Now in its fifth month, the full-scale war between Russia and Ukraine is settling into a deadly and destructive summer pattern. Russian troops grind across the plains of the eastern Donbas region, advancing slowly behind their superior artillery power until they finally take villages, towns and cities devastated by weeks of intense shelling. The incessant rumble of war in the east is punctuated daily by missile strikes on major urban centres across Ukraine, in indiscriminate attacks that just this week killed scores of people in apartment blocks in Odesa and Kyiv, a shopping centre in Kremenchuk, a school in Kharkiv and at a water collection point in Lysychansk.
While claiming to be rescuing Ukraine’s Russian speakers from a neo-Nazi regime, the Kremlin is “liberating” only the rubble of the abandoned homes and businesses of the very people it said would welcome its “special operation”.
Ukraine has recently retaken some villages in the southern Kherson region and its operatives are thought to be behind at least three recent attacks aimed at collaborationist officials in the occupied city of the same name. The military’s focus remains on defending Kharkiv – Ukraine’s second city, just 35km from the Russian border – and slowing the enemy’s advance through Donbas in the hope that delivery of more heavy western arms will allow a counterattack later in the summer. Kyiv’s gratitude to allies for delivering powerful multi-launch rocket systems and artillery is mingled with regret that so long was spent persuading western capitals to supply them – time that cost Ukraine thousands of lives and thousands of square kilometres of territory.
This week’s Nato summit suggested that western powers are now preparing for a long-term, fundamental shift in the threat posed by Moscow to nearby democracies, as the alliance decided to enlarge its rapid reaction force, the US military presence in Europe and the number of troops in eastern Europe, as well as agreeing to admit Finland and Sweden.
The EU must spend this summer preparing for autumn and winter months when the Kremlin is likely to put political and economic pressure on the bloc by further reducing or halting energy supplies. There should also be a full assessment of how Nato states can ramp up delivery and production of ammunition for Kyiv, at a time when Russian forces in Donbas are firing about 10 shells to every one fired by Ukraine’s defenders.
The West must be ready for a long haul, because it is inconceivable that Russian president Vladimir Putin will simply abandon a war that will now define his 22-year rule. At the same time, Ukraine’s determination shows no sign of flagging – as a poll showed this week, 89 per cent of its people reject ceding land in exchange for peace with Russia.