BRUSSELS — Losing ground to Russia’s brutal eastward advance, Ukraine on Monday demanded a far larger arsenal of sophisticated Western weapons than had been promised, or even discussed, underscoring growing pressure exercised on Western leaders to reconsider their approach to war.
The tactics that served the Ukrainians well at the start of the war were not as effective as the fighting moved to the open terrain of the Donbass region to the east, where the Russians rely on their immense advantage in the long-range artillery. Russian forces are about to take the devastated city of Sievierodonetsk, the easternmost Ukrainian outpost, and are closing in on the nearby town of Lysychansk.
As the leaders of France, Germany and Italy plan their first visit to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, since the start of the war, they and other Western leaders must decide whether to redouble their efforts. efforts to arm Ukraine or press for negotiations with Moscow to end the war. .
Ivan Krastev, who heads the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, Bulgaria, calls the divisions in Europe a struggle between the strongest “justice party” in the east, which wants Russian forces pushed back and punished, and the “peace party”. the strongest in the west, who wants the war to end quickly, minimizing human and economic damage in the short term.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, calling for more weapons and insisting that his country must regain every piece of lost territory, puts himself more adamantly on the side of justice than ever before.
In an interview, a senior adviser to Mr Zelensky on Monday sharply escalated his country’s urgent calls for faster and faster delivery of more modern weapons and equipment from NATO countries. Suffering heavy losses of soldiers and equipment in the Donbass, Ukrainian forces are running out of ammunition for their Soviet-era artillery, and Ukrainian officials say Russian artillery in the east is outstripping theirs, 10 to 1 .
Mykhailo Podolyak, Zelensky’s adviser, said Ukraine needed 300 mobile multiple rocket launchers, 1,000 howitzers, 500 tanks, 2,000 armored vehicles and 1,000 drones to reach parity with Russia in the Donbass region where the fighting is concentrated – numbers far beyond anything publicly discussed in the West. The United States promised four of the mobile rocket launchers and Britain a few more; Washington sent just over 100 howitzers, and other nations a few dozen more.
Such immense demands may not be realistic or practical – howitzers, for example, are arriving faster than the Ukrainians can be trained to use them – but Mr. Podolyak, Mr. Zelensky and others clearly intend to maintain the pressure on the West, complaining daily that the current flow of weapons is woefully insufficient.
“If you think we should lose, tell us directly ‘we want you to lose’, then we will understand why you are giving us weapons at this level,” Mr Podolyak said in an interview at the presidential office compound. in Kyiv.
Better understand the Russian-Ukrainian war
Western leaders agree that Ukraine’s ability to retaliate against the Russian invasion will largely depend on how quickly and how much heavy weaponry their countries can provide. They have imposed harsh economic sanctions on Russia, provided significant financial and military aid to Ukraine, and publicly insisted that it is up to Ukraine’s democratically elected leaders to decide how and when to negotiate with Russia.
But they also fear that a long war could involve NATO countries and even push Russian President Vladimir V. Putin to step up what has been a brutal but conventional campaign. French President Emmanuel Macron, in particular, twice said it was important not to “humiliate Russia”.
European officials are also worried about the damage to their own economies from inflation and high energy prices, as well as the likely domestic political reaction. And many in Europe are eager to find a way, even if it is a temporary ceasefire, to resume Ukrainian grain exports as global food prices soar and some parts around the world are at risk of starvation.
Such talk raises irritation in Kyiv and in central and eastern European capitals where Russia is most feared, and officials have wondered how determined their Western friends are to repel Mr Putin’s aggression. The leaders of several countries that were once part of the Soviet bloc believe that this war is not limited to Ukraine and that the Kremlin’s ambitions to restore this sphere of influence and overthrow the European security order must be rejected, and not interrupted. Fire.
The Europeans expect the conflict to continue, with neither side ready or willing to engage in meaningful negotiations until the fighting stalls or one side gains a decisive advantage. The question may be what outcome, if any, could allow both sides to claim victory.
