Geopolitical Monitoring Report | September 2, 2022
Europe & Eurasia | Russia/Ukraine
Ukraine Launches Counteroffensive in Kherson as Inflation Begins to Sting European Consumers
Ukrainian military forces launched their long-rumored counteroffensive in the Kherson Oblast in an attempt to capture the province’s titular city. While Russia says it has successfully repelled the Ukrainian attacks and has already declared the operation a failure, the Ukrainian military claims to have broken through the first line of Russian defenses. The ultimate success or failure of this operation – which Ukraine hopes to complete before Winter – will likely remain in question for the near-future.
However, its perceived success or failure is likely to have a significant impact on voters in upcoming European elections, who are facing rampant inflation as Russia continues to leverage its energy exports as a weapon. It appears that Russia is counting on citizens in these countries to begin to question the high volume of military support their governments are providing to Ukraine and sanctions on Moscow as ever-rising prices continue to put pressure on consumers.
A failed Ukrainian counteroffensive in Kherson will only encourage the populations of Western Europe to begin opposing their governments continuing weapons shipments to Ukraine. However, a Ukraine victory in Kherson might have the opposite effect and inspire renewed commitments by Western European governments to supporting Ukraine.
Operational security is higher in Kherson, as both sides have deployed more regular enlisted troops in the Kherson region and these troops naturally have stricter regulations and enforcement on mobile phone use. This means that it will remain unclear as to which side has the advantage and it is likely both sides will leverage social media to spread the narrative that their side is winning.
As the conflict grinds on, so too does the Western efforts to starve Russia’s energy sector of hard currency it is using to fund the war: the G7 announced that it will enact a “price cap” on Russian oil purchases by its members.
However, while this latest move is the most aggressive anti-Russian energy action by the West to date, it is unclear how long it will be effective as demand for Russian oil is likely to remain high in China and India and they are not part of the price cap plan. In addition, India has also allegedly been involved in importing Russian oil and then re-exporting it to Europe and this practice is likely to continue, further weakening the price cap’s impact on the Kremlin’s finances.
Russia has threatened to cut off energy exports to Europe in response to the price cap. This latest development comes as Europeans prepare to go to the polls in Italy and Sweden later this month in what will be the first major elections since the beginning of the war and since Europeans began paying higher prices for electricity.
Platform abuse and manipulation on social media sites is likely to increase significantly due to the relatively low amount of information that is coming out of the Kherson region compared to the Donbass. Russia information warfare efforts will likely be particularly focused on highlighting the losses of Western-provided equipment in the counteroffensive, as images of this equipment being destroyed might convince the citizens – and potentially the governments – of these countries that continued support for Ukraine is not viable and the economic costs are too high.
Russia is also likely to continue to try to leverage its energy exports to Europe as another weapon to force this outcome and will continue to find a market for its oil exports in China and India as a way around the price cap. With the West showing no signs of slowing its efforts to isolate Russia’s economy, oil imports to Europe from countries like India that have allegedly helped Moscow bypass sanctions will likely come under increased scrutiny.
Companies involved in importing oil into Europe should be aware of this practice and ensure that they are not doing business with a potentially sanctioned entity or country through a middleman.
Finally, as Russia hopes to translate popular anger over rising costs into political victories on the European continent, governments and political campaigns themselves must take steps to counter disinformation narratives seeking to denigrate candidates that support continued support to Ukraine.
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