- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Russia pounded the port cities of Mariupol and Odesa with missile strikes Tuesday while Ukrainian forces launched a fierce counteroffensive to the north and reportedly pushed Russian troops back toward their border as the two sides reached what U.S. intelligence officials said could be a prolonged “stalemate” that lasts for months or even years.

The developments across multiple fronts in Ukraine seemingly did little to change the broader trajectory of the war, which is nearing its third month and has claimed thousands of lives, shaken the global economy and caused international energy prices to skyrocket. Russian forces remain laser-focused on capturing full control of the disputed Donbas region but have met stiff resistance from Ukrainian fighters, including about 2,000 troops holed up inside a sprawling steel plant in Mariupol.

Farther north in Kharkiv, Ukrainian officials said, a counteroffensive pushed back enemy forces, potentially opening lanes for Ukrainian strikes on Russian supply lines to the Donbas.

Top Ukrainian officials suggested that they not only want to defeat the Russian offensive but also want to reclaim all Ukrainian territory. Those comments indicate that Ukraine, buoyed by its battlefield successes, wants to retake full control of Crimea, which Russian troops forcibly annexed in 2014 and have occupied ever since.

U.S. officials acknowledged that Ukraine has significant advantages in key facets of the war, most notably troop morale. They also warned that neither side appears capable of winning any decisive victories, meaning the conflict could drag on indefinitely.

“The Russians aren’t winning and the Ukrainians aren’t winning, and we’re at a bit of a stalemate,” Army Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on global threats.

SEE ALSO: U.S. intelligence sees stalemate in Ukraine war; Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling to intensify

Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, testifying with the three-star general, said Russian forces have been struggling to take over Ukraine since the campaign began Feb. 24 and are regrouping to focus on battles in the eastern part of the country.

“The Russians met with more resistance from Ukraine than they expected, and their own military performance revealed a number of significant internal challenges, forcing them to adjust their initial military objectives, fall back from Kyiv and focus on Donbas,” she said.

Ms. Haines said intelligence analysts do not think the battle in Donbas will end the conflict because Russian President Vladimir Putin is determined to drag out the fighting. His ultimate goal appears to be control of the entire country.

“We assess President Putin is preparing for a prolonged conflict in Ukraine during which he intends to achieve his goals beyond Donbas,” she said.

Expanding Russian control of key areas of eastern Ukraine is “increasingly unlikely” in the coming weeks. With Ukrainian forces unlikely to prevail, the conflict is evolving into a war of attrition, Ms. Haines said.

Gen. Berrier also described the conflict as “attrition warfare” that is more advantageous to the Ukrainian military.

SEE ALSO: Putin mum on Russia’s failures in Ukraine during WWII Victory Day parade

“I think the Ukrainians have it right in terms of grit and the defense of their nation,” he said, adding that Russian military conscripts brought in from remote regions do not have the same fighting spirit.

That fighting spirit seems to be paying dividends. Having defeated Russia’s campaign to take the capital city of Kyiv, Ukrainian troops have pushed enemy troops away from Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city. Russian troops had been positioned on the outskirts of the city since the early days of the war.

“The military operations of the Ukrainian armed forces around Kharkiv, especially north and northeast of Kharkiv, are sort of a success story,” Yuriy Saks, an adviser to Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, told Reuters.

“The Ukrainian army was able to push these war criminals to a line beyond the reach of their artillery,” he said.

Russian forces have had more modest success in the Donbas region but have yet to seize Mariupol after weeks of intense bombardment. Capturing the city would give Russia a land bridge from the Donbas to the Crimean Peninsula, allowing it to link its forces in the two regions and establish a larger base of operations and more secure supply lines.

Ukrainian officials said Russia launched at least 34 strikes on Mariupol’s Azovstal steel plant on Tuesday alone. Russian forces also targeted Odesa, a strategically vital port city that is a major thoroughfare for Ukrainian food and supply shipments.

The Russians attacked a day after Mr. Putin marked Victory Day, commemorating the end of World War II, with a full-throated defense of his war in Ukraine. He stopped short of declaring any victories in the conflict and did not offer a formal declaration of war, which would have given the Russian government more legal footing to institute a draft to replenish its ranks.

Instead, Mr. Putin cast the war in historical terms and accused the West of a deep bias against Russia.

“Danger was increasing every day. Russia repelled this aggression in a preventive way. This was the only correct decision, and it was a timely decision — the decision of an independent, sovereign and powerful nation,” Mr. Putin said.

By most accounts, Mr. Putin expected a quick victory. Instead, he met a resilient Ukrainian military equipped with U.S.-made Javelin anti-tank missiles and other cutting-edge weaponry.

Ukrainian officials now seem to be setting their sights higher than simply repelling Mr. Putin’s invasion. In an interview with the Financial Times, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba seemed to suggest that his country believes it can push Russia out of the Donbas entirely and may even be capable of recapturing Crimea.

“In the first months of the war, the victory for us looked like withdrawal of Russian forces to the positions they occupied before Feb. 24 and payment for inflicted damage,” he said. “Now, if we are strong enough on the military front and we win the battle for Donbas, which will be crucial for the following dynamics of the war, of course the victory for us in this war will be the liberation of the rest of our territories.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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