War in Ukraine: Summer sees slowdown in Russian offensives as Ukrainians prepare their own campaigns 

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Over the course of the summer months, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has seen a drastic slow-down in large scale operations, though fighting remains fierce as the conflict enters its sixth continuous month.  

Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered a “special military operation” in Ukraine which began on Feb. 24, 2022. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has since led the country against the far larger Russian military, as the United States and other members of NATO provide aid and equipment to prevent a Russian victory. 

Russian and Ukrainian troops maneuver as artillery and missile strikes become frequent 

Since mid-June, the previously large-scale Russian offensives have become greatly reduced in size and concentrated around the Donbas region in the east of Ukraine. In contrast, Ukrainian troops have begun to take the initiative with incremental advances in Russian-occupied lands in the southern part of the country, according to the New York Times on Aug. 8. 

Ukrainian military installments and buildup around the city of Kherson, which was occupied by Russian forces within the first week of the war, have led to the repositioning of Russian military force to the city, weakening Russian strength around the Donbas. 

“But after a summer of feints and maneuvering with few conclusive battles, both sides now face a quandary over how to concentrate their forces, leaving commanders in a guessing game about where, when and how their enemy might move,” The New York Times said. 

However, bombing and missile strikes by both sides have increased in frequency as the front lines stall. Ukrainian missile attacks have been targeting Russian artillery positions and ammunition depots, largely the result of American weapons systems. 

“Mr. Bereza, commander of the Dnipro-1 unit, credited the appearance on the battlefield, beginning about a month ago, of American-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems with quieting Russia’s artillery. The systems, known as HIMARS, can strike with precision far behind Russian lines,” The New York Times reported. 

The most recent of these strikes was a series of explosions at a Russian air base in Crimea on Aug. 14, a territory Russia has occupied since 2014. 

According to NPR, a Pentagon official stated the strikes were the result of Ukrainian military action, though did not say if they were by resistance fighters in Crimea or artillery and missile strikes by the Ukrainian military. 

“Analysis of satellite images published by the company Planet suggests that multiple explosions took place hundreds of feet apart, damaging nine airplanes and scattering debris on the taxiway. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said nine Russian planes were destroyed,” NPR reported. 

Russian civilians, many of whom moved into Crimea since the occupation, began to evacuate the region fearing their own safety, according to The Guardian. 

“The mass exit came after an ammunition dump and electricity sub-station blew up near the town of Dzhankoi, a significant railway hub. Another apparent Ukrainian strike took place outside the regional capital Simferopol, where a Russian airbase was destroyed,” The Guardian said. 

Aerial photography estimated over 38,000 vehicles crossing the Kerch Bridge on Aug. 17 alone. The bridge serves as the main military and civilian route from Crimea to the Russian mainland and has long been suspected to be a possible target for Ukrainian strikes. 

“Zelenskyy hinted that similar inventive attacks could be expected. He urged Ukrainians living in Crimea and the occupied south to stay away from enemy command posts and logistics bases. ‘Do not approach the military objects of the Russian army,’ he said,” The Guardian reported. 

Finnish and Swedish NATO ascension faces opposition 

With the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict, public opinion in both Sweden and Finland rapidly swung in favor of joining NATO according to the Associated Press. Since then, both countries have applied for NATO membership and nearly all member states have approved ratification, which would place both countries a step closer to official membership. 

“‘I spent four years, my term, trying to persuade Sweden and Finland to join NATO,’ former NATO secretary-general Lord George Robertson said this summer. ‘Vladimir Putin managed it in four weeks,’” AP News stated.  

While the US congress approved both states joining on Aug. 3, the Atlantic Council reported that seven of the thirty total members have still not approved Finland and Sweden’s application, most notably Turkey.  

Turkey has repeatedly voiced concerns over Finland and Sweden not declaring the Kurdistan Worker’s Party, a Kurdish independence militia, as a terrorist group. Turkish internal politics, including party elections in September, are believed to be another reason for the delay. 

“These considerations together support the idea that Ankara will be one of, if not the, last NATO member to approve the twin accessions” the Atlantic Council states, “By that yardstick, we can expect something like a yearlong process (somewhere between eight and twenty months) after Ankara is satisfied that Sweden and Finland have taken substantive steps to fulfill the June 28 memorandum,” the Atlantic Council wrote. 

Other countries that have not yet ratified Sweden and Finland, including Spain, Portugal, Czechia and Greece are due more to procedural issues than political opposition. The Atlantic Council expects all of these countries to have ratified their ascension by the end of 2022. 

Tensions Rise over Captured Nuclear Plants 

On March 22, Russian forces captured the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant (ZNP) in south-central Ukraine, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe. International officials worried since the beginning of the invasion of damage to Ukraine’s nuclear power plants, as well as the still irradiated Chernobyl Exclusion Zone which could lead to another nuclear disaster with the potential to spread radioactive material across Europe. 

On July 12, The Wall Street Journal stated Russian missile launchers had been stationed close to the plant. International organizations feared that using the power plant as a base for military equipment would highly increase the risk of an explosion and potential plant meltdown that endangered the thousands of workers and the surrounding area. 

The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, expressed concern over the maintenance of the power plant and safety of the radioactive material present in a speech on Aug. 3, according to the Associated Press. 

“The IAEA chief said he and his team need protection to get to the plant and the urgent cooperation of Russia and Ukraine,” AP news said. 

As Ukrainian and Russian officials struggled to reach terms to allow for inspection of the plant, a video posted on Twitter identified several Russian military vehicles positioned within the complex itself. Others quickly identified where in the plant the vehicles were located, with some believed to be within one hundred feet of the turbine generators of one of the six reactors. 

By Aug. 27, CNN reported that power had been restored to the ZNP, after a fire on the 25th damaged a power line. 

It remains unclear how the war will end, as the war enters a “frozen conflict”, according to the Atlantic Council, where large scale attacks do not occur, but skirmishes and artillery strikes dominate the headlines. But a cold phase does not mean peace. Millions of refugees have been driven from their homes, tens of thousands of Ukrainian and Russian soldiers have been killed and towns are left smoldering in ruins. It has been a brutal 6 months for the people of Ukraine and many hope the next 6 months will see Ukraine’s fortunes turn. 

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