Stanislav Zhelikhovskyi: It is essential for the pace of cooperation between Bucharest and Kyiv to not only remain in good standing but also to strengthen further
Mr. Stanislav Zhelikhovskyi is a Doctor of Political Sciences, Senior Specialist at the Hennady Udovenko Diplomatic Academy of Ukraine, which operates under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kiev. He answered our questions about the war, Ukrainian peace conditions and the strategic relations between Ukraine and Romania.
KP:. We passed the 600-day mark since the beginning of the illegal Russian military invasion. What is the current situation on the front lines? How much longer do you think it will take to fully liberate the territories occupied by the Russian Federation?
S.Z.: Overall, the situation on the front remains very tense. Russian forces continue to attack Ukrainian forces. However, Ukraine is putting up a strong resistance and conducting counteroffensive operations. In addition, the Armed Forces of Ukraine are launching attacks on the enemy’s rear positions, such as airfields, ammunition depots, seaports, fleet vessels, and so on. This may help in stopping and pushing back the enemy’s forces.
Currently, it is difficult to predict how long the combat operations will continue, especially in the context of the de-occupation of Ukrainian territories. However, the active phase, according to many forecasts, could last for at least a year. It is not ruled out that a very pessimistic scenario is possible, where the war could stretch over several years.
K.P.. Some Western media outlets believe that the current counteroffensive by the Ukrainian army is taking place under unequal conditions. What types of weaponry do the Ukrainian armed forces still require?
S.Z.: I believe that the Russian-Ukrainian war is, in general, an asymmetric conflict, given the differences in size, capabilities, and the number of personnel between Russia and Ukraine. This presents a significant challenge for Kyiv, which is trying to not only defend itself but also to counterattack in unequal conditions.
Ukraine requires various types of modern weaponry that, due to their significantly advanced technological characteristics, could compensate for the numerical composition of the mostly outdated enemy’s arsenal. Among other things, Kyiv needs artillery systems, long-range missile projectiles, air defense systems, next-generation aviation technology, modern armored vehicles and versatile unmanned aerial vehicles.
K.P.: What is the current role of Transnistria in the Russian war strategy, and how will Ukraine respond to this threat? How do you see the evolution of relations between the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine?
S.Z.: Transnistria remains an area of instability near the Ukrainian border. Its role as a Russian “enclave” has been reinforced during the Russian-Ukrainian war. This is because at any convenient moment for the Kremlin, the operational group of Russian forces in Transnistria could become active and strike Ukraine.
The situation forces Kyiv to maintain a contingent of around 10,000 troops near the border of the unrecognized republic, which are essential for combat operations. Transnistria also poses a potential threat to Chisinau.
It’s not ruled out that the problem could be resolved through military means. However, as stated by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a press conference after the European Political Community summit held in Bulboaca, Ukraine might engage in military action on the territory of Transnistria but only at the request of the Moldovan government.
Regarding the state of Ukrainian-Moldovan relations, they are considered stable and neighborly. This is because, among other reasons, both countries share common challenges and are moving towards European Union membership.
K.P.: The tactic employed by Ukraine has forced the Russian Black Sea Fleet to partially withdraw from the Crimean region. Can Kyiv ensure the security of maritime transport? How can Ukraine be assisted by Western partners in this regard?
S.Z.: Kyiv is attempting to ensure the security of maritime transport, including by striking at the military infrastructure of the occupied Russian-controlled Crimea and the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Federation. To some extent, they have been successful in this endeavor.
However, the situation is complex. In this context, it is crucial for Western partners to continue providing military assistance, such as aerial and naval drones, long-range missile projectiles, up-to-date intelligence/satellite data, and more. Additionally, political, diplomatic, economic, sanctions, and other forms of pressure on Moscow are equally important.
K.P.: What are the conditions under which Ukraine is prepared to engage in peace negotiations, considering that all Western partners have stated that Ukraine is the one to decide when and under what conditions these negotiations will be initiated?
S.Z.: Ukraine is prepared to engage in peace negotiations, and official statements from Kyiv have made this clear on multiple occasions. However, they insist that all points of the Ukrainian “peace formula” be met before negotiations can proceed. These points include: Implementation of the UN Charter and the restoration of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and the world order; Withdrawal of Russian forces and cessation of hostilities; Justice, including holding a tribunal for those responsible for the aggression and compensation for damages; Release of all detainees and deported individuals; Security guarantees for Ukraine; Radiological and nuclear safety; Food security and other related issues.
It is also crucial that Russia renounces any territorial claims to Ukraine, which would entail amending the Russian Constitution and other laws to remove any affiliation of five Ukrainian regions with the Russian Federation.
K.P.: President Zelensky has made a series of visits to the United States, Canada, and NATO headquarters. How will the relations between Kyiv and its Western partners evolve?
S.Z.: Western partners have been supporting Ukraine and providing resources to counter Russian aggression. There is also considerable emphasis on post-war reconstruction in Ukraine and support for its European and Euro-Atlantic integration.
Given that the collective West continues to keep Ukraine in its focus, there is hope that this attention will persist until Ukraine achieves full integration with the Western world. This ongoing support and engagement with Western partners are essential for Ukraine’s stability, security, and its path toward further integration with Euro-Atlantic institutions.
K.P.: President Zelensky recently made an official visit to Bucharest at the invitation of his Romanian counterpart, Klaus Iohannis. The two heads of state signed a Strategic Partnership, elevating the level of relations between the two countries. Also the governments of Romania and Ukraine hold a joint sesion in the ukrainian capital city. What are Kyiv’s expectations from this agreement? What more can Romania do to support Ukraine?
S.Z.: Indeed, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made a visit to Romania, where he had a meeting with his counterpart Klaus Iohannis. This was the first visit of a Ukrainian leader to Romania since the onset of the major war.
During President Zelensky’s visit to Romania, an agreement was reached to establish a training center for Ukrainian F-16 pilots. Bucharest is also expected to provide Ukraine with air defense systems and artillery. Additionally, the launch of a new corridor for the export of Ukrainian grain through Moldova to Romania was announced.
The fact that Iohannis and Zelensky declared that Romania and Ukraine have entered into a strategic partnership agreement is seen as a significant step that elevates the level of relations between the two countries to a qualitatively new level.
It is essential for the pace of cooperation between Bucharest and Kyiv to not only remain in good standing but also to strengthen further. This should be understood in the context of military cooperation as well as other potential areas of collaboration.
It is noteworthy that the Romanian leader expressed support for the Ukrainian “formula of peace” and stated that only Ukraine will determine when and how to conduct peace negotiations.
Furthermore, Klaus Iohannis expressed support for the commencement of negotiations for Ukraine and Moldova’s accession to the European Union by the end of the year. This is of great importance to all involved parties, as being part of a unified political and economic space can guarantee effective resistance to external aggressors, with Russia being such an aggressor. Romania understands this well.