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Assessing the Russia-Ukraine war since the latest offensive began around Kharkiv


Russia is pressing a military offensive around Ukraine's second biggest city. Russian forces have been moving toward Kharkiv, which is not very far from Russia's border. The city's location near the border is part of the story we have to tell this morning, and William Taylor, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine is here to help us tell it. Ambassador, welcome back to the program.

WILLIAM TAYLOR: Thank you, Steve. Good to be here.

INSKEEP: So Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has said he's not aiming to capture the city but move in that direction. I guess we should pause to note, Vladimir Putin also said he was never going to invade Ukraine. So I don't know what to make of that, but this is what they say. And Russian forces are moving but not into the city. What's going on?

TAYLOR: So, Steve, the Russians are taking advantage of the lull that the Ukrainians are experiencing in terms of their ammunition and the other weapons. So the Russians are pressing across the border. The fortifications that the Ukrainians have put together start closer to Kharkiv city limits. They were not right on the border because the Russians were shelling them when they tried to create any kind of fortifications on their side - on the Ukrainian side of the border. And we've told the Ukrainians, Steve, that they can't use our weapons, our long-range weapons, to shoot at the Russians who are shooting at them from the Russian side of the border. So the fortifications start closer to Kharkiv.

INSKEEP: Oh, this is very interesting. The United States, of course, doesn't want, you know, a cataclysm here, so they've limited what Ukraine can do. So the Russians have this safe haven, so the Ukrainians aren't able to defend near the border. Is that what you're telling me?

TAYLOR: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. They're not able to defend up close, and they're not able to dig in the kind of trenches and the other kind of weapons - other kind of defenses that would keep the Russians from moving in because the Russians are able to shoot and the Ukrainians are not able to use our weapons to shoot back.

INSKEEP: So are the Russians really just making a minor move, grabbing some territory that's easy for them to grab?

TAYLOR: They are doing some of that, and this is causing the Ukrainians to have to move some units, some military units, from other parts of the line. Farther to the south in the central part of the line of contact, there are Ukrainians having to move from there up to defend this - against this attack by the Russians. So the Russians are taking advantage of the other limitation that the Ukrainians have, which is soldiers.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about equipment, though, because you said something at the very beginning, Ambassador, about a lull in deliveries of supplies. I'll just note the timeline. Congress discussed getting more aid to Ukraine way back last fall - didn't happen. Discussed it in December - didn't happen. Finally, this spring, Congress did approve more aid to Ukraine. But are you saying that there was a loss for Ukraine in the meantime?

TAYLOR: There was absolutely a loss for Ukraine in the meantime. That is, the Russians took advantage of it. They moved up their planned offensive to take advantage of this lull, and the Ukrainians have lost territory. And the Ukrainians sadly have lost a lot of soldiers because of this. They were outgunned. Their ammunition was way down. The Ukrainians' ammunition was way down because of this lull. They weren't able to defend themselves against the Russian attacks over and over and over, which they would have done had they had the ammunition. So yes, the Ukrainians have paid the price for that lull.

INSKEEP: I'd like to know how this looks to you now sitting just outside of Washington, D.C., and watching the politics here as well as the military action there. You've just told me that it was disastrous for Ukraine to have this delay, this break in U.S. aid, and they lost people, and they lost territory. Is there, though, an advantage in that in the end, a consensus emerged in the United States, and it's clear that there is broad bipartisan support for Ukraine and that Congress was willing to vote for it in the end?

TAYLOR: Absolutely. As you say, broad bipartisan majority of - even the majority of Republicans in the House and the Senate voted for it. And it was deep support, strong support from both sides of the aisle. That needs to continue, and that, of course, will be difficult. This package, however, Steve, that they just voted on should get the Ukrainians through the end of this year. So this is a good move on the part of the United States. Delayed, late, but nonetheless, a good move demonstrating support - and this should help the Ukrainians be able to stabilize their front and eventually pick back up on the offensive.

INSKEEP: Stabilize - but in about 15 seconds, do you think that Ukraine can win this war?

TAYLOR: If we continue to support the Ukrainians with the kind of support that we've demonstrated this time, yes, they can win.

INSKEEP: Ambassador William Taylor is Vice President for Europe and Russia at the U.S. Institute of Peace and is a former diplomat in Ukraine. Ambassador, thanks so much.

TAYLOR: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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