The Ukrainian army is advancing slowly on the southern front in an attempt to achieve more results before the fall sets in, while the Russian army has concentrated over 420,000 soldiers on the ground to halt the Ukrainian counteroffensive. “We must reclaim our land,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declared in an interview with CNN.
Hopes in Kiev
Zelensky’s statement comes amid reports of Ukrainian forces advancing towards Tokmak, a significant railway junction in the south used by the Russian army to maintain the front in the region. “Ukraine will not back down, will not abandon its own territory. We will never do that,” Zelensky added, reiterating that the war would be long, as a frozen conflict does not mean peace.
Zelensky acknowledges the slowdown of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, which he attributed to Russia’s aerial superiority and the slow delivery of Western arms. “Some things are on the way. Many people say the counteroffensive is too slow, but some things are on the way,” he insisted.
In this regard, he assured that he would once again discuss with American partners the need to supply Kiev with long-range ATACMS missiles, which are expected to be received as early as this fall.
In any case, the war will not have a happy ending, Zelensky said. “This is not a movie that lasts an hour and a half (…) There will be no ‘happy end.’ We have lost a lot of people,” the Ukrainian president stated.
Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar indicated that in the past week, the Ukrainian counteroffensive has managed to recapture 4.8 square kilometers of territory in the southwest of the Donetsk region and the neighboring Zaporizhia region. Maliar explained that with the recovery of this territory, Ukrainian forces attacking on these two segments of the front line have liberated a total of 256.5 square kilometers since Ukraine began its counteroffensive in early June.
Race Against the Weather
While senior American officials claim that Ukraine has between 30 and 45 days to continue its counteroffensive before worsening weather conditions, Kirilo Budanov, the head of Ukrainian military intelligence, has stated that adverse weather will not hinder Kiev from pursuing its plans. “Last autumn, combat actions did not cease. This year will be the same,” he asserted, promising that the offensive “in all directions will continue.”
The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), in its daily report on Monday, estimates that “cold and wet weather will impact but not stop” Kiev’s operations.
In turn, Russia is said to have concentrated around 420,000 troops in the occupied territories to thwart Kiev and launch its own offensive, according to Ukrainian sources. Moscow is thus attempting to “take revenge” and regain some of the territories liberated by Ukraine last year, such as extensive areas in the Kharkiv region, as indicated by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense.
Furthermore, Russian forces aim to gain full control over the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east, one of the primary objectives of their military intervention in Ukraine, according to GUR.
Black Sea, Theater of War
Officials in Kiev have announced that Ukraine has recaptured two oil and gas drilling platforms from the Russians in the Black Sea, which had been under Moscow’s control since 2015 and were located close to the annexed Crimean Peninsula in 2014.
“Ukraine has taken control of ‘Vishki Boika’ (Boiko Towers),” announced the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense’s intelligence service (GUR) in a statement. During a “unique operation,” “clashes took place between Ukrainian special forces on board ships and a Russian Su-30 fighter jet,” the statement added, stating that “the Russian plane was damaged and had to retreat.”
During the operation, other “valuable trophies” were also captured, such as helicopter ammunition and a radar system capable of tracking the movement of ships in the Black Sea, GUR further reported.
The statement recalls that Russia had occupied these platforms since 2015 when it annexed Crimea in 2014, and Moscow had been using them for military purposes since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Russia has not yet commented on this information, and the cited news agencies have not been able to independently verify GUR’s information. “For Ukraine, regaining control of the Boiko Towers has strategic importance, and as a result, Russia has lost the ability to use them for military purposes,” GUR emphasized in a video posted on Telegram.
“Russia is now deprived of the ability to fully control the waters of the Black Sea, and this means that Ukraine has taken significant steps toward the liberation of Crimea,” the GUR statement concludes. Before Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine extracted a significant portion of natural gas from the Black Sea, supplying gas not only to Crimea but also to mainland Ukrainian regions.
Billions for Ukraine
In 2024, Ukraine will need financial assistance from the United States in the range of $12 to $14 billion, as budgetary expenses remain high amid the Russian invasion, stated Ukrainian Finance Minister Serghei Marcenko on Monday.
