Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Entering Sixth Month of War, Ukraine Faces Thorny Dilemmas (VIDEO)

At the Los Angeles Times, "Entering a sixth month of war, Ukraine faces thorny dilemmas":

KYIV, Ukraine — The explosion is invariably spectacular: a gigantic spewing fireball, often followed by a slow-motion airborne cascade of secondary blasts. As soon as such footage finds its way online, exultant Ukrainian commentary erupts: “It’s HIMARS o’clock!” As its war with Russia enters a sixth month, Ukraine has been celebrating recent battlefield successes generated by sophisticated launchers known as High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS. The Pentagon has provided or promised a dozen of the advanced systems, capable of hitting targets up to 50 miles away.

Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of its smaller neighbor on Feb. 24, the conflict has veered from Moscow’s initial failed effort to capture the capital, Kyiv, to substantial Ukrainian territorial losses this summer in the country’s eastern industrial heartland.

Now the combat calculus appears to be shifting yet again, with Ukrainian forces, assisted by their new weaponry, striking dozens of sites, including Russian ammunition dumps, troop concentrations and bridges. That is seen as likely preparation for an offensive to regain Russian-held territory in the country’s south, near the Black Sea coast.

“Ukrainian forces are now using long-range rocket systems to great effect,” U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said last week during a virtual meeting of 50 countries that are donating equipment to Ukraine. “I think that everyone here understands the difference that they’ve made on the ground.”

That battlefield effect, however, leaves Ukrainian officials treading a fine line.

President Volodymyr Zelensky and other top officials continue to issue forceful pleas for more Western weaponry, declaring bluntly that Ukraine cannot seize the military initiative without far more donated armaments. Ukraine’s first lady, Olena Zelenska, made an unusual personal appearance Wednesday before Congress, where she graphically invoked civilian suffering at Russian hands while also appealing for additional military materiel.

But at the same time, Zelensky and his lieutenants seek to depict a landscape in which their armed forces already may be poised to gain the upper hand — implicitly promising that the country’s sacrifice of lives, together with Western allies’ growing economic and energy strains stemming from the war, will ultimately prove worthwhile.

“We have a significant potential for the advance of our forces on the front, and for the infliction of significant new losses on the occupiers,” Zelensky said late Thursday in his nightly address to the country.

The two messages aren’t necessarily contradictory. Calibrating them, however, is a difficult task.

Too much triumphalism, while boosting domestic morale, can undercut the urgency of appeals for more Western weaponry. By contrast, any appearance of defeatism could accelerate outside calls for Zelensky to agree to territorial concessions to Moscow and perhaps end the fighting before winter sets in.

The advent of cold weather will mean Ukraine’s European allies face a far more intense Kremlin-inflicted energy crunch. Austin acknowledged as much, citing the challenges in keeping up the pressure on Russia.

“We’re pushing hard to maintain and intensify the momentum of donations,” he said. “There’s no question that this will always be hard work, making sure that we maintain unity.”

On the world stage, Ukraine consistently portrays Russia as a perfidious power that cannot be trusted to honor international agreements — and Moscow’s actions often make that characterization compelling.

On Saturday, Russian missiles struck Ukraine’s southern port of Odesa, the Ukrainian military said, only one day after the sealing of a U.N.- and Turkish-brokered deal to allow grain exports from Black Sea ports meant to ease global food shortfalls caused by the war.

“That’s all you should know about Russians and agreements,” tweeted Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine’s Interior Ministry. He argued that the episode bolstered the case for more and better Western weapons for Ukraine.

With the advent of a sixth month of fighting — a psychological crossing into long-war territory — the Kremlin is saying it will ramp up its military aims, brushing aside an earlier stated focus on the industrial eastern heartland, much of which it has seized...