Defence expert says continued Ukraine war failure of diplomacy

Ljubljana – Defence expert Vladimir Prebilič has assessed for the STA that the continuation of the war in Ukraine constitutes a failure of diplomacy, while noting that the pressure from Kyiv on the EU and NATO to provide aid is not productive. He believes that the aid received by Ukraine in the current form is unsustainable in the long run.

On the occasion of one hundred days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has lately been focused on the Donbas province, Prebilič assessed that the actual objectives of neither Russia nor Ukraine are completely clear.

The defence studies professor at the Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences said that the Russian authorities are most likely trying to establish sovereignty over the entire Donbas and, consequently, to fully annex the province.

He noted that the Minsk agreements were a missed opportunity for the parties to grant the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk autonomous status within Ukraine’s borders, whose residents would enjoy a certain degree of self-governing autonomy.

“These starting points, which were achievable at the time, no longer satisfy the Russian side. In Russia, the war could be interpreted as a failure if there is no territorial gain,” Prebilič said.

Now the war has become a war of attrition, as evident from the rhetoric of the Ukrainian authorities, who believe that, with the help of the West, they can maintain a balance on the battlefield in the long run, and thus see no need for negotiations.

“As long as both sides are convinced they can achieve their goals, diplomacy will not play an important role and finding a way out of the crisis will be virtually impossible,” he added.

Prebilič thinks that the EU should clearly tell the Ukrainian authorities that the support it currently provides is unsustainable in the long run, as the West also lacks leverage to stop or at least limit the Russian aggression.

“The only option left is a full embargo on all Russian energy. However, we have been somehow avoiding this all this time … also because our economy is not ready to offset the energy shortage with other sources.”

Such an embargo could lead to a divide between EU member states on those that can “afford” the embargo and those who cannot, he said, noting that Hungary is currently the only member state to argue that an embargo on Russian energy is unacceptable.

“Such an embargo would erode the unity of the EU, and this would only benefit Russia, which has wanted to destabilise the Union for a long time,” he said, adding that the West should instead seek to establish dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow.

Diplomacy has played a minor role, said Prebilič, assessing that the relations are so strained that diplomacy is equated with weakness. Russia will continue to be Ukraine’s neighbour, though, so solutions for a dignified coexistence should be found.

If the war continues, there will be additional inflation, shortage of products and, consequently, higher prices of energy. “Energy will only be more expensive, never cheaper,” he warned, noting that this would hurt the EU’s competitiveness.

The competitiveness of China and the US would rise and, ultimately, the expected cooling of the EU economy could lead to a similar scenario as in 2008, when the Union plunged into a financial and economic crisis.

A protracted war would mean less revenue for EU member states, which means unbalanced budgets and additional borrowing, which Prebilič sees as problematic, as “the state of public finances of some countries is not very good”.

As for military aid to Ukraine, he noted that Slovenia had promised the Yugoslav-era M-84 tanks and some APCs, which he supports, especially if an agreement is reached with Germany to swap this equipment for other gear.

But Prebilič stressed that Slovenia should be more consistent in this regard, since it is currently acting as an unreliable partner due to broken promises. He advises the new government to do things transparently and actually implement its decisions.

Prebilič sees it as unproductive that Ukraine is putting increasing pressure on the EU and NATO to provide additional aid. “NATO simply cannot and must not be actively involved … there is no legal basis for that in the North Atlantic Treaty.”

He also finds Ukraine’s expectations of NATO and EU membership unsubstantiated. Membership in these organisations is conditional on certain measurable indicators and does not merely depend on political decisions of individual countries, he said.

Ukraine has made significant progress in recent years when it comes to these criteria, but still has a lot of work to do, and “skipping all the criteria would mean double standards and would send the wrong signal to other candidate countries.”

A fast-track EU accession EU could leave consequences on the country’s economy, which is not ready to join the bloc and would be uncompetitive, Prebilič said, assessing the expectations of EU and NATO membership as “mere extortion”.