Some six months since the start of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the emergence of three realities in the war is forcing Washington to wrestle with some hard choices.
The first is that the combination of Ukrainian courage and U.S. technology has proved quite potent in blocking Russia’s attempt to conquer the bulk of Ukraine. American air defense support has denied Russia the air superiority essential to the rapid advance of its ground forces. American anti-tank weapons and targeting intelligence have prevented Russia’s armor from sweeping into Kyiv, and Russia has suffered significant personnel losses, particularly in its officer corps. Putin has been forced to downsize his battlefield ambitions and rely on a barrage of stand-off artillery and rocket strikes to slowly grind down Ukraine’s defenses in its Donbas region.
The second is that despite this defensive success, Ukraine has been unable to build offensive momentum and force the Russian military to withdraw. The delivery of advanced American artillery, rocket and missile systems has certainly helped Ukraine to strike Russian supply lines and weapons platforms, but its infantry has not been able to muster the numbers required to seize ground defended by Russian forces. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky insists that his long-promised offensive against Russian forces near Kherson will change this picture. But a near-term Ukrainian victory in the war is difficult to imagine.
The third is that American efforts to strong-arm Putin into retreat by crippling the Russian economy and isolating him on the world stage have sputtered. Western sanctions are no doubt hurting Russia; the International Monetary Fund forecasts a 6 percent decline in Russia’s GDP this year, and its technology sector faces a grim future. But this compares to a greater than 40 percent economic plunge in Ukraine. Russia’s currency is stronger today than it was before the war, despite President Biden’s vow to “turn the ruble into rubble.” Russian earnings from energy exports have actually grown thanks to higher oil prices and reluctance outside the West to join sanctions. Putin is persona non grata in the West, but he is hardly a pariah in the rest of the world, as his scheduled attendance at the G-20 summit meeting in Indonesia in November will attest.
Read the full piece in The Hill.