The Frontlines
Michael Wasiura
Russia and Ukraine Correspondent

Putin's Decimation of Ukraine Infrastructure Is Backfiring

Since October 10, periodic Russian assaults on Ukraine's energy infrastructure have led to a nationwide regime of controlled power outages lasting hours — sometimes days — at a time. Russian government officials have justified the campaign as an attempt to end the war by eroding the support of everyday Ukrainians for the government of Volodymyr Zelensky.

By every available indication, Putin's plan is failing. In Kyiv itself, electricity grid security has become a hot topic of casual conversation.

Groups of friends out for pre-curfew beers in generator-equipped bars can be overheard speculating on when the next wave of Russian rockets might be unleashed against their country's network of power plants and transformer substations.

Young couples navigating the capital's unlit sidewalks often do so while discussing the possible purchase of LED flashlights and heavy-duty power banks.

Chat groups among relatives dispersed across the country compare the daily hours of electricity allotment region by region.

But no one is heard suggesting that people take to the streets to urge the Zelensky government to strike a deal to turn the lights back on in exchange for ending the war on Moscow's terms.

As winter sets in, it will doubtlessly become harder for individual Ukrainians to cope — not just with the power cuts, but with potential attendant disruptions in the provision of water, heat, and telecommunications services.

As a result of Russia's attacks on Ukraine's civilian infrastructure, an untold number of the country's most vulnerable citizens will not survive the winter. Still, taking the war directly to the Ukrainian people themselves does not appear to be a winning strategy for a Kremlin that is quickly running out of conventional military options.

> Dispatches
Biden Walks NATO Tightrope with Turkey over Wars in Syria and Ukraine

President Joe Biden's administration is seeking to strike the right balance in dealing with NATO ally Turkey, as it threatens a ground offensive against U.S. partners in Syria while simultaneously playing a key diplomatic role in the middle of Russia's war in Ukraine.

After authorizing four cross-border ground offensives into Syria over the past five years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly threatened this year to launch a fifth in response to what he sees as a persistent presence of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in northeastern Syria. These warnings increased earlier this month after a suicide bombing blamed on the group rocked Istanbul, killing six and injuring dozens more on the iconic Istiklal Avenue.

Ankara responded by launching "Operation Claw-Sword," a sweeping campaign of hundreds of airstrikes against largely Kurdish-held positions, including those maintained by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a Pentagon-backed militia in control of much of northeastern Syria, as well as other Kurdish positions allegedly tied to the PKK in neighboring northern Iraq. Get the full story.

Russia's dwindling missile stocks are hurting its ability to continue its strikes in Ukraine, according to British defense officials.

In its daily update, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said on Thursday that over the last month, Moscow's forces have mostly used cruise missiles to target Ukraine's electricity distribution grid.


Temperatures in the eastern Ukraine city of Bakhmut are downright chilly right now but bloody battles are getting heated daily between Ukrainians and the opposing Russian forces.

The Battle for Bakhmut is looming to be deadly for both sides. The Russians could wear down their own troops, and morale, even if they were to take the city and claim victory. A long-fought battle of six months would probably give Russia little reward, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).


The foreign minister for Latvia, a member of the military alliance NATO, explored on Tuesday the possibility of Ukraine striking military targets in Russia.

Edgars Rinkēvičs, Latvia's foreign affairs minister, told Bloomberg that Ukraine should be allowed to launch attacks on military sites inside Russia to fend off strikes on its critical infrastructure.


A fractured Russian military continually bombarded by Ukrainian forces is a likely sign of more civilians being recruited to fight in the ongoing conflict, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

The U.S.-based think tank said in its report released Tuesday that continued Russian struggles with dated equipment and domestic personnel shortages are "indicative of a probable second wave of mobilization."


Kyiv Sees No Prospect of a Ceasefire with Putin's Russia Anytime Soon

A recent wave of speculation has suggested that now might be an opportune time for Russian and Ukrainian leaders to start negotiating a diplomatic end to their nine-month-long war. However, given the current array of forces, a pause in the fighting would be more likely to prolong the conflict than to shorten it.

"Because Russia is losing on the battlefield, any hypothetical ceasefire is objectively a gift to Putin," John Herbst, a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and the current senior director of the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, told Newsweek.

"There's no doubt that one of the main reasons why Ukraine is opposed to any ceasefire is that it would give Russia an opportunity to regroup before resuming military operations at a time of its choosing," he added.

If the Kremlin really were intent on finding a face-saving way out of the war it started, then perhaps a diplomatic solution could be found. At present, however, the men in Moscow have shown no sign that they are serious about calling off their battle against Ukrainian democracy.

