Nobody gave much of Ukraine when Russia fired its first missiles at Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s country. A year later, however, Ukrainian forces are still opposing the invader. And nothing indicates that the clashes will end any time soon.
Posted at 5:00 am
Maria Avdeeva is not easy to impress.
When many of her compatriots fled the Russian advance a year ago, this Kharkiv resident stayed behind to document the deadly effects of rocket and mortar fire on her city, risking her life to witness the situation.
Troops sent by Russian President Vladimir Putin have been pushed back dozens of kilometers away for several months but continue to regularly attack the agglomeration, targeting parks, educational facilities and residential buildings.
“They use modified surface-to-air missiles that reach their target in 45 seconds. We can’t intercept them […] The aim of the Russians is to create a constant threat so that people will think twice before coming back,” Ms. Avdeeva confides in an interview with whom we spoke last March1.
Adding to that threat is the memory of the abuses suffered by civilians in occupied towns like Izium, where the Ukrainian went in September, and the casualties associated with the invasion.
“A woman who chose to stay in her apartment rather than move to a building with a stronger basement with the rest of her family suddenly lost eight loved ones during the attack on the city in March. Russian planes hit the building directly,” she said.
The population must now deal with the possibility of a new major offensive by the Russian armed forces, which have concentrated hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the east of the country in recent weeks in order to regain the advantage.
Ukrainian soldiers and civilians are worried but determined to stand up.
People have already made so many sacrifices that they can’t help but move on. Russia wants to destroy us, says Putin openly.
Maria Avdeeva, resident of Kharkiv
Ms Avdeeva is impatient to see the arrival in the country of the tanks and long-range bombs recently promised by Ukraine’s western allies.
“Help will arrive, but time is of the essence. It has to come about as quickly as possible,” says the trained political scientist.
Andriy Zelenskyy, a chaplain who travels across the country supporting Ukrainian troops, is also upset at the relative slowness with which things are being organized.
The expected delivery schedule for the Leopard 2 tanks seems to indicate that some countries are in no hurry to move forward when the military situation calls for it, he said.
“We continue to fight for our existence. Nobody offered us any other option,” notes the monk, who is confident that Ukrainian troops will be able to counter the announced Russian advance.
We will continue to resist. We’ve been doing it for a year, although there are more of them.
Andriy Zelenskyy, chaplain
Everything is still possible
The concentration of troops in the east of the country shows that the Russian president has not given up on his goal of subduing Ukraine, despite the numerous setbacks that have occurred since the invasion began, notes Brian Taylor, a Russia specialist at Syracuse University .
“All his chips are on the table. From his point of view, it is an existential problem for his regime, even if there are no signs that his seizure of power is threatened in any way,” he notes.
Mr Taylor notes that Russia’s ability to regain the advantage and seize more territory, after suffering embarrassing setbacks in the Kiev, Kharkiv and Kherson regions, risks being undermined by the unpreparedness of recently drafted and trained troops.
The Russian army, he adds, has not demonstrated its ability to effectively and quickly conduct complex military operations coordinating land and air forces and risks falling back into the same traps, regardless of the Kremlin’s ambitions .
The possibility for Ukrainian forces to launch a new decisive counteroffensive also seems limited, notes Liam Collins, an American military analyst who doubts Russia and Ukraine’s ability to make significant new advances in the near future.
Giving in as the year progressed, the Russians concentrated their troops and reinforced positions under their control. Ukrainians are compensating for their smaller numbers with their increased motivation, preparedness and Western support offered to them, bringing the conflict to a “form of balance,” notes Mr. Collins.
Moscow’s massive troop surge will likely be met by sending new weapons to Ukraine, adds an analyst, who expects the conflict to be long-lasting given the lack of potential commonality between the two warring factions.
A negotiated solution?
Dominique Arel, a Ukraine specialist at the University of Ottawa, notes that Volodymyr Zelenskyi’s government initially opened the door to a negotiated settlement that would see a return to the territorial situation before the February 2022 offensive. Moscow then retained over Crimea the control of part of the Donbass by pro-Russian militias.
However, the scale of abuses perpetrated by Russian troops in the country has shaken the Ukrainian people and their leaders, who now say they want to liberate the entire country, he said.
Brian Taylor thinks the goal will be difficult to achieve. Vladimir Putin, he warns, is betting on the possibility that, in the event of a military stalemate, Western support for Ukraine, particularly that of the United States, will crumble over time and give him an advantage.
Support for the Democratic government of Joe Biden has indeed intensified over the past year, the analyst notes, although voices on the Republican side have disputed the significance of the aid provided.
Joshua Shifrinson, a University of Maryland professor at the Cato Institute, a conservative research group, believes the US government is overestimating the importance of the Ukraine crisis relative to its own interests and should consider pressuring Kiev to seek an agreement promote, which reflects the current situation military situation.
He points out that the actions of the United States in particular have made it clear to Russia that any attack on a NATO country would provoke a harsh response, thereby limiting the risk of further Kremlin expansion attempts in the region.
Eugene Rumer, Russia specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, notes that this desire to force Ukraine to give up part of its territory in exchange for peace remains, and likely not, largely in the minority in American academic and political circles the case will affect government support in the near future.
Appetite comes with eating
Dominique Arel believes Western leaders have understood the importance of the conflict and want to prevent Vladimir Putin from being rewarded for trying to destroy Ukraine by forcibly seizing control of its territory.
It is said that appetite comes with eating. Further expansion attempts will follow if [Vladimir Poutine] gets what he wants. Better stop him in Ukraine.
Maria Avdeeva, resident of Kharkiv
Andriy Zelenskyy notes that demonstrations of support of all kinds are appreciated by the Ukrainian population but do not go far enough.
The end of the conflict requires Ukraine’s integration into the European Union and NATO to deter any further attack by Russia, and the allied countries should make it clear that they will move in this direction.
“You need a clear strategy for that. Without them there will be no lasting peace. The Russians leave us no choice,” he says.