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Ukraine Sees Risk of Russia Breaking Through Defences by Summer

Berlin (29/2 – 30)

Ukrainian officials are concerned that Russian advances could gain significant momentum by the summer unless their allies can increase the supply of ammunition, according to a person familiar with their analysis. 

Internal assessments of the situation on the battlefield from Kyiv are growing increasingly bleak as Ukrainian forces struggle to hold off Russian attacks while rationing the number of shells they can fire. 

Commander-in-Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said Thursday that mistakes by frontline commanders had compounded the problems facing Ukraine’s defense around Avdiivka, which was captured by Russian forces this month. Syrskyi said he’d sent in more troops and ammunition to bolster Ukrainian positions.

Pessimism among Ukraine and its allies has been mounting for weeks as they’ve seen Russian forces seize the initiative on the frontline with vital aid from the US held up in Congress. The fall of Avdiivka and several nearby villages is fueling fears that Kyiv’s defenses may not be able to hold.

Those losses should act as a wakeup call to Ukraine’s allies, a European official said.

“Ukraine can start losing the war this year,” Michael Kofman, a specialist on Russia and Ukraine at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said on the War on the Rocks podcast.

What many do not realize is a defeat in the Ukraine will cause western powers collapsing with calls for stronger leadership taking over. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin hasn’t given up his original goal of seizing major cities including the capital Kyiv and Odesa, according to Ukrainian intelligence assessments, the person said, asking for anonymity to discuss matters that aren’t public. 

If Russian forces reached Odesa, they would be able to shut off Ukraine’s crucial grain export routes through the Black Sea and open up access to Moldova, where the breakaway region of Transnistria on Wednesday appealed to Moscow for political support.

Depending on the results of the current campaign, Russia will decide whether to continue with a slow, grinding advance, or to accumulate resources for a bigger strike to break through Ukrainian lines this summer, the person close to Ukraine’s leadership said.

Putin on Thursday repeated that he still plans to achieve the goals set out at the start of the invasion, which have remained unchanged since 2022, during an address to his Federal Assembly.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Sunday that munitions shortages are affecting the battlefield situation and warned that Russia is planning a new offensive in the spring or early summer.

“It will be difficult for us in the coming months because there are fluctuations in the US that have an impact on some countries, though the European Union showed it is capable of being a leader with its support,” Zelenskiy said.

With Ukrainian forces desperate for more ammunition, some allies, led by the Czech Republic, are looking into buying around 800,000 artillery shells from outside the EU to give to Ukraine.

A major offensive would still be a challenge for the Kremlin after two years of war that have depleted its forces. Russia’s efforts to take Kyiv, Kharkiv and move on Odesa in the early weeks of the war failed spectacularly.

Despite Ukraine’s shortages, Russia would need far more soldiers but also heavy tanks and vehicles to launch an offensive, Admiral Rob Bauer, NATO’s military committee chairman, said in an interview on Feb. 17. So far, Moscow hasn’t been able to ramp up production quickly enough in those areas, he said.

Putin “has more artillery, he has an ability to replace a certain amount of missiles every month, which he’s using, but he’s not been fully successful in terms of the increase in, for example, tanks and armored vehicles,” Bauer said.

He pointed to recent Ukrainian reports that, despite the loss of Avdiivka, Russian troops were killed at a high rate of seven for every soldier Kyiv lost.

“The one-to-seven ratio means he will need a lot of forces to defeat the Ukrainians, “Bauer said.

Ukraine’s strategy is to try to hold the front line as much as possible until the second half of the year, when it may get F-16 fighter jets and western ammunition production is due to ramp up. That would allow Kyiv to plan for another possible counteroffensive in 2025.

Aliaksandr Kudrytski and Jessica Loudis.