A war in Ukraine that began with a Russian debacle as its forces tried and failed to take Kyiv has seemingly begun to turn around as Russia now selects regional targets, Ukraine lacks the weapons it needs and Western support for the War effort being dragged in the face by soaring gas prices and runaway inflation.
On the 108th day of President Vladimir V. Putin’s unprovoked war, driven by his belief that Ukraine is a territory wrongly taken from the Russian Empire, Russia appeared no closer to victory. But their forces appeared to be advancing slowly, methodically, and bloodily to seize control of eastern Ukraine.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s agile President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again promised victory. “We will definitely prevail in this war that Russia started,” he said in a video appearance at a conference in Singapore. “The future rules of this world will be decided on the battlefields of Ukraine.”
But the heady early days of the war – when the Ukrainian outsider held off a blinded and incompetent attacker and Mr Putin’s indiscriminate bombardment united the West in outrage – are beginning to fade. In its place is a war that is shaping up to be a protracted drudgery that analysts are increasingly saying is putting increasing pressure on the governments and economies of Western countries and countries around the world.
Nowhere is this drudgery more evident than in Ukraine’s eastern Donbass region. Despite urgent pleas to the West for more heavy weapons, Ukrainian forces appear to lack what is needed to counter Russian artillery use shelling scorched-earth towns and villages. As Ukraine holds Russia back in the major regional city of Sieverodonetsk, it is suffering heavy casualties – at least 100 dead a day, although the full extent is not yet known – and is in dire need of more weapons and ammunition.
Russia also appears to be making progress in establishing control of the cities it has seized, including the razed Black Sea port of Mariupol. It has set out to persuade and coerce the remaining populace that its future lies in what Mr Putin sees as his restored empire. Citizens there, and in cities like Kherson and Melitopol, face a grim choice: if they want to work, they must first obtain a Russian passport, a flattery offered to show a semblance of loyalty to Moscow.
Propaganda comparing Mr Putin to Peter the Great, Russia’s first emperor, blasts out of cars in Mariupol in what Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the city’s mayor, called a “pseudohistoric” attack.
The comparison that Putin himself made is close to the heart of the Russian president. He has repeatedly insisted that Ukraine is not a real nation and that its true identity is Russian. However, his invasion cemented and solidified Ukrainian national identity in ways previously unimaginable.
Russia has its own difficulties, particularly in southern Ukraine, where the provincial capital of Kherson, captured early in the war, remains contested. Attacks by former Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have increased in recent weeks. Russian casualties in the war are not yet known, but are certainly in the tens of thousands, a potential source of anger at Mr Putin, whose autocratic hold over Russia is ever-tightening.
Although the Russian economy has shown surprising resilience, it has been hit hard by Western sanctions; A brain drain will sap growth for years to come. Putin’s pariah status in the West is unlikely to change.
Elsewhere in Africa and Asia, however, support for the West – and for Ukraine – is more nuanced. Many countries see little difference between Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the United States’ invasion of Iraq in 2003; it seems unlikely that they will be persuaded otherwise.
In general, there is resentment in much of the developing world against what is seen as American dominance, which is seen as a holdover from the 20th century. In this context, the strong partnership between China and Russia is viewed not with the animosity and fear it inspires in the West, but as a salutary challenge to a Western-dominated global system.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, on a visit to Asia on Saturday to warn of possible Chinese aggression against Taiwan, tried to rally support for the West’s fervent support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion.
“That’s what happens when major powers decide their imperial appetites are more important than the rights of their peaceful neighbors,” he said. “And it’s a preview of a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us want to live in.”
Speaking at a security summit in Singapore, Mr Austin said Russia’s invasion was “what happens when oppressors trample on the rules that protect us all”. He spoke after Mr Zelensky expressed concern in his nightly address that world attention could be diverted from Ukraine.
Russia-Ukraine War: Key Developments
With US and UK inflation at levels not seen in four decades, financial markets collapsing, interest rates rising and food shortages looming, such a shift in focus from a protracted war to more pressing domestic concerns may be inevitable. The war is not to blame for all these developments, but it exacerbates most of them – and there is no end in sight.
A combination of high inflation and recession considered plausible by many economists would be reminiscent of the 1970s when the first oil shock devastated the global economy. With the United States midterm elections just months away, President Biden and the Democrats cannot afford a campaign season dominated by talk of $5 a gallon gasoline and near double-digit inflation.
But the ingredients of a long war are clear enough. There are no signs of Russian willingness to make territorial compromises. At the same time, Ukrainian resistance is still strong enough to make a formal cession of territory almost unthinkable. The result is an impasse, a far cry from Putin’s apparent initial belief that Russian troops would march into Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, to give them a warm welcome.
Some of the roots of the war lie in Ukraine’s strategic decision to move closer to the 27-nation European Union and away from Moscow. Mr. Putin could not bear this shift, which has now been reinforced in Ukraine by a brutal confrontation with Russia’s military methods.
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, met with Mr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Saturday to show his support. The European Union is considering granting Ukraine formal EU candidate status at a summit on 23-24 June. A possible visit by President Emmanuel Macron to Ukraine after this meeting was discussed in Paris.
In Ukraine and beyond, Mr Macron, who has spoken regularly to Mr Putin since the war began in February, has been heavily criticized for insisting on avoiding “humiliation” of Russia in order to keep diplomatic channels open. A French presidential official came back on Saturday and said: “We want a Ukrainian victory. We want the territorial integrity of Ukraine to be restored.”
After the Russian slaughter in Bucha near Kyiv and in Mariupol, the chances of successful diplomacy seem slimmer than ever. It’s even unclear what the term “victory” would mean for either side.
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