After an autumn and winter of stalemate, Russian forces have captured territory along Ukrainian front lines over the past month. Launching an offensive into areas north of Kharkiv, in northeastern Ukraine, they’ve taken control of villages Kyiv had liberated in the fall of 2022. During nighttime, they regularly fire barrages of missiles into Kharkiv; dozens of people have been killed or wounded; and around 11,000 have been evacuated. The Russians have also advanced along the front in the Donbas region, in eastern Ukraine, and even captured a village in the southeast. Since the assault began, Russia has made its biggest territorial gains since late 2022—and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned in late May that the Kremlin was preparing a major offensive in the east. Meanwhile, Kyiv has been facing shortages of manpower and materiel (though it should soon see an influx of critical weapons and equipment from a US$61 billion aid package recently approved by the U.S. Congress). So will Russia’s advances affect the course of the war?

Robert Hamilton is the head of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program and a retired U.S. Army colonel. As Hamilton sees it, the question is actually, why have the Russians’ advances been so limited—and quickly slowed to an apparent halt—especially given the lack of Ukrainian firepower they’ve been up against? The answer, he says, is in an emerging and fundamental transformation of warfare as such. More and more, new surveillance technologies—above all, drones—and precision-guided weapons give the side on defense an enormous advantage. This is the main reason why Ukraine’s counter-offensive failed last summer; it’s also the main reason why neither side is likely to win significant territory this summer—or ever. It won’t change the course of the war; that will be determined by voting in American swing states this November, more than anything else—before the outcome is eventually determined at the negotiating table. But it will profoundly change both Moscow’s and Kyiv’s strategies for getting there …

Michael Bluhm: What do you make of Russia’s territorial gains?

Egor Myznik

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