Russia's war on Ukraine grinds into second year as Putin gambles on the long game

Trending 1 month ago

KYIV, Ukraine — 

Russia’s warfare connected Ukraine has entered its 2nd year, pinch a cosmopolitan realization that nan world is witnessing a long, prolonged conflict, nan deadliest successful Europe since World War II, successful which Moscow and Kyiv are hoping against agelong likelihood for a decisive breakthrough successful 2023.

“This has go a grinding warfare of attrition,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said astatine a caller gathering of personnel countries’ defense ministers.

And wars of attrition thin to extremity badly, pinch overwhelmingly deadly tolls.

A twelvemonth on, tens of thousands of Ukrainians and Russian soldiers are dead. The United Nations has counted astir 10,000 Ukrainian civilian fatalities, acknowledging that nan toll is higher but cannot beryllium tallied amid nan chaos.

Millions of Ukrainians are displaced from their homes; thousands of children person been reportedly kidnapped and spirited to Russian territory; scores of villages and cities dishonesty successful afloat aliases partial ruin; and world impacts see soaring prices for lipid and nutrient products that usually travel from nan region.

Troops successful camouflage fatigues, beanies and balaclavas opinionated successful a wood pinch subject instrumentality successful nan background

Ukrainian forces talk to nan media astatine a position extracurricular Kyiv, Ukraine, connected Tuesday.

(Pete Kiehart / For The Times)

Prospects for a negotiated solution stay debased while much fighting is connected nan horizon. Both sides are gearing for a outpouring offensive, pinch Russians hopeless for a awesome triumph connected nan battlefield aft galore setbacks and Ukrainians wished to return backmost much captured territory, predominantly successful nan southbound and east.

Most subject analysts foretell that Russian President Vladimir Putin will not effort again to conquer Kyiv, nan capital, aft failing spectacularly early successful nan warfare to summation what was presumed by analysts to beryllium an easy trophy. But Putin, they say, is obscurity adjacent quitting.

The U.S. authorities has thrown its batch down Ukraine and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, a erstwhile ccomedic character and an improbable statesman hero, successful ways not seen successful different caller conflicts. It puts Washington astatine likelihood pinch fellow atomic powerfulness Moscow, astatine slightest rhetorically, connected a regular basis. The U.S. besides galvanized a uncommon show of wide Western unity successful support of Ukraine.

The run-up to Friday’s one-year day of nan Russian penetration — for Ukrainians, a infinitesimal of somber reflection and steely resoluteness — highlighted that commitment. On Saturday, air-raid sirens again blared successful Kyiv, symbolizing nan plunge into different twelvemonth of warfare.

A man visiting a memorial adorned pinch flowers and 8 portraits of victims nested betwixt 2 Ukrainian flags

A man fixes a emblem astatine a mini memorial Friday successful Bucha, Ukraine, for 8 Ukrainian civilians who were executed by Russian forces.

(Pete Kiehart / For The Times)

The Ukrainian superior past week was nan backdrop for a dramatic, secrecy-shrouded travel by President Biden, who strolled a cobbled quadrate pinch Zelensky and reaffirmed Washington’s promise of continued support. It was nan first clip successful modern history that a U.S. president had ventured into a warfare area not controlled by nan U.S. military, and a immense affront to Putin, who had assumed he would beryllium controlling these streets agelong ago.

“Kyiv stands. And Ukraine stands,” Biden said.

He announced different half-billion dollars successful subject aid, successful summation to nan much than $50 cardinal provided for weapons and economical assistance. This proviso has evolved from comparatively unsophisticated howitzers and Javelin missiles successful nan early days to heavier and longer-range firepower including a Patriot artillery and conflict tanks. Zelensky is ever seeking more, but Washington has been cautiously calibrating a slow upgrade of materiel mindful of what nan Ukrainians tin run efficaciously and what Moscow will position arsenic provocative escalation.

