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Russia marks two years of war in Ukraine, looking confident amid gains

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A Ukrainian soldier in a shelter at his fighting position in the direction of Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, 20 February 2024.

Anadolu | Anadolu | Getty Images

When Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago, the stout resistance mounted by the country’s armed forces and overwhelming Western support for Kyiv — along with some obvious military overreach by Moscow — raised hopes that Ukraine’s outnumbered and outgunned army could beat back the invading forces.

Fast forward two years and hopes of a Ukrainian victory look diminished and increasingly hollow, as do Western pledges to support Ukraine “for as long as it takes.”

As it stands, billions of dollars worth of American military aid remains unapproved with further struggles likely ahead, as war and funding fatigue grow in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election — a vote that could see an administration installed that’s less sympathetic to Ukraine’s war needs.

On the battlefield in Ukraine, meanwhile, the front lines have been broadly static for months, save for recent gains that have been made by Russian forces in the east of the country.

Kyiv continues to insist it is not being given the proper tools to fight Russia as effectively as it could, and there have been reports of morale ebbing among front-line forces who are facing ammunition and personnel shortages. Internal political frictions and the replacement of popular military chief Gen. Valerii Zaluzhnyi has also fueled concerns over military strategy going forward.

“This year is the most difficult year for Ukraine that there’s been so far in this war, in part because of the disconcertion over Zaluzhnyi being replaced and the retreat from Avdiivka, but mostly, because of the massive uncertainty over the level of Western assistance and aid,” James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia program at think tank Chatham House, said Monday.

“I think for Ukraine, there’s really quite minimal difference between a president who can’t deliver lethal aid and a president who won’t deliver lethal aid. And for Ukrainians that’s effectively one and the same thing, and it’s an existential question. So Putin is not really betting everything he can on [Republican presidential hopeful Donald] Trump because he believes he can win whatever the outcome of the U.S. election in November,” Nixey said.

“In other words, Putin senses weakness, as he so often has done in the past, and he is absolutely right. Whether his confidence is justified remains to be seen, but he at least more or less knows what he has at his disposal this summer, or this time next year or even beyond, and Ukraine simply can’t say the same thing.”

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin listens while then-U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, in 2019.

Brendan Smialowski | AFP | Getty Images

While the West will likely be dominated this year by domestic political infighting ahead of elections in the U.S., U.K. and EU Parliament, “Russia faces none of these…

Read More: Russia marks two years of war in Ukraine, looking confident amid gains

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