The situation on the approximately thousand kilometers of the front is ambiguous. This year’s Ukrainian counter-offensive led to only limited territorial gains. Kiev’s forces in the south are still roughly eight to nine dozen kilometers short of reaching the coast of the Sea of Azov. Russia has recently gone on the attack around the cities of Avdijivka in the Donetsk region and Kupjansk in the Kharkiv region, but also without significant success.
This is not a stalemate
Zaluzhny said in an article in The Economist last week that the war is at a dead end. According to him, it is moving into a new phase of static and exhausting fighting, which will allow Russia to renew its forces and threaten the position of the Ukrainian army and Ukraine itself.
“Ukraine’s armed forces need key military capabilities and technologies to get out of this kind of war. The most important thing is air power,” wrote Zaluzhny. From the West, he would like modern fighter jets, drones, means of demining, help with conducting electronic warfare and strengthening artillery.
The presidential office in Kyiv objected to Zalužny’s assessment. According to her, the text caused panic among the partners of the attacked state, and Moscow will also draw conclusions from it. “Time passes, people are tired. But this is not a deadlock,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyi tried to calm the situation over the weekend. At the same time, he denied speculation that Western countries were trying to force him to negotiate with the Kremlin.
“We see different assessments from the Ukrainian representatives, but in the background we all fear that the conflict may be long, as well as considerations about how long the West can handle it,” states analyst Pavel Havlíček of the Association for International Affairs.
In any case, the debate about Ukraine’s prospects on the battlefield comes at a difficult time, when further Ukrainian liberation plans can easily be thwarted by the weather. “It’s one thing to run three hundred meters to an enemy position in June and quite another when you’re knee-deep in mud, warm clothes, protective gear and a backpack with spare clothes,” prospect Colonel Oleksandr Popov, commander of the Artillery Reconnaissance Brigade, told Reuters.
The battle for heaven awaits us
In addition, following last year’s pattern, Russia is escalating attacks on critical infrastructure in this period in order to cause the country as many problems as possible with electricity, heat and water supplies. “We’re in for a fight for the sky,” predicted Andriy Jermak, the head of Zelensky’s office. Laser-guided munitions for shooting down drones will also help in this fight, for the purchase of which Washington will provide Ukraine with three hundred million dollars.
But Kiev is well aware that its position is changing with the development of events in the world, and it will be increasingly difficult to get the United States to support it. “Of course, it is clear that the war in the Middle East is a distraction,” Zelenskyy admitted. According to Havlíček, the complexity of the situation is clearly indicated by the fact that President Joe Biden combined the proposal to allocate additional funds for Ukraine with aid to Israel in order to have a better chance of success in Congress.
Even further prospects are not optimistic for Ukraine, emphasizes the analyst from the Association for International Affairs. It can be expected that the Americans will increasingly shift their attention to the Pacific as well. In addition, the country is facing elections next year, after which Donald Trump could return to the White House. Washington’s willingness to deal with European security matters would then probably further decrease, and American withdrawal from NATO is also not ruled out.
“In Europe, we have to prepare for a situation where the US will tell the Ukrainians at one point that they have to rely on us, that this is our common European issue and a matter of the future of the European security architecture,” warns Havlíček. According to him, European politicians are well aware of the situation, which is also reflected in investments and defense budgets. This year, the two percent of GDP recommended by the North Atlantic Alliance for the military should be spent by nine European members. But the improvement is slow and we are still not ready for the turbulence that Trump’s return can bring, the analyst notes.
Ammunition for Ukraine is still low
Havlíček is mainly concerned about building production capacities. He claims that Europe is not managing to start arms production sufficiently to eventually be able to compensate for the shortfall of American supplies to Ukraine. And in the winter season, both warring parties will try to build up stocks of ammunition for next year’s offensives.
In March, the European Union promised to deliver one million pieces of artillery ammunition to Kyiv within a year. A part was to be provided from its own stocks, the rest to be procured through joint purchases and by increasing industrial capacities. The Norwegian arms company Nammo, however, estimates the current total European production capacity at half a million pieces of cartridges per year. And Washington, according to some sources, is appealing to the twenty-seventh to keep the commitment.
It is already so obvious that the plan is failing. So far, Kyiv has received less than a third of the promised volume. According to the Kyiv Post website, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauséda said that manufacturers were not able to increase production quickly enough. “We have to admit that we have not yet reached the volumes necessary to continue providing this military support to Ukraine,” admitted Nauséda.
These warning messages come at a time when Moscow is receiving military equipment from North Korea. Seoul’s intelligence services believe that Pyongyang has already sent a million pieces of ammunition to the aggressor since August. Russia apparently still has reserves from the past and is expected to be able to increase its own production to two million units per year in the coming years. However, even this would not be enough to maintain the current pace of war if the conflict continued for many more years.