Entire battalions of Ukrainian troops are being taken extracurricular nan state and trained to run nan much analyzable subject equipment, U.S. officials say.

Biden’s next-day quality successful Warsaw, wherever he drilled down connected nan aforesaid message, coincided pinch a fiery reside by Putin connected Defender of nan Fatherland Day, successful which he made it clear that a afloat triumph remains Russia’s goal.

The uncompromising rhetoric and nan erratic gait connected nan battlefield propose that nary solution is successful sight.

“I dream that we’re not sitting present a twelvemonth from now discussing nan aforesaid things,” said Dara Massicot, a elder argumentation interrogator astatine Rand Corp. “The Ukrainians are going to request predictable and sustainable support. ... We are shifting into a really attritional, ugly, crude style — yet effective style — of fighting.”

The battlefield

Though Russia and Ukraine envision a outpouring offensive, nan fighting has ne'er stopped during nan chilly winter. Fierce battles person been raging astir nan smoking ruins of nan Ukrainian-held eastbound municipality of Bakhmut for months. Although it would not correspond a peculiarly important summation for Moscow’s forces, Russia believes it would unfastened a tactical way to larger cities specified arsenic Kramatorsk and Sloviansk successful eastbound Donetsk province.

Russia’s battlefield strategy is mostly concentrated connected nan Donbas region, nan eastbound business heartland wherever pro-Russian separatists person been mostly successful power for years. Moscow wants to grow its holdings there.

Analysts opportunity nan fighting indicates that Russia’s violative is already successful advancement — “under measurement and underwhelming” arsenic 1 put it — arsenic Russians move instrumentality and fortify positions up of a broader violative and gird against Ukrainian forces.

The Ukrainians’ preferred conflict scheme successful coming weeks is thought to beryllium a tally southbound to bisect nan V-shaped territory Russia controls successful southeastern Ukraine. That would trim nan onshore span that facilitates Russian proviso lines and perchance make it much difficult for nan Kremlin’s forces to support connections to Crimea, nan peninsula connected Ukraine’s confederate Black Sea seashore that Russia occupied and illegally annexed successful 2014.

For some sides, nan expertise to costs warfare greatly depends connected nan readiness of weapons.

Troops successful camouflage fatigues grip a Stinger rocket and different dense arms adjacent a Humvee

Ukrainian forces show Stinger missiles and different subject instrumentality to nan media past week extracurricular Kyiv, Ukraine.

(Pete Kiehart / For The Times)

As Ukraine has benefited crucially from nan watercourse of armaments from nan U.S. and Europe, Russia faces captious shortages of weapons. Munition factories are reportedly moving triple shifts to meet demands, while nan military’s bid of conflict tanks outstripped accumulation capacity tenfold. There is besides a crunch successful accumulation of drones and artillery, analysts said, which is expended astatine precocious rates successful nan battlefield.

“The Russian defense manufacture is really struggling,” said Shashank Joshi, a visiting chap successful warfare studies astatine nan King’s College London and defense editor for nan Economist magazine.

Consequently, Russia is turning to extracurricular sources. Iran has supplied Moscow pinch drones, according to U.S. officials who besides opportunity China is considering sending “lethal aid” to Russia. U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken warned his Chinese counterpart successful a caller gathering that specified an action would beryllium a superior correction and would induce U.S. sanctions.

As for manpower, Russia has plenty, acknowledgment to mobilizations of conscripts who shape a legion of poorly trained soldiers who often don’t past agelong successful combat. More are available, though tremendous numbers of fighting-age Russian men person fled nan state to debar deployment to a beforehand statement wherever sadistic conditions sometimes evoke wars of hundreds of years past.

“It is simply a complete nutrient grinder for Russian forces,” Victoria Nuland, U.S. lawman caput of State for governmental affairs, told CNN connected Thursday. One U.S. estimate reports that 200,000 Russians person been killed aliases wounded. Like Russia, Ukraine does not disclose its subject casualty counts.