The European Union is seriously considering whether to quickly make Ukraine an official candidate for membership despite its history of corruption and poor governance – something Mr Zelensky is keen on, both to bind his country more closely to the West and to improve its devastated economy. What European diplomats do not know is whether this might make Ukraine more willing to make concessions to end the war.
And it’s not clear that anything other than outright victory would satisfy Mr. Putin, whatever the cost – and it’s also not clear how he would define that.
A trip to Kyiv by Mr Macron, Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and Prime Minister Mario Draghi of Italy has not been officially confirmed, and specific dates are being kept secret for security reasons, but it is believed to take place ahead of the Group of 7 summit meeting scheduled to begin on June 26.
A meeting with Mr. Zelensky in Kyiv would have an obvious symbolism, displaying the support of these large and rich Western European countries for the defense of Ukraine, its territorial integrity and its hopes for a European future. The three are likely to announce new arms supplies for Ukraine and discuss various options to help Ukraine export its grain from the blocked port of Odessa.
It is unclear whether there will be talks of a ceasefire or negotiations.
When questioned, a spokesperson for Mr Macron, briefing reporters anonymously, said France wanted Ukraine to be victorious – but Mr Macron himself never uttered those words publicly. And Mr Scholz, who has been criticized for not getting more weapons, faster, to Ukraine, says Russia must not win – but never said Ukraine must win. .
Mr Draghi broke with an Italian tradition of closeness to Moscow by strongly supporting Ukraine, even for membership of the European Union, a subject which Mr Macron has called unrealistic for decades but which will be an issue highlight of the next European Union summit. later this month.
EU officials are discussing whether EU countries, together with Turkey and countries in need of grain, such as Egypt, can organize some sort of naval escort for ships exporting grain. food.
Ukraine and Russia met for ceasefire talks at the start of the war, but talks came to nothing, with each side accusing the other of not being serious about peace . Ukrainian officials now say talks with Russia would be premature, potentially cementing Russian gains and actually rewarding aggression.
Early in the war, especially in the north, the underarmed Ukrainians inflicted punitive casualties on Russia using weapons like shoulder-mounted anti-tank missiles. With Russian forces in Donbass now more reluctant to be drawn into close-range combat, this tactic no longer works.
A growing flow of Western arms and ammunition, the Ukrainians say, can help them turn the tide east – or at the very least halt the Russian advance – as Russian forces suffer heavy losses and miss of their own more advanced weapons.
But few believe this war is about to end, or that either side is about to collapse, even as the economies of Russia and Ukraine continue. to suffer.
Russian forces have entered central Sievierodonetsk, the Ukrainian army said on Monday, as street fighting raged in the ruined and largely abandoned city. Ukrainian officials want to make the capture of the city as costly as possible for the Russians in men and equipment, but fear that it will soon be surrounded, trapping large numbers of Ukrainian troops.
Even if Sieviernodonetsk and Lysychansk fall, completing the Russian takeover of the Luhansk region, Ukraine is still fighting for control of parts of the neighboring Donetsk region and, in counter-offensives, his forces retook the territory around Kharkiv in the northeast and Kherson in the south.
Andrew A. Michta, an American political scientist based in Germany, argues that the Peace in Europe party is missing a historic opportunity to send a pointed message to Mr Putin, who has openly compared himself to Peter the Great, the first Russian leader to declare himself emperor.
“The defense of Ukraine is not only a matter of national sovereignty and territorial integrity – historically, the two fundamental principles of democratic governance – but ultimately of pushing Russia out of Europe, thus putting end to three centuries of its imperial thrust,” Mr. Michta wrote for Politico. .
“For the first time in the modern era,” he wrote, “it would force Moscow to accept what it takes, economically and politically, to become a ‘normal’ nation-state.”
The report was provided by Andrew E. Kramer and Valerie Hopkins from Kyiv, and Thomas Gibbons-Neff from Lysychansk, Ukraine.
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