Summary: Ukrainian forces have won a resounding victory on the battlefield in the northern Kharkiv region. This victory was made possible by significant deliveries of cutting-edge US and European weapons. It looks that the conflict in Ukraine will continue at ever-increasing levels of violence. Russia’s invasion and bombardment have also severely damaged Ukraine’s cities, towns, factories, and other essential infrastructure. Moscow has targeted non-military facilities in what appears to be an effort to undermine the Ukrainian economy.
The major Western countries will provide the necessary funds because Ukraine cannot afford to pay for its postwar reconstruction. Ukraine and Russia are both likely to escalate the conflict, increasing the likelihood of atrocities, he says. The number of casualties on both sides will inevitably rise, he writes. Ukrainian officials are looking for missiles that can strike Russian bases far behind the front lines. They are specifically seeking High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and US Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).
The Biden administration has rejected providing ATACMS to Ukraine thus far, but pressure is building. Such a move would undoubtedly remove all restrictions on the shipment of advanced US weapons to Ukraine. It is still feasible that Moscow might take more drastic steps, such as launching several cruise missile attacks. World leaders must take all necessary steps to lessen the level of violence there and build the framework for a genuine cease-fire and peace agreement. Biden should urge Erdogan and Modi to carry on their discussions with Putin and Zelensky regarding a potential peace deal. The U.S. and its European allies should do everything they can to facilitate such an outcome.
Two recent, dramatic events lead one to believe that the Ukrainian war has reached a crucial turning point. Ukrainian forces have won a resounding victory on the battlefield in the northern Kharkiv region, liberating over 3,000 square miles of Ukrainian territory from Russian control and decimating the ineffective Russian forces that had been stationed there. This victory was made possible by significant deliveries of cutting-edge US and European weapons. Vladimir Putin, who showed no remorse for his savage invasion of Ukraine, declared a “partial” mobilisation of Russian reserves in the meanwhile and threatened Kyiv with horrifying, maybe nuclear retaliation if it received any further Western weaponry assistance. It looks that the conflict in Ukraine will continue at ever-increasing levels of violence, with a corresponding increase in human losses and physical destruction, as there are currently no peace talks in progress.
As is to be expected, most Western media coverage of recent events in Ukraine has centred on Ukrainian victories near Kharkiv and Putin’s alarming address on September 21. Western media enjoyed covering the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the north, highlighting multiple flaws in Russian military performance, after seeing Ukrainian forces being hammered by Russian fire in the eastern Donbas region for much of the summer. At the height of the Ukrainian advance, Putin’s statement implied a steadfast determination to carry on the fighting at all costs, including the potential for the start of nuclear war with the West and a highly unpopular call-up of military reserves.
However, an evaluation of the war’s rising material and human costs is notably absent from this reporting; this evaluation merits serious attention, given that these costs could increase significantly. On September 18, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) announced that it had confirmed that the Russian invasion had directly resulted in 5,916 civilian deaths in Ukraine, including 379 children and 8,616 severe injuries to civilians. Given the difficulty in securing casualties in areas of ongoing combat, the OHCHR stated that these statistics are likely substantially lower than the actual count.
Although there is no comparable count of the number of Ukrainian soldiers who have lost their lives in action, a senior Ukrainian official stated in June that the country had lost about 10,000 combatants since the war began, with another 30,000 suffering injuries. These are significant losses for a country with a much smaller population than Russia. Additionally, it was estimated that Ukraine was losing 100 to 200 soldiers daily; hence, the current total of fatalities and injuries could be double that of the estimates provided in June.
Russia’s invasion and ongoing bombardment have also severely damaged Ukraine’s cities, towns, factories, and other essential infrastructure. Moscow has targeted these non-military facilities since the start of the conflict in what appears to be an effort to undermine the Ukrainian economy and make life difficult for ordinary Ukrainians, leading to many of them fleeing. Naturally, this would be consistent with Putin’s insane belief that Ukraine is not a legitimate nation and that Ukrainians who oppose a Russian annexation are Nazi followers and, as such, are not entitled to a peaceful existence. The Kyiv School of Economics estimates that as of August, Russian aggression had cost Ukraine’s infrastructure $113.5 billion in damage, with the cost increasing daily as the war continues. The major Western countries will provide the necessary funds because Ukraine cannot afford to pay for its postwar reconstruction. This mounting expense may be challenging to render, especially given the growing public discontent over skyrocketing energy costs linked to the war and Western sanctions.
Although the Ukrainians have suffered the most due to this carnage, it is essential to note that numerous Russian soldiers have also died in the conflict. It is also clear that many of the young (and not so young) men who were sent to fight in Ukraine had little choice in their deployment and were given false information about the reasons for their presence there, frequently being told that they were there to “liberate” fellow Russians from a Nazi regime. This is true even though it may be difficult for many of us to feel sympathy for those battle victims because they were, after all, invaders of a sovereign nation. According to US military estimates, up to 80,000 of those troops may have perished since the invasion started, and some estimates place the number significantly higher. The news of these deaths and the shock and sadness they caused among the relatives of the fallen soldiers helped spark widespread public opposition to the “partial mobilisation” Putin ordered on September 21.
What fresh atrocities might we anticipate from the battle in Ukraine now that Ukraine and Russia are planning new offensives? Another question is then brought up, “What can be done to stop further mass killing?”
