By Arab News
By Khaled Abou Zahr
News coming from the battlefield in Ukraine has seen a shift in the descriptions of the military situation since the beginning of the war. If we remember, analysts were then describing what appeared to be the technological superiority of the Ukrainian armed forces thanks to the support of Western allies and NATO in particular. Today, we look at the situation and the same analysts compare it to one of the most horrific aspects of the First World War: trench warfare. This is basically the cancellation of any technological superiority on either side and a return to hand-to-hand combat. It is a return to the time of cannon fodder, as it was described during the First World War.
Although it dates back to at least the 17th century, trench warfare is a symbol of the First World War. These trenches embody an incomprehensible reality of horror. They were narrow, muddy corridors, marked by biting cold, the incessant threat of artillery bombardment and omnipresent unburied corpses. This evokes a world of absolute violence and cruelty, which is what the front looks like in Ukraine today.
According to Francois Cochet of the Museum of the Great War in France, soldiers were immersed in a constant state of anxiety in the face of the possibility of sudden death from enemy shells, while coexisting with rats and lice. The deafening noise of explosions punctuated their daily lives. The trenches not only symbolize the brutality of war, but also the physical and mental exhaustion of the fighters, compelled to survive in dehumanizing conditions where the simple act of living takes on an unbearable dimension, turning every moment into a terrifying struggle for survival.
The current situation on the front in Ukraine, which also evokes a clear stalemate situation, raises many questions, especially on the role of countries in the West in terms of supporting Ukraine and how to move forward. As President Volodymyr Zelensky continues to travel the capitals of the world urging military and financial support, this clearly outlines that the decision of whether to continue or stop the war lies in the hands of politicians in Washington and Europe.
On that matter, the domestic political landscape also resembles trench warfare. We can plainly see the divide among politicians between those supporting Ukraine and those who want an end to the war. This is particularly true in the US, where the divide has largely been between Democrats’ continuous support and a majority of Republicans stating that this support, in a time of economic challenges, must stop.
As the US enters a presidential election year and the Ukrainian file is somewhat overshadowed by the situation in Gaza, it is without doubt a crucial time. As the conflict gets bogged down and with no achievements on the ground for Ukrainian troops, it is clear that Russia can bear this deathtrap status quo much better than Ukraine, which is now completely dependent on Western support. This forces politicians, who now realize that their promises of Moscow collapsing are becoming a distant mirage, to reposition their stances. As domestic files put pressure on the outcome of elections, there is a greater chance of Kyiv facing increasing pressure to sit at the negotiating table and find a deal. This would mean an end to the war via a long-lasting ceasefire and an acceptance by Ukraine of a direct loss, but without announcing it.
The other scenario would be to recalibrate the support to help Kyiv cope with this stalemate situation. This implies an economic revival of the country while controlling the intensity of the conflict on the front lines. This would be reminiscent of the Second World War’s “phony war” — the state of watchful waiting and almost no confrontations between France and the UK’s declaration of war on Nazi Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, and the German offensive on May 10, 1940. This would mean leaving the wound open while waiting for a decisive way to change the situation on the front line. Who would benefit the most? We could easily see how Moscow would be better capable of using this situation to its advantage. Yet, it would also save face for Western politicians.
Beyond these questions, one can start to see that, since the end of the Cold War and now with the renewed great power competition, Europe has been unable to develop a long-term unified strategy vis-a-vis Moscow. This is what is still lacking today. The great unity in support of Ukraine cannot be defined as a strategy in the context of geopolitical competition. Moreover, focusing solely on economic interests, like Germany did, does not work. There needs to be a more comprehensive approach.
The reality is that, if we look into Europe’s domestic politics, we are back in the trenches. There is an entire spectrum that advocates opposing Russia in all shapes and forms and another that promotes the establishment of a full alignment of interests. Election cycles continue to move from one to the next and from one country to another and will continue weakening the European stance.
It is clear that, regardless of what happens, we are moving toward a shift in the support Ukraine receives from Western countries. The most probable outcome is to give Ukraine the possibility of getting out of the trenches. However, leaving this wound open would increase the risk of the war suddenly expanding to the rest of Europe.
• Khaled Abou Zahr is the founder of SpaceQuest Ventures, a space-focused investment platform. He is chief executive of EurabiaMedia and editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.