The World Today for February 22, 2024


Running Out the Clock


Near the front line in Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk region, Ukrainian soldiers detail how two years of fighting their giant neighbor, Russia, is wearing them down, as they cope with losses, fatigue and shortages.

Titushko, 39, explained to the Guardian how he and his men, part of an artillery division in Ukraine’s First Tank Brigade, received back in November a supply of about 300 shells every 10 days. Now, he said, they have a “firing limit” of just 10 a day. “Back then, we could keep (the Russians) on their toes, fire all the time, aim every time we saw a target,” he said from a base in the forest to the soundtrack of artillery fire. “Now we fire exclusively for defense.”

Adding insult to injury, his fellow soldier piped in, some of the remaining reserves of ammunition are Iranian shells that were seized en route to Yemen, and mostly don’t work.

As the second anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia approaches, territorial advances are rare, casualties are high and there’s no ending in sight. This conflict has become a kind of “frozen war,” one that is a default win for Russia, argued Paul Poast, a political science professor at the University of Chicago in World Politics Review.

Meanwhile, in Ukraine, the mood two years later has turned sour.

Last year, on the first anniversary, Ukrainians were still fired up to fight, united as never before to repel the Russian invader. Now, morale is low, as are ammunition, soldiers and supplies, wrote Business Insider. Some ordered up for the draft who fight the orders get arrested, according to the Kyiv Independent. There is infighting within the government as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy moves to clean up corruption and shake up the military order – he fired his top general earlier this month.

Meanwhile, as life mostly goes on away from the battlegrounds, occasional attacks still take lives, destroy buildings and homes, and cause disruption to power and energy supplies and daily life. The economy is in shambles. About 6.3 million Ukrainians remain out of the country and almost four million more are displaced within its borders. No one feels they can plan for the future, even the next moment.

“The situation in Kharkiv over the last month is one of terror – the shelling is not stopping,” Dmytro Dmytrenko, who works with a charity, told Bond, “with the way the news is going we see it will be a long road ahead.”

On the Russian side of the border, some Russian soldiers and civilians continue to question why they are fighting. But they have to do so quietly now because President Vladimir Putin has instituted laws and tactics so harsh that many say they are worse than those suffered in Soviet Union times.

Still, there are sporadic protests and the predictable resulting crackdowns. Millions of Russians have fled the country to all corners of the planet. Some, meanwhile, have fled to fight for Ukraine.

“I was disillusioned with my own people,” Karabas told the Associated Press, estimating that tens of thousands of Russians are fighting for Ukraine and to liberate their own country, too. “That is why I wanted to come here … and fight for a free Ukraine.”

Still, while the sanctions imposed by the West have done considerable damage to Russia’s economy – GDP would be five percent larger without them, the Financial Times noted – they haven’t been enough to deter Putin.

Ordinary Russians sometimes feel the bite, even if oligarchs and the political elite don’t, however.

Now, what’s next is anyone’s guess.

After an underwhelming spring offensive, Ukraine’s army is bogged down and no one to date is predicting a military victory, the New York Times wrote. Instead, on Saturday, Ukraine’s military command said it was withdrawing from Avdiivka, further east in the Donetsk region, handing Russia its first major territorial gain since May last year. The Russian win is attributed to the lack of equipment and supplies for the Ukraine army.

Meanwhile, many American lawmakers are questioning whether American taxpayers should continue to finance the bloodshed. So far, Europe lacks the muscle to play a more decisive role in helping Ukraine. But without more funding and weapons, the Ukrainians won’t last much longer, analysts say.

At the same time, Russia’s industrial complex is massive. Their forces are expected to peak in late 2024, explained the Royal United Services Institute. Still, massive Russian casualties on the battlefield have taken their toll: Russia has lost 87 percent of the troops it had two years ago, CNN said, about 315,000 people. The Russians, however, still largely support the war, wrote the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, shrug over the casualty numbers, and say they aren’t worried.

Now, some analysts say all Russia has to do is play the waiting game, essentially waiting for the US and Europe to grow tired of the “frozen war.”

Some players already have.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni told Russian pranksters pretending to be African diplomats that “there is a lot of fatigue” among Ukraine’s allies, the Christian Science Monitor wrote. “We are near the moment when everybody understands that we need a (diplomatic) way out.”

This is what Russia wants, and Zelenskyy fears.

“Freezing the war, to me, means losing it,” Zelenskyy told Time magazine, explaining that a kind of “exhaustion” had set in among allies. “The scariest thing is that part of the world got used to the war in Ukraine.”

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