First line developments, prospects for a Ukrainian counteroffensive, the open question of German weapons supplyand the fear of an impending world famine.
Enemy forces continue to shell Donbass. They are breaking their backs to carry out Putin’s order to take Severodonetsk and expand their occupation to the administrative borders of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions. The deadline was originally set for Friday, June 10.
Currently, military action is focused on a small area in the east of the country where its fate and the architecture of a new world order are being decided. There, fierce battles wreak havoc on both sides. The difference is that the Ukrainian soldiers know what they are fighting for when the enemy’s morale drops.
So what is obvious now?
Russian forces failed to meet the Kremlin’s strategic deadline. They failed to turn tactical gains like the capture of Popasna and Lyman into major operational breakthroughs. Ukrainian forces retained control of their supply lines to deliver ammunition, food, equipment and supplies to Lysychansk and Severodonetsk where the Russian invaders are locked in street-to-street fighting.
As the Russian offensive falters, Kremlin generals are feverishly looking for ways to sustain it. As in a game of chess, the Russian military command is in a Zugzwang: any movement could worsen its position.
Russian troops are physically unable to attack continuously for more than four weeks. Like their Ukrainian counterparts, they need rest and supplies, but the Russian generals cannot stop because “it is an order” given by Putin.
Another failure will cost them at least their ranks.
The Russian Chiefs of Staff are urgently trying to form an additional reserve battalion battle group (BTG). They are also redeploying troops to the epicenter from other sectors, weakening them and allowing Ukrainian forces to launch counterattacks. As the saying goes, damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Long-awaited gifts by June
The situation in Severodonetsk is critical. There, the fate of the Donbass region depends not only on the heroic Ukrainian soldiers and the operational expertise of their commanders, but also on long-range heavy artillery.
On June 9, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov breathed a sigh of relief to Ukrainians. The long-awaited “gifts” from the West were already in Ukraine and some of them already on the front line. They largely include:
- 150 artillery systems (Krab, Caesar, М109А3, М777 and FH70);
- 240 Polish Т-72 tanks;
- 250 armored vehicles (М113 ТМ, М113 YPR-765, Bushmaster, Mastiff, Husky and Wolfhound);
- “Thousands” of anti-aircraft launchers (Stinger, Starstreak, Mistral, Piorun, Grom etc.); and
- Anti-tank launchers (NLAW, Javelin, Milan, etc.).
These are not just promises but real weapons that are already in the front line or in the rear where Ukrainian soldiers are quickly learning how to handle them.
At the same time, it became clear that German weapons would hardly help the Ukrainian army in its counterattack – not because they weren’t good enough, but because there weren’t enough of them.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s statements about the supply of modern anti-aircraft systems, Marder armored vehicles and Leopard tanks turned out to be little more than lip service. Hopefully soon Ukraine will receive seven (!) German PzH2000 self-propelled howitzers.
Lately, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have gathered reserves and used Western weapons and equipment more frequently in the most important frontline areas. By all accounts, they should be ready to launch a counter-offensive next month.
How Russia caused the world food crisis and how to overcome it
Prior to the Russian invasion, Ukraine was one of the world’s leading food exporters. The annual quantity of cereals and pulses exported amounted to some 60 million tons.
The main export routes were from its Black Sea ports to poorer African and Asian countries, some of which are critically dependent on Ukrainian supplies.
Since invading its neighbour, Russia has blockaded and mined Ukrainian ports. As a result, about 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain remains trapped. Ukraine has tried to export its crops by rail, but the throughput capacity of the railroads is too low.
Some countries are already on the brink of famine while others are experiencing unprecedented price increases. It was Russia’s war that caused this global food crisis. The Ukraine problem has become a global problem and the issue of Black Sea port blockages is now at the center of the concerns of the United Nations and many governments around the world.
In theory, there are two ways to unblock Ukrainian ports: military and non-military.
The military way is for the Ukrainian navy to demine the ports in cooperation with the navies of the countries concerned, then to form international escorts for the Ukrainian ships transporting cereals in order to protect them from possible Russian attacks.
But this approach risks internationalizing the war and involving other countries, which most governments oppose.
The non-military way involves diplomacy: a negotiated agreement whereby Russia participates in the demining of the Black Sea and guarantees safe passage.
Turkey would like to lead the negotiation process, claiming its role as a regional superpower and being on good terms with Russia and Ukraine.
Turkish President Recep Erdogan has pronounced a “positive” outcome of recent talks between Turkey and Russia, but both seem to have forgotten a basic principle: nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine.
Kyiv was left out of the process, details and results of the Turkish-Russian negotiations. Kyiv still has no guarantee that after the ports are cleared, Russia will not take the opportunity to take them or seize ships carrying Ukrainian grain.
Nevertheless, it is more likely than not that Ukrainian ports will be unblocked. This could be achieved through Russian-Ukrainian talks brokered by Turkey, France and Italy, whose governments have said they are ready to escort Ukrainian grain convoys and guarantee security.
Ihor Zhdanov is a co-founder of the Open Policy Foundation, a national governmental organization (NGO) in Ukraine.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Kyiv Post.