by Raffaele Crocco

It is hard to know what’s going on. Ukrainians and Russians agree on at least one thing these days: to keep journalists away from the front line. History is left to the words of the General Staff and the few testimonies that a few tenacious reporters manage to gather as they approach the battlefield from side roads. In any case, it is little. Too little to get a real picture out of the official reports.

President Zelenskyi, speaking to the BBC, half-heartedly admitted that ‘the liberation of the occupied territories is slow, at least compared to what was expected’. The Ukrainian command says it has liberated nine settlements, with progress in the Azov Sea area, Melitopol and Berdyansk. The reality is that the advance along the Mariupol route seems to have stalled. And the other truth is that the Russians maintain air superiority. The K-52 Alligator helicopters enable them to bomb Ukrainian tanks, the Leopard2 and the Bradley given by Europe and the UK. So, in addition to the historic demand for F-16 fighter planes, which the US and NATO have yet to grant, Zelenskyi has now added the demand for Apache attack helicopters.

This battlefield, it would seem, is once again demonstrating a truth that for various reasons nobody wants to admit: a military victory by either side is now unlikely. The risk of an endless war, of perpetual attrition, is becoming a real possibility. A logic that excludes any form of negotiation. The European leaders are still betting on Ukraine’s possible accession to NATO. This is a choice that at this point seems to be inflammatory. It is mainly the European countries in the region, Estonia and Poland, that are pushing for it. They are convinced that Russian aggression cannot end with Ukraine. Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna (below, in an official photo), at the end of a bilateral meeting with his Polish counterpart Jaroslaw Rau, reiterated the need to “clearly demonstrate the will to accelerate Ukraine’s path to Alliance membership”. It will be important to give a clear signal at the July summit. Tsahkna also called on the international community to make Russia pay for its crimes and to allow the reconstruction of Ukraine by unfreezing Russian funds blocked by sanctions. These ideas were supported by Polish minister Rau, who added that ‘Kyiv’s membership of NATO is in our national strategic interest’.

Ideas gathered in London at the Conference for the Recovery and Reconstruction of Ukraine. Experts say it will take at least €52 billion just to tackle the environmental problem and make Ukraine habitable: unofficial figures speak of at least 2 million mines on the ground. The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, spoke of the instrument the Union is setting up to help Kyiv between now to 2027. The funds would come from “transfers from the EU budget, loans financed by issuing securities on the capital markets and, finally, revenues from Russian assets”. A final proposal will be ready by the summer break, but in the meantime, other countries have already put their aid packages on the table.

Putin’s immediate response to the international outcry was the very real threat of using the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missiles.  It is a strong response from the Kremlin chief, but as so often of late, it has been met with ‘counter-propaganda’ from Eugeny Prigozhin, head of the private militia Wagner. In recent days, he has declared that “vast territories have been occupied by the Ukrainians”. “The Russians will wake up one day and realise that Crimea is Ukrainian. This is a betrayal of the interests of the Russian Federation.”