In the seventeenth week of Russia’s war against Ukraine, Kyiv is poised to become a candidate for the European Union, marking another step away from Russia’s sphere of influence.
Earlier this week, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed into law the Istanbul Convention on the Prevention of Violence against Women, as part of a broader diplomatic effort to secure unanimous Ukraine’s bid ahead of the EU summit, which will take place on Thursday and Friday.
“Every day we show that we are already in the orbit of European values,” Zelenskyy said, as the European Commission described Ukraine as “well advanced in achieving stability of the institutions that guarantee democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities”.
Key EU members Germany, France and Italy have already said they will back Ukraine’s bid.
“The [EU candidacy] The status has mainly a symbolic political character, which underlines that Ukraine belongs to Europe, it does not belong to the Russian world as Russia wanted… so it has political weight,” said Panayotis Ioakeimidis, a professor of European politics at the University of Athens.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, citing security concerns over NATO’s invasion of former Soviet territory, Ukraine has downplayed its NATO aspirations in favor of Europe’s.
It formally applied for EU membership four days after the invasion. Two weeks later, Zelenskyy told European leaders that he did not believe NATO membership was a real prospect for Ukraine.
“We have heard for many years about open doors, but we also heard that we cannot enter through those doors. This is the truth, and we just have to accept it as it is,” he told EU leaders in a video conference.
A June Rating Group poll among Ukrainians showed high support for both institutions: 76 percent for NATO membership and 87 percent for EU membership.
Both NATO and the EU are poised to expand as a result of Russia’s war. EU members Finland and Sweden applied to join NATO in May. Their candidatures will be put to a vote at the NATO summit in Madrid at the end of the month.
Russia seeks gains on the ground
Meanwhile, Russia is pushing for battlefield victories that would tarnish these Western political triumphs.
Ukrainian intelligence suggests that Russian forces do a drive to take all of Severdonetsk and neighboring Lysychansk, Ukraine’s easternmost free cities, by June 26.
Ukraine continued to thwart those efforts last week, despite being outscored by a factor of at least 10 to one.
An estimated 2,500 defenders remained in possession of the Azot chemical plant in Severdonetsk, which makes up a third of the city.
Following the fall of Mariupol, the battle has become a new symbol of the tenacity and superior tactics that have allowed Ukraine to hold off its better-armed and wealthier neighbor for four months.
However, sinister events have occurred further south, which may decide the fate of Severdonetsk and Lysychansk.
The Russian mercenaries, supposedly from the Wagner Group, seem willing to isolate the entire theater of operations from vital logistics lines. On June 15 they took over the Vrubivke settlement, pushing back the Ukrainian defenses 10 km (6 mi) from the critical Bakhmut-Lysychansk highway.
Another boost came on June 21, when Russian forces seized Mykolaivka and were fighting for Yakovlivka and Bilohorivka, all along the road.
The Ukrainian defenders still have other supply lines, but Russia is closing in. Ukraine’s defense minister says it desperately needs more heavy weapons.
That same day there was more bad news for Ukraine. Russian forces seized a number of villages 10 km from Lysychansk. The Russian advance forms a stringer moving west and threatens a close encirclement of the Lysychansk-Severdonetsk front.
These Russian successes have come at a high cost. The battle for Severdonetsk began in earnest at the end of May and has absorbed some 10,000 Russian soldiers using a huge amount of artillery.
During that month, Ukraine advanced towards the Russian border north of Kharkiv and put Russian forces on the defensive in Kherson. The latest counterattack has been on the Snake Island garrison in the Black Sea, which Russia has been fortifying.
Lacking Russia’s firepower, Ukraine has fired at strategic targets that have an asymmetric effect on Russia’s combat capability. For example, his Marine Brigade Mikhaylo Bilynsky says it destroyed a Russian command and observation post in Kherson on June 20, while the Vytautas Artillery Brigade said it destroyed a Russian command post in Kharkiv the same day.
The next day, the Ukrainian Center for Strategic Communications reported that a number of Russian command posts are moving away from the front.
“The Russian command understands that now its [command posts] they are in danger at a depth of up to 30 km from the front line. Of course, this will only negatively affect the management of the troops,” says the ministry.
That management has been lacking.
If Ukrainian intelligence reports are accurate, Russian President Vladimir Putin is so unhappy with the performance of his commanders that he is rotating top commanders in Kherson and Rosguard, the Russian National Guard.
“Such drastic rotations within the Russian military, if true, are not actions taken by a force on the verge of great success and indicate continued dysfunction in the Kremlin’s conduct of the war,” the Institute for the Study of War said. based in the USA (ISW).
Among the bases, Russian losses have been high.
Ukraine estimates them at 34,100. More recently, Russia is reportedly consolidating two battalion tactical groups from the 5th General Army because they have lost combat capability. He has also reportedly withdrawn the army from separatist forces in the Donbas to restore their combat readiness.
The British Ministry of Defense reports that Russia is continuing its war in the east with “increasingly ad hoc and severely undermanned units” advancing on foot.
Low Russian morale is making recruiting work difficult. Ukraine’s military intelligence released what it says are transcripts of conversations between Russian soldiers.
“There were between 10 and 25 people left in the companies,” says one. A company normally consists of five dozen to 10 dozen soldiers.
“Even if you come now as platoon commanders, you don’t have anyone to work with. There are no sappers or crews. There are no leaders. We are already so morally murdered.”
Other published conversations recount efforts to be sent home from the front lines or complaints about hospital treatment in Russia. An intercept revealed that Russia is bringing in units from Sakhalin Island in the Pacific, to fight for a period of six months without rotation.
“The Russian military is offering substantial financial incentives to secure additional recruits increasingly without regard to their age, health, criminal record and other established service qualifications,” says ISW.
A bbc report agrees, saying conscripts were sent to the front lines with a week or less of training.
Ukrainian morale, on the other hand, remains high. A Rating Group poll of Ukrainians showed 93 percent believe they will prevail against Russia, with two-thirds preparing for at least another six months of war.
What support from Europe?
The question is, what support will Ukraine receive from its Western family members?
“The clear victory that Ukraine is seeking, and is mainly supported by London and Washington, is to expel the last Russian soldier from every square foot of Ukrainian land, including Crimea and Donbas,” Ioakeimidis said.
Russia occupied Donbas and Crimea in early 2014, before launching a full-scale invasion on February 24 this year.
Since then, the UK, Poland and the Baltic states have seen Ukraine’s war of independence as Europe’s war of empowerment, while France and Germany have taken a more cautious approach.
“Returning to pre-24 February borders is acceptable for old Europe, but expelling the Russians entirely is what divides the allies… If Russia is expelled from Crimea and Donbas, that is a humiliation that could lead to a nuclear war,” Ioakeimidis said. “It is impossible.”