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Putin improves his hand in Ukraine

Putin improves his hand in Ukraine
Putin Improves His Hand In Ukraine | Quick Take | GZERO Media

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here, fresh back from Tokyo, not too jet-lagged. And I have your Quick Take to get a start for the week.

And yes, more on Ukraine and the Russian war. You've probably seen the latest news that Luhansk has fallen. The Donbas, which is now the focus of the Russian war, not the entire focus, but certainly the lion's share of. It is comprised of two different administrative regions, one Donetsk, the other Luhansk. The Ukrainians had been giving a pretty solid fight, but they've been losing territory pretty consistently if slowly, over the last month and a half. And this means that Luhansk is now fully under Russian control. It has been largely destroyed. The towns that exist there and the villages are in disastrous shape, many of them with over 80% of homes damaged beyond repair. And so life there is going to be absolutely horrific, but the Russians do have the territory.

They will see that as a win at home in the propaganda machine. And Moscow is certainly moving to crank that out. Donetsk is next. More troops will be focused on that. They have a little bit more than 50% of that territory under control. And the Ukrainians are trying, as hard as they can, to get more equipment, more advanced equipment, particularly artillery, and the ammunition for it from the West. And the Ukrainian argument is that it's just not coming fast enough. Certainly, they are starting to see some of those pieces being delivered to the front lines, but it's hard. The Russians have complicated some of the infrastructure by bombing some rail lines and bridges and the rest, so it's more difficult to get that equipment into place, in the front lines. Secondly, you need to train Ukrainians on this equipment. That actually takes a fair amount of time, at least a month and most cases.

And it's not like the Americans have a whole bunch of spare equipment just sitting around. My understanding in terms of high capacity artillery is that the Americans have provided what was readily available, and now they're trying to get more in place and also create more, build more from the military industrial complex, the defense companies. The US is providing overwhelmingly the majority of the defense support and the money that the Ukrainians have gotten so far. Other allies are providing a lot, and some are doing even more in terms of percentage of GDP, but so far the US is doing most of it. So, that's kind of where you are. And I do believe the Ukrainians will be able to counteract. They might be able to take some land back, but the reality is you're looking at a situation over the next several months.

In other words, as we get closer to winter again, and I don't want to think really about winter, because it's July right now, but a lot of other people are having to because that's of course when the energy crunch becomes particularly problematic for industry and for consumers. And you would bet on the Ukrainians having lost most of the Donbas, at least half of it, probably more at that point. Maybe the Ukrainians can retake the city of Kherson, which is above Crimea, and that's the area where the water had been cut off by the Ukrainians when the Russians took Crimea. The problem the Ukrainians will have there is, unlike the Russians who do smash and grab in their attacks, the Ukrainians don't want to destroy and intact city. So when they're attacking Kherson, they're going after military targets, they're going after sort of outside of the city primarily. It's like fighting with one hand tied behind your back.

It is of course their territory and it's their people, so you completely understand why they're doing it, but it makes it harder for them to attack effectively, especially if they don't really have pinpoint artillery, drones, and the rest. So, what that means is over the next few months, it still looks like, from Russia's narrow perspective, not their initial war effort and not their initial war goals, which they failed at completely, but their new much more narrow war goals, they are increasingly in a position to say that they've been able to accomplish that, with all sorts of casualties, which will indeed upset a lot of Russian families over the coming years, and with massive damage to the Russian economy. But still, Putin is clearly feeling better about where he sits vis-a-vis Ukraine today than he did a month ago, two months ago, three months ago. That's the reality.

There's big efforts to continue to further negotiations. That's right now. The United Nations and the Turks are at the lead between Russia and Ukraine to try to be able to get food out, to unblock the major port of Odesa. Those negotiations have slowed. I wouldn't say they've stalled, but the principles involved are much more pessimistic now than they were even a few weeks ago. President Biden himself was surprisingly upbeat at the G7 specifically on this, personally upbeat, in his private conversations with some of the other G7 leaders, but the White House advisors don't share that optimism, and frankly, neither do I, because I don't know what you give the Russians, either in terms of Belarus sanction reduction or Russian sanction reduction that would be remotely plausible that would make the Russians willing to allow these shipments out, which means we're probably going to hear more about NATO being willing to provide mind sweepers, and also escorting ships with humanitarian purpose to get food out.

And look, this clearly would be the most hostile act that NATO would have taken directly against Russia since the war has begun, but it's not nearly as hostile as a no-fly zone where you have aircrafts that would have to shoot down Russian jets, or sending troops directly on the ground in Ukraine to defend territory. This is about escorting ships, not intending the fire and a court on that would allow for humanitarian efforts to get food to people that most need it. And I think the US wouldn't want to do that by itself, but I've already heard from a number of members of Senate in the House who are pushing for that pretty strongly, Democrats and Republicans, by the way. And I know there are some NATO members that would be interested in joining if the Americans said they want to see it happen.

So, when this diplomatic effort probably fails, I think that's the thing we're going to see next. We'll see where that goes. I mean, the Russians, we've already seen that Sweden and Finland joining NATO, being given the official invitation. And the Russians said that there would be military consequences. There have been no such consequences, because their bluff has been called. And while there are horrible consequences every day for the Ukrainians that will continue for generations, that's very different from the Russians opening a larger two front war against NATO, more broadly. And so on this, frankly, I'd be inclined to say, go for it, work to get those mines swept, and work to get the food out, and help the Ukrainians too. And that money can then, of course, all go to Ukraine.

So, that's kind of what's most interesting right now. I understand completely why the Ukrainian government is concerned, that if they don't get the war better situated from their perspective by winter, life gets a lot harder for them, because the level of pressure from the German population, the Italian population and others to provide less support for Ukraine going forward, when it's starting to really hit them in the pocketbook, is going to grow. I don't think there's significant danger of the NATO alliance actually fragmenting over this.

Remember, Ukraine is being invited to join the European Union, their candidate member. That really makes this a European war, and there will be long standing humanitarian and military support for the Ukrainians going forward. But at the same level as we've seen over the past four months? I doubt that. And more importantly, Zelensky doubts that too. And that, of course, is going to have an impact on morale. It's going to have an impact on their ability to continue to fight. And of course, then there's a question of where the Americans will be after midterm elections, and that right now is absolutely the greatest uncertainty in terms of NATO, much more than the Europeans for whom is their direct fight on the ground. That is not true for the United States.

So anyway, those are a few thoughts for right now. Unfortunately, this is going to continue for the foreseeable future, but I will be here to continue to help us all navigate it and talk about other things too. Be good.

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