Chernihiv, Ukraine. Photo: Oleksandr Ratushniak / UNDP Ukraine

The War in Ukraine is Entering a New Phase

The war in Ukraine has reached a turning point — at least from the perspective of Ukraine’s top military commander Valery Zaluzhny. In wide ranging remarks last week in The Economist, Zaluzhny described the war as as stalemate, likening it to the trench warfare of World War I. “The war is now moving to a new stage: what we in the military call ‘positional’ warfare of static and attritional fighting, as in the first world war, in contrast to the ‘manoeuvre’ warfare of movement and speed,” he wrote. “This will benefit Russia, allowing it to rebuild its military power, eventually threatening Ukraine’s armed forces and the state itself.”

These remarks come on the heels of a disappointing counter-offensive that began in earnest in June. The counter-offensive certainly made some gains, but nothing approaching expectations. Meanwhile, the Israel-Palestine crisis has sucked up international attention — and potentially diverted arms intended for Ukraine’s defense. And here in the United States, the determination of many Republican members of Congress to block further US aid for Ukraine also adds a challenging variable to Ukraine’s future success.

All of this suggests that we are entering a new phase in the conflict, so for today’s Global Dispatches podcast episode I wanted to get a sense of how these changes are being felt in Ukraine.

Joining me from Kyiv is journalist Tim Mak. He’s been in Ukraine for most of the last two years to report on the war, first for NPR and now on his Substack publication called The Counter-Offensive with Tim Mak. We kick off discussing the current state of the war in Ukraine and the significance of General Zaluzhny’s remarks. We then discuss how this seemingly bleak moment for Ukraine is impacting the lives of Ukrainians, and the domestic political implications of a future in which an outright Ukrainian victory is looking less and less likely.

The episode is freely available on all podcast listening platforms.

This link will take you to the episode on your preferred platform.

Here’s an excerpt, edited for clarity:

Tim Mak The first thing where you really felt a turning point was after the Hamas attacks in Israel and the subsequent war in Gaza. You could feel a lot of energy and global attention shifting away from here in Ukraine towards the new war. You could see foreign journalists leaving and packing up and going to their next assignment.

In our latest issue I looked at trends over the last year in the Google search term, “Ukraine.” And you could just see a decline with a few peaks here and there. But generally the graph is down and to the right and you could see that global attention is waning as this war becomes kind of baked into the cake, that it’s no longer new, it’s no longer shocking. So that’s been a major issue for Ukrainians. President Zelensky has said that the world just kind of got used to the war happening in Ukraine. And with that having occurred, or at least partially having occurred, it means that really dark days are ahead for Ukrainians as they now are looking at a much longer war than they had hoped for and with much less support than they started out with. That’s a hard thing to come to grips with.

And furthermore, I mean, you mentioned the Republicans in Congress.  The vast majority of legislators, D.C., support additional aid in Ukraine. There’s a small minority that is opposed to it and is kind of gumming up the works. And there’s no real clear method for getting this across the finish line. And what is also true is that a lot of Ukrainians are having to make peace with the fact that even if it does make it across the finish line, it may very well be the last time the Americans can pass a major piece of legislation that sends aid to Ukraine.

Mark Leon Goldberg You’ve mentioned a couple of times now a sense of foreboding — that dark days are ahead. What are some of the domestic political, or even social, implications of this kind of general pessimistic mood?

Tim Mak Well, a couple of things. We don’t know the actual numbers of dead and injured from the war, but it’s safe to say that tens of thousands of Ukrainians have died. And it would be a fair thing to guess that the number of dead are in the six figures. Recruitment is becoming a problem and conscripting people who are motivated to fight is becoming more and more of a problem. The average age of Ukrainian soldiers now 43 years old.

Domestically, corruption remains a serious issue and that’s causing a lot of friction in society, especially among those who have family members and friends on the front lines. And they’re looking at these stories of not widespread corruption, but the sorts of scandals that would be very scandalous in the United States that occurred — and doubly so during a time of war. And that remains a serious problem and concerning also to Ukraine’s allies.

And then there’s just the pure fact of what it’s like to live in a war zone and never really feel safe at any time. It’s hard to convey to a lot of folks that when you’re in Ukraine, especially closer to the front lines, there’s never really a moment where you’re not on edge, and that builds up. That’s cumulative to people over time. That causes a lot of stress. It feeds a lot of nerves and it creates a lot of irritation, anger, frustration. People are on very short fuzes. They’re ready to blow. And that has all sorts of impacts on society and politics as well.

Full transcript available here.