Ukraine enters the countdown to decide the war in its favor | International
A row of charred or unserviceable Russian tanks and artillery pieces went on display this week on Khreschatyk Avenue in the heart of kyiv. Coinciding with August 24, Ukraine's Independence Day, thousands of citizens came to the parade of these war trophies. Irina D. is 46 years old and has a 22-year-old son who lives with her. Irina D. was taking photos last Thursday of a column of Mstsa-S artillery pieces captured from the enemy. The woman, in favor of expelling the Russians from all the occupied territories, had no objection to giving her last name to be quoted in EL PAÍS, until a question left her out of the question and she was honest asking for anonymity: Would she accept a liberation war? that lasts a decade if it means that your son has to go to the front? “I prefer that the Russians stay with [la región del] Donbas than to see my son fighting”.
Thursday marked a year and a half since the start of the Russian war against Ukraine and time is ticking faster for the invaded country. The lack of results on the battlefield is causing anxiety in Ukrainian society, but also among kyiv's allies, especially in the United States. The Ukrainian Armed Forces began the most anticipated offensive last June, with which they have had a supply of weapons from NATO countries that, according to what General Valeri Zaluzhni, the Ukrainian commander-in-chief, wrote at the end of 2022, would allow the reconquest of the territories lost since the start of the invasion.
Expectations in the Ukrainian counteroffensive were very high, but reality points to a less optimistic outcome. The Pentagon leaked last week to The Washington Post classified information in which it is assumed that Zaluzhny's troops would not achieve any significant objective in 2023, especially recapture the city of Melitopol, in the southeast of the country. Melitopol is located in the province of Zaporizhia and its liberation would be decisive in cutting off the Russian military axis that controls the coast of the Azov Sea and the territories to the south, half the province of Kherson and land access to the Crimean peninsula.
Senior US military commanders also criticized this week in The New York Times that the Ukrainian advance is being based on a mistaken strategy that prioritizes not having high casualties, something that is inevitable when an army attacks, and dispersing its forces excessively on multiple fronts instead of concentrating on the Zaporizhia front. “Only with a change of tactics and a drastic turn can the timing of the counteroffensive be changed,” a US military official told The New York Times. Neither side communicated their casualties, but the Pentagon reported on August 18 that, according to its count, Russia had 120,000 dead soldiers and some 180,000 wounded in these 18 months; Ukraine, according to US military numbers, suffered 70,000 fatalities and up to 120,000 wounded casualties.
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In Washington there is another ticking clock and it is also going against Ukrainian interests: that of the presidential elections, which will be held in November 2024. The favorite to be the candidate of the Republican Party, Donald Trump, has made it clear that, in If he is elected president, he will cut off military aid to Ukraine.
The cost of military, financial and humanitarian aid for Ukraine by its allies is enormous: the United States has already provided Kiev with 113,000 million dollars (104,000 million euros, more than half dedicated to military material) and the president, Joe Biden, has asked Congress this August to approve a new package of 40,000 million. According to the Kiel Institute for the Global Economy, which regularly monitors international support for Ukraine, the total aid received by Kiev in the first 15 months of the war amounted to 165 billion euros. To understand the dimensions of this assistance, the International Monetary Fund and the European Union contributed 288,000 million euros to Greece between 2010 and 2015 to avoid the bankruptcy of the country. The United States invested 2.3 trillion dollars in two decades of occupation in Afghanistan, between 2001 and 2022, an average of 110,000 million per year.
Long-term unsustainable wear
More and more voices warn that the wear and tear of a large-scale conflict like the one in Ukraine is unsustainable in the long term. Symptomatic of this was the secret meeting held last July in New York by the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, with veteran US diplomats. The goal is to establish a diplomatic channel that allows negotiations to be opened in the future to end the war, "facing aspects such as the fate of the territories that Ukraine will not be able to liberate," according to NBC television.
The most bitter remarks for Ukraine, reflecting the mounting pressure on Kiev, were made on 15 August by the head of the NATO Secretary General's office, Stian Jenssen, during a political forum in Norway, when he contemplated that an option for the country accedes to the Atlantic Alliance would be the cession of part of its territory to Russia. Although Jenssen later qualified his words, his intervention has marked the political debate in Ukraine ever since.