Marcenko also expressed hope that the interim budget of the United States would be approved soon, allowing Ukraine to receive an additional $3.3 billion by the end of the year to cover the budget deficit. “There are no discussions yet, there is a lot of uncertainty, and we are not confident that this is guaranteed,” said Serghei Marcenko at a business forum held in Kiev.
Marcenko added that in 2024, the ministry he heads would like to receive funding from the United States for the state budget at a level similar to this year. “Not lower than this year: somewhere between $12 and $14 billion. That’s what we expect,” Serghei Marcenko stated.
Ukraine received nearly $10 billion in financial aid from the United States this year to cover the budget deficit, and Ukrainian authorities estimate that their needs will not diminish next year as the Ukrainian army makes slow progress in its counteroffensive.
Although U.S. President Joe Biden has requested emergency funds of $24 billion to respond to the war in Ukraine, the next tranche of American aid for Ukraine has faced political obstacles as the United States enters a cycle of presidential elections.
Ukraine’s new Defense Minister, Rustem Umerov, stated last week that he would request a budget increase for defense this year by 251 billion hryvnias ($6.8 billion), given that military expenses are rising day by day.
Finance Minister Serghei Marcenko mentioned that the Kiev government would discuss the Defense Minister’s request at the next meeting but appreciated that “I’m not sure we’ll be able to cover all the needs” mentioned by Rustem Umerov.
War for Peace
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated on Tuesday that a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Ukraine is not yet in sight, as Russia’s unprovoked war in Ukraine continues.
Although key actors have sometimes been brought together for discussions, Germany must not turn its back on the daily brutality of the war, Scholz emphasized during the “International Meeting of Religions and Cultures in Dialogue” forum in Berlin, an annual event organized by the lay Catholic movement Sant’Egidio.
“This requires effort and time,” the German Chancellor said about peace negotiations. “Time that we actually don’t have, because in the meantime, Russia continues to bomb, torture, and kill in Ukraine,” he added. As the basis for any peace, “the Russian leadership must understand that it is about the withdrawal of troops,” Olaf Scholz stressed: “Then there will be the possibility for discussions, and the Ukrainian government will participate, I am sure of that.”
Over 18 months since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, the Chancellor rejected the “narratives” that a peace deal had already been negotiated between Ukraine and Russia in the spring of 2022 but had been sabotaged by the United States or the United Kingdom. “No, it’s not true,” Scholz firmly stated, thus refuting one of the “narratives” that Moscow has recently been pushing.
He stated that any “common understanding” that might have been found in the early days of the war “was destroyed because the Russian president used that time to move his troops around Ukraine after the failure of the attack on the capital Kiev and to begin the assault on eastern Ukraine.”
Scholz once again defended the delivery of German arms to Ukraine: “We will continue to support Ukraine in its right to self-defense as long as necessary.”
Moscow Sets Conditions
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated on Tuesday that the cancellation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s decree prohibiting dialogue with Moscow should be the first step for negotiations between the Russian Federation and Ukraine, according to the official Russian news agency TASS. The same idea was expressed during the day by Russian President Vladimir Putin at an economic forum in Vladivostok (Russia’s Far East), as reported by the Russian press. Lavrov opined that the longer Kiev postpones negotiations with Moscow, the more challenging it will be to negotiate later.
“This is our official position; I will say it again: against the backdrop of the ban on negotiations signed by (Ukrainian President Vladimir) Zelensky, this position should not raise any questions,” Sergei Lavrov said in an interview on Rossia-1 television.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree in October 2022 officially declaring the ‘impossibility’ of any negotiations between Kiev and Russian leader Vladimir Putin, effectively leaving the door open for discussions with Russia.
Zelensky promulgated the decree after the Kremlin declared the annexation of four Ukrainian regions occupied by the Russian army, which Moscow still only partially controls at present – Luhansk and Donetsk in the east, and Kherson and Zaporizhia in the south.
“He (Putin) does not know what dignity and honesty are. Therefore, we are willing to engage in dialogue with Russia, but with a different Russian president,” Zelensky stated at the time, as quoted by Reuters.
