In Other News – Russia Makes Some Battlefield Gains – 6/9/2022

June 9, 2022

On the heels of Davos and in the weeks before the NATO summit, Russia makes some battlefield gains but it’s unclear how far that will take them. This week, there was fierce fighting in Severodonetsk, where reportedly over 10,000 Ukrainian civilians are now trapped, and at a court in the Russia-backed self-declared breakaway Donetsk People’s Republic three foreign fighters serving with the Ukrainian armed forces were handed death sentences for being “mercenaries” for Ukraine. Further, while the UN and Turkey have tried to convince the Kremlin to allow grain exports from Ukrainian ports, there’s no sound deal in sight and Moscow continues to blame the global food shortage on financial sanctions.

Western nations and allies continue to stand firmly behind Ukraine, newly committing to send weapons packages and aid, but as the UN recently reported, “the war’s impact on food security, energy and finance is systemic, severe, and speeding up.” On Wednesday, President Zelenskyy called upon the West for tougher sanctions against Moscow and regional Ukrainian officials have emphasized the critical need for more Western long-range artillery, replacement parts, and training. But getting the materials into the right hands is logistically challenging and it needs to happen quickly. Indeed, as the fighting continues in the Donbas, it’s a race for supplies and Zelenskyy has noted that the battle for Severodonetsk, a strategic industrial hub, could decide the outcome of the east.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin’s also taking measures to assert Russian control of the occupied Ukrainian south. According to the Russian defense minister, the military and Russian Railways have now repaired over 700 miles of track that will allow traffic from Russia to reach Crimea and Kherson via Ukraine’s eastern Donbas. Putin is trying hard to solidify Russian bureaucratic and social control by appointing proxy leaders, elevating the Russian language, and granting the ruble official status for citizens of occupied Ukraine. On the 106th day of the war, Putin delusionally likened himself to Peter the Great in their shared mission to “reclaim” Russian territory, and he shows little sign of changing course.

But a war of attrition wears down both equipment and the individuals serving in the armed forces. In the battle for Donbas, Russia’s losing many of its elite fighters and they can’t be quickly or easily replaced. And while claiming a victory might be good for Putin’s propaganda purposes, Ukraine will still be able to replenish its stock of weapons from the west and right now NATO remains strong in its resolve to help supply Kyiv. While the battle is grinding and Russia’s war crimes pile up, motivation will be an important factor during the upcoming phase of attrition, and Ukraine is fundamentally motivated by the will to survive or even prevail.