World

UKRAINE UPDATE: 4 APRIL 2024

Putin set on a war of attrition; US House’s vote on Kyiv aid weeks or more away

Putin set on a war of attrition; US House’s vote on Kyiv aid weeks or more away
Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: Contributor / Getty Images)

President Vladimir Putin is determined to grind Ukraine into submission, betting he can outlast Kyiv’s Western backers and claim victory on the battlefield even as Russian troops make only halting progress.

A US House vote on Ukraine aid was not likely until at least mid-April and possibly later, with Speaker Mike Johnson still searching for ways to soften opposition from Republican hardliners, multiple party leadership officials said.

Finland and Ukraine signed a security cooperation agreement in which the Nordic country committed to providing military, political and financial support for 10 years.

Putin plots war of attrition in Ukraine amid manpower challenges

President Vladimir Putin is determined to grind Ukraine into submission, betting he can outlast Kyiv’s Western backers and claim victory on the battlefield even as Russian troops make only halting progress.

Bolstered by a new six-year term in power and attempting to blame Kyiv for Russia’s worst terror attack in two decades, Putin was committed to pursuing his war goals after a tentative diplomatic outreach to the US late last year came to nothing, said four people familiar with the Kremlin’s military strategy.

US officials have said they saw no indication the Russian president was serious late last year about looking for a way to end the fighting, and have rejected the idea of ceasefire talks without Ukraine.

“Putin’s likely to escalate now,” said Alexei Mukhin, head of the Moscow-based Centre for Political Information, which provides consultancy services for the presidential administration. “His goal is victory.”

With Russia far short of the manpower needed for a decisive breakthrough, and Ukraine struggling to supply its forces with munitions, there’s no sign either side can compel an end to the fighting any time soon. Since winning last month’s election, Putin has stepped up missile barrages at Ukrainian cities, saying he’s not interested in giving Ukraine and its allies time to re-arm if he agrees to a pause in the fighting.

Russia plans to form two new combined armies, 14 divisions and 16 brigades by the end of this year, according to Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu. So far, the military has been expanding its ranks by attracting recruits with the promise of generous pay and aims to enlist at least 250,000 more soldiers in 2024.

Ukraine faces mounting challenges. President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a bill on Tuesday to lower the age of wartime conscription to 25 from 27 as his military seeks to replenish its depleted ranks.

Having failed to achieve a breakthrough in last year’s counteroffensive, Ukrainian forces are now wrestling with increasingly severe ammunition shortages as Republicans in the US Congress hold up a $60-billion military aid package.

Russia has seized the opportunity to mount attacks across the front line after it took the strategic eastern town of Avdiivka in February. So far, it has made only local advances, though Zelensky warned in a Washington Post interview last week that delays in US assistance mean “we will go back, retreat, step by step”.

US House’s Ukraine war aid vote is likely weeks or more away

A US House vote on Ukraine aid was not likely until at least mid-April and possibly later, with Speaker Mike Johnson still searching for ways to soften opposition from Republican hardliners, multiple party leadership officials said.

Johnson raised expectations for quick action in a Fox News interview on Sunday, saying the House would move forward with Ukraine assistance “right away” when legislators return next week from their two-week Easter break.

Zelensky is pleading for swift approval of more US aid as stepped-up Russian missile strikes hit Ukrainian cities and energy infrastructure and shortages of artillery shells leave the country’s front-line forces out-gunned by as much as six to one.

Johnson’s team hasn’t shared any detailed plan on the aid package with Republican legislators and appears not to have settled on what concessions he would insist on from the Biden administration, making it difficult for him to muster support in time for a vote next week, the party officials said. 

In the Fox News interview, the Speaker indicated he would attach new conditions to the aid. Those conditions might include converting assistance into a loan Ukraine would eventually be obliged to repay, seizing Russian assets as an offset and overturning a Biden administration freeze on new licences to export liquefied natural gas, Johnson said.

The Biden administration on Tuesday dismissed a deal for Ukraine aid contingent on lifting the LNG export licence freeze.  

Johnson spokesman Taylor Haulsee said the Speaker’s promise of quick action wasn’t intended to convey a specific deadline and that Johnson was “sounding out members” from across the party on a plan. Haulsee declined to further describe the Speaker’s consultations.  

