We find ourselves in between two offensives. The first was launched by Moscow, which called it a “special military operation,” on February 24, 2022. At that time, the Kremlin had not declared the limits of its invasion, but having gone deep into Ukraine, reaching the outskirts of the capital, it made its intentions clear. However, its plan to overthrow the regime of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky faced a major setback early on.
To the surprise of the entire globe, the Russian army, with all its forces and equipment, failed to enter the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Subsequently, in what was a second and strategic shock, Russia was forced to withdraw from much of Ukraine and retreat back to the Ukrainian regions that it had controlled before the war, i.e. the four regions in the east and south that it has already claimed to have been annexed.
As for the second offensive, it was launched by Kyiv four months ago. Its “spring offensive” is ongoing. Strategically, it is Ukraine’s first counteroffensive since the war began. With it, Kyiv’s defensive posture became offensive. Among its many goals, the first was expelling the Russian forces from all the territory it has occupied since the war began and then those that it had previously annexed, i.e. imposing a return to Ukraine’s 1991 borders.
On the ground, neither offensive has achieved its objectives. Russia’s setbacks left it on the defensive and perturbed its military and political top brass. Moscow is now embroiled in a long war of attrition whose repercussions on Russia are beginning to appear. They are especially evident on the front, in the infighting that led to the crisis of the Wagner leader.
Its failures have exposed the Russian military establishment. Moscow has not managed to achieve even minimal objectives, which could have helped to bring about a peaceful resolution by compelling Kyiv to accept the realities on the battlefield. Instead of being forced into a corner, Ukraine stood firm and managed to absorb the initial shock. In fact, it is now taking the war to Russia, whose capital is being hit with drones.
For its part, Moscow has been steadfast in face of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which has not yet changed much along the 160-km front. This will force Kyiv to lower its expectations, especially on the southern front, after having talked of reclaiming the Crimean Peninsula. Indeed, Ukrainian forces are ramping up their offensive near the Sea of Azov region in an attempt to disrupt Russian supply lines and isolate Crimea.
So far, though, Ukraine has failed to achieve any of the objectives it had set for its counteroffensive. Four months after it had been making very slow and limited progress on the southern front, advancing no more than 16 kilometers, Kyiv is now being sharply criticized by its Western allies with whom it had planned the counteroffensive.
The disappointments of the ongoing counteroffensive, which Kyiv and its allies continue to downplay, have forced President Zelensky to change his defense minister and pushed the United States to announce that it would send Kyiv unconventional weapons: the Pentagon announced last Wednesday that Washington would send Kyiv military aid worth $175 million, including 120mm depleted uranium munitions that will be used to arm the US Abrams tanks. Moreover, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken came to Kyiv on an unannounced visit on Wednesday night, staying for two days, during which he announced a new one billion dollar aid package.
The most dangerous thing about this state of affairs is that there is almost no hope for peace. Compromise is difficult for both sides. Neither one seems ready to concede on even some of their objectives, which is why all international diplomatic efforts to bring about a peaceful resolution have failed. Military action thus seems like the only path to breaking this stalemate. Things can change on the ground in one of two ways: either the Ukrainian counteroffensive makes substantial progress, or the Russias take an unforeseen strategic step that turns the tables.