Bloomberg: Russia is wearing down Ukraine's defenses while Zelenskiy fights with his top general

9:28 03.02.2024 •

Ukraine is running short of weapons to protect its cities, with vital assistance from Europe and the US held up by political disputes, while President Volodymyr Zelenskiy fights with his commander-in-chief over military strategy, informs Bloomberg.

Zelenskiy tried — and failed — to push General Valeriy Zaluzhnyi aside this week, according to people briefed on the discussions.

Publicly, Ukrainian officials say they will keep up the fight against Russia’s invasion forces even if allied support doesn’t come through. But reports from the front show the situation there increasingly dire, with Kyiv’s forces struggling at times to hold back Moscow’s troops, according to western officials familiar with the discussions who asked for anonymity to comment on confidential matters.

“We all know what is needed on the ground,” Estonian Defense Minister Hanno Pevkur said in an interview. “Now the question is what we can send and what we can give.”

If Ukraine’s troops don’t have the shells to keep the pressure on, “Russia can continue firing artillery as their infantry attacks Ukrainian positions,” said Ann Marie Dailey, a researcher at Rand Corp. and an officer in the US Army Reserve. “That’s not a fair fight for the Ukrainian defenders.”

The challenges come as Ukraine’s commanders are finalizing plans to hold the 600-mile front line this year, probing for weaknesses in Russian defenses but not attempting a major breakthrough after last year’s counteroffensive yielded disappointing gains. Tensions have grown between Zelenskiy and his military chief, Zaluzhnyi, as the front lines have stagnated, according to western diplomats.

Zaluzhnyi’s removal “will be deeply unpopular across the Ukrainian military,” Michael Kofman, a specialist on Russia and Ukraine at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said on the War on the Rocks podcast. “I am not sure how appointing someone new fixes any of these big questions on mobilization, on what the Ukrainian strategy should be.”

In Washington, the White House’s $60 billion assistance package has been stalled for months amid opposition from hard-line Republicans. While the administration is still telling Kyiv and the other allies that it expects to win approval ultimately, doubts are growing as the presidential campaign picks up.

“Without it, simply put, everything that Ukrainians achieved and that we’ve helped them achieve will be in jeopardy,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told a news conference Monday alongside NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who’s visiting Washington this week to help rally support for Ukraine.

The EU aims to approve the aid by the end of February, a European official said. Even if EU aid does come through, the lack of US support would be felt by Ukrainian forces on the battlefield by late spring, according to western diplomats.

“The next few months will be decisive,” French President Emmanuel Macron said. “Even if we’ve been lucky enough and are still lucky enough to have strong American support, it’s first and foremost our problem.”

The US has been pushing Kyiv to spell out its war plan for this year more clearly given the constraints on support.

“Ukraine inevitably is on the strategic defensive,” said Ben Barry, a land-warfare specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.


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