Zelensky Lacks Strategy for Lost Ukrainian Territories as Russian Forces Maintain Advantage

Ukraine faces troop and firepower shortages against Russia, despite US aid. Zelensky warns of retreat without promised US weapons. Outcome of this war will shape Europe's future balance of power.

Ebenezer Mensah
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Zelensky Lacks Strategy for Lost Ukrainian Territories as Russian Forces Maintain Advantage

Zelensky Lacks Strategy for Lost Ukrainian Territories as Russian Forces Maintain Advantage

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is facing doubts from U.S. officials about his plan for retaking territories lost to Russia, as Russian forces continue to hold an advantage in manpower and equipment, according to a report by the Washington Post. Despite Zelensky's calls for more air defense systems from Western partners, U.S. officials believe he lacks a clear strategy for regaining control of the occupied territories.

Russian forces are intensifying efforts to destabilize Ukrainian defenses and gain ground before the arrival of U.S. military assistance. They aim to use ongoing offensive operations and missile strikes to prepare the battlefield for a large-scale offensive in late May or June. While Russian forces may make further tactical breakthroughs in the coming weeks, they are unlikely to overrun Ukraine entirely.

The Russian military is still characterized by old equipment and poorly trained soldiers, and has not significantly improved since the start of the invasion. However, Russian forces are leveraging their temporary relative advantages in equipment and manpower to place consistent and increasing pressure on Ukrainian forces. Their reliance on mass and tactical innovations, such as the use of glide bombs, will likely allow them to achieve tactical advances against Ukrainian forces this summer, even as the arrival of Western aid strengthens Ukraine's capabilities.

Why this matters: The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has far-reaching implications for regional stability and global geopolitics. The outcome of this war will shape the future balance of power in Europe and the relationship between Russia and the West.

Ukraine is facing acute troop shortages and a firepower disadvantage against Russia, despite the influx of U.S. weapons and aid. The U.S. is taking a two-tiered approach to helping Ukraine, with immediate drawdowns of existing stockpiles and long-term sustainment through new weapon purchases. However, most U.S. officials believe Zelensky faces no clear military course to regaining the 20% of Ukraine that Russia now occupies.

In December 2023, Zelensky told U.S. officials that Ukrainian forces could hold out until March or April 2024 without additional U.S. security assistance. That period has now passed without the arrival of U.S. military aid, which is expected to allow Ukrainian forces to address their current material constraints and blunt ongoing Russian offensive operations in the coming weeks.

The delay in the arrival of long-range ATACMS missiles from the U.S. may have provided the Russian military time to offset the potential operational impacts. The Kremlin is also conducting a concerted air and information operation to destroy Kharkiv City, convince Ukrainians to flee, and internally displace millions of Ukrainians ahead of a possible future Russian offensive operation against the city or elsewhere in Ukraine.

Zelensky has warned that if Ukraine does not receive promised U.S. military aid, its forces will have to retreat 'in small steps' due to shortages of munitions and equipment like air defense systems and artillery. Ukraine is making up for these shortages with home-produced weaponry, but it is not enough. The front lines have changed little in months, with Russian forces capturing the eastern town of Avdiivka and making small gains.

Key Takeaways

  • Zelensky faces doubts from US officials on his plan to retake Russian-occupied territories.
  • Russia aims to intensify offensives before arrival of US military aid to Ukraine.
  • Russia leverages advantages in equipment and manpower to pressure Ukrainian forces.
  • Ukraine faces troop shortages and firepower disadvantage despite US weapons and aid.
  • Delay in US long-range missile delivery may have allowed Russia to offset their impact.