MOSCOW– With a new round of Russian attacks on Ukraine’s capital Kiev early Monday, the armed conflict between the two countries appears to have reached a deadlock both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table as 300 days have passed since the start of hostilities on Feb. 24.
The fighting sharply intensified shortly after Russia initiated a special military operation in Donbass, and the battleground expanded to several regions in eastern and southern Ukraine.
On March 25, Sergei Rudskoy, first deputy chief of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, said the main tasks of the first stage of the operation had been completed, and the combat potential of the Ukrainian Armed Forces had been “significantly reduced.”
“Our forces and means will concentrate on the main thing — the complete liberation of Donbass,” he added.Since then, Ukraine has waged waves of counteroffensives with the help of Western military hardware and intelligence and re-established control over most parts of eastern Kharkiv in September.
On Oct. 5, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed laws to formalize the accession of Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson as federal subjects of Russia.
A blast hit the Crimean Bridge connecting the Crimean Peninsula and southern Russia’s Krasnodar region on Oct. 8, leaving three people dead.
Putin said the next day that “it was a terrorist act aimed at destroying the critical civilian infrastructure of Russia.
Ukraine’s special services were the initiators, performers and masterminds.”
Russia has since launched several rounds of massive strikes against Ukraine’s energy, military command and communications facilities in retaliation.
If Russian strikes destroy Ukraine’s power grid, “without water, light and heat, can we talk about preparing reserves to keep fighting?”, Commander-in-Chief of the Ukrainian Armed Forces Valery Zaluzhny said in an interview with The Economist in early December.
“The Kremlin realizes that it is impossible to achieve victory in the short term.
“So it seeks to turn the conflict into a prolonged armed confrontation aimed at exhausting Ukraine and our partners,” Oleksiy Gromov, deputy chief of the Main Operational Department of the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, said at a briefing on Dec. 15.
FEW RESULTS OF TALKS
No significant progress was made in the first two rounds of face-to-face negotiations held in Belarus and subsequent online talks until the two sides clinched somewhat of a compromise in Istanbul on March 29.
Russia promised to significantly reduce military activities in the Kiev and Chernihiv directions to increase mutual trust and create the necessary conditions for further negotiations.
At the same time, Ukraine proposed signing a new international treaty on security guarantees, which enshrines obligations for the guarantor countries to provide Ukraine with military assistance in the event of an attack.
However, the negotiation process was disrupted after Ukraine accused Russian troops of killing hundreds of civilians in Bucha city northwest of Kiev in April, which Moscow has categorically denied.
A glimpse of hope arose on July 22, when Russia and Ukraine separately signed a document in Istanbul with Türkiye and the United Nations on grain and fertilizer exports from Ukraine and Russia to ensure supplies to global markets amid the conflict.
LITTLE ROOM FOR RECONCILIATION
In his address to the Group of Seven online summit last week, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called for increased defense support for Ukraine in 2023 and urged Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine during the Christmas holiday season.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said no proposal for a Christmas or New Year truce was received from Kiev. Analysts are pessimistic about the prospects for future talks.
“There is no sign that the Americans will agree to Kiev’s surrender. And Russia will not be able to make any compromise on the newly acquired territories.
“So I don’t see any space for negotiations yet,” said Evgeny Buzhinsky, former deputy head of the Main Directorate for International Military Cooperation of the Russian Defense Ministry.
Russian senior officials have repeatedly said that Moscow is open to dialogue but rejects the precondition of pulling troops out of Ukraine.
Peskov said that it is impossible to move towards peace without considering the “new realities” in Ukraine that Russia has got new territories — Lugansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson.
Meanwhile, the U.S. military is playing a “key role” in the conflict as Washington supplies batches of weapons to Ukraine and American satellites and reconnaissance aircraft transmit information about the location of Russian troops to Kiev, Russian military expert Yuri Knutov said.
The next military aid package for Ukraine is expected to include additional air defense capabilities, U.S. National Security Council Strategic Communications Coordinator John Kirby told a briefing last week.
The Biden administration is finalizing plans to send the Patriot missile defense system to Ukraine, CNN reported on Dec. 15, citing U.S. officials.
If such reports are accurate, it would be another provocative step taken by the United States, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said in response.
“The delivery of such complex weapons whose use requires months-long training will mean greater involvement of the American military personnel in the combat operations,” she said. – Xinhua