Ukraine’s military took a defiant stance this weekend, refusing to give in to Russia’s demand that Kyiv’s troops in the port city of Mariupol surrender. At the same time, President Joe Biden and his allies face a new precipice in deciding how far the United States can arm the beleaguered country, as Russia indicates it may take more aggressive steps to stem the flow of US weapons. .and NATO.
There are new concerns about how quickly Ukraine could run out of ammunition as fighting intensifies in Donbas, where Russia is trying to encircle and isolate Ukrainian forces in its quest to control the region.
As he tries to keep up the pressure on allies to provide more support in this next phase, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky argues that the West must see that fight as a critical turning point to curb Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unbridled ambitions. and demonstrate the West’s commitment to defending democracy against a ravenous autocratic power.
Zelensky warned that the looming battle in Donbas “may influence the course of the entire war” and said, during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, that his country has no intention of giving up territory in eastern Ukraine to put end to the war. The exclusive interview aired this Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
If Russia can capture the Donbas region, Zelensky warned, it is entirely possible that Putin could renew his bid to seize control of Kyiv. Asked by Tapper if he was satisfied with the US announcement last week to commit another $800 million in military aid to bolster Ukrainian forces in Donbas, Zelensky replied: “Of course, we need more.”
“There will never be enough. Enough is not possible,” Zelensky said, explaining the challenges ahead in his country’s eastern region. “There’s a full-scale war going on today, so we still need a lot more than we have today… We don’t have any technical advantages over our enemy. We’re just not on the same level there.”
“Of Biden’s confirmed $800 million in support, the most important thing is speed,” he added.
But even as the latest aid has begun to arrive in the region, CNN’s Barbara Starr reported this weekend that there is growing concern about how quickly Ukraine could deplete its ammunition stockpiles in this upcoming battle.
Although the United States announced that it would send 18 155mm Howitzer guns and 40,000 artillery shells as part of its latest aid package, Starr reported that a US official warned that aid could run out in a matter of days as heavy fighting intensifies. in the Donbas.
Given those pressures, U.S. officials need to be clearer in defining their goals and whether the United States is committed to doing what it takes to help Ukraine win, retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of the U.S. Army, said Sunday. United in Europe in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan. ” While the latest round of US aid was “substantial,” he said it was not enough.
“What the Ukrainians desperately need are long-range fires, rockets, artillery, drones that can disrupt or destroy the systems that are causing so much damage in Ukrainian cities, and that will also play a critical role in this next phase when it begins,” Hodges said. “I would like to hear the government talk about winning and have a sense of urgency to get these things in there. Otherwise, this window of opportunity that we have the next two weeks, to disrupt Russia’s attempt to build itself up is going to happen.” .
A “red line” in Mariupol
A critical piece of Russia’s current campaign is capturing the port city of Mariupol to create Putin’s desired land bridge from eastern Ukraine to the Crimean peninsula. The Russian Defense Ministry demanded that Ukrainian soldiers in Mariupol surrender by 1 pm local time on Sunday, but later said in a statement that the ultimatum was ignored.
In its statement, the Russian Defense Ministry said it had surrounded the remaining Ukrainian soldiers and others holding out at the Azovstal steel plant. “In the event of further resistance, all will be eliminated,” the statement said.
An adviser to the mayor of Mariupol said on Sunday that Russian forces had announced that the city would be closed to entry and exit on Monday and that they had begun issuing passes that would be necessary to move within the city itself.
Both Zelensky and Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba framed the fate of Mariupol as another critical turning point in the war, in part because of the human cost of Russia’s relentless bombardment of the city remains unknown.
Zelensky has previously warned that the removal of military forces in Mariupol could stall any peace talks with Russia. This Sunday, Kuleba, the Ukrainian foreign minister, said that it was difficult for his country to continue talks with Russia after the atrocities in Bucha. Russia’s determination to razing Mariupol “at all costs” could become “a red line,” he said during an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation with Margaret Brennan.”
In a chilling admission, Zelensky told Tapper that no one yet knows how many people have died in Mariupol. “If someone gives you a figure, it would be a total lie,” Zelensky said. He added that “several thousand, tens of thousands” were forced to evacuate the city in the direction of Russia, leaving no documentary trace, and that the Ukrainian government does not know where they are.
“About 5,000 children deported from this region to the Russian side because they were not allowed to go to the Ukraine side,” Zelensky said in the interview. “(Those) children. Where are they? No one knows.”
While he said he was still prepared to engage in diplomatic talks with Russia if that opportunity arises, it has become more difficult to do so as he has seen the staggering toll of Putin’s aggression in his country. “What is the price of all this? It is the people. The many people who have been killed,” Zelensky said. “And who ends up paying for all this? It’s Ukraine. Just us.”
Putin’s hardened mentality and the risk that aid will continue to be sent to Ukraine
One of the biggest challenges for the Biden administration and its allies thus far has been determining where Putin’s “red line” lies and how much they can continue to help Ukraine without causing the Russian president to escalate the war, potentially placing the NATO troops in danger.
As the United States prepared to send the $800 million aid package to Ukraine last week, Russia warned in a diplomatic note to the State Department that there would be “unpredictable consequences” if the United States and its allies continue to send the heaviest weaponry that Ukraine seeks.
Military experts interpreted the move as a sign that Russia might consider attacking not only the weapons themselves when they reach Ukrainian soil, but also NATO supply convoys transporting the weapons to Ukraine’s borders.
As world leaders try to figure out what Putin is thinking, and how far he might go in trying to punish nations that help Ukraine, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who met Putin face-to-face last week, said that it was clear that Putin believes he is winning the war and is operating “in his logic of war”.
“(Putin) thinks that the war is necessary for the security guarantees of the Russian Federation. He does not trust the international community. He blames the Ukrainians for the genocide in the Donbas region,” Nehammer said on “Meet the Press” of NBC this Sunday, referring to the fictitious propaganda that Putin has released to justify his acts of aggression against Ukraine. “He is now in his world, but I think he knows what is happening now in Ukraine.”
Given the immense challenges of facing a leader with such a twisted and rigid mindset, Zelensky is trying to persuade world leaders to get more involved in the next phase by warning them that they should be concerned about the possible consequences of Putin’s next steps. , including that he might use a tactical nuclear weapon because he has shown so little respect for human life during his invasion of Ukraine.
Zelensky also issued a challenge to Ukraine’s allies when asked by Tapper if the promise world leaders make each year on Holocaust Remembrance Day, in the refrain “Never again,” now rings hollow given that their efforts so far have not they have managed to stop the atrocities that Russia has inflicted throughout its unprovoked invasion.
“I don’t believe anything,” Zelensky said plainly when asked about that refrain. “Never again. Really? Everyone talks about this and yet, as you can see, not everyone has the guts.”