What to expect from the war in Ukraine in 2023?

What to expect from the war in Ukraine in 2023?

Interview by Gökalp Erbaş

Russia broke NATO’s containment strategy with its military operation in Ukraine on February 24, 2022. For Russia, 2022 was a year of struggle against the Atlantic camp. The widespread belief was that its economy would collapse and its army defeated. Russia, whose currency valued against the US and NATO powers and that tried to get rid of economic ties with the West, has gained a large territory. The military operation, which started in 2022, continues in 2023 by reinforcing the security of Kherson, Zaporojye, Donetsk and Lugansk.

In our interview at the turn of the new year, Mehmet Perinçek evaluated Russia’s military campaign that has completed almost a year.

There were statements from the US signaling Ukraine to surrender, even ones like “Ukraine needs to be realistic and accept the loss of territory”. However, such calls are no longer being made and Ukraine continues to receive intensive military-tactical and financial support. Has Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson emboldened the US and the EU?

Firstly, we should look at the reasons for Russia’s withdrawal from Kherson. Russia is not fighting an all-out war. They describe it as a special operation and the force they allocate there is limited to certain units in that region. The Russian army is not in a total war state. Russia organizes this operation just as Türkiye’s in Syria or in other extraterritorial regions.

With the operation, Russia now controls an area as large as the Aegean region of Türkiye. Some problems arose in defending that operational area. In other words, it is not enough just to advance, but also it is necessary to protect these areas.

The US plan in Ukraine is a trap for Europe

How do you evaluate the geopolitical consequences of the operation so far? Should we expect the special military operation to continue throughout 2023? Will Russia reinforce the US-Europe divergence or could the US bring a new “Marshall Plan” into play?

The military operation is not expected to be completed in a short period of time. Suring the operation, the perception came up that the contradictions between the US and Europe were somewhat covered up. However, one should see that this transatlantic relation could be broken soon. Because the US attitude and plans on Ukraine are a trap not only against Russia, but also against Europe. The US is pursuing a line of sabotaging Europe’s commercial and political relations with Russia and making it completely dependent on Washington.

In particular, the energy crisis (deprivation of Russian gas) has caused serious problems for European companies. The loss of a big market adds to that, by not being able to sell the goods to Russia. We see that inflation has increased significantly in Europe, which has created discontent among the population. And the big industries from Germany to the UK and France are experiencing severe problems in terms of production. Some car factories halted their production. All of this made Europe suddenly fall into the hands of the US.

These developments are also causing reactions within Europe. At the beginning, the propaganda and the political atmosphere may seem to have created a consensus, but in the coming period when the economic and political impacts start to be more and more visible, we are going to witness that things will incline to get worse between Europe and the US. In fact, there are already signs of this. As the US started to withdraw its investments and production from Europe back home, Europeans voiced their objections to Washington, even Macron stated it during his visit to the US. In sum, in the coming period, we will see that “Europe for Europe” will become more prominent than “Europe for the US”.

State officials have begun to make statements about aid to Ukraine. They are saying that their capacity to provide arms to Ukraine is diminishing. Of course, these aids put a huge burden on Europe. We also need to see that the rupture within Western unity will deepen. This will also play a role in the resolution of the Ukrainian conflict and the decrease of violence.

‘The process of Russian economy’s release from the West has begun’

How has the Russian people responded to the economic and social impact of the special military operation in 2022? Is the public ready if the process escalates to a point where Russia has to sacrifice more?

Public support for the operation is quite strong. Opinion polls and statistics reveal the support for both Putin’s foreign policy and the special operation. On the political level, besides the ruling party, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation and other parties in the parliament and outside fully support these policies. We can conclude that Russia has a unity in terms of political elites.

Russia’s economy did not suffer the kind of blow that the West expected, quite the contrary, the Russian appreciation of ruble currency rose considerably against the dollar and the euro. Thus, a phase has started in which the Russian economy will become less dependent on the West, and maybe even get rid of its dependence on the West entirely. We can say that this process is leading to the nationalization not only in the banking system and financial issues, but also in production sphere, so in a sense the advancement within the long-standing inclination. In that respect, these sanctions imposed by the West open a new door and create new opportunities for Russia.

