Conflict: Day 89-99

Over the last ten days, the Russians have continued to make gradual progress in East Donbas following their partial breakthrough in Popasna, while reports indicate Ukraine is still reinforcing all areas of this pocket despite the danger of encirclement. The Russians have also made substantial progress in taking the city of Sievierodonetsk. Meanwhile, a Ukrainian offensive is recently underway in Kherson, with debatable results.

As we approach 100 days of war in Ukraine, we summarise the developments in the war over the past 10 days, as well as discussing Western aid and the status of negotiations.

Summary of War Developments

Russia has expanded its breakthrough around Popasna, most likely severing the flow of supplies to Lysychansk from the direction of Bakhmut and Soledar. 

Lyman fell earlier this week following a withering artillery bombardment and a ground assault lasting several days.

Following Ukraine’s counterattack around Kharkiv, Russia has recovered some ground in the last 4 days, moving closer to the city and taking the village of Ternova.

Sievierodonetsk is mostly occupied by Russian troops following a bitter infantry assault lasting several days. The city is at the extremity of the East Donbas salient and difficult to resupply along the Soledar road, which is nearly severed by the breakout from Popasna and within range of Russian artillery.

There have been several small-scale actions along the Zaporizhzhia front, with no major movement by either side.

Like all recent actions, Ukraine’s operation in Kherson has divided opinion neatly down the West-leaning and Russia-leaning sides of the information war. Ukrainian sources claim that Russians have taken massive losses and lost a few villages. Russian sources claim that the attack has been smashed by artillery, achieving minimal gains. About 3 brigades appear to have been committed to the attack. Tune in for the next update to discover which Pinocchio is lying this time.

Western Aid

The US has agreed to supply Ukraine with M-142 HIMARS MLRS: a long-range self-propelled rocket artillery system. President Biden claims that this system has been provided ‘under assurances’ that it will not be used to target Russian cities. Many commentators believe this system could have a large impact on the next phase of the war in Ukraine, for several reasons.

The primary capability of the new MLRS system is its long range. Designed in the late 80’s and 90’s to counter Soviet artillery systems, the HIMARS system may allow Ukraine to interdict Russian supply dumps and logistics nodes used to supply its ordnance on the front line. Since Russia’s success in the current phase of the war has been predominantly determined by superiority in artillery and air support, this could pose a significant threat.

However, while the HIMARS is a superior artillery system to the motley array of howitzers and MLRS operated by Ukraine currently, it is no wunderwaffe (wonder weapon). Russia possesses a number of long range counterfire capabilities, including tactical missiles, which could prove to be an effective counter to this new system. If HIMARS truly were the miracle weapon advertised by Western media, Russia would likely escalate the conflict.

Must We Have Peace Before We Have Peace Talks?

The common line from the USA, and from hawks on the Ukraine issue, is that Russia must unilaterally withdraw from Ukraine as a precondition to negotiations. The argument rests on a notion of aggrieved fairness: Russia is clearly the aggressor, and cannot be treated as a reasonable conversation partner until it has taken its troops home. Any less would be allowing Russia to get away with murder by discussing peace while simultaneously waging war.

However, the one thing this attitude is guaranteed to create is no peace. It is a logical fallacy — why would there be a need for peace talks if a war were not in progress? And how does one expect to end a war except through peace talks, or a long and bloody victory in a war that mauls all combatants? Those who impose ridiculous preconditions to peace talks on either side have only one objective: to prolong the war indefinitely by ensuring no possibility of a diplomatic solution.

The last peace talks between Ukraine and Russia occurred shortly before 30th March, when the Russians withdrew. At this point, the ‘Bucha Massacre’ was unearthed. Despite a good deal of evidence suggesting the activity of Ukrainian special forces teams or secret police in ‘executing saboteurs’ as part of a clean-up operation following the Russian withdrawal, this pile of corpses was universally blamed on Russia without so much as a second thought. A Russian request for an investigation was blocked by the UK at the United Nations.

Quite frankly, a great deal of effort has been made to ensure that Ukraine does not achieve a diplomatic resolution to the conflict.

  • A Ukrainian negotiator was assassinated for ‘treason’ early on in the peace process. He was gunned down in the street by the Ukrainian secret service, the SBU, on March 5th. Kireev was accused of treasonously passing information to the Russians.
  • Bellingcat, an OSINT channel with suspected links to Western intelligence agencies, managed to sell the Western media a fake news story about Roman Abramovich being poisoned at negotiations in Turkey, in an attempt to derail talks. This turned out to be false.
  • Numerous visits to Kiev and tranches of aid are designed to keep the Zelensky regime away from the negotiating table. Western spooks clearly see the war in Ukraine as a way to defeat Russia once and for all. Likewise, during the early stages of the war, Zelensky appeared to play both sides, knowing that his showing signs of warming to negotiations would result in more support from the West.

As for Russia, their willingness to negotiate is always flexible and conditional upon movements on the ground. The grand prize for the Kremlin would be the annexation of ‘Novorossiya’: a swathe of territory stretching from East Donbas to Odessa. Leaving Ukraine as a landlocked country would dramatically reduce its economic potential and its future ‘threat’ to Russia. However, the minimum viable peace deal would seem to be their annexation of East Donbas and some form of Ukrainian demilitarisation.

This was certainly the case on March 30th, but as the war drags into its 100th day, with casualties likely in the tens of thousands on both sides, the days of negotiation seem long past. 

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