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Ukrainian momentum turns in favor of Russia

A war in Ukraine that began with a Russian debacle as its forces unsuccessfully attempted to take Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, has apparently begun to spin, with Russia now picking regional targets, with Ukraine having no not the weaponry it needs and Western support for the war efforts are fraying in the face of rising gasoline prices and runaway inflation.

On the 108th day of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked war, driven by his belief that Ukraine is territory unjustly taken from the Russian Empire, Russia looked no closer to victory. But his forces appeared to be making slow, methodical and bloody progress towards control of eastern Ukraine.

On Saturday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy again promised victory. “We are definitely going to prevail in this war that Russia has started,” he told a conference in Singapore in a video appearance. “It is on the battlefields in Ukraine that the future rules of this world are decided.”

Yet the heady early days of the war – when the Ukrainian underdog repelled a deceived and incompetent aggressor and Putin’s indiscriminate bombardment united the West in outrage – have begun to fade. In their place is a war that is evolving into what analysts increasingly say is a long slog, putting mounting pressure on the governments and economies of Western countries and others around the world.

Nowhere is this task more evident than in the eastern region of Donbass in Ukraine. Despite urgent calls to the West for more heavy weapons, Ukrainian forces appear to lack what it takes to deal with Russia’s use of artillery to bombard towns and villages at the burnt earth. As Ukraine holds Russia back in the major regional city of Sievierodonetsk, it is suffering heavy casualties – at least 100 deaths a day, although the scale is not yet known – and is in desperate need of more weapons and ammunition.

Russia also appears to be making progress in establishing control over cities it has captured, including the razed Black Sea port of Mariupol. He set out to convince and coerce the remnant population that his future lies in what Putin sees as his restored empire. Citizens there and in cities like Kherson and Melitopol face a stark choice: if they want to work, they must first obtain a Russian passport, a flattery offered to secure some semblance of loyalty to Moscow.

Propaganda that compares Putin to Peter the Great, Russia’s first emperor, rumbles from cars in Mariupol in what Petro Andriushchenko, an adviser to the city’s mayor, called a “pseudo-historical” assault.

The comparison, one that Putin made himself, is dear to the heart of the Russian president. He repeatedly insisted that Ukraine is not a real nation and that its real identity is Russian. Its invasion, however, cemented and galvanized Ukrainian national identity in ways previously unimaginable.

Russia has its own difficulties, particularly in southern Ukraine, where the provincial capital of Kherson captured earlier in the war is still disputed. Attacks by former Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have increased in recent weeks. Russian casualties in the war are not yet known but certainly number in the tens of thousands, a potential source of anger towards Putin, whose autocratic grip on Russia continues to tighten.

While the Russian economy has shown surprising resilience, it has been hit hard by Western sanctions; a brain drain will undermine growth for many years. Putin’s pariah status in the West seems unlikely to change.

Elsewhere, however, in Africa and Asia, support for the West – and Ukraine – is more nuanced. Many countries see little difference between Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the 2003 US invasion of Iraq; it seems unlikely that they are persuaded otherwise.

More generally, much of the developing world resents what is seen as American domination, seen as a hangover of the 20th century. In this context, the strong partnership between China and Russia is seen not with the hostility and anxiety it provokes in the West, but rather as a salutary challenge to a Western-dominated global system.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, on a visit to Asia to warn of possible Chinese aggression against Taiwan, tried on Saturday to bolster support for the West’s ardent support for Ukraine against the Russian invasion.

“That’s what happens when great powers decide that their imperial appetites matter more than the rights of their peaceful neighbours,” he said. “And it’s a glimpse into a possible world of chaos and turmoil that none of us would want to live in.”

Speaking at a security summit in Singapore, Austin said Russia’s invasion was “what happens when oppressors flout the rules that protect us all”. He spoke after Zelenskyy expressed concern in his evening speech that the world’s attention was drifting away from Ukraine.

As inflation hits levels not seen in four decades in the United States and Britain, financial markets crash, interest rates rise and food shortages loom, such a drift in A long war on more pressing domestic concerns may be inevitable. The war is not to blame for all of these developments, but it is exacerbating most of them – and there is no end in sight.

A combination of high inflation and recession, considered plausible by many economists, would recall the 1970s, when the first oil shock devastated the global economy. With the U.S. midterm elections just months away, President Joe Biden and the Democrats can ill afford a campaign season dominated by talk of $5-a-gallon gasoline and near-double-digit inflation .

Still, the ingredients for a long war are pretty clear. There is no sign of Russian readiness for territorial compromise. At the same time, Ukrainian resistance is still strong enough to make any formal ceding of territory almost unimaginable. The result is a crushing stalemate, a far cry from Putin’s apparent initial belief that Russian forces would walk into Kyiv in a warm welcome.

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Post expires at 7:13pm on Wednesday June 22nd, 2022