The mantra repeated by Western foreign ministries is that the Ukrainian Armed Forces must reconquer as much territory as possible in order to start in a better position when the time comes to negotiate an end to the war. This was recalled by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in an interview on August 23 for Point: "My wish is that the Ukrainian counteroffensive can bring everyone back to the negotiating table so that a political solution can be reached under the most favorable conditions." Macron added that it should be the Ukrainians who set the conditions of the negotiation. And the Ukrainian conditions are, for the moment, explicit: there will be no concessions. This is indicated in the peace plan proposed by Zelensky and as stipulated in a resolution approved by the Rada [la cámara legislativa] on August 23 calling for a law to prohibit relinquishing any Russian-occupied region in exchange for ending the war.
solid russian defenses
The problem is that the counteroffensive is not meeting the expectations that the Ukrainian military leadership itself had created. Precedents called for optimism. Swift counter-offensives in the summer and fall of 2022 liberated the entire Kharkov Oblast and the western half of the Kherson Oblast. But the context compared to a year ago is very different because since then, Russia has erected 800 kilometers of defense structures, triple lines of anti-armor obstacles, minefields and a network of machine gun nests, bunkers and artillery pits. The result is that in two and a half months, the only significant advance has been a corridor some 12 kilometers long on the Zaporizhia front. Melitopol is still 65 kilometers from the Ukrainian troops.
The addition of German Leopard tanks and hundreds of NATO armored infantry, as well as new Western self-propelled artillery pieces, better than those predominant on the battlefield, the Soviet-made ones, were used by Ukrainian propaganda as a invincible booster luck. During the preparations for the counteroffensive, in an interview with EL PAÍS last April, General Sergei Melnik was convinced that the Ukrainian firepower would force the flight of Russian troops at some point on the front, opening a decisive crack in the invader's defenses. None of this has happened so far.
There are other factors that have been key to Russia's defensive success. The destruction of the Nova Kajovka dam, last June, altered the orography of the Dnieper River, which delimits the war front in the south, making it an even more complex geographical accident to overcome militarily. This was confirmed by a report from that month of June from the Center for International and Strategic Studies, a United States defense analysis institute: the Ukrainian forces would face more obstacles because, either the width of the river increased in some sections, or the Much of what was once navigable space for speedboats is now quagmire that the Ukrainian military leadership needs time to study how to overcome. The ecological catastrophe of the dam, which the Ukrainian and Western intelligence services took for granted that it was dynamited by the invader, was used by Valeri Gerasimov, chief of the Russian General Staff, to relocate a large part of his men on the southern front to the east , to Donbas, Kharkov and above all, Zaporizhia.
The reinforcement from the southern front has also served to relieve the units of the Wagner mercenary group, which after the coup attempt last June have been removed by the Kremlin from the war scene. Some 32,000 of Wagner's paramilitaries took part in the invasion, a force that Russia cannot count on for the moment, especially after the void left by the death of Wagner's leadership last Thursday in the explosion of the plane in which he was traveling, and in which its leader Yevgueni Prigozhin also died.
In contemporary military theory, air superiority is considered essential for the success of an attacking army. A third decisive fact against Ukrainian interests is that Russia has 10 times more planes and helicopters than Ukraine. Both sides' network of mobile air defense batteries has left the use of aircraft for frontline strikes on the back burner, but Kiev regrets that slow and difficult negotiations to obtain NATO fighter jets, specifically the F -16 Americans, have weighed down their chances of success. Already in March, the spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force warned at a press conference that without the F-16s, "the counteroffensive will not be successful." Finally, after eight months of discussions with the Biden Administration, the United States authorized this August for the Netherlands and Denmark to deliver 61 F-16 aircraft to kyiv.
Dmitro Kuleba, Ukrainian Foreign Minister, replied on August 20, in an interview with the daily Bild, to the doubts that the stagnation at the front was generating: “What I ask of analysts is that they be more prudent and that their predictions be long-term. We need more resources in the long term to get more results in the short term. Be confident, be patient, victory is hard work."
Irina Vereshchuk, the Ukrainian minister for the Occupied Territories, was more explicit in a statement on August 15, a text that provoked thousands of critical responses on social networks. In the document, Vereshchuk stated: “We have to be honest, the road to victory will be long and hard. We have to prepare for a lasting war. Citizens and authorities, everyone has to adapt to a long and hard war.” He Kyiv Post published an extensive and unusual report with some twenty testimonies from citizens of the capital who replied to the minister that they refused to accept living for years in a large-scale war. The fatigue of the population is beginning to be a concern for the Government, alerted an analysis of The Economist of August 20. "It may be that after one more year of war, the Ukrainians are beginning to be tired," the American expert on Ukraine Paul D'anieri said in an interview last December with this newspaper: "This is how they usually end wars, with people so married that they end up accepting things that at first they would not have accepted.
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