When we last updated you on the war in Ukraine, we came up with three possible scenarios for the near future. This morning we will explain how the events of the past six weeks have affected the war, with help from our colleagues who are defending it from Ukraine, Washington and elsewhere. other.
The bottom line is the most recent stage of the war was better for Ukraine than many observers expected after Russia’s advance earlier this year. “The Ukrainians are doing well,” Helene Cooper, a Washington reporter, told us. “The Russians are measuring progress in feet, not even miles, at this point.”
As Anton Troianovski, director of The Times’ Moscow bureau, puts it: “The Russians seem to have lost some of the momentum they had earlier in the summer. If you take a closer look, you’ll see the Ukrainians are gaining a bit of momentum, although not much has changed on the map.”
Victory, stalemate, defeat
As a reminder, here are three scenarios we described last month, based in part on public comments by Avril Haines, the US director of national intelligence:
Russia started to win. Russia will continue to take over more of eastern Ukraine, as it did in the spring, and eventually control over the entire Donbas region. This advance could disrupt Ukrainians’ will to fight elsewhere – and undermine support for the war in Western Europe and the US.
The war fell to a stalemate. Many analysts, including Haines, consider this scenario the most probable. In it, Russia will dominate the east but will not be able to go any further.
Ukraine started to win. Ukraine will halt Russia’s advance in the east and also succeed in launching counter-attacks, potentially recapturing some territory in the south, where Russia has also taken over some cities.
Looking back at this list now, we’re surprised that recent events seem to fall somewhere between the second and third scenarios.
At the beginning of the summer, Russia appeared to be making progress in taking over the entire Donbas region, eastern Ukraine, including the two regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. But that progress seems to have slowed. Russia only controls Luhansk, not all of Donetsk.
“Russia has made little or no inroads into Donetsk province and US officials don’t think they will this year,” said Eric Schmitt, a senior correspondent for security affairs. Colin Kahl, a senior Pentagon official, pointed out that Russia’s small advances in the east have come at a heavy price – about 20,000 soldiers killed and 50,000 others wounded. Michael Schwirtz, a Times reporter who covered the war in Ukraine, called the numbers “astonishing”.
“The Russians may not have enough effective combat forces to fully capture Donetsk,” said Seth Jones, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (This recent story by Helene has more details.)
Ukraine can stop Russia largely thanks to weapons from the US, EU and other allies. Of particular importance in recent weeks have been truck-mounted rocket launches, called HIMARS, its satellite-guided missile can travel nearly 50 miles. So far, the US has sent 16 launchers to Ukraine and helped train its crew.
HIMARS is one of the reasons why Ukraine is able to attack deeper into Russian-held territory than it has in the past. One target was Kherson, an area in southern Ukraine that Russia controls and where Ukraine could prepare for a counterattack. Ukraine has also successfully carried out sabotage attacks in Crimea, an area of southern Ukraine that Vladimir Putin annexed in 2014.
“To go right in and start blowing up military bases in Crimea is a real embarrassment for Russia,” Michael said. (This is a profile of the resistance people conduct sabotage operations, written from Ukraine by Andrew Kramer.)
Together, these attacks have forced Russia to dispatch several thousand troops from the east to defend areas that previously seemed safe. As Helene put it, “The Russians are now fighting a two-front war.”
Putin had hoped to be in a better position by now. After he was defeated in his initial attempt to overthrow the Ukrainian government, his backup goal was to capture eastern Ukraine. That now seems unlikely this year. “Russia hasn’t even accomplished its goal of downsizing,” Helene added.
A long war
With all that said, Russia still has some big advantages. Putin seems to complete control of the Russian government, allowing him to play a long game. And Russia has a history of winning wars of attrition, more recently in Syria and Chechnya and more recently in the Second World War – although not in Afghanistan, which proves that Russia can also lose in wars. these conflicts.
In the current war, the Russian military may not be making much progress, but neither is Ukraine. It has yet to recapture large amounts of territory to the east or south. Michael said that Ukrainian troops and civilians have also suffered heavy casualties.
One recent positive surprise for Putin is his ability to fight in war without conscription. Some analysts have predicted that he will need to mobilize more troops from the Russian population, Anton noted. Instead, Russia continued to fight simply using its existing troops and coercing the inhabitants of eastern Ukraine.
In the coming weeks, Putin will likely try to increase domestic support by hold test sessions for Ukrainian prisoners of war from the southern city of Mariupol. In the long run, he seems hopeful that European and US support for Ukraine could explode, especially if he can keep energy prices high.
As in his past weeks in Ukraine, Putin has weathered previous setbacks, through a combination of patience and brutality.
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