As its counteroffensive fizzles, Ukraine battles itself, Russia and a shift in the world’s attention

Ukraine is battling more than the Russian army.

After more than 21 months of grueling war, it’s now grasping for the world’s attention in the shadows of the conflict in the Middle East. And with its much-vaunted counteroffensive fizzling into the snow, with little to show for months of planning and billions in allied military support, Kyiv is also beset by growing internal wrangling.

Staring down a long and difficult winter, Ukraine is fighting on multiple fronts.

“There is severe fatigue from the war,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, a Kyiv-based political analyst.

“Many Ukrainians are disappointed that a quick victory was not achieved,” he told NBC News. “But the vast majority of Ukrainians are united in the need to continue resisting Russian aggression.”

The counteroffensive

After successful campaigns to retake territory in eastern and southern Ukraine just over a year ago, Kyiv and its Western allies spent much of the first part of 2023 gearing up for a major counteroffensive.

It was touted by military observers as a potentially decisive campaign to return occupied Ukrainian territories that might even threaten the Kremlin’s hold on the prized Crimean Peninsula, which has been under Russian control since 2014. But since the counteroffensive was launched in June, Ukraine has made only modest gains against heavily fortified Russian defense lines, leaving the war largely deadlocked as the fighting season nears an end.

“We are in what’s called positional warfare, as opposed to maneuver warfare,” said Frank Ledwidge, a former British military intelligence officer and senior lecturer in war studies at England’s University of Portsmouth. “Basically, we are in the First World War situation, where you have two entrenched armies, neither of which is going to be able to break the other.”

Fighting is likely to grind to an even more definitive halt as bitter weather sets in, with a deadly winter storm wreaking havoc in the region last week.

Ukraine’s power grid also remains vulnerable — and Moscow signaled it will likely once again target the country’s energy infrastructure after launching the biggest drone attack on Kyiv since the war began.

Two focal points have emerged in recent weeks.

In the east, there is an ongoing battle for the small town of Avdiivka, which the Kremlin appears intent on capturing at a heavy cost as it pushes to expand its partial control over the industrial Donbas region.

On Friday, Ukraine said the Russians were trying to encircle the town, but its soldiers were “standing their ground.” In a sign of the intensifying battles that have Ukraine on the back foot in the region, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called for faster construction of fortifications in key sectors under pressure from Russian forces, particularly in eastern Ukraine, after he toured the front lines.

Meanwhile, Ukraine has attempted to establish a foothold on the left bank of the Dnieper River in the southern Kherson region, occupied by Russia since the first days of the war.

Russian forces retreated to that side of the river after Ukraine seized back the city of Kherson last year.

The region’s Russian proxy governor said the landing operation has been met with “fiery hell,” but Kyiv has said its troops are maintaining their positions. On Wednesday, Zelenskyy visited troops in the region and received an update on their progress on the left bank, his office said, without elaborating.


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