by Raffaele Crocco

In this war, time seems to have stopped. There are no winners, only losers. Now, the great Ukrainian counter-offensive has begun, according to reports from the battlefield. The advance is slow, the fighting fierce. Ukraine’s deputy defence minister, Hanna Maliar, has told the press that Kyiv’s soldiers are advancing despite the superiority of the Russian air force and artillery. Russian air superiority has always been a problem for Ukrainian military leaders. On the ground, Kyiv’s soldiers are paying the price. Britain, the United States, Denmark and the Netherlands are sending anti-aircraft systems. Europeans and Americans are strongly considering giving Ukraine the F16 fighter jets that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has long demanded. However, their arrival on the front line would not be immediate: long training periods are needed.

Whatever the case, the Ukrainians are making progress, even if the figures for areas captured recall the tragic minimal advances of the great offensives of the First World War. Ukraine claims an advance of 200 to 500 metres on the Bakhmut front and 300 to 350 metres in Zaporizhzhya. These figures are again from Mailar, who also explains that on the Berdianks front fighting is continuing near the village of Makarivka, while on the Mariupol front fighting is taking place in the districts of Novodanylivka and Novopokrovsk. Minefields are making pushing forward difficult. The Russians – again according to Kyiv – have lost many men and a lot of material: an artillery battery, two electronic warfare systems, an anti-aircraft missile system, a radar system and ten transport vehicles. Moscow, for its part, says that the Ukrainian counteroffensive technically failed and that Russian human and material losses are limited.

International observers say the death toll is high on both sides. And not only the military are dying. The bombing of cities continues. The Russian side has primarily used Kh-101/Kh-555 air cruise missiles and drones. Odesa remains in the crosshairs, but Ukrainians are hitting cities as well: at least 20 rockets reportedly hit Donetsk in recent days. The number of civilians killed and wounded is unknown.

Meanwhile, political skirmishes continue in Moscow between Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin and Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Wagner. Putin has said he favours ‘transferring’ Wagner fighters to regular forces. It’s worth remembering that Wagner played a leading role in the long battle to take Bakhmut, which the Ukrainians fiercely defended. The organisation is also active in many African countries as Moscow’s “operational and armed arm”. This structure so imposing and powerful has thus been clashing with the regular Russian military leadership since the invasion began. Prigozhin made clear that no Wagner would sign contracts with Russia’s defence ministry. “When we started fighting in this war, no one said that we would be obliged to sign an agreement with the Ministry of Defence. No Wagner fighter will sign contracts. When the country was suffering,” he added, “we took to the field and were assured of public assistance, including financial support.

A clear stance that reveals the political difficulties of Moscow’s leadership. The war continues to go wrong. The victory that Putin thought would be certain and easy is not in sight, and the Russian military apparatus, which everyone thought was on the rise and had been greatly improved by 2015, has once again proved incapable of waging a war of conquest. On the other side are the Ukrainians, undoubtedly able to resist almost indefinitely, but far from having the military strength to win the war, despite Zelensky’s declarations. A stalemate that seems eternal, costing hundreds of thousands of lives and the destruction of a country. International diplomacy seems to be working behind the scenes but with very little result. So while Kyiv’s soldiers slowly advance through the minefields and the waters of the destroyed Kakhovka dam recede leaving behind uncultivable land and poisonous fish, the relentless and harsh war continues.