Regarding the first of these, they are making any firm forecasts that would be dangerous. To build on their recent victories in and around Kharkiv, the Ukrainians are likely to launch other offensives in the north and east while putting pressure on the Russian forces positioned near Kherson in the south. On the other hand, the Russians are likely to send more troops to the front lines everywhere and use their superior heavy artillery to destroy Ukrainian soldiers as they advance. Simultaneously, Moscow is conducting phoney referendums in the Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine, presumably as the first step toward officially recognising them as a part of Russian territory. It is widely believed that this action will be used to justify even greater Russian efforts to ensure their defence against additional Ukrainian assaults, likely including the launch of significant rocket attacks on Ukrainian territory nearby.
The number of people killed and injured on both sides will inevitably rise due to these actions, severely destroying Ukraine’s crucial infrastructure. The pressure on senior leaders to escalate the combat in some way will increase, whether to stave off a loss or punish the other side for alleged atrocities.
For Ukrainian authorities, acquiring long-range missiles from the US and other Western nations that can hit Russian bases far behind the front lines is the apparent response to the rise in Russian strikes on their cities and infrastructure. They are specifically looking for additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), which have a range of about 50 miles, and the US Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which has a 190-mile range. The acquisition of ATACMS, if permitted by Washington, would allow the Ukrainians to attack important Russian assets in Crimea and Russia itself. The Ukrainians have already used the HIMARS to devastating effect, destroying an estimated 400 Russian arms depots, command posts, and logistical facilities. The Biden administration has rejected providing ATACMS to Ukraine thus far because of concern that their use against Russian targets could lead to a deadly Russian escalation. Still, congressional pressure to give the missile is building.
And if Putin is forced to the brink of defeat, what kind of escalation has he got in mind? He claimed that unnamed Western leaders had threatened to use nuclear weapons against Russia in his speech on September 21. He continued, “I would like to remind those who make such statements regarding Russia that our country has different types of weapons, and some of them are more modern than the weapons NATO countries have. We will undoubtedly employ all weapon systems at our disposal to protect Russia and our people if our nation’s territorial integrity is threatened. It’s not a bluff, either.
Most Western analysts have taken Putin’s comments as suggesting the employment of so-called “tactical” nuclear weapons, perhaps in a limited capacity, to terrify the Ukrainians and persuade the Western powers to stop supporting Kyiv. Jake Sullivan, the national security advisor to President Biden, claimed on September 25 that the United States had warned Russia that using its nuclear weapons in such a way would have “catastrophic consequences” without specifying what these would be. Putin did not expressly mention using atomic weapons in his speech on September 21. However, it is still feasible that Moscow might take more drastic steps, such as launching several cruise missile attacks on Ukraine’s towns and infrastructure and causing a loss of life. This would undoubtedly remove all restrictions on the shipment of advanced US weapons, such as the ATACMS, to Ukraine, escalating the violence and increasing the number of people killed and injured on both sides.
Can anything of this be stopped?
There are currently few indications that either side is interested in discussing a cease-fire and a negotiated conclusion to the war. President Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have said that discussions with Moscow are off the table as long as Russian troops are stationed within Ukrainian territory. However, this equation may change depending on what happens on the battlefield or in the rival capitals. Putin might try to talk to Zelensky under the auspices of third parties, such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, if Russia experiences more military setbacks, such as the loss of Kherson to the Ukrainians, growing domestic unrest, and a failure to mobilise more troops. Zelensky might eventually accept such an offer, particularly if the Ukrainian ground offensive falters and his soldiers suffer significant casualties.
Although it may be too soon to forecast outcomes of this nature, it is still not too soon to think about the potential details of a future peace treaty. In a perfect world, aggressor Russia would consent to withdraw its troops from all Ukrainian territories, including Crimea and the Donbas. But some other arrangements will need to be put in place given Putin’s desire to keep those regions at any costs, including escalating the conflict. Therefore, a starting point for the talks could be the withdrawal of all Russian forces from Ukrainian territory occupied since the invasion on February 24; the gradual demilitarisation of the Donbas region with the deployment of international peacekeepers to maintain the peace and, eventually, supervise a popular referendum on the region’s preferred political status; and a Ukrainian commitment to refrain from joining NATO for an extended period. Understandably, the two disputing parties would wish to alter these provisions to their advantage. Still, it is difficult to envision any peace agreement that strays too far from these basic accommodations.
The United States and its European allies should do everything they can to facilitate such an outcome and avoid actions that might make it more challenging to achieve until Russian and Ukrainian leaders announce a cease-fire and begin negotiations leading to a mutually acceptable peace agreement. President Biden has generally opted to refrain from taking any actions that would spur a risky escalatory response by Russia. He should uphold this approach in the future, particularly by refusing to deploy ATACMS missiles to Ukraine. Furthermore, to the extent he can, Biden should urge Erdogan and Modi to carry on their discussions with Putin and Zelensky regarding the specifics of a potential peace agreement.
Although the conflict in Ukraine won’t end tomorrow, world leaders must take all necessary steps to lessen the level of violence there and build the framework for a genuine cease-fire and peace agreement. Without a more robust international effort to end the murder, many more people will perish in the war, which has already claimed too many lives.
Analysis by: Advocacy Unified Network