Ukraine may begin peace negotiations only when it runs out of resources and will use any potential cessation of hostilities to rearm with the help of the West, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.
The war has devastated areas in eastern and southern Ukraine, killed or injured hundreds of thousands, and triggered the most significant rupture in Russia’s relations with the West since the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.
Speaking at an economic forum in Russia’s Pacific port city of Vladivostok, Putin stated that Ukraine’s counteroffensive against Russian forces thus far has failed, and the Ukrainian army has suffered heavy losses.
“I have the impression that they want to bite as much as they can and then, when their resources are almost zero, seek a cessation of hostilities and start negotiations to replenish their resources and restore their fighting capacity,” Putin said.
The President added that many potential mediators have asked him if Russia is ready to cease fighting, but he has stated that Russia cannot stop as long as it faces a Ukrainian counteroffensive.
For any chance of discussions, Putin noted that Ukraine should first lift its self-imposed legal ban on peace talks and explain what it wants.
Russia controls approximately 18% of Ukrainian territory, including Crimea, which it annexed in 2014, and territories in eastern and southern Ukraine seized in 2022.
Putin also stated that the West’s decision to supply Ukraine with cluster bombs and depleted uranium munitions is a crime, but such deliveries, while potentially prolonging the war, will not change its ultimate outcome.
He also criticized the West’s decision to provide Ukraine with F-16 aircraft.
When asked if Russia needs to introduce a new mandatory mobilization, Putin stated that 1,000-1,500 Russians sign voluntary contracts daily to join the army.
In the last six or seven months, 270,000 people have signed voluntary contracts, Putin said—a slightly lower figure than the 280,000 announced by former President Dmitry Medvedev earlier this month.
The Kremlin insisted on Monday that negotiations with Ukraine are possible only if Kiev recognizes the reality created on the ground, referring to the Ukrainian regions annexed by Russia in September 2022.
“In any case, the regime in Kiev will have to discuss based on the recognition of the realities that emerged after it refused to resolve the issues peacefully in March (2022),” following the failed negotiations in Istanbul between Russia and Ukraine, held a month after the war began, said Dmitry Peskov, the spokesman for the Russian presidency.
At the same time, the Kremlin’s spokesperson stated that there are currently no prerequisites for a return to negotiations. “At present, there are no prerequisites for the resumption of the negotiation process,” Peskov stated.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not appear willing to negotiate. “Everyone wants this war to end, but it must end on fair and sustainable terms that reflect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Blinken said in an interview with ABC News.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in an interview with The Economist over the weekend, said he is emotionally prepared for a long-lasting war and believes that “this is not a favorable moment” for possible negotiations with Russia, as the counteroffensive continues, and Moscow sees Ukraine’s difficulties on the battlefield, according to Ukrainska Pravda.
Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stated during a visit to Kiev that Ukraine’s place is in the European Union, and Kiev can count on us and our vision of EU expansion as a necessary geopolitical consequence of Russia’s war, as reported by German media.
“Ukraine already has candidate status. And now we are preparing to make a decision on opening discussions on EU accession,” Baerbock said.
According to her, Ukraine’s results regarding judicial reform and media legislation are already impressive, but there is still a long way to go in implementing anti-oligarch legislation and fighting corruption. The European Union itself must “work quickly to ensure that we are positioned adequately for more seats at the table,” explained the Berlin representative.
Furthermore, the German Foreign Minister referred to reports of Ukrainian children being deported to Russia, stating that those responsible for the crimes must be brought to justice. Germany supports organizations and authorities “that provide traumatized children with a safe and secure home,” she said.
“The first step toward peace is for Putin to let these children return home,” Baerbock added. The issue is to be addressed at the UN General Assembly.
Annalena Baerbock’s visit to Ukraine is the fourth since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022. The German Foreign Minister arrived in Kiev by train from Poland as Ukrainian airspace remains closed.
Last May, Baerbock became the first member of the German executive to travel to Ukraine since the start of the war. On that occasion, she visited Bucha, near Kiev, the site of horrifying Russian troop atrocities against civilians. Annalena Baerbock also visited Ukraine in mid-September last year and in January of this year.