"There's no doubt in my mind, just like there's no doubt in the minds of Ukraine's policymakers," Herbst said, "that despite his military failures, Putin's objectives remain what they have been from the start — to have effective political control over Ukraine."

Until the actual decision makers in Moscow indicate a willingness to accept the reality that Ukraine has a right to live securely within its internationally recognized borders, Herbst advocates treating any talk of a potential negotiated settlement with skepticism.

"I'm sure that there are people of some standing in Russia who would love to see an end to this war," he said. "But there's been no definitive statements coming from the top level of the Russian government. There's been nothing about this from Putin or from anyone next to him, only rumors from lower-level people and from the Russian media."

In Kyiv, the suggestion that Putin is ready to negotiate an end to the war is seen as a poorly disguised attempt to buy time and sow division. Over the past three months, the Ukrainian army has driven Russian occupying forces out of the Kharkiv region and has liberated the regional capital of Kherson. Even with winter approaching, the prospect of further counter-offensive successes in still-occupied areas of the country's south and east remains high.

"Russia dreams of negotiations," Anton Gerashchenko, an advisor to Ukraine's Ministry of Internal Affairs, told Newsweek, "because it is the side which is losing that asks for negotiations."

"Putin wants Crimea to remain his, he wants the other territories Russia has seized to remain his, he wants Western sanctions to be lifted, and he wants no reparations to be paid," Gerashchenko added. "But what good are such negotiations to Ukraine, which is winning the war on the battlefield?"

Kyiv's determination to continue the fight is not only a matter of justice, but also of survival. The number of Ukrainian servicemen and women killed and wounded over the course of the war is estimated to be in the tens of thousands. And the civilian toll is high as well — the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has confirmed 6,557 civilian deaths and 10,074 injuries between February 24 and November 13.

Still, if the fighting were to end without the implementation of mechanisms to prevent future Russian aggression against Ukraine, that toll could pale in comparison to the cost of the Kremlin's next invasion.

"If Putin remains in power, he will do whatever he can to rearm and continue his war against Ukraine," Gerashchenko said. "Russia understands that its military industrial complex cannot compete with the coalition that the United States has organized in support of Ukraine."

"But if Western weapons supplies were to stop, and if Russia were permitted time to better equip its military," he added, "then the war would simply resume at the moment when Putin senses he has regained an advantage."

As a result, Ukrainians see no choice other than to finish the battle in which it is presently engaged. Despite Russian attacks on critical civilian infrastructure across the country, artillery strikes on cities such as Kherson and Zaporizhzhia, and an ongoing campaign of Russian nuclear blackmail, Ukrainian public support for the war effort remains nearly unanimous. Polling results published by the Kyiv Institute of Sociological Research on October 24 showed that a scant 10% of Ukrainians favor entering negotiations with Russia.

"The Ukrainian people do not want to start negotiations on any terms other than the return of all of our territory, the payment of reparations, and a guarantee that Russia is not permitted to simply rearm and resume its attack at a later date," Gerashchenko said. "Until Putin is prepared to accept such pre-conditions, it is impossible for the Ukrainian president to enter negotiations with him."

For those in the West who hope to see a peaceful resolution to the conflict as soon as possible, Gerashchenko advocates an increase in Western military aid to Ukraine.

"Empires crumble when they start a war and lose it, and so in order to eliminate the threat from Russia in a way that is sustainable, Ukraine must win this war on the battlefield," he said. "Under the circumstances, the provision of more air defense systems, more self-propelled artillery, more ammunition and more military vehicles is the only viable route to peace."

"This does not mean that the war will end with Ukrainian tanks in the Kremlin," Gerashchenko added, "but with Russian forces being driven from Ukrainian territory in a way that not even the propaganda machine in Moscow will be able to justify to its domestic audience."

Still, there does remain one possible path to peace in Ukraine that does not entail a long and bloody battle over Russian-occupied territories in Kherson, Zaporizhzhia, Donetsk, and Luhansk regions: Russia can simply choose to withdraw its occupation forces from these areas, in the same way it ultimately withdrew them from the Kyiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv regions in April, from the Kharkiv region on September, and from the area of Kherson west of the Dnieper River just over three weeks ago.

"Paradoxically, it's the side which is losing in a war that often gets to decide when it stops," Dmitry Gorenburg, an analyst at the Center for Naval Analysis, told Newsweek. "Russia is losing in Ukraine, but the war likely will not end until the Kremlin chooses to stop fighting."

Given Russia's recent mass troop mobilization and its retooling of domestic industry for military production, the Kremlin does not appear to be preparing to concede. Until that changes, the war will continue.

"Of course, if at some point Russia no longer has the resources to keep an army in the field, then the war would have to end at that point," Gorenburg added. "But I think we're still a long way from any potential moment like that."

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