Finland signs cooperation deal with Ukraine for long-term aid

Finland and Ukraine signed a security cooperation agreement in which the Nordic country committed to providing military, political and financial support for 10 years.

Finland’s security commitments involve “comprehensive support” to Ukraine’s right of self-defence in the ongoing war as well as deterrence of future aggression from Russia, according to a statement on Wednesday from the office of President Alexander Stubb. 

Finland also announced its 23rd aid package to Ukraine worth €188-million, bringing the total value of military support close to €2-billion since the war started. The package consists of “mostly military aid and does include air defence and heavy ammunition”, Stubb told reporters at a joint press conference in Kyiv with Zelensky.

Moscow is outpacing Ukraine’s allies in the race for ammunition

Ukraine and its allies are losing the race to secure the ammunition Kyiv needs to hold off Russian attacks.

The flow of Western military aid into Ukraine has tailed off dramatically, according to officials from allied nations familiar with the latest on the front line, and some Ukrainian guns are firing just a single round a day to preserve their dwindling stocks.

That’s set allies scrambling to try to maintain the flow of supplies to Ukraine by scouring for shells around the world. But with these initiatives slow to get off the ground, it’s unclear whether they will yield enough in the short term to keep Ukraine’s front line stable. 

“We have no time to waste,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said in an email to Bloomberg. “Long-term commitments are important, but it is also a fact of war that the side who has the most ammunition will win.”  

Zelensky’s allies are increasingly concerned that a summer offensive by the Russians could break through Ukraine’s defences, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. 

Russian forces are now launching seven times as many shells as their opponents, they added. That’s more than double the rate in late January, when Kyiv warned allies it was being outgunned three-to-one. 

Russia is expected to produce or refurbish around 4.5 million shells this year, according to Estonian Defence Ministry estimates. That’s in addition to the ammunition it’s getting from North Korea and Iran. 

By contrast, the EU is set to produce only 1.4 million shells in 2024 and as many as two million next year. The US is working to produce 1.2 million shells by the end of 2025, but that effort also depends on Congress passing the aid package. European firms are collaborating with Ukrainian companies to ramp up domestic production, but that effort will also take time to bear fruit.

Ukraine’s shell supply wouldn’t necessarily need to match Russia’s given the modern weapons systems it’s using are more precise than Russia’s, according to officials familiar with the situation on the battlefield, but they do need to get closer. Even bumping up Ukraine’s rate to three shells for every seven fired by Russia would make a major difference, one of them said.

Once US and European production ramps up later this year and next, Kyiv’s supplies should start to stabilise, Western officials say. But the major problem is bridging the gap until then. 

A Czech-led plan to buy hundreds of thousands of shells, including from outside the EU, should begin to reap results in June. While that’s still weeks away, the hope is that it at least gives Ukrainian forces the confidence to expend more ammunition now. 

Ukraine tackles gambling addiction within its military ranks

Ukrainian authorities will seek ways to curb gambling addiction among troops as concerns mount that the gaming activity saps morale and poses a security risk. 

A petition filed by a Ukrainian serviceman pointed to the dangers of troops — often whiling away long hours outside of combat — spending chunks of their monthly wage on online gambling platforms on their mobile phones. Military personnel on the front can earn some 100,000 hryvnia ($2,500) per month, five times the average salary in Ukraine.

The document, filed by a serviceman identifying himself as Pavlo Petrychenko of the 59th brigade, paints a portrait of Ukrainian soldiers spending their earnings on gambling, taking out loans to cover debt — and at times pawning military equipment, such as drones and thermal cameras, to meet payments. 

“For many of them, gambling is becoming the only way to deal with stress, quickly causing dopamine addiction and eroding self-discipline,” Petrychenko wrote in the petition, which collected the required 25,000 signatures to be considered. 

Zelensky said he met top security officials to discuss the front-line gambling issue. 

“We are preparing the appropriate steps, which will add necessary control over the industry and will help safeguard the interests of society properly,” Zelensky said late on Tuesday in his regular televised address. He didn’t elaborate on what measures the government was considering. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Is the US actually too weak to support Ukraine and their own best interests? Damn, I thought they were a super power.

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