by Raffaele Crocco
A soldier says: “We thought the Russians would flee when we got there. But no, they didn’t”. The front line along the Dnipro River remains hot. The Ukrainians are trying to create a bridgehead, bringing everything they need in boats: generators, materials, food. “I saw my comrades disappearing into the river,” the young Ukrainian continues, “hit by Russian artillery. The Russians knew that the Kyiv forces were coming. They prepared themselves. They held their positions and pounded the Ukrainian trenches with everything they had: cannons, rockets, flamethrowers.
A deadly stalemate – as one Ukrainian commander even called it – that was beginning to resemble the events of the First World War. The two forces on the field are now evenly matched, and neither is gaining the upper hand. In the 93rd week since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this is the military picture. Nothing new. The carnage continues and Kyiv in particular is suffering, throwing all its human resources into the war of resistance against the Russian occupiers. Moscow, too, is short of men, so much so that it has increased the size of its armed forces by 170,000 men in the coming months. The number of people at the Kremlin’s disposal has been set at 2,209,130, including 1,320,000 military personnel. The decree that led to the increase explained that this was due to ‘the growing threat of the war in Ukraine and increasingly tense relations with NATO’.
Meanwhile, soldiers are dying at the front. In the cities, Ukrainian civilians are also suffering and dying, driven out into the cold by Russian strategy. Electricity and thermal power stations are being systematically attacked in order to break the Ukrainian will to resist. On the night of 6-7 November alone, almost 50 drones were reportedly launched over Ukraine, 41 of which were shot down by defence systems.
A situation that is obviously causing political tension both inside and outside Ukraine. The mayor of Kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, is becoming the biggest critic of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. In a long public speech, he said: “People are wondering why we were not better prepared for this war, why Zelensky denied until the end that it would happen, or why the Russians managed to reach Kiev so quickly. There was too much information that did not correspond to reality. A harsh attack, a hanging bill,” Klitschko added, “for which someone will have to pay sooner or later: the president today has an important function, and we must support him until the end of the war. But at the end of this war, every politician will pay for his successes or failures”.
Political tensions that do not seem to affect Putin. Escorted by four SU-35C fighter jets, the Kremlin leader flew first to the Arab Emirates and then to Saudi Arabia to talk business and oil. There are two interesting elements to be gleaned from this. The first is that the escort jets have been given permission to fly over a number of countries. This is a clear sign that Russia – contrary to what much of the European and US press claims – is anything but an isolated country and enjoys such good relations that its military aircraft can fly over foreign countries. Second consideration: Putin is not worried about the ICC arrest warrant and has resumed travelling abroad, at least to countries that have not joined the court.
Putin’s show of strength comes at a time when President Biden in the United States is battling Republicans in Congress. They are opposed to providing new military aid to Kyiv, and the funds available will run out in December. A new commitment is needed, and the head of the White House is in trouble. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Republicans against cutting military and humanitarian funds: “We would be responsible for the defeat of Ukraine”.
The G7, the meeting of the most industrialised countries allied to the US, provided a platform. The leaders of the organisation said they were “determined to support an independent and democratic Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders and to assist Ukraine in developing President Zelensky’s peace formula”. It is a position officially supported by the European Union, but one that has to contend with the announced defections of Hungary and Slovakia.