Written by Guillaume Ancel
Translated in English by Yurri Clavilier
Lire en Français : Guerre en Ukraine : ce silence qui précède la tempête
Beyond their astonishing resistance to the onslaught of a Russia many took for an ogre, Ukrainians have so far shown a rare mastery to communicate throughout this War that invaded them. While largely advised and helped on this aspect, Ukrainians succeeded in keeping – for the past 13 months as of now – the genuine and continuous interest of Western media. By putting forward wisely chosen and well-presented subjects, alternating between purely military questions and much broader societal debates. What is sought after is a balance between showing Ukraine’s iron will and the distressing assessment of the damages caused by Russian aggressors’ violence.
From Kerch Bridge attack in Crimea to the gruesome crimes of Russian soldiery in Butcha. From the relentless missile strikes against civilian targets to the theft of Ukrainian children. From the liberation of Kherson to the exhausting resistance in Bakhmut. In all instances, Ukrainians organized remarkably well the issues – real ones – to maintain media tension, especially among the fifty allied countries that support them.
Media attention is all the more important for European public opinions as they feel ‘in the first place’ threatened. Why would Putin’s ambitions of conquest and Russia’s subjugation stop at Ukraine’s borders? Who will be the next victims? Finland, which dared to join NATO to protect itself? The Baltic States, which defied the former USSR by leaving it? And after that, will it be Poland’s and/or Romania’s turn?
This crisis, which has been lasting for more than a year, is occupying our media to the extent of the concerns that it raises. Yet, for the past weeks, we have been and are still witnessing a media sequence of a completely different kind, a ‘low level of noise’ that nears silence in comparison to previous periods of frantic pace.
Yet, this form of silence is not related to a lack of events, such as the deployment of nuclear weapons in Belarus, China’s role, MIG-29 deliveries to Ukraine by Poland, but rather is the deliberate intent of Ukrainians, which should be analysed as such.
A pause before the acceleration of events
Media tension cannot be stretched out indefinitely, as is a crisis. The experience from Covid reminded us that beyond a certain degree of attention, a phenomenon of lassitude eventually appears, perhaps to preserve us from exhaustion. We were tired of talking about this health crisis and effectively quarantined it.
Nonetheless, the next phase of this war will be crucial: so far Ukrainians mostly defended themselves, slowing down the Russian invasion, partially intercepting missiles and drones launched against them while restoring critical services between attacks. This prevented the Russian armies from seizing new territories except at the price of dreadful losses in devastating battles such as in Bakhmut.
The new phase in preparation will clearly be a military offensive, made possible by the delivery of modern equipment by the Allies: Leopard 2 tanks, anti-aircraft missile like the Patriot, improved deep strike capability (up to 150km, GLSDB missiles and JDAM kits as illustrations), in addition to CAESAR howitzers and HIMARS multiple rocket launchers.
Deliveries of this equipment are already well underway, and above all they are synchronized with the return of Ukrainian military crews, formed and trained in their use on the soil of several allied countries.
Russians boasted that they would ‘burn’ them on arrival, yet they did not even hit any.
One or two major Ukrainian counter-offensives in the coming weeks
Given their current level of equipment and training, which seems to be comprised of at least 60 000 soldiers within 20 newly formed brigades, Ukrainian forces will be able to launch one to two major counter-offensives in the coming weeks. To succeed, these offensive actions will need to strike the Russian armies as much as the minds, because the perception of these operations will depend less on the reality on the ground – which is rarely known at the appropriate time – than on the impression they give, especially to poorly motivated, ill-equipped and abysmally supervised Russian soldiers.
With the appropriate shock, they could completely dislocate and rout if they felt they had no other prospect than to take a beating after having tried to terrorize Ukrainians.
A blatant failure of the ‘special military operation’ against Ukraine would put the Kremlin in a difficult position, but as we already wrote, the key to this war is the person who started it, Vladimir Putin. His downfall is crucial to guarantee a lasting peace in this part of the world. And at this stage, only his society can eliminate him, provided that it is convinced the outcome of the war is now inevitable, a total crushing defeat.
The question is more or less equivalent for the public opinions of Ukraine’s allied countries. They will continue to support its war effort – beyond the speeches that essentially engage those who listen to them- only if they feel that Ukrainians have the capacity to win, despite the difference in might initially displayed by their Russian aggressor.
In other words, this Ukrainian offensive must leave a mark on the minds of both sides of the war to be decisive. Initiating this vital battle in an environment saturated with information about the ‘war in Ukraine’ would risk dampening its effects. The current media pause is typical of a period devoted to the preparation of a major operation (which none risk announcing in advance) and of a communication mastery by avoiding a premature exhaustion of the public’s attention. Thus, the event needs to create a momentum by ‘focusing all means’ (and not see it diluted) in the hopes for a definitive solution to this crisis.
And if, as the allies project, this offensive allows Ukrainian forces to penetrate the Russian defence, the latter will be destabilized as it will find difficult to make use of strikes (artillery or air) despite constituting Russia’s main superiority against Ukraine.
There are very limited options for the Russian armies to reorganize quickly and efficiently to attempt blocking a fast and concentrated action by the Ukrainians. The Russian defence system spans over 1200 km (~745 miles) and will then be at risk of dislocating, as much under Ukrainians blows as under the fear of not being able to resist them.
« The Russian defence system risks breaking up, as much under Ukrainians blows as under the fear of not being able to resist them.”
In this offensive, the media saturation is as important as the military pressure. And the current silence is to be compared with the constitution of an attention reserve while Ukrainian units finish to muster their own reserves of ammunition, modern materials, and experienced fighters…
This silence is probably the one before the storm.