June 22, 2022
IntelBrief: Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Bogs Down, Settling into Grinding Stalemate
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Russia could look to increase hostilities this week in the lead up to a decision by the European Union (EU) to accept Ukraine as a potential candidate for inclusion in the 27-member political and economic bloc. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission (EC) backed Ukraine’s candidacy, noting that while important reforms would be necessary in areas including anti-corruption and human rights, she was in favor of Kyiv’s bid for EU membership. Leading EU countries including France, Germany, and Italy have publicly expressed support for Ukraine, but the EC recommendation must be signed by all of the EU’s 27 member states. There is concern more broadly that Western support for Ukrainian resistance is already beginning to wane and that the specter of a looming economic recession may force Western leaders to reprioritize the war in Ukraine to appease domestic audiences. In many ways, this is exactly what Russian President Vladimir Putin is betting on.
Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis visited Zelensky in Kyiv. Macron has been criticized for repeatedly reaching out to Putin without ever gaining any concessions, as well as for his suggestion to provide Putin with an offramp so as to avoid humiliating him. Scholz has been dogged for appearing lukewarm on his commitment toward overhauling Germany’s security policy posture, a decision he announced to great fanfare in the weeks immediately following Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Ukraine initially applied for EU membership following the invasion in late February. No country would be more deserving of EU membership, although the process itself could drag on for years, given the bureaucracy in Brussels and the need for anti-corruption and rule of law reforms within Ukrainian institutions. Meanwhile, reporting suggests that Turkey will continue discussions over the possible accession of Sweden and Finland into NATO, but that this week’s NATO summit in Madrid will not be a deadline for a final decision.
Zelensky pleaded with European leaders to send more weapons, especially as Russian forces continued to press an offensive in Sievierodonetsk, located in eastern Ukraine. Zelensky has appealed to Western allies to send additional artillery ammunition, air defense systems, and to expedite the shipment of weapons that have been promised, but so far have been slow to arrive. As Western weapons systems are thrown into the fight, maintenance and provision of spare parts from the West will become increasingly important to sustaining Ukrainian combat power. Moscow also hopes to seize the city of Lysychansk, with the ultimate goal of consolidating influence throughout the region of Luhansk. Both of these cities have seen intense fighting in recent days and although this phase of the war has primarily been characterized by long range fires – airstrikes and artillery fire – the population centers continue to witness close up street fighting. To break the stalemate, Russian forces have attacked civilian infrastructure, including fuel infrastructure, and were reported to have been amassing troops near Kharkiv and Zaporizhzhia. Russian missiles and long-range artillery have also targeted Ukrainian positions in northeastern Ukraine. The conflict is grinding along slowly in various parts of the country, settling into a war of attrition. Ukraine’s forces have been fighting ferociously, stepping up their own artillery and missile attacks against Russian targets in the Donbas. Recent strikes hit Russian weapons depots, ammunition storage facilities, and military bases.
Russian forces had planned for a quick victory and what they have experienced four months into renewed conflict has been anything but quick. Even where Russian troops have made modest gains on the battlefield, they have come at a tremendous price to manpower and morale. It must be noted that because of the conflict’s official status as a ‘special military operation,’ much of Russia’s potential combat power has not been brought to bear in Ukraine. Without mass-mobilization of conscripts and reserves, Russian commanders are effectively being asked to fight with a hand tied behind their backs, all but guaranteeing the war will continue to drag on. The conflict continues to have profound effects on the global food supply and the world energy market, both major issues that have been compounded by rising inflation and supply chain disruptions. With several U.S. citizens now missing after volunteering to fight for Ukraine, there will be new challenges to navigate. Russian leaders have repeatedly threatened to escalate the conflict, having invoked the threat of nuclear weapons, should the West continue to support Ukraine with training and weapons. The upcoming NATO summit will be a litmus test for the alliance’s resolve and will no doubt be watched closely in the Kremlin for signs of discord. For Ukraine’s sake, NATO must confirm its support and steadfastly refuse to cow to Russia’s bellicosity.