Hardly any military expert had illusions that Ukraine’s bid to liberate its territory would be a walk in the park. Many warned ahead of this year’s summer offensive that progress could be slow and the war could turn into a grind.
However, encouraged by Ukraine’s astonishing successes in 2022, many were hoping for another big breakthrough.
This did not happen. Last year, when the Ukrainian army was fighting an overstretched and fragmented Russian war machine, it had the element of surprise on its side. This year, the area of the counter-offensive, towards the Sea of Azov, was telegraphed way in advance, and the means to achieve it were trumpeted via the public haggling between the allies, who fought over who would send which weapon first. Moscow had time to prepare a formidable line of defence.
Not accomplishing the main goal of cutting off Russia’s land bridge to Crimea is a setback that worries many Ukrainian fighters and disheartens some in Europe.
But is it time for despair? No.
Every war has its setbacks. But determined fighters use the lows to rethink, regroup and push harder.
Only this time, I’d advise Ukraine and its allies to show off less about their tanks and missiles, and court more wisdom to provide what is needed to shape a new strategy for a breakthrough, when the next chance comes. I do not doubt Ukraine’s determination. But is Europe equally resolved to defend its principles, and its promise to be there for “as long as it takes”?