Russia’s violative has been bolstered by a mercenary unit known arsenic nan Wagner Group, lorded complete by Russian oligarch and Putin state Yevgeny Prigozhin, who has been blacklisted by nan U.S. authorities on pinch dozens of different Kremlin officials, Russian businessmen and companies.

The Wagner Group has a ruthless estimation and has taken its deadly strategies astir nan world, particularly successful Africa, wherever it has shored up dictatorships by snuffing retired dissidents.

A uncommon nationalist spat betwixt nan Wagner Group and nan Russian subject collapsed retired recently, pinch Prigozhin complaining that galore of his men were killed successful Ukraine because of “shell hunger” — a nonaccomplishment of nan Russian service to proviso captious ammunition. He posted photos of dozens of dormant mercenaries.

The conflict was resolved by nan weekend, erstwhile Prigozhin said ammunition supplies were yet flowing; however, it raised questions astir whether nan backstage fighting unit — effective successful its sadistic measurement — would proceed successful nan Ukraine battle. It besides highlighted tensions astatine nan apical surrounding Putin and his elder commanders, which U.S. officials are eager to exploit.

“We are obscurity adjacent nan extremity of this war,” Rajan Menon, a governmental intelligence astatine City University of New York who specializes successful Russia, said astatine a sheet for nan Defense Priorities group that analyzes warfare. “Both sides … deliberation that clip is connected their side, and they will prevail. So they’re amended disconnected fighting than not fighting.”

Marking nan war’s first day connected Friday, Zelensky sought to rally his bloodied compatriots, declaring nan state unbowed.

“We will do everything to summation triumph this year,” he said.

Nuclear threat

Putin, successful ways subtle and little so, has raised nan specter of utilizing atomic weapons successful nan conflict, risking a broader and moreover deadlier conflagration. The threat was heightened by his reside past week, successful which he announced he was “suspending” Russia’s information successful nan New START treaty, nan past atomic arms-control pact betwixt Washington and Moscow, possessors of nan world’s 2 largest atomic stockpiles.

While astir analysts don’t deliberation this intends an imminent usage of atomic power, nan hints are portion of a leitmotif Putin has employed since nan opening of nan war.

When he floated nan proposal successful outpouring arsenic Ukraine mounted a formidable counteroffensive, U.S. officials made nonstop interaction pinch Russian officials and enlisted much neutral countries for illustration India to do nan same, each to seduce Putin to guidelines down, Blinken said.

The past point Putin wants, Blinken said, is simply a wider warfare that brings successful NATO, 1 he could not win.

Most analysts deliberation that though nan consequence is higher now than successful caller times, it remains improbable that Putin will unleash atomic weapons unless he sees his troops being routed aliases that he’s losing Crimea.

The Russians are “still concerned astir escalation,” said Joshi, nan London-based defense expert.

“If President Putin believes clip is connected his broadside … arsenic [assessments indicate] he does, contempt each nan setbacks, it again militates against awesome escalation,” he added. “Why would you escalate if clip is connected your side?”

Chances for a breakthrough this year

Although each broadside will apt make important gains this twelvemonth — assuming their supplies clasp up — it is not astatine each definite those gains will beryllium decisive, arsenic overmuch arsenic nan 2 parties want them to be.

If Ukraine cannot recapture much territory and beryllium itself against nan overmuch larger Russian army, unit will equine connected Kyiv to negotiate. That is what Putin wants.

The Russians “think that they tin conscionable hold america out,” said Emily Harding, a erstwhile CIA expert now astatine nan Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington deliberation tank. “They deliberation they tin thrust wedges into nan West and that yet we’ll benignant of suffer patience pinch this benignant of conflict and say, ‘Well, wouldn’t it beryllium amended if we went to bid negotiations,’ and bid negotiations successful [Putin’s] mind intends that he gets to support what he has now.”

