Two weeks of war in Ukraine

The first meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba took place yesterday in Antalya, Turkey, mediated by Ankara’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu.

For the Turkish government it was a small but significant diplomatic success, which quite clearly signals its intention to carve out a vital role in the Ukrainian crisis as well as to defend the status of a regional power conquered in recent years.

Turkey is among the countries most exposed to the repercussions of the conflict, as it could lose a key partner in military, economic and logistical terms such as Kiev and witness the complete restoration of Moscow’s hegemony in the Black Sea basin. For this it is forced to follow a balanced approach to the crisis – supplying its combat drones to the Ukrainians, without however closing Anatolian airspace or imposing sanctions on Russia.

The next developments in the conflict could make the Turkish posture and the active neutrality pursued by Ankara unsustainable, especially if Moscow were to succeed in regaining Ukraine or a part of it. Such as the Russophile regions east of the Dnieper or the southern land bridge that the Russians need to connect Transnistria with Crimea and Donbas.

On the battlefield, the most notable development of the week concerns the closure of the entire northeastern corner of Ukraine in a gigantic pocket. Russian forces are consolidating their positions around the enemy capital, where in the meantime new Chechen infantry and mercenary units from the Wagner group have arrived.

The Kremlin’s goal is to surround Kiev, to cut it off from aid arriving by land from the Polish border and Galicia and to induce the government of President Volodymyr Zelensky to surrender. The maneuver is overly complex and is slowed down by long and insecure logistic lines, constantly attacked by the Ukrainians, and by troops levels insufficient to cover all the objectives.

Next week will be decisive to understand if Russia will really succeed in besieging Kiev and to realize what their respective positions of strength at the negotiating table will be. War operations are more dynamic in the southern sector, where the Russian army and allied Donbas militias have begun the assault on Mariupol, the Ukrainian port overlooking the Azov Sea, where far-right Banderist paramilitary groups are barricaded.

The city is strategic because its surrender depends on the possibility of freeing precious military resources to be used against Zaporižžja in the northwest. This large urban center is one of the main crossing points of the Dnieper River and its conquest is essential to cut the escape route for the Ukrainian brigades deployed along the front line in Donbas.

For this reason, the fall of Mariupol could force Kiev to immediately withdraw all the units deployed east of the Dnieper, effectively handing over half of the country to the invader. For the moment, the morale of the Ukrainian army is still high, thanks to the repeated setbacks inflicted on the Russians in the first days of the war and the ability to defend targets with a strong symbolic value such as Kiev and the other large urban centers of the country, such as Sumy, Kharkiv and Mariupol itself.

However, a defeat in one of these battles could very quickly change the course of the conflict. After all, Ukrainian forces are also struggling with high casualties, ammunition starting to run low in anticipation of Western aid and a lowering morale among the civilian population due to Russian bombing.

Meanwhile, the effects of the conflict are affecting Italy on the energy front. The Draghi government is studying new measures to calm the tariffs of businesses and families in the face of stringent budgetary constraints, which are burdened by an extremely high public debt and resources “blocked” in recent months to deal with the health emergency.

In the absence of timely countermeasures, the surge in energy costs risks generating strong social discontent and negatively impacting the post-pandemic recovery. But interventions on the decarbonization front are also being planned, as evidenced by the sudden release of a dozen wind and photovoltaic parks that have been frozen since a long time, and even a partial correction of the NRP is being studied.

In this case, the reference is to the need to inject untapped resources into the Defense system and to rethink our way of conceiving security. The constraints imposed by the European Commission do not allow the Recovery funds to be used for war expenses, but they do not prevent Member States from financing dual-use projects for both civil and military purposes.

This is the case of remotely piloted aircraft for border surveillance or illicit trafficking, as well as cyber security which represents the most sophisticated frontier of the ongoing clash on the continent for the definition of its areas of influence.