Seeing Through the Fog of War by Talking With Andrew Kramer, the Kyiv Bureau Chief of the New York Times

From a New York Times story by Carole Landry about “Seeing Through the Fog of War”:

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 was a seismic event. The war deeply unsettled security in Europe and around the world, with ricocheting effects on energy, food and the global economy. Nearly 10 months on, the loss of lives has been staggering on the battlefield and the suffering of millions of Ukrainian civilians is still growing.

For our last newsletter of the year, I reached out to Andrew Kramer, our Kyiv bureau chief, to get his insights on the state of the war and what we might expect in 2023.

Andrew, let’s talk about the battlefield. Some analysts expect a winter pause in the fighting. Are the front lines stabilizing?

This is a matter of debate. You’ll hear different commentary from Ukrainian officials and different signaling from the Russians as well.

Broadly, there’s a crescent-shaped front in southeastern Ukraine from the Dnipro River up to the Luhansk region.

Along most of this area, which is fortified trench lines through fields, the Ukrainians are on the offensive: They are pushing forward or threatening to push forward. In one pocket in the east, around the city of Bakhmut, it’s the reverse: The Russians are pressing very hard to capture this city.

A Ukrainian military commander recently said that once the ground freezes, there will be more opportunities for Ukraine to press a counteroffensive. Ukrainian officials say there will be no pause, they will press this offensive right through the 90 or so days of freezing weather and it’s their intention to continue to attack and not allow Russia time to regroup and rearm. Some analysts say that may be the case, but the winter weather is harder in terms of logistics, and whatever might be said, there will be a slowdown, if not a pause.

Where do you see the Ukrainians advancing to next?

If there’s an offensive, one possibility would be an advance over the open steppe land to the south of the city of Zaporizhzhia toward the city of Melitopol. There are logistics routes going through Melitopol that are important to the Russians: roads, railroads. If the Ukrainians could seize the city, they could effectively cut the south in half and threaten attacks on supply lines all the way down to Crimea.

Another option would be a continuation of the September counteroffensive in the northeast, heading toward the ruins of the cities of Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk, which were captured by the Russians in artillery battles over the summer. There’s very little left of these cities, but it would be symbolically important for Ukraine to recapture them.

Is there any indication that there’s diplomacy at work, that there will be a shift away from the battleground to negotiations on a peace deal?

The Ukrainians say they definitely don’t want a negotiated settlement that would leave their territory under Russian occupation. Zelensky sees this as the Ukrainian war that will end Ukrainian wars. He wants to liberate the entire territory rather than a half measure that would allow Russia to rearm and regroup and attack again. There have been some signs of pressure from the United States and the European nations to open negotiations. This came up after a visit by Jake Sullivan to Kyiv. From the Russian side, they would like to negotiate a cease-fire to give their army time to reconstitute.

What has life in Kyiv been like lately with the blackouts, missiles strikes, air raid sirens and winter cold?

We just had an air raid siren today. It’s always a harrowing, concerning moment when there are reports that the air raid siren was not a false alarm and that there are missiles inbound for Kyiv, although they are usually aimed at energy infrastructure on the outskirts.

Every strike has chipped away at Ukraine’s capacity to produce power. Today, colleagues and I were working in the bureau and the electricity went out. So you light candles, turn on battery lights, power up the internet with a backup power source and continue working.

What’s the impact on Ukrainians? Is it wearing them down?

I don’t think so. I think that it is certainly making a lot of people very angry, but people are coping. I’ve been also in cities that have had infrastructure problems that lasted months, like Mykolaiv in the south, where water had been out for six or more months. The most common response if you ask people is that they feel very angry at Russia for causing these problems. There is that defiance. There’s also the sense of coping with the situation, sometimes with humor and with a little bit of innovation.

There are two wars really, now. There is the war on the front line and the war in the sky in the arena of long-range missiles and Russia’s strategy of destroying infrastructure to demoralize Ukrainian society. On the front lines in the battlefields, Ukraine is winning. In this other contest, it’s still an open question how much damage Russia can do over time.

What are some of the difficulties that you face in reporting about this war?

It’s an amazing and horrible story, all in one, because there are victims, there are heroes, there are incredibly sad stories but then hopeful ones. From my recent reporting experience when the Ukrainians went into Kherson, this was a largely bloodless reclaiming of the city, even though the battles leading up to it were quite brutal. People were celebrating and several weeks later there was disappointment because electricity hadn’t returned and conditions were still very harsh. Horrendous evidence of atrocities — torture and executions — began to emerge. The challenges are seeing through the fog of war along this long frontline and very complicated and intense combat between two industrialized countries.

How much longer do you think this war will last?

It’s hard to predict. It couldn’t continue at this intensity for many, many months more. There is an anticipation that it will go to the spring and a spring counteroffensive. But by the one-year anniversary, it seems all but certain that the war will be continuing.

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