by Raffaele Crocco

“Stop everyone, we were wrong.” A phrase that seems to dispel fears about the limited results of the Ukrainian counteroffensive on the 79th week of the war since Russia invaded the country. In reality, no one said those words, but it appears to be what NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg is thinking. After weeks of coldness, with whispers in European capitals about the impossibility of the Ukrainians winning the battle and therefore the war, the Secretary-General has reversed course and warned the world that “the Ukrainians are gradually gaining ground, which means they are pushing back the Russians, and it is even more important now to support them”. In an interview with CNN, Stoltenberg explained that “we have seen that the Ukrainians have once again exceeded expectations, and we must remember that it all began last year with the Russian invasion. At that time, experts believed that Ukraine would only resist for a few days or weeks, but they liberated the north, Kyiv, the east, Kharkiv, the southern territory, and Kherson. And now they are making great progress”.

It’s a significant change of course and opinion which appears to be a prelude to new arms and equipment supplies. Meanwhile, the war is shifting and reaching Russia. Four Ilyushin Il-76 strategic transport planes have been damaged at the Russian military airport in Pskov, near the Baltic countries’ border. Ukrainian drones were responsible for the attack. President Zelensky is aware that the Allies are opposed to moving the war onto Russian territory, for fear of escalating the confrontation with Moscow. However, Zelensky assures that he will not use weapons received from the Allies to attack, but will continue to bombard Russian territory. “The war is moving more and more towards Russian territory and cannot be stopped,” says Podolyak, one of his advisers. Moscow was forced to close its airspace. The response was swift: the most massive and extensive bombardment on Kyiv since last spring occurred, and other cities were hit, causing casualties.

Meanwhile, Ukraine continues to stock up on weapons. Germany has transferred another ten Leopard 1 tanks to Kyiv, along with an air surveillance radar, reconnaissance drones, transport trucks, and 13 million rounds of light ammunition. On the other side, the Kremlin is said to have signed a military supply agreement with North Korea.

Arsenals are quickly depleted, destroyed on the battlefields, and need to be replenished as best they can to continue the war. This week, however, it seemed that a crack had opened in the wall of misunderstanding between Kyiv and Moscow.  It was Zelensky, answering a journalist’s question, who opened the rift. “It is preferable and possible to negotiate a political solution for Crimea – the president said – rather than bring it back under Ukrainian control by military force.” Observers saw it as a diplomatic move, particularly in favour of the Allies who had been calling for a window of dialogue to remain open for weeks. This request, as noted above, stems from the difficulties the Ukrainian military offensive is facing. The Washington Post published an article with an explicit title: “Negotiations will be necessary for Ukraine,” citing anonymous officials from the Biden administration officials. The New York Times went further, stating that “the Ukrainian counteroffensive appears destined to fail, with overly ambitious objectives and fruitless strategies.”

Strong words that show that the Alliance front is beginning to face a crisis. This crisis could become significant if the reports coming from Germany are confirmed: the investigation into the attack on the Nord Stream gas pipeline would show the involvement of Ukrainian intelligence services. If confirmed, Berlin’s support for Kyiv could wane, and future supplies of tanks and weapons could vanish into thin air.