For Zelensky, that result is untenable.

Diplomacy and Western unity

Many astir nan world were amazed astatine nan level of Western cohesiveness successful support of Ukraine. Putin had hoped to disagreement and weaken NATO, but nan transatlantic confederation is stronger than it has been successful a agelong time. Two countries — Sweden and Finland — person abandoned decades of neutrality to petition to subordinate NATO.

President Biden, halfway left, pinch Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky extracurricular St. Michael's golden-domed monastery

President Biden meets pinch Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky extracurricular St. Michael’s monastery successful Kyiv, Ukraine, during a astonishment sojourn past week.

(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

“We were not definite nan halfway would travel together and that it would hold,” Blinken, nan American caput of State, said successful a video chat pinch nan Atlantic magazine. “And it has.”

Can it last?

A noteworthy number of countries, including overmuch of nan alleged Global South, has refused to return a broadside aliases subordinate successful U.S.-European sanctions connected Russia. There are galore reasons: Some countries trust connected Russia for fuel, nutrient aliases different imported supplies; immoderate spot nan conflict arsenic a achromatic man’s warfare successful which they person nary stake.

This comes contempt respective lopsided votes successful nan United Nations General Assembly, nan astir caller connected Thursday, calling for Russia to retreat from Ukraine aliases expressing akin pro-Ukraine sentiment. The resolutions are nonbinding, and nan votes see a contingent of abstentions representing connected mean astir 20% of U.N. membership. Some countries consciousness arsenic if they tin support these resolutions but not enactment against Russia.

They are not apt to budge. The pressing mobility is whether NATO unity will proceed arsenic governments woody pinch higher substance prices and different fallout from nan war. Even wrong NATO, it is nan prosperous bluish countries that person been nan astir active. They see nations that formerly belonged to nan Soviet sphere of power and consciousness threatened by an fierce Russia.

“I don’t spot immoderate imaginable for negotiation, and it looks progressively for illustration this will beryllium a prolonged conflict,” Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a erstwhile intelligence charismatic now astatine nan Center for a New American Security, told The Times. “Putin remains convinced he tin prevail. Even arsenic his subject struggles to make gains connected nan battlefield, he is assured that nan West will yet turn tired of supporting Ukraine and that governmental changes successful U.S. and European capitals will beryllium advantageous for Moscow. ... So it’s a existent impasse.”

Putin, she added, is pursuing nan playbook of galore authoritarian leaders, pinch nary inducement to extremity nan war.

What does bid look like?

The United States insists it wants to spot a “just and durable” bid successful Ukraine. But what that intends remains unclear.

Ukraine has put guardant a 10-point bid scheme that includes an extremity to hostilities, Russia’s withdrawal from each Ukrainian territory and nan creation of immoderate type of war-crimes tribunal.

A leader leads a dream work connected a thoroughfare dressed up pinch flowers, immoderate petals base nan bluish and yellowish of Ukraine's flag

A leader holds a dream Monday successful Kyiv, Ukraine, successful grant of group killed during nan nation’s 2013 protests.

(Pete Kiehart / For The Times)

Those past 2 points are nonstarters for Russia. U.S. and European officials and analysts opportunity Putin has shown nary inclination to make peace.

John Sullivan, until precocious past twelvemonth nan U.S. ambassador to Russia, says that anyone who “wondered whether location was an opportunity to discuss pinch Russia” should conscionable look astatine Putin’s reside past week.

“He is each in; he says this is his messianic mission,” Sullivan said successful remarks astatine nan Wilson Center deliberation vessel successful Washington. “In his mind ... this is full warfare against nan West. There is nary negotiation, location is nary compromise, nan only point is victory.”

U.S. officials stay adamant they can’t fto that happen.

“If we conscionable locomotion distant from this,” said John Kirby, spokesperson for nan National Security Council, “where does it stop?”

King reported from Kyiv, Wilkinson from Washington.