Ukraine falters in the east
Zelensky visits the troops at the front. (Getty)

What happened

Ukraine struggled to hold on to its remaining eastern territory this week, as President Volodymyr Zelensky conceded that Russian forces had captured one-fifth of his country. The Kremlin said Russia had “liberated” 97 percent of Luhansk province in the eastern Donbas region and had restored roads and rail so that “full-fledged traffic” could flow between Russia and the territories it has occupied. Ukrainian forces did take back half of the Luhansk city of Sievierodonetsk, which had mostly fallen to Russia a week ago, but their control was tenuous. To boost morale, Zelensky visited the front lines and met with relocated refugees from the destroyed port of Mariupol. Russian forces, meanwhile, put those Ukrainians who were still living in Mariupol’s ruins under quarantine because of a suspected cholera outbreak. They returned 210 bodies of defenders of the city’s steelworks, in the conflict’s first swap of military dead, but they also transported to Russian territory more than 1,000 of the roughly 2,500 Ukrainian soldiers captured in Mariupol, possibly to use as bargaining chips.

The Russian naval blockade of Black Sea ports has stranded 20 million tons of grain in Odessa, worsening a global food shortage. Moscow insisted that Western sanctions, not the blockade, were responsible for the crisis, and it said it would guarantee safe passage to departing ships. But Ukrainian leaders scoffed at the Russian offer and said Ukraine would only de-mine its coastline if another powerful nation provided escorts for the cargo ships.

What the columnists said

Russian President Vladimir Putin apparently thinks he “can still win the war” by waiting out the West’s resolve, said Max Boot in The Washington Post. Some leaders, alas, “have given him encouragement.” French President Emmanuel Macron recently urged the West not to “humiliate” Russia—meaning Putin “should be rewarded for his unlawful aggression?” Instead of giving Kyiv just enough aid to avoid defeat, we should boost it to victory. It needs weapons, especially rocket systems, and far more of them than the four units President Biden agreed to send.

Putin’s stubbornness “offers little evidence” that any kind of peace settlement is feasible, said Ross Douthat in The New York Times. But the “Ukraine hawks” who insist on supporting Kyiv until it gets back every inch of Ukrainian soil are misguided. Divided internally and challenged abroad, the U.S. can’t keep “writing countless checks.” We’d do better to “push Ukraine toward its most realistic, rather than its most ambitious, military strategy.”

The so-called realists forget that Putin has “blown past at least a dozen” agreements since December, said Julia Ioffe in Puck. Ask Ukraine to cede some territory, and he will eventually gobble more until the state isn’t viable. Worse, he “has already signaled that the war won’t stop in Ukraine.” Kremlin-backed TV pundits now call this a war against “the collective West.” We’re already directly involved; “the only ones who don’t realize it, it seems, are us.”