President Biden on Saturday signed a new $40 billion package of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine as the country prepares for a protracted war of attrition in its eastern regions, vowed not to stop fighting until all Russian forces were expelled.
On Saturday, however, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine acknowledged that the conflict would ultimately require a diplomatic solution, raising questions about exactly what that means.
Mr Zelensky said that Russia had blocked the initial attempt to end the war through dialogue and now the conflict is “very difficult”. Speaking on the third anniversary of the presidency, he said the war “will be bloody” but “the end will certainly lie in diplomacy.”
Despite a recent string of setbacks and shortages of manpower and equipment, Russia continues its military campaign in eastern Ukraine, and with its propaganda offensive at home, hours after announcing gained full control of the port city of Mariupol, in what would be its most significant profit since the war began.
Russia said in a statement late Friday that its Defense Minister, Sergei K. Shoigu, had informed President Vladimir V. Putin of the “complete release” of the Mariupol steel plant, where the steel plants are located. Ukrainian fighters were last in the city before the recent surrender. day. Ukrainian officials have not confirmed the Russian claim.
For its part, the Ukrainian military said that yesterday it repelled 11 attacks in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, collectively known as the Donbas region, and destroyed eight tanks and combat vehicles. other from Russia.
Overall, Zelensky asserted, Ukraine has “broken the backbone of the largest army or one of the strongest in the world”.
The fighting is now in its fourth month, and while Moscow has been forced to withdraw first from the capital Kyiv and more recently from the country’s second-largest city, Kharkiv, neither side has gained more. .
With the conflict increasingly reaching a stalemate and both sides fighting in the Donbas region for supremacy, calls for a cease-fire are growing louder, along with questions about what constitutes war. win, or at least a match, for Ukraine.
“A ceasefire must be reached as soon as possible,” Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi urged on Thursday, opening a debate in parliament about Italy’s role in supporting Ukraine. He added that “we have to bring Moscow to the negotiating table.”
The German, French and Italian ceasefire proposals were angrily and even bitterly rejected by Kyiv out of selfishness and lack of time. Ukrainian officials say that Russia is hardly ready for serious peace talks and that its forces – despite significant losses in the Donbas and in Mariupol – remain motivated in the fighting.
For now, some in Ukraine are insisting that the only outcome the country will follow is to restore all the territory lost to Russia since 1991, when it gained independence from the Soviet Union. That would include all of the Donbas and Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. But Mr. Zelensky has hinted that he will accept the pre-war status quo.
Western diplomats say this is a matter for Ukraine to decide. But their consensus began to break down as it turned to specifics.
On Friday, the US Ambassador to NATO, Julianne Smith, speaking at a conference in Warsaw, reiterated the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine. “In terms of the final state,” she added, “we believe we will see Ukraine prevail and we want them to defend their territorial integrity and sovereignty.”
But she added another goal: “We want to see a strategic defeat by Russia. We want to see Russia leave Ukraine.”
For the leaders of Eastern Europe and the Baltics, a lasting peaceful resolution and end to the conflict must include a crushing military victory that would mark the end of Putin’s presidency. They say anything brief before his departure will only pave the way for the next fight. They balked at offers from Berlin, Paris and Rome to bring Putin back to the negotiating table.
“Peace cannot be the end goal,” Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia recently told The New York Times. “I just see a solution as a military victory that can end this once and for all, and punish the aggressor for what he did.”
If not, she says, “we’re back to where we started – you’re going to have to pause for a year, two years, and then everything will continue.”
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki of Poland said Thursday at the Warsaw conference: “All these events will wake us from our geo-political slumber and make us cast off our illusions.” “I heard there are efforts to allow Putin to somehow save face on the international stage. But how can you save something that has been completely disfigured? ”
He added: “Russia can only be deterred by our solidarity, our military capabilities and our tough sanctions. “Not by phone calls and conversations with Putin.”
In a diplomatic meeting of its own, the Russian Foreign Ministry on Saturday announced a list of 963 people who will be barred from entering Russia for life, among them Mr. Biden, actor Morgan Freeman and the person in charge. The New York Times columnist Bret Stephens. The ministry described its move as “necessary” retaliation against the “hostile actions” of the United States.
Amid an ongoing debate about what the final settlement might look like, Russian and Ukrainian forces strove on the battlefield, aware that any military victory would turn to an advantage. diplomatic.
Russo-Ukrainian War: Main developments
Ukraine’s military said on Saturday that Russia was clearing landmines in the port of Mariupol in an effort to get the port back up and running. The reopening of the port would tighten Moscow’s control over the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine it controls, as well as increase its economic leverage over the Black Sea, where its navy is occupying. dominance.
And Russian forces has become entrenched in areas outside the city of Kharkiv, is a significant obstacle to any Ukrainian attempt to gain their advantage in that area.
The Russian military prepared on Saturday to try another float across a river in eastern Ukraine, which has created a formidable barrier to its objectives in the region, the military said. Ukraine said, though it suffered one of the only deadly skirmishes in an attempt earlier this month. .
The Ukrainian military said Russian forces were staging bridging facilities near the Seversky Donets River in its regularly published morning assessment of the fighting. The stream’s winding path cuts through the center of the area where Russian forces are battling Ukrainian defenders – around the cities of Izium, Sloviansk, Kramatorsk and Sievierodonetsk – creating major obstacles to the offensive. of Moscow in eastern Ukraine.
“The enemy has not ceased offensive actions in the eastern operational zone with the goal of establishing full control over the territory of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” the assessment said.
The Ukrainian military blew up the bridges to force the Russians to build pontoon bridges, a tactic that worked – and cost the Russian military. Military forces are particularly vulnerable to artillery attacks as they muster troops, armored vehicles and equipment while attempting to break through.
During the fight for control of the Donbas region, Russian forces attempted to make a number of Seversky Donets pontoon bridge crossings, which were seen as an important tactical step towards their goal of encircling an encirclement of Russia. Ukrainian troops in and around the city of Sievierodonetsk.
On May 11, Ukrainian artillery attacked an overpass over a pontoon bridge with devastating effect, According to the estimates of Western military analysts, destroyed the bridge, burned armored vehicles on both banks of the river and killed more than 400 soldiers. The UK Ministry of Defense released a statement corroborating the Ukrainian accounts, based on satellite imagery and drone images posted online of the attack.
Whatever the end result of the war, no one expects it to end anytime soon, as the leader of each country needs to be able to win some kind of victory, especially Mr. Zelensky.
Andrew A. Michta, a defense and foreign policy analyst based in Germany, said: “For Zelensky, there was no other way but to keep fighting and regain the territory they had already lost. lost. “As soon as he agreed to any compromise, even at the cost of blood, he lost political credibility. The Ukrainians cannot break an agreement just to prevent fighting, so it will be a protracted war. “
Steven Erlanger report from Warsaw, Andrew E. Kramer from Dnipro, Ukraine, and Katrin Bennhold from Berlin. Anton Troianovski Contribution reports from Istanbul.