The Ukraine war, six months on
When Vladimir Putin began his invasion six months ago, Ukrainians defiantly tallied each night their defenses had held. Now, Ukraine and its western backers are contemplating how far ahead the fighting could still stretch.
The big picture: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Tuesday he would not agree to freeze the conflict where it stands, with Russia occupying one-fifth of his country. Putin too seems intent on pressing on despite his own enormous losses.
- Some analysts believe Putin would prefer a conflict that rumbles on indefinitely, with Ukraine divided and no clear ending.
- Zelensky also urged against war fatigue at a time when European countries are experiencing record-high gas prices and could face a difficult winter due to Russian supply cutbacks.
- In a show of its commitment, the White House is expected to announce $3 billion in longer-term support to the Ukrainian Army on Wednesday, the largest package to date.
Driving the news: Wednesday is both the six-month mark of the war and the 31st anniversary of Ukraine's independence from the Soviet Union.
- Zelensky warned against mass gatherings on Independence Day. "Tomorrow is an important day for all of us. And that is why this day, unfortunately, is also important for our enemy. ... Hideous Russian provocations and brutal strikes are possible," he said.
- In lieu of a parade, central Kyiv was decorated with the husks of burned-out Russian armored vehicles.
- "This year we have to be careful. People will celebrate in their homes and in their hearts, but the next Independence Day will be loud and happy," Maria Mezentseva, a Ukrainian member of Parliament from Zelensky's party, tells Axios.
- Yes, but: Her belief that the war will be over in one year isn't universally shared, even inside Ukraine.
By the numbers: A new poll from the Razumkov Center think tank in Kyiv found that 92% of Ukrainians believe Ukraine will ultimately be victorious, but a plurality expect it to take more than a year.
- Most defined victory not just as pushing Russian forces back to their pre-invasion lines, but as retaking occupied Crimea and all of the eastern Donbas region.
Between the lines: While some western analysts believe the balance of the war could tilt in Ukraine's direction in the coming months, few believe those maximalist objectives are likely to be achieved militarily.
- But as long as "victory" remains a rallying cry in both Ukraine and in Russia, peace could remain elusive.
The latest: After being repulsed from Kyiv, Russia concentrated its forces in the east and completed the capture of Luhansk oblast, the northern half of the Donbas border region (see map).
- But the offensive appears to have stalled over the past several weeks, in part because Russia redeployed tens of thousands of troops to reinforce its hold on southern Ukraine.
- Ukraine appears to be preparing for a counteroffensive in the south around the city of Kherson, and may feel pressure to move quickly both to demonstrate momentum and to preempt potential Russian annexations of Kherson and other areas currently under Moscow's control.
- The White House has warned that Russian authorities could hold fraudulent referendums in mid-September to claim parts of southern and eastern Ukraine as part of Russia.
- There have also been surprises far from the battlefield — in particular the recent explosions at Russian bases in occupied Crimea, and the mysterious assassination of a nationalist pundit in the outskirts of Moscow.
- "In the six months, we've lived six years," Mezentseva remarks.
The bottom line: Few predicted on Feb. 24 that Kyiv would hold out, and Ukraine would still be fighting toe-to-toe six months later. If indeed there are many more months of war ahead, the conflict could evolve in unpredictable ways.