The Washington Post

Ukraine is winning its war of independen­ce


At the end of August, Ukrainian forces launched a slow-motion offensive to push the Russian invaders out of Kherson, one of the biggest cities they have occupied since the start of the war more than six months ago. The Institute for the Study of War reports that “the Ukrainian counteroff­ensive is making verifiable progress,” although it remains far from clear when, or even if, the Ukrainians can liberate Kherson.

But, while the fate of Kherson remains to be determined, the larger trend is not in dispute: Ukraine is winning its war of independen­ce. The major issue now is how much of its territory it can claw back. The existence of a democratic, pro-western Ukrainian state is no longer in doubt. Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s war plans have failed miserably.

My Post colleagues reported in their deeply researched “Road to war” series that Putin had planned “to seize Kyiv in three to four days,” “remove President Volodymyr Zelensky” and “install a Kremlin-friendly puppet government.” Other Russian forces were supposed to drive from the east and south, “leaving a rump Ukrainian state in the west.”

When those initial plans were stymied by the heroic defense of Kyiv, Putin switched in mid-april to focus on the Donbas region in the east. By early July, Putin’s forces had forced the retreat of Ukrainian defenders from Luhansk, one of the two provinces in Donbas. But Russian troops did not trap Ukrainian forces, as they had hoped, and they have not made any appreciabl­e progress in Donetsk (the other province in the Donbas region). Instead, they have been thrown on the defensive in Kherson and the rest of the south. Moscow has now been compelled to postpone plans for a farcical “referendum,” scheduled for midSeptemb­er, on annexing Kherson to Russia.

Ukrainian forces have the initiative, and they are displaying impressive resilience despite substantia­l casualties. Putin hoped to tear Ukraine apart. Instead he has united it. In a recent poll, 91 percent of Ukrainians expressed approval of Zelensky and 98 percent expressed confidence in victory.

Putin has managed to retain Russian support for his “special military operation” only by brutally repressing dissent and hiding its real cost. CIA Director William Burns said on July 20 that Russian casualties were estimated at 15,000 troops killed and 45,000 wounded. Independen­t analysts estimate that Russia has lost more than 5,400 military vehicles (including more than 1,000 tanks) along with 52 aircraft and 11 ships. Such massive losses of troops and equipment will be hard to replace — all the more so because Putin refuses to risk a total mobilizati­on of Russian society that could undermine support for his illegitima­te rule. Russia is compelled to buy artillery shells from North Korea and drones from Iran.

Putin had hoped to bring Ukraine and its Western allies to their knees by waging economic warfare, but so far his machinatio­ns have been stymied. On July 22, under pressure from Turkey and other countries whose support he is seeking, Putin agreed to relax his Black Sea blockade and allow Ukrainian grain shipments under United Nations auspices. The Ukrainian Infrastruc­ture Ministry reports that so far 86 ships have sailed from Ukrainian ports carrying 2 million tons of agricultur­al products to 19 countries. Those shipments are blunting Putin’s attempts to weaponize food shortages, relaxing inflationa­ry pressures and allowing Ukraine to generate badly needed revenue.

Putin has been trying to use the threat of Russian energy cutoffs to persuade Europe to stop supporting Ukraine. A Kremlin spokesman just announced that Russia was shutting the Nord Stream 1 natural gas pipeline to Europe until Western sanctions are lifted. But the Europeans haven’t wavered. Rather, they have accelerate­d their efforts to end dependence on Russian energy. European gas storage facilities are nearly 80 percent filled already, well ahead of a November deadline, and the European Union is ramping up imports of liquefied natural gas, putting off plans to close nuclear plants, and reducing energy use.

Western sanctions haven’t led to an economic implosion in Russia or forced Putin to discontinu­e his invasion, but they are taking a toll that will only grow. Russia will be hard put to run its production lines, military and civilian, without Western semiconduc­tors — and chip imports have dropped 90 percent. According to Bloomberg, an internal Russian government document warns of a much “longer and deeper recession” than officials admit in “their upbeat public pronouncem­ents,” with the economy not returning to its prewar level until “the end of the decade or later.”

There is no room for complacenc­y. Ukraine can prevail only if it continues to receive substantia­l Western aid, and it needs even more assistance (fighter aircraft, longrange rockets and tanks) to complete the liberation of its soil. But more than six months into Putin’s “war of choice,” Russia’s probable defeat is coming into focus.

What remains to be determined is the magnitude and impact of that defeat. If the Ukrainians manage to trap up to 25,000 Russian troops on the west bank of the Dnieper River around Kherson, it could shake Putin’s criminal regime to its foundation­s.

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