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After the U.S. Election, Parties Involved in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict May Take Steps to Discuss Ceasefire Plans


In this transcript of a keynote speech given by Ding Xiaoxing, the director of the Institute of Eurasian Studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), he outlines the major trends and features of the war in Ukraine two years on. He highlights the emergence of commercial technology on the battlefield and the high human and financial costs of the war, and argues that continued U.S. aid to Ukraine will be a decisive variable impacting the war’s future dynamics.

Key takeaways
  • Speaking at a conference held at the Renmin University Chaoyang Institute of Financial Studies dedicated to the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine, Ding Xiaoxing, director of the Institute of Eurasian Studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), distills what he sees as the key dynamics of the war and projects its future dynamics.
  • He characterizes the war as one of attrition, with high costs for both sides in terms of human life, equipment, and ammunition. Despite many shared features with wars of the past, Ding suggests battlefield dynamics reveal the changing nature of warfare, with copious use of cheap UAVs and other new technologies to gain security advantage.
  • Projecting ahead, Ding sees the U.S. as playing a major role in the war. He argues 2024 is likely to be decisive given U.S. elections, and Russia has a much higher chance of breakthroughs on the battlefield should U.S. domestic hesitancy to provide more aid to Ukraine continue.

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Editor’s note: On February 21, 2024, the 10th (Spring 2024) Global Governance Forum “Second Anniversary of the Russia-Ukraine Conflict: Impact and Insights” was successfully held in Beijing. It was hosted by the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies of Renmin University of China (RUC), organized by the Global Governance Research Center of the RUC and the China-U.S. People-to-People Exchange Research Center of the RUC, and co-organized by the School of Global and Area Studies at RUC. Ding Xiaoxing, director of the Institute of Eurasian Studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, was invited to deliver a speech at the keynote seminar session. The following is a transcript of his speech:


I would like to talk mainly about some of the features that have defined the Russia-Ukraine conflict over the past two years. As the Russia-Ukraine conflict is indeed one of the most significant geopolitical events since the Cold War, we have closely observed and followed it these last two years, and I think that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been characterized by four features:


First, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been a tug-of-war, a positional war, and a war of attrition.


At the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine conflict, Russia intended to take a blitzkrieg approach to resolve the issue, so Russia announced that it was only a “special military operation”. That is, Russia did not intend to declare war against Ukraine, and alleged that it was only engaging in a special military operation. But to be honest, there was an error of judgment in the early stages, and Russian forces encountered strong resistance from Ukraine. Russia later withdrew from Kyiv, and then the battles were mainly concentrated in the eastern part of Ukraine, Mariupol and Donetsk. Afterward, Russia occupied about 18% of Ukraine’s territory, including four oblasts in eastern Ukraine.


By September 2022, Ukraine had counterattacked and regained the territory of Kharkiv. In this sense, the two countries were in a tug-of-war. The fight for some cities in particular has evolved into cruel positional warfare. This trend can be seen in Mariupol and Bakhmut for example, and more recently in Avdiivka, Donetsk, and so on.


Overall, Russia launched the special military operation in 2022, but was met with strong resistance from the Ukrainian army, which was highly mobile and active on the battlefield. In 2023, Ukraine was overly optimistic and rashly launched a counteroffensive in June. The counteroffensive failed: since Ukraine did not realize that the Russian defensive line was very strong, the Ukrainian army suffered heavy losses and the counteroffensive failed. Consequently, the two parties were mired in a stalemate where whoever goes on the offensive may suffer losses.


Second, the cost of war was high.


The most prominent feature of the Russia-Ukraine war has been that both sides are firing artillery shells to bombard each other, a kind of warfare not much different from that of World War I. Armies in the First World War also used such a strategy, using artillery shells to bombard each other. The consumption of ammunition has been huge. At its peak in 2022, Russia was able to fire 50,000 to 70,000 artillery shells a day, and Ukraine had about 10,000 as well. So as we see now, each party is running out of artillery shells, especially Ukraine. Shells are in severely short supply because of intense firing. Russia has also been trying to figure out how to manage. The loss of equipment has been massive as well. According to Ukraine, it has destroyed nearly  6,000 Russian tanks.


The loss of personnel has been even greater. Accurate data has not been released from either side, so we have no way of knowing the precise casualties, and can only calculate the loss based on information from the Internet. However, if you add up the numbers, there have been at least hundreds of thousands of casualties. So this war has been the deadliest one in Europe since World War II. With regard to loss of life, there’s a Chinese saying that sudden rains don’t fall all day—a downpour can’t last a whole day—and I suspect that a war of this intensity can’t last for long. In an article I wrote at the end of last year, I suggested that 2024 will likely be the decisive year for Russia and Ukraine. Not that the war will end in 2024, but that in 2024 we may be able to have a clear picture of the eventual outcome. In this sense, 2024 will be the decisive year.


Third, Ukraine’s ability to resist depends entirely on Western aid.


In two years, the West has provided over $200 billion in aid to Ukraine, and there has been a division of labor: the Americans provide the military aid and the Europeans provide financial aid. There are also some international organizations involved, like the World Bank, the IMF, and so on. The West not only offered financial support, but according to Russian intelligence, some complicated weapons were in fact operated by Western military personnel. In this sense, the West has been deeply involved in this conflict. Except for head-to-head confrontations on the battlefield, in which Western forces have not been involved, they have participated in all kinds of military operations including intelligence support, tactical command, and so on. They have also engaged in hybrid warfare in multiple fields—financial warfare, economic warfare, diplomatic warfare, information warfare, sanctions—as discussed by everyone here.


Fourth, some new forms of warfare have emerged.


