As Russia claims gains in east, US says Putin is ready for long fight
By Michael Schwirtz and Dan Bilefsky
Russia’s nearly 3-month-old invasion of Ukraine has been marred by poor planning, flawed intelligence, low morale and brutal, indiscriminate violence against civilians. But while the war has fallen well short of President Vladimir Putin’s grand ambitions of decapitating the government in Kyiv, there is also a harsh reality emerging for Ukraine: Russia is making some significant territorial gains.
The Russian Defense Ministry said Tuesday that its forces in eastern Ukraine had advanced to the border between Donetsk and Luhansk, the provinces where Moscow-backed separatists have been fighting Ukraine’s army for eight years. The ministry’s assertion, if confirmed, strengthens the prospect that Russia could gain complete control over the region, known as the Donbas, compared with just a third of it before the Feb. 24 invasion.
If Russia can hold on to, or expand, the territory it occupies in the south and the east, and maintain its dominion in the Black Sea, it would further undermine Ukraine’s already battered economy, improve Moscow’s leverage in any future negotiated settlement and potentially expand its capacity to stage broader assaults.
The U.S. director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, said Tuesday that Russia’s war aims remained expansive, including the creation of a land bridge across Ukraine’s Black Sea coast. But she stressed that the Kremlin would struggle to achieve those goals without a large-scale mobilization or draft, presaging a protracted conflict and a potential escalation.
The war has dealt a devastating blow to the economies of both Russia and Ukraine. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said Tuesday that Ukraine’s economy would shrink 30% this year, with as many as half of Ukrainian businesses having already shut down. The bank also forecast that Russia’s economy would contract 10% this year and be stagnant next year, with a bleak outlook unless a peace agreement leads to the relaxing of Western sanctions.
In other developments:
— United Nations investigators said Tuesday that they had recorded the unlawful killing of 300 civilian adults and children in areas north of the Ukrainian capital since the withdrawal of Russian forces in April.
— Two remaining Russian battalion tactical groups are leading the continued assault on the Azovstal steel plant, the last redoubt for Ukrainian fighters in Mariupol, according to a senior Pentagon official. Ukrainian officials said that more than 1,000 Ukrainian troops, many of them wounded, were still stuck in the plant, along with at least 100 civilians.
— The House could consider as soon as Tuesday an emergency $39.8 billion package of military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine, $7 billion more than what President Joe Biden had requested.