Measures have also been taken to prevent the impact of these sanctions on people. The most important measure is the appreciation of the Russian ruble. This has helped to prevent a decline in the economic power of society and has avoided the rise of social discontent. But of course, if Russian society is obliged to make sacrifices, we should expect the peoples of Russia to bear them for their independence, their dignity and for the future of their country and their children. We can say that historical precedents also inspire today the Russian society. Just as in the Soviet Union during WWII, there are those in Russia today who fear and run away from the fight. But they do not represent a majority or a significant segment within Russia.

‘They burned oppositional persons in Odessa alive’

In Ukraine, there has been a massive emigration due to the war, but there are still millions of people living in the country. Do you think the Ukrainian people are also embracing the methods and goals of the Kiev regime? Why haven’t we witnessed the public outcry in Ukraine in the past year compared to other European countries? Is it being covered up or are there other reasons?

It is not possible for all Ukrainians to leave the country anyway. Of course, the majority of them will remain in their country, but this does not mean that they embrace the methods and goals of the Kiev regime. Western countries have been carrying out social campaigns in Ukraine for a very long time. We can say that the consciousness of Ukrainians is being redesigned through reactionary and racist ideas. Many Russians have relatives in Ukraine and many Ukrainians have relatives in Russia. There are a lot of people who are close to each other through family ties, so the conflict here has the character of a kind of civil war. It is a war between two similar peoples rather than a conflict between two different countries.

But within Ukraine there are very severe methods of oppression. Those who oppose the war with Russia and Western policies or who criticize the government are being oppressed. Especially since the Maiden events, many opposition groups have been intimidated. In Odessa, for example, people were burned alive. There have been kidnappings, killings, crackdowns on the opposition press, closure of TV channels, arrests, purges within the army. In this respect, it requires a great deal of courage for a different perspective than the Kiev regime’s to arise in Ukraine. Even though the West clamors for democracy, many political parties have been closed down in Ukraine and the leaders of many legal parties have been arrested. TV channels do not broadcast anything other than the official opinion, and laws have been passed on this issue. In short we can say that the neo-Nazi forces in Ukraine are trying to maintain their control and those who go out of it are punished.

Türkiyes national interests advance when Russia breaks NATO encirclement

What were the rights, wrongs and turning points in Türkiye’s diplomatic stance towards the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the past year?

Let me first emphasize this: Türkiye’s interests completely overlap with Russia’s, both on the Ukraine issue and on other regional problems. Because they both face the same threats and the only way for them to confront and eliminate these threats is to cooperate. A force to counterbalance these threats can only be built in this way. Therefore, we can say that cooperation between the two countries is inevitable.

On the other hand, Ukraine stands on the Atlantic front and plays a role like the “Greece of the Black Sea”. Just as the US is trying to establish a “Kurdistan” in Syria, support terrorists such as the PKK-PYD there and establish an anti-Türkiye front in the Eastern Mediterranean, the US activities in Ukraine are not independent from its strategy of encircling Türkiye. While Türkiye is being encircled through Syria, the Eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean and Thrace, Ukraine is also part of the encirclement that targets not only Russia but also Türkiye from the north.

If the US succeeds in Ukraine, Türkiye’s challenge in Syria and the Eastern Mediterranean will become more complicated. To put it the other way, the disruption of US plans in Ukraine will enable Türkiye’s struggle in the Eastern Mediterranean and Syria to succeed much more easily. Therefore, Türkiye’s national interests lie in Russia breaking the NATO encirclement. We can say that the ambivalent positions of the Turkish government do not meet Türkiye’s national interests. In addition, Türkiye can also play a role as a mediator to break the US influence on Ukraine. In this sense, it would be positive to free Ukraine from US domination as much as possible. This had happened during the Istanbul talks, but then spoiled by the Buça provocation.

Mehmet Perinçek

Historian and political scientist (Türkiye)

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April 2024