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Ukraine war at turning point with rapid escalation of conflict

In just over a month, the war in Ukraine has abruptly changed from a grueling, largely static artillery battle expected to last into winter, to a rapidly escalating multi-level conflict that is affecting the strategies of the United States, Ukraine and Russia. has put the test.

The Russian launch of massive attacks on civilian infrastructure Monday in nearly a dozen Ukrainian cities far from the front lines sparked shock and outrage. The strikes, which Secretary of State Antony Blinken described as “wave after wave of rockets”, hit “playgrounds and public parks” for children, killing at least 14 and injuring nearly 100, and cutting electricity and water across much of the country. interrupted.

“By launching rocket attacks on civilians sleeping in their homes or rushing to children going to school, Russia has once again proved that it is a terrorist state that must be deterred in the strongest possible ways,” said Ukraine’s ambassador to the United Nations. United Nations, Sergiy Kyslytsya, during the meeting. opening of a session of the General Assembly scheduled for the attack, to further the worldwide condemnation of Moscow.

Russia attacks Kiev and cities across Ukraine after attack on Crimean Bridge

The attacks were the latest of many breath-taking events — from Ukrainian victories on the ground to the threat of the use of nuclear weapons by Russian President Vladimir Putin — that have changed the nature and pace of the war in recent weeks, prompting the question raised whether the United States and its partners may need to go beyond the concept of helping Ukraine defend itself, and instead more vigorously facilitate a Ukrainian victory.

So far, US delivery efforts have been deliberate and process-oriented in the type of weapons it supplies and the speed at which it delivers them, so as not to undermine the top priority of avoiding a direct clash between Russia and the West. That strategy is likely to be part of the agenda at Tuesday’s emergency meeting of G7 leaders, and a meeting of NATO defense ministers later in the week.

US officials remain cautious about hasty moves. “Turning points in war are usually points of danger,” said a senior official in the Biden administration, one of several US and Ukrainian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss policy deliberations. “You can’t predict what’s around the corner.”

Russian leaders have named their own turning point. Viktor Bondarev, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Russia’s Upper House, wrote in a Telegram post on Monday that the strikes marked the beginning of “a new phase” of what the Kremlin is. “special military operation” in Ukraine, with more “resolute” action ahead.

Putin, speaking to his security council early on Monday, said the attacks were in retaliation for what he called Ukrainian “terrorism,” including the weekend explosion of the strategic Crimean bridge, a crucial logistical route for the Russian occupying forces in southern Ukraine.

The destruction of the bridge, for which Ukraine has only indirectly claimed responsibility, came after a steady stream of Ukrainian gains backing both Kiev and its Western supporters. In a surprising counter-offensive that began in early September, Ukrainian forces recaptured more than 1,000 square miles of Russian-occupied territory in the northeast, followed by other gains in the south.

Putin’s dream bridge explodes in flames

The Ukrainian victories, along with ongoing reports of ill-equipped Russian soldiers with low morale fleeing the attack, abandoning equipment and leaving their dead, brought public criticism of war behavior from within Russia, including from some high-ranking Putin advisers. Within days, Putin had called for the military mobilization of up to 300,000 civilians to bolster his failing forces. The humiliation was compounded by a chaotic execution and the flight of hundreds of thousands of military old men across neighboring borders.

In what was widely interpreted as referring to nuclear weapons, Putin threatened to use “all available means” to defend the Russian-occupied territory, even as he moved to annex four Ukrainian regions. “I would like to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction … and when the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, to protect Russia and our people, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal,” he said on 10 September. 21. “This is not a bluff.”

The mobilization and nuclear threats, the senior government official said, were “signs of two things: Putin knows how badly he is doing. … That used to be a question mark.”

“Two, it’s definitely a sign he’s doubling down. That we are not close to the end, and not close to negotiations. Those realities are not much comfort to anyone here,” the official said.

Winter is approaching in Ukraine — and a battle for stamina awaits

Rose Gottemoeller, a former senior State Department official on arms control and non-proliferation issues, and former NATO Deputy Secretary General, said: “The use of nuclear weapons is a dead end. It shows the ultimate failure of [Putin’s] policy if he is somehow pushed into that corner,” Gottemoeller said. “It’s the last roll of the dice”, thinking that “somehow… everyone will panic and all their supporters will force the Ukrainians to request peace… I don’t see that happening. “

“I think we need to take these threats very, very seriously,” she said.

With Monday’s strikes in Ukraine, Putin was clearly trying to regain the initiative, but also to strengthen the image of a united strategy and leadership. In his Security Council remarks, reported by Russian media, he said the missile strike was designed and recommended by his “Defense Ministry, in accordance with the plan of the Russian General Staff.” He referred in particular to the role of Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, whose absence in recent days had sparked speculation that he had been fired.

Ukraine, for its part, has long combined its deep gratitude for Western arms aid with demands to provide more and more advanced supplies. The counter-offensive on the ground sparked calls for battle tanks to enter disputed territory, which the United States and its allies have refused to send. This week, Kiev placed new urgency on advanced air defense systems.

A Ukrainian official, citing a list provided by the senior military command, said Ukraine’s priority items are the Patriot surface-to-air missile system, MIM-23 Hawk missiles, attack drones and NASAMS (National Advance Surface-to-Air Missile Systems). ) are as well as Israeli air defense systems.

Ukraine’s pleas found new resonance in some parts of Washington after Monday’s attacks, with senior Democrats in particular demanding that Biden act more quickly to supply Ukraine. “I am appalled by Russia’s vicious and desperate escalation against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, including in Kiev,” Robert Menendez (DN.J.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement. “I promise to use all means at my disposal to accelerate support for the people of Ukraine and starve the Russian war machine.”

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), a former senior CIA and Pentagon official, tweeted that the need for air defense is “urgent given the scale of these attacks. Offering these systems is a defensive – not escalating – step, and our European friends must act with us to give the Ukrainians what they need.”

But there were initially few signs that the government intends to change the relatively lengthy approval process by which it decides which weapons to send to Ukraine, and when. The trial includes a US analysis, based on its own reporting of battlefield conditions, of what Ukraine needs, a senior US defense official said, and “second, do we have that stuff?”

“Third, do they already know how to use it? If not, what is our plan to train them? Fourth, how are they going to maintain the stuff? Keep in the field? To maintain? Fix it? Spare parts? …If we can’t do those things, who of our allies and partners can?” the defense official said.

Once those questions are answered, the request and recommendation will be vetted for comments and concerns from other government departments with shares in the decision before going to the White House, where President Biden will make a final decision.

Once the decision is made, deliveries can take place within days for equipment from US defense stockpiles, months if extensive training for operation and maintenance is required, or years if certain items must be manufactured. Biden, for example, approved shipping the NASAMS air defense system early in the summer, and defense officials have said two will be shipped this fall, once the systems are ready and training is complete.

Six more NASAMS, announced by the Pentagon in late August, will take years to produce. Patriot systems are already scarce within NATO and usually travel with their own US or NATO operations teams — a commitment the West is unlikely to make.

Israel, whose prime minister on Monday first condemned Russia for the rocket attacks, has its own complicated relations with Moscow.

“We certainly understand that we are at a potential turning point here in the war, on many levels,” said the senior Biden administration official. “That thinking is ingrained in [our] decision. … Ukraine has certainly done better and has been more aggressive of late, and Putin is feeling the heat on the battlefield, at home and abroad. There is no doubt that there is a different set of conditions.”

“But we believe that these changes on the battlefield and in Russia have only further confirmed our decision-making process,” the official said.

Shane Harris and Alex Horton contributed to this report.

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