The Ukrainians retreat to the east, but it is not total defeat

Russian troops captured or entered half a dozen villages on Ukraine's eastern front last week, highlighting the deteriorating situation in the region as Ukrainian forces outnumbered and outgunned them as they await American military aid. time needed. “The situation at the front has worsened,” General Oleksandr Syrsky, Ukraine's Commander-in-Chief, said in a statement on Sunday in which he announced that his troops had withdrawn from two villages west of Avdiivka, a stronghold in the east of the country occupied by Russia earlier this year, and another village further south. Some military experts say Moscow's recent advances reflect a desire to exploit a window of opportunity to carry out attacks before the first batch of a new American military aid package arrives in Kiev. Military funding for Ukraine makes up the largest part of the package, totaling $60.8 billion. A significant part “is intended to replenish American defense stocks” and to finance the purchase of defense systems made in the USA, considered essential by Ukrainian officials for several months.

The bill closely reflects the Senate's original package, but the House included a requirement for the Biden administration to send more American-made missiles known as long-range ATACMS. The United States previously provided Ukraine with a version of the missiles with cluster munitions, after President Biden overcame his reluctance to supply weapons and allowed the Pentagon to covertly deliver them. According to what was reported by New York Timesanother provision inserted by the House requires the president to request repayment of ten billion dollars in economic assistance, a proposal supported by former President Donald Trump, who had insisted that any aid to Kiev be in the form of a loan.

However, the bill also authorizes the president to forgive such loans starting in 2026. Biden signed the bill promising to speed up shipments of weapons. But with these new weapons can the Ukrainians subvert the course of events? We ask the strategic analyst Virgilio Lo Presti: «The military supplies that Ukraine will soon receive from the United States will serve to buffer the situation on the front for about a year. However significant, this aid package will not lead Ukraine to reach parity with Russia in terms of artillery nor to the possibility of equipping new brigades for any future counterattack actions. To significantly change the current situation, future and constant new supplies would be needed, but it is difficult to imagine that during 2024 the United States could provide Ukraine with new aid packages, much less of the economic dimensions of the latter, and if in the months to come, if no new aid arrives, Ukraine risks finding itself in the same difficult situation in 2025 as it is today.”

But what is the main critical issue for Kiev? For Lo Presti «the Ukrainian army has a dramatic weakness in terms of manpower. The brigades at the front are understaffed and the lack of men means there is not enough rotation for the front line troops. The new conscription law passed by Kyiv arrives very late compared to military needs and the new recruits who will flow to the units will have to be trained for a few months before they can be used effectively, on the contrary Russian recruitment continues to operate at a high rate ».

Serhii Kuzan, president of the Ukrainian Center for Security and Cooperation, a non-governmental research group, said that “the Ukrainian Command had to make a choice between a bad situation and an even worse one and decided to lose territories rather than soldiers ». Furthermore, Russian forces managed to break through the northern part of this defensive line by exploiting a gap in the Ukrainian positions and rapidly advancing into the village of Ocheretyne. That village is located on a road leading to Pokrovsk, about 30 km to the west but it is not yet entirely clear whether Russian forces have gained full control of it. The Institute for the Study of War (ISW), a Washington-based think tank, says Russia's gains at Ocheretyne “presented the Russian command with a choice: continue to push west toward Pokrovsk, or push north towards Chasiv Yar, a city that has suffered relentless Russian attacks in recent weeks.” According to Ukrainian officials, around 25,000 Russian soldiers are involved in the offensive on Khasiv Yar. Chasiv Yar, about seven miles west of Bakhmut, sits on strategic high ground. Its capture would put the town of Kostiantynivka, about 16 km to the southwest, in Moscow's direct line of fire. The city is the main supply point for Ukrainian forces along much of the Eastern Front. A northward push from Ocheretyne could also allow Russian forces to attack Kostiantynivka from the south, in a pincer movement. “Russian forces currently have the opportunity to gain significant operational advantages near Chasiv Yar and are preparing reserves to support a large-scale offensive effort expected this summer,” the ISW said in its report on Sunday.