(The Hill) — Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its 100th day on Friday, a bloody milestone that serves as a testament to the resilience of the Ukrainian forces against a vastly larger foe.
An unprecedented diplomatic campaign in the lead up to Russia’s invasion on Feb. 24 failed to prevent war. But the weeks of meetings, led by the U.S., succeeded in repositioning the global order in one of the greatest shifts to occur since World War II.
European nations including Germany, Sweden and Finland abandoned decades of cautious military policy to more fully join the U.S. and allies to deliver Ukraine the military means to fight, impose wide-ranging sanctions, shore up their own defenses and work to sever energy ties from Moscow.
While Ukraine and its supporters have declared victory in the battle for Kyiv, which U.S. intelligence had first predicted would fall within 72 hours, Moscow’s forces maintain key advantages in the fight for Ukraine’s eastern territory.
Russia has gained control of a key port city, Mariupol, and is inching closer to dominating Severdonetsk. Ukrainian President Zelensky said Thursday that Russia controls about one-fifth of his nation.
“We’re in a situation now where obviously the Ukrainians are having a difficult time,” said Angela Stent, an expert in U.S. and European relations with Russia. “I’m not saying the tide is turning, but it’s becoming more difficult for the Ukrainians to sustain the counteroffensive.”
With the Russian’s slow progress in mind, the U.S. is stepping up its weapons shipments, sending advanced rocket systems for the first time to help the Ukrainians more effectively repel Russian advances.
“I think the weapons are significant, but they will only be significant when they reach the backfill when they’re needed,” Stent said, adding that it could take time for the U.S. to transfer the rocket systems to Ukraine because of the limited number of routes to do so. “A lot could happen, and the Ukrainians could face more challenges from the Russians.”
Zelensky, speaking to a European security conference on Thursday, said the fight could reach a “turning point” if all nations increase their military, economic and political support for Ukraine.
“We are grateful for the help we already receive, to everyone who helps us. But arms supplies need to be increased. Because it is on the battlefield in Ukraine that it is decided whether freedom in Europe will be preserved for all nations without exception,” he said.
“Right now, these days, when Russia will lose the war against Ukraine, the freedom of Europeans will win for decades to come.”
The Ukrainian president’s remarks showcase his transition over the past 100 days from a leader under military siege and at risk of assassination — who rejected an offer by the U.S. to flee Kyiv in the early days of the assault — to a powerful global voice.
The Biden administration on Thursday announced another tranche of sanctions on Russian government officials and business elite, part of an international effort to further squeeze the Kremlin as Russian President Vladimir Putin presses on into the fourth month of his unprovoked invasion.
There’s still plenty of uncertainty about how the war will end, with a negotiated solution of some kind appearing far off.
Ukrainian officials, grappling with the horrors of civilian deaths and alleged Russian war crimes — from extrajudicial executions, rape and forced migration — are loath to come to the table or concede territory to the Russians.
“Russia attacked us. It’s them who are trying to occupy as much as possible, destroy and kill, rape and torture. So we will defend ourselves and we will not surrender,” Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Oksana Markarova told The Hill.
Biden administration officials say that their ultimate goal in imposing sanctions and supplying military aid is to strengthen Ukraine’s hand at the negotiating table, which is where Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Wednesday the conflict was likely to end.
“We can’t predict how this is going to play out, when this is going to play out. As best as we can assess right now, we are still looking at many months of conflict,” Blinken told reporters. “It’s a moving picture.”
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Thursday following a meeting with President Biden, Vice President Harris and national security adviser Jake Sullivan, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg underscored the need for the alliance to prepare to keep up support for Ukraine for a long period.
“Wars are by nature unpredictable, and therefore we just have to be prepared for the long haul,” he said.
Meanwhile, the war is threatening a global food crisis as Russia has staged a blockade on Ukraine’s Black Sea ports, preventing the country from exporting grain, fertilizer and other goods, driving up prices.
The United Nations has taken the lead in efforts to get food exports moving but has yet to offer concrete progress.
Blinken told reporters Wednesday that U.S. sanctions on Russia have exemptions for banking services related to food and food exports.
“We’ve had one of our senior officials go around the world to make that very clear to other countries and to help them with any questions they may have. This is on Russia,” he said.
The conflict has also exacerbated already high gas prices, which in the U.S. reached a new record high of $4.67 a gallon nationally this week.
The American public is worried about the effects of the war, posing significant political risks for the White House.
A Pew Research Center study released last month found that 59 percent of U.S. adults are extremely or very concerned that Russia might invade other countries in the region, while half said they are extremely or very concerned about the prospect of the U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine leading to war between the U.S. and Russia.
According to the poll, 45 percent of U.S. adults approve of the Biden administration’s handling of the response to Russia’s invasion, while 34 percent said they disapproved.
Michael Sawkiw, executive vice president of the Ukrainian Congress Committee of America, warned against complacency while marking the 100th day of war.
“The world has been witness to the unspeakable bestiality levied by Kremlin forces in Ukraine. And, while the United States and its allies have provided Ukraine tremendous resources, diminished attention to the war must not derail our common resolve to prevail in this ultimate fight,” he said. “The 100th day of the war reminds us that democracy worldwide is in peril should Ukraine lose this crucial battle against evil.”
Still, there’s concern that unity among European nations in support of Ukraine is waning.
While the European Union agreed to reduce 90 percent of Russian oil imports by the end of the year, exemptions that benefit countries such as Hungary underscore fractures within the bloc that Moscow can seek to disrupt and exploit.
Benjamin Schmitt, research associate at Harvard University and senior fellow at the Center for European Policy Analysis, said the EU’s partial embargo on Russian oil “undoubtedly was meant to send a major signal to the Kremlin that Brussels remains willing to increase costs on the Putin regime” but is still holding back from imposing all available pressure on Russia.
“Reports have suggested that the wind-down period toward implementation of this partial oil embargo — which would limit about two-thirds of Russian imports to the EU by the end of the year — will still allow the Kremlin to cash in on its remaining oil sales to Europe in the short term,” Schmitt told The Hill.
But Europe’s dependence on Russian energy makes it impossible for nations to wean themselves off quickly.
Stent said the U.S. has done almost all it can do by way of sanctions, noting that the administration has also had to balance the strength of sanctions with maintaining unity with allies and minimizing domestic and global concerns about the impacts of the penalties.
“That’s the dilemma. You can do just so much,” she said.