Dark Days Ahead in Ukraine

WE STILL DON’T BELIEVE RUSSIA can win this war, but there are dark days ahead for Ukraine, which has to worry about an erosion of support in the West, a re-invigorated Russian military, charges about a “dirty bomb,” and a furious looming battle for Kherson.

PLUS IT’S GETTING COLD, with nightly lows in the 30s (or low-single digits in Celsius) forecast by the end of this month in Ukraine, with even colder temperatures coming — compounded by an energy infrastructure that has been battered by Russian missiles.

UKRAINE NEEDS A MORALE BOOSTER, and it may come in the next few weeks as its troops encircle and occupy Kherson, a key city in the south. Russian military officials on the ground reportedly want to abandon the city, but Vladimir Putin has ruled out a surrender.

THAT DYNAMIC CONTINUES TO BE THE SINGLE MOST important factor in this ugly war — Russian troops aren’t willing to die for Putin, while Ukrainian troops are willing to die for Volodymyr Zelensky.

BUT ZELENSKY NEEDS UNIFIED SUPPORT from the West, and there’s been wavering in several countries — including the U.S. A minority of Republicans have been questioning the cost of military aid to Kyiv, and yesterday leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, in a letter to President Biden, called for negotiations between the U.S. and Russia.

THIRTY LIBERAL DEMOCRATS, led by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the CPC, asserted that the war has driven up prices of grain, natural gas, raw materials, etc. And some GOP Trump supporters running in this fall’s election are questioning huge U.S. outlays — close to $60 billion — for Ukraine.

THE PROGRESSIVES WALKED BACK THEIR letter within hours, stating that they support Ukraine after mainstream Democrats reacted angrily. But Putin may be thinking that the U.S. may be wavering on huge aid for Ukraine, just as citizens of Western Europe voice objections to the inevitable sacrifices they face this winter.

PUTIN, MEANWHILE, MUST KNOW THAT the hard liners in Moscow have limited patience. He has bowed to the hawks, appointing the brutal Sergey Surovikin as the new commander of operations in the war, and he has gotten much closer to Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the founder of a Russian mercenary group who is playing a critical role; he has been identified as the leader of the notorious Wagner group.

THE FOG OF WAR: Top military officials in the U.S. and Russia have spoken to each other in recent days, as fears grow that Russia may spread unfounded speculation about Ukraine’s willingness to use a “dirty bomb.” This could be used as a pretext, Western leaders fear, for Russia to detonate such a bomb, which would spread radioactive material.

BOTTOM LINE: At some point there will be a truce and negotiations, but that doesn’t appear to be imminent as the war seemingly escalates. An intermediary — possibly Turkish president Erdogan — would have an enormous task, especially since both Ukraine and Russia adamantly claim that Crimea is theirs.

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