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Things are going badly for Ukraine — really badly

Ukraine
A Ukrainian soldier fires toward the Russian position at the front line in the direction of Avdiivka, Ukraine.Anadolu via Getty
  • Ukraine is experiencing serious problems in fighting Russia's invasion.

  • It's running low on troops and ammo, and top commanders are squabbling.

  • However, Ukraine is hoping to boost its domestic weapons production.

As the second anniversary of Russia's unprovoked invasion approaches, the situation is beginning to look bleak for Ukraine.

Last year's counteroffensive brought hopes that Ukraine could capitalize on its successes in 2022 and drive back Russian forces from occupied territories in southern and eastern Ukraine.

But the offensive failed to achieve a breakthrough, and Ukraine is now seeing crucial support from its allies bleed away. Meanwhile, its troops are experiencing shortages of personnel and ammunition.

There are problems at the top, too. Its senior command has been engulfed in chaos, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy replacing Valery Zaluzhny, a senior commander, amid reported disagreements over strategy.

Zaluzhny
Graffiti depicting Gen. Valery Zaluzhny, the former head of Ukraine's armed forces. It says: "God is with us and commander Zaluzhny."SOPA Images via Getty

'It's just relentless pressure'

At the heart of Ukraine's problems is diminishing international aid. Ukraine has previously said it may not be able to successfully defend itself against Russia without US help.

The Senate on Tuesday passed a $95 billion emergency defense-aid bill that could help Ukraine. But the bill must go to the House of Representatives, where Republicans are expected to seek to block it.

In the meantime, Ukrainian troops are having to restrict their ammunition use, and in some parts of the front line, they're being outgunned three to one, Bloomberg reported recently.

US-supplied guns such as the howitzer are falling silent near Bakhmut — a city that has been the site of months of brutal combat — because of shell shortages, CNN reported.

Personnel problems are also growing. Among the core disagreements between Zelenskyy and Zaluzhny was recruitment, with the former military chief saying Ukraine needed to massively boost the number of people being drafted into the military, while the president was concerned about the impact on already fragile national morale.

But the replacement of Zaluzhny "will be deeply unpopular across the Ukrainian military," Ryan Evans, the publisher of War on the Rocks, said on the site's eponymous podcast.

"I'm not sure how appointing someone new fixes any of these big questions on mobilization and what the Ukrainian strategy should be," he added.

A battalion commander in eastern Ukraine recently told The Washington Post that his unit, which was deployed in the trenches to hold off Russian attacks, was 40 strong when it should be 200 strong. The report said new recruits were often inexperienced and undertrained.

These challenges are creating serious consequences on the front line. According to reports, Ukraine is struggling to fight off Russian attacks, particularly around the city of Avdiivka in Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine. The city's mayor last week highlighted Russia's intensifying attacks, saying they were "pressing from all directions."

"It's just relentless pressure," Patrick Bury, a military analyst at the UK's University of Bath, told Business Insider.

Michael Kofman, an analyst at the nonprofit CNA, recently told the "War on the Rocks" podcast there's a "good chance" that Ukraine would lose the city.

The long-term plan

Russia is also suffering huge casualties and, Bury said, still hasn't mastered effective combined arms maneuvers. Ubiquitous drone surveillance is hampering any ability to amass enough tanks to break through, he added.

The difference is that Russia, with its larger economy and population, is positioning itself to bear the losses for the long haul. It has placed its economy on a war footing, massively increasing its production of weapons and ammunition and receiving Shahed attack drones from Iran and ballistic missiles and ammunition from North Korea.

It has replenished its troop numbers partly by offering recruits relatively large pay packets and partly through military drafts.

Ukraine, meanwhile, is struggling to produce enough ammunition and equipment to meet the needs of its military to make up for the shortfall from the US, and its European allies missed their target of producing 1 million shells for its military by January.

One response has been to ramp up domestic defense production, particularly with drones. "This is the way out," Zelenskyy told The Associated Press in December.

Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov told Reuters that in 2024, Ukraine would produce thousands of long-range drones capable of striking deep within Russia.

So far, Ukraine's use of drone strikes in Russia has been "more of a harassment than a real cost to the Russians," Bury told BI, adding: "But it does show you what they can do if they've developed their own drones, which have longer flight times and a higher payload."

Military research and development is booming, and several European companies have announced joint ventures in Ukraine, Al Jazeera reported.

But this all may be cold comfort for a front line that's inevitably outnumbered, making — in the face of stalled US support — what one unnamed defense official called "a very grim scenario," the Financial Times reported.

A senior NATO diplomat told the paper: "It is a desperate situation on the front lines for the Ukrainians, far worse than they are letting on."

A bright spot in the Black Sea

A still from a video shared by Defense Intelligence of Ukraine on Thursday February 1 2024. the black and white reversed image shows a ship silhouetted on the water, which Ukraine says is a drone's eye view ahead of the ship's destructon.
A still from a video shared by Defense Intelligence of Ukraine on February 1, purportedly of the corvette Ivanovets ahead of its claimed destruction.Defense Intelligence of Ukraine/YouTube

While it struggles on land, Ukraine's ability to subdue Russia in the Black Sea is an area of ongoing success. About 20% of Russia's Black Sea Fleet has been destroyed, the UK's defense minister, Grant Shapps, said in December.

That's no mean achievement for a country without a functioning navy of its own.

Not every vessel struck by Ukraine would have had a meaningful impact on the ground war, but the actions still come with benefits. Firstly, Ukrainian ports have been able to continue shipping grain — not back up to prewar levels but enough to provide a vital economic boost.

Secondly — and particularly after strikes on the Black Sea Fleet headquarters at Sevastopol last year — Crimea itself is becoming "increasingly vulnerable," Basil Germond, a maritime-security expert at the UK's Lancaster University, told BI.

"It's a political blow to Putin because this contradicts its narrative of Crimea being a 'normal' part of the Russian state," he said.

This matters: Control over the peninsula is a cornerstone of Putin's conception of Russia.

Is this a solution to Ukraine's ground offensive? "No, it isn't," Kofman told the "War on the Rocks" podcast. "But it's a very big bright spot in the story for last year, which otherwise has sort of been a year of missed opportunities."

Putin is 'sitting pretty'

There remains hope that US aid will begin to flow again, despite the opposition from former President Donald Trump and some Republicans.

But Putin has gotten a morale boost from the former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who in a recent interview gave the Russian leader free rein to spread propaganda about Russia's invasion at a moment seemingly perfectly timed to exact huge damage on US support for Ukraine.

With the prospect of another Trump presidency next year, Putin is "sitting pretty," Bury told BI. The chance of the US shutting off Ukraine aid altogether offers "a path to victory for Putin now where there wasn't for a good while," he said.

"But it always comes back to this: What do we want to do?" he added. "Do we want to see a democracy crushed by an autocracy? Where does the West draw the line here?"

Read the original article on Business Insider