The coming battle for the east of Ukraine would be reminiscent of World War II, involving large-scale operations and thousands of tanks and artillery pieces.
As Russia refocuses its invasion of Ukraine on the east, recognition is growing in Kyiv and allied capitals that there is a narrow window to prevent the nation’s partition and a long war of attrition.
Ukraine’s military stalled the advance of Russian troops with a combination of urban warfare and attacks on supply lines, which caused a withdrawal on the Russian side.
Taking the fight to open battlefields will require more than just the light anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles the U.S. and Europe have supplied. To roll back, or even contain a grinding advance by reinforced Russian units across the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions is a hard task ahead.
When asked what he was requesting, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said “Planes, shore-to-vessel missiles, personnel armored vehicles, heavy air-defense systems,” before meeting with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization counterparts in Brussels on Thursday.
“Either you help us now, and I’m speaking about days not weeks, or your help will come too late and many people will die,” Kuleba said. He didn’t doubt Ukraine would receive the arms it needs, he said, but the question is the timeline.
Six weeks after Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of neighboring Ukraine, the war is entering a new phase, one that may allow Ukraine just weeks to procure and deploy those weapons.
That’s how long it’s likely to take Russia to reconstitute units for a major assault in the east, adding what areas of the Donbas region remain in Ukrainian hands to a swathe of territory it already holds. With that achieved, Russian forces could dig in for a long and destabilizing war to force an eventual settlement, imposing a heavy toll on Ukraine, as well as steep costs for Europe’s economy and for Russia itself.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said after Thursday’s meeting: “Allies should do more and are ready to do more to provide more equipment, and they realize and recognize the urgency, this war may last for weeks, but also months and possibly also for years.”
The exposure of alleged Russian war crimes against civilians in reclaimed towns has given fresh impetus to U.S., U.K. and European Union sanctions against Russia. The EU on Thursday agreed to ban imports of Russian coal, and discussions of potential oil and natural gas embargoes are likely to follow.
Sanctions have had no discernible impact on Putin’s invasion plans to date, so the focus is growing on weapons capable of evening the balance on the ground in what U.K. Armed Forces Minister James Heappey described in a statement Thursday as “this next phase of the conflict.”
NATO has refused to send in troops to Ukraine or supply it with aircraft citing the risk of sparking a wider conflict with Russia.
“While Berlin has time, Kyiv doesn’t,” said Kuleba who singled out Germany, welcoming Berlin’s seismic shift to provide arms at all, but criticizing its slow pace.