Ukraine is developing a “drowning not waving” problem. It is struggling to say clearly how badly the war is going.
Giving a candid public assessment of how poorly a conflict is going can be an unwise move as it can result in morale and support draining. After Obama boosted troops in Afghanistan, public support declined over the years, in part because of a lack of realism about how the war was going.
Ukraine’s acutely bad presentation of its troubles is mostly due to the myopia of its allies.
The lack of understanding in parts of US Congress is breathtaking. A congressman this week suggested Ukraine should name a finite price tag and a specific, simple goal. It’s staggering after two American wars of choice in two decades, costing trillions of dollars, that congressional memories are so short, and comprehension so limited.
Instead, Kyiv consistently points to past successes and future goals. They have reclaimed about half the territory Russia took last year; they have damaged its Black Sea presence strategically. They have a plan for 2024, Zelensky said, but it is secret.
Yet in truth, the most useful headline for Kyiv should be how unutterably bleak the frontlines are for them now. In nearly every direction, the news is grim. Russian forces are hiving off parts of the eastern city of Avdiivka, yet another town Moscow seems content to throw thousands of lives at despite its minimal importance. Along the Zaporizhzhia frontline, where the counteroffensive was focused but ultimately slow and unrewarding, Russian units have come back with renewed vigor and the defense is costly for Ukraine. Ukraine has made a plucky (or foolhardy) dash across the Dnipro River, with some small progress into Russian lines. The casualties have been immense, their supply lines are problematic, and their prospects dim.