The Russia-Ukraine conflict bears some resemblance with World War I, as a century later, everyone is still fighting with artillery forces. But it also has some new features. For example, there are no large-scale encounters or battles, as large-scale gatherings will be instantly eliminated by bombing. The usage of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as drones and unmanned boats, has been very frequent. The conflict has witnessed the first large-scale UAV operation, the first UAV war. Ukraine has established a new UAV combat unit, and also planned to produce a million UAVs a year. In fact, many of the UAVs are exceptionally cheap, and can engage in warfare with only a bomb attached to them. Expensive heavy weapons can be destroyed with extremely cheap UAVs. In this context, anti-drone equipment and air defense capabilities are crucial.


The Russia-Ukraine conflict is the first war to be fully webcast, and people may feel that the Russia-Ukraine conflict is happening right in front of them. You can watch the videos and see the photos every day, so it is impossible to carry out indiscriminate bombing. We all know that in World War II, from the beginning of 1945, the Americans started the massive bombing of Japan’s mainland, and in World War II everyone bombed civilians indiscriminately. It is impossible to do that in the current war. Also, the number of secondary disasters from the Russia-Ukraine conflict is particularly high, such as the attack on the Crimean bridge, the explosion at the Kakhovka Dam, and the security risks at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, and so on. The number of secondary disasters is particularly high.


These are the four main features over the past two years, and I personally believe that there are also two more future directions:


First, the situation may become increasingly unfavorable for Ukraine.


Previously, a stalemate was generally formed. Since last winter, the situation has become increasingly unfavorable for Ukraine. The first and biggest factor is naturally the cessation of aid from the United States. Initially, assisting Ukraine was a bipartisan consensus in the United States. Everyone felt it was impossible not to provide assistance. According to the director of the CIA, offering aid to Ukraine had been the most cost-effective investment for the United States: it could use just a small amount of money to trap Russia in the war and diminish its power. But now, since the two parties are fighting fiercely against each other and as the election approaches, the aid bill for Ukraine could not be passed by the House of Representatives, and now Ukraine is already experiencing a severe shortage of artillery shells. Coupled with the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and high-level struggles in Ukraine, the situation is getting more and more unfavorable for Ukraine.


Secondly, this year could be decisive.


The Russia-Ukraine conflict is a war to the death, and the stakes are getting higher for both sides, but it seems that the conditions for peace talks are not there yet, and it seems now that both sides will continue to fight. As long as Western aid doesn’t stop, Ukraine will fight on. If Russia can gain a clear advantage on the battlefield and is able to push the frontline quickly, it will gain more territories in addition to the four oblasts. Many senior Russian officials say that Odesa and Kharkiv are Russian cities. As for Europe, despite its fatigue, no serious divisions have appeared about the aid for Ukraine, and it will continue to firmly support Ukraine. Denmark has given all its stockpiles of artillery shells to Ukraine.


Overall, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has been a two-year stalemate, but all wars have to end someday. A high-intensity war like this between Russia and Ukraine takes a huge toll on both sides. 2024 may be the most critical year. If U.S. military assistance to Ukraine is long delayed, and Russia could break through this line of defense after the battle for Avdiivka. With that, Russia could reverse the situation that whoever goes on the offensive loses. Under those circumstances, Ukraine and the West will be under pressure to seek negotiations to prevent even greater losses.


What to do, then, as fighting on won’t reverse the situation and more cities may be lost? Negotiate, or at least stop a bit and take some pauses. If Western aid is not in place for a long time, Russia still can’t break through this line of defense, and the battlefield remains unchanged in a persistent stalemate, what would be the point for the two sides to continue their battle? As for the past two years, neither side pushed the frontline successfully, and continuing to fight would only lead to more pointless losses and more people dying. Under these circumstances, I think the possibility of peace talks would be lost as well, especially since the U.S. election also takes place this year, which will add more risks to the situation.


So, in my personal opinion, after the U.S. election, the parties will probably take steps to discuss ceasefire plans. Of course, this process is not destined to be smooth sailing. Both sides may suspect that the other side is using peace talks to gain a window of opportunity for future battles. Therefore, after a short ceasefire, there will be new rounds of conflict, which may form a back-and-forth loop. In short, the root cause of the Russia-Ukraine conflict is the fundamental problem of European security. If this problem is not solved, I think the Russia-Ukraine conflict will last a long time, and Russia’s confrontation with NATO will last for a prolonged period as well.


In conclusion, I would like to say that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has brought to this turbulent world more uncertainty, the forming formation of different camps, all kinds of negative security-related trends, and the degradation of global governance. But as we may see, especially since 2023, China has become the major and the most important factor in maintaining global peace and development. Because in a world where both the West and Russia want confrontation, the West divides the world into democracies and non-democracies, and Russia divides the globe into friendly and unfriendly countries, the confrontation is very visible. But if China’s policy chooses confrontation, the world may be in a state of a new Cold War.


If China chooses division, the world may be divided into different camps. But as China’s Central Foreign Affairs Work Conference this year made clear, China’s policy is clear and consistent, and we will continue to contribute to building a community of common destiny for mankind. Therefore, China is taking a prudent attitude in policymaking. As major changes unseen in a century have unfold, China has indeed become the most important constructive force in maintaining global security and stability.


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Cite This Page

丁晓星 (Ding Xiaoxing). "After the U.S. Election, Parties Involved in the Russia-Ukraine Conflict May Take Steps to Discuss Ceasefire Plans [美国大选后,俄乌冲突各方可能会逐步讨论停火方案]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in Renmin University Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies [中国人民大学重阳金融研究院], February 26, 2024

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