What happens on the battlefield is rarely the thing that decides a war. Normally, the preparations beforehand determine what happens when the fighting begins—and these preparations are what settle the outcome of the war itself. This truth is playing out along the roads and in the towns of Kharkiv Oblast, the province that includes Ukraine’s second-largest city. The stunningly swift advance of Ukrainian forces, which started around September 1 and sped up soon after, has easily been the most dramatic—and for Ukraine and its supporters, the most uplifting—episode of the war since the current Russian invasion began on February 24. In a few days the Ukrainians liberated about as much territory as Russia had captured in a few months, while causing the disintegration of Russian forces around Izium, Kupyansk, and other logistically vital cities. From the outside, Ukraine appears to have changed the whole complexion of the war.
This stunning Ukrainian advance was anything but sudden. It resulted from a patient military buildup, excellent operational security, and, maybe most important, the diversion of some of the Russian army’s most powerful units from Kharkiv Oblast itself. The overall planning by the Ukrainian government and armed forces worked well on so many levels that it produced one of the greatest military-strategy successes since 1945.
Only a week ago, the most important engagement for Ukraine appeared to be the battle for Kherson. For months, President Volodymyr Zelensky, his senior aides, and other Ukrainian sources had publicly proclaimed the goal of liberating the politically and strategically important southern city and the rest of the Russian-controlled territory on the west bank of the Dnipro River. Not only did the Ukrainians discuss the upcoming campaign, but they took all the necessary preparatory steps. They used their most effective long-range weaponry, including the American-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, to destroy bridges, ammunition depots, and other targets up and down the Russian lines near Kherson. These logistical attacks suggested that the Ukrainians would focus on this area for the rest of the summer. [Continue reading…]
Ukraine’s rout of Russian forces this weekend is creating a new kind of political challenge for President Vladimir V. Putin: It undercuts the image of competence and might that he has worked for two decades to build.
On Sunday, the Russian military continued to retreat from positions in northeastern Ukraine that it had occupied for months. State television news reports referred to the retreat as a carefully planned “regrouping operation,” praising the heroism and professionalism of Russian troops.
But the upbeat message did little to dampen the anger among supporters of the war over the retreat and the Kremlin’s handling of it. And it hardly obscured the bind that Mr. Putin now finds himself in, presiding over a six-month war against an increasingly energized enemy and a Russian populace that does not appear to be prepared for the sacrifices that could come with an escalating conflict. [Continue reading…]
When President Joe Biden convened nearly a dozen Western leaders by private video conference on Thursday to discuss the war in Ukraine, he was intent upon delivering a key message, sources say: to stay unified in punishing Russia, even as the Kremlin tries to weaponize energy and break Western resolve.
It was at least the second such entreaty to Europe last week to maintain the sanctions pressure on Russia, in the face of skyrocketing energy costs caused by Russia’s invasion and the prospect of a tough winter after the Kremlin shut off gas flows to Europe through a key pipeline. In an op-ed published in the Financial Times on Wednesday, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged citizens to stay the course and continue to support Ukraine, even in the face of “a difficult six months.”
The intensifying messaging campaign underscores a growing wariness in Washington and Brussels that Moscow’s weaponization of oil and gas — its two biggest exports and increasingly the backbone of its economy — could successfully force fissures in what up until now has been a largely united European front opposing Russia’s war in Ukraine. [Continue reading…]