Donnelly struggles to put a positive spin on his answer when asked where we are now in the war. 'We are definitely in a bad place. Ukraine needs heavy artillery and rocketry to stay afloat. It cannot run out of supplies. The situation in the east is horrible and bloody. You can see that Russia has learned from the first phase of the war. Its troops are concentrating in the east, rather than in several places at once. Ukraine’s bitter and bloody fight in the east is ensuring that Russia has to keep so many forces there. As a consequence, they are losing ground to the Ukrainians in the south, straying further away from their goal of taking Odessa and the entire southern coast. Nevertheless, Ukraine needs more artillery to fight back. That is what this war is about. 75 per cent of the deaths in wars like this are due to artillery.'
According to Donnelly, this stage of the war will take months. Or even years. ‘The troops are mainly trying to shred each other up to stop them and roll them back. That is a very slow process, which also costs a lot of lives in the Donbas area. The West is responding, but not quickly. Take the energy transition to get rid of Russian gas as an example, which reduces its dependence on Russia.’
Yet after months of war, Donnelly also sees some bright spots, particularly the coming together of the west to counter Russian aggression. The possible accession of Sweden and Finland to NATO is the most positive development. 'That is great news and should not be taken lightly. The West is organising itself more coherently. Even if Turkey blocks their accession, Sweden, Finland and NATO are closer than ever and will act as if they’re members. Europe is balancing itself against the threat.'
According to the expert, Europe is currently even in a better position than Russia, due to an error of judgement by the Russians. 'Russia demanded that gas be paid for in roubles, trying to split western unity, break financial sanctions and support their own currency. That turned out to be a huge mistake. Especially in the last month you see that the sanctions against Russia are starting to work, and European countries are working on replacing Russian gas. Russia is largely dependent on gas revenues. Finally, the decision to make Ukraine a candidate for EU membership is a huge show of EU unity and geopolitical will. It is a process that will take not one night – probably years – but that it is started is already huge.'
What is also essential to Ukrainian success, according to Donnelly, is that the European big three – Italy, Germany and France – are now finally on the same page. 'Unlike in the past, they now also take the Russian threat seriously. Western countries realise that times have changed, and that they were wrong to ignore the warnings of EU countries that pointed to a future war with Russia. Maintaining good relations with Russia is no longer an option for the heads of governments, even if some advisors are still hanging onto old ideas. And if Europe wants to achieve something, the big three have to be on the same page. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has already said that they are going to rebuild everything in Ukraine, together with the French and Germans. You also see collective action in the relationship between Western Europe and the United States. It is no longer America First, but Friends First. That means a lot. The two Atlantic sides know that they can only rebuild their own economies after COVID, defeat Russia, and prepare for future confrontations with China by rebuilding together.’
Donnelly fears that Ukraine will have to pay in blood in the coming months, so that Russia cannot push on towards Moldova via the south. 'Russia is forcing Western Europe to choose, because they want to cut off the supply of food to Africa. By doing so, they influence the war and they are shamelessly saying so, as they have been in the past. The only thing the West can do is continue to cooperate.'