In Ukraine’s grinding war, whispers of a stalemate are getting louder.

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Mykhailo Podoliak, a key adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his office in Kiev, Ukraine.Anton Skiba / The Globe and Mail

In the grinding war for Ukraine, there’s one word no one wants to hear, even in a whisper: deadlock.

The first nine months of the Russian invasion saw rapid victories in the north, east and south of the country, then most of these gains were reversed as Ukraine won major victories in the Battles of Kiev, Kharkiv and Kherson. All this movement was followed by a truce battle which, despite heavy losses on both sides, left the front lines exactly as they had been on New Year’s Day.

A Russian offensive at the start of the year saw hundreds of thousands of fresh troops – led by the Wagner mercenary group – deployed in the eastern Donbass region, only to achieve a breakthrough victory in capturing the remains of the devastated city of Bakhmut. to exit after . . As a result, Wagner’s fighters turned their guns on Moscow, effectively removing themselves from the battlefield with a failed coup.

Ukraine’s much-hyped retaliation, involving tens of thousands of Western-trained troops as well as hundreds of NATO battle tanks — but without any air cover — began in June with hopes of reaching the shores of the Sea of ​​Azov. Cut off the so-called “land bridge” to Crimea, splitting the Russian-held part of Ukraine in two. But so far the campaign has resulted in the liberation of only a few small towns and villages – most recently Andreyuka and Klishchevka, near Bakhmut – although Ukrainian officials insist the pressure is on.

Mykhailo Podoliak, a key adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, said in an interview inside the presidential office on Monday that I am very optimistic because I realize that the task is to eliminate the world’s second largest army and eliminate all its capabilities. have to do headquarters which ended with air raid sirens sounding over Kiev for the second time in less than 12 hours.

“There have been significant changes to the front line. Also, there is a cumulative effect. Russia has invested a lot of resources to build this line of fortifications – traps, mines, etc. They have invested a lot of resources. invested, and now Ukraine is destroying these fortresses, which will lead to success in the next phase of this war.

Still, the slow pace of progress has drawn criticism from Western officials — who told The New York Times and The Washington Post last month, on condition of anonymity, that Ukraine is receiving improper training and equipment from NATO allies. is using While officials called for a swift, risky push south, Ukrainian defense experts say attacking heavily fortified Russian lines without air cover would cause unacceptable casualties among Ukrainian troops. who were already passing through dense mines when Russian helicopter gunships opened fire on them. Top

As war with Russia breaks out, Ukrainians take slow and careful steps to rebuild.

Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, has suggested that winter weather could soon force an end to the Ukrainian campaign. He has previously called for a negotiated settlement to a war he believes neither side can win decisively.

Mr. Zelensky, who is in New York this week for the United Nations, where he is expected to meet with U.S. President Joe Biden, said in an interview with CBS that aired Sunday that Ukraine would consider any such peace deal. He will not leave Russia. In control of Ukrainian territory. He argued that allowing Russia to retain land acquired by force would encourage further aggression by states around the world.

While in the United States, Mr. Zelenskiy will also ask the West to keep sending military aid to Ukraine, a task complicated by a corruption scandal at the country’s Defense Department that led to his impeachment this month. Oleksiy Ryzenkov was fired early on. who was serving as Minister of Defense before the outbreak of war. On Monday, all six deputy ministers working under Mr Reznikov were fired, although Mr Podoliak said this was merely “protocol” so that new Defense Minister Rustam Umarov could be appointed as his deputy.

“Even more important than what’s happening on the front line — despite the fact that it’s important — is the narrative that we have about what’s happening on the front line,” said Mykola Belyskov, a research fellow at the Kiev-based National Institute. How to discuss it”. for Strategic Studies, which prepares reports for the Office of the President.

Mr Beliskov acknowledged that there was some evidence that the war was heading for a stalemate. But calling it one now, he said, fits the Russian agenda because Moscow, having lost momentum on the battlefield, is interested in forcing peace talks that would allow it to retain the territories. which he has occupied till now.

“There will be people in the Western media, in Western policy-making circles, who will say, ‘This is a stalemate.’ There are already voices, particularly in the populist wing, who are saying, ‘Why are we investing in deadlock?’ This is an issue that unfortunately favors Russia.

Oleksandr Musyenko, a Kiev-based military analyst, said that while hopes had been high before the Ukrainian retaliation – some believed that the Russian military’s total defeat was imminent – ​​the campaign could still be seen as a success if the South would have been pushed towards. To recapture Tokmak, located 25 km south of the current front line and at a key junction in the Zaporizhzhia region. Taking Tokmak would open up access to both the regional center of Melitopol and the Azov port of Berdyansk. “If we liberate Tokmok before winter, that will mean Melitopol is close, and we’re close to destroying that land bridge to the Crimea.”

A new Russian push into Kopyansk, east of Kharkiv, is seen as an attempt to distract Ukrainian forces from their southern push. However, the attack on Kopyansk has also made limited progress so far.

The most significant gains on both sides in recent weeks have indeed been in the Black Sea, where on Saturday a pair of Palau-flagged cargo ships were the first to arrive in the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk using a new route back to Ukraine. Became. -Control Snake Island and hug the coastlines of NATO members Romania and Bulgaria to prevent a Russian blockade.

Russia withdrew from an agreement that allowed safe export of Ukrainian grain through the Black Sea.

These two ships are going to load about 20,000 tons of Ukrainian wheat for Africa and Asia. The boats arrived days after Ukraine attacked the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, using a combination of cruise missiles and explosive drones to target a landing ship and a docked attack submarine. was badly damaged.

While Ukraine’s own small navy was destroyed at the start of the attack, Mr Beliskov said Ukraine’s arsenal of anti-ship missiles and unmanned surface vehicles had raised the stakes to the point where Moscow would have to risk the safety of their warships. Enforcing the blockade. While Russia continues to attack Ukraine’s grain infrastructure almost nightly from the air, Ukraine, one of the world’s top grain producers, is now expected to harvest this year’s crop. At least something will be exportable.

“Russia somehow assumes that the Black Sea is their internal sea and they can do whatever they decide there, they can stop civilian merchant ships,” Mr. Podoliak said. “Ukraine is now effectively demonstrating that the Black Sea does not belong to Russia.”

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