sanctions on certain Russian banks.

“I’m not sure what reports you’re referring to, Alex. What I can just say broadly, though, is that when it comes to our efforts to hold the Russian Federation accountable for its infringement on the territorial integrity and sovereignty of our Ukrainian partners, we have not taken our foot off the gas, going back to February of 2022 since this invasion occurred,” Patel said. “And we will continue to take steps both to continue to support our Ukrainian partners, but also through sanctions, export controls, and other measures hold the Russian Federation accountable.”

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