Today marks two years since Russia invaded Ukraine. 24 months later, advances remain stalled while intense fighting rages one, even as Ukraine’s diminishing supply of artillery ammunition are starting to impact its capabilities. 

The milestone in the war comes as brutal combat continues in the country’s east. Ukraine recently appointed a new military leader, who moved troops out of the city of Avdiivka, a focal point on the front line, to avoid encirclement.

Speaking in Kyiv on the anniversary of the invasion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the country would not give up. He said that the country wants the war to end, but in a “fair” way and “on our terms.”

“We are fighting for it. For 730 days of our lives already. And we will win on the best day of our life,” Zelensky said.

DONETSK OBLAST, UKRAINE - 22 FEBRUARY: Ukrainian soldiers load the remains of explosive charges onto a truck, in their fighting position in the direction of Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, 22 February 2024. (Photo by Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu via Getty Images)
DONETSK OBLAST, UKRAINE – 22 FEBRUARY: Ukrainian soldiers load the remains of explosive charges onto a truck, in their fighting position in the direction of Bakhmut, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, 22 February 2024. (Photo by Diego Herrera Carcedo/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Two years on, both sides have effectively and somewhat efficiently dug in. Once the fighting turned to mostly static artillery-driven battles of attrition in late 2022, both sides have shelled each other relentlessly. The arrival of Western weapons systems, from Patriot missiles to Abrams tanks, has increased Kyiv’s abilities against the larger Russian military, but now ammunition is starting to run out, curtailing how much fighting Ukraine can actually do each day. 

Beyond a series of new sanctions, Western allies of Ukraine have pledged additional help for the nation, even as delays in material assistance are impacting the country on the battlefield. 

Shell Game

Several nations are pledging new military aid to Ukraine, particularly needed ammunition for Kyiv’s artillery. Denmark said it will give Ukraine its “entire artillery” for the war effort. The United Kingdom, on the anniversary, promised to spend £245 million over the next year on the procurement and manufacturing of munitions. The announcement comes two days after confirming it was sending 200 more anti-tank missiles to the country.

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Russia currently can fire five artillery shells for every single Ukrainian round, according to analysis by al-Jazeera. That firepower disparity is allowing Russian forces to ramp up the pressure on the Ukrainian front lines. 

Russia is also having to improvise. Although it has an artillery advantage, the country has had to source ammunition from North Korea. Additionally, heavy armor losses (hundreds of tanks have been destroyed, estimates put the number at as much as 3,000), has led to decades out of date pieces being mobilized as well as strange haphazard weapons of war, such as naval guns put onto mobile platforms for land use. One of the major forces involved, the Kremlin-aligned private military contractor the Wagner Group, ended up rebelling, leaving Ukraine and seizing a major military center in Russia. Its forces were on the march to Moscow before the coup was stopped. Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was allowed to leave for Belarus but died weeks later after flying back to Russia. 

Despite all of those many, many setbacks, Russia is maintaining its pressure on Ukrainian forces, often throwing waves of soldiers and armor at targets, as was the case this winter at Avdiivka. Five months of fighting cost Moscow thousands of fighters. However, Ukrainian resistance repelled multiple attacks in the harsh winter conditions, with troops in Bradley Fighting Vehicles taking out more modern Russian tanks. However it was the ammunition shortage that ultimately led to the fall of Avdiivka. Unable to keep up the pressure, Ukrainian troops withdrew from the city rather than let themselves be surrounded and cut off. 

Year three

Russia’s capture of Avdiivka aside, much of the fighting in Ukraine remains as it has been for months: a war of attrition with neither side making huge gains. Although the front lines remain mostly static as neither side can muster a combined-arms assault to break through, Ukraine has scored several successes beyond that. Multiple drone attacks have hit targets inside Russian-controlled territory, including major naval vessels in the Black Sea, while missiles took out valuable Russian A-50 radar planes. Ukraine plans on boosting domestic drone production over the next year. Russia in turn aims to build more military drones as well. 

Other nations have recently announced new aid to Ukraine, but additional military assistance from the United States remains stalled due to domestic politics. This month the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would send assistance to Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, but so far no vote on it has been held in the House of Representatives. 

Meanwhile for the military aid already sent, the Pentagon’s inspector general said this week that there could be problems going forward. The IG found that there was not a plan in place for maintenance and upkeep for major military equipment such as Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles, among others. The report notes that without the proper sustainment, the American weapons would be rendered unusable after a certain point. 

“If the DoD does not identify the sustainment requirements for the weapon systems it provides to Ukraine, then it cannot accurately predict sustainment costs or assess the long-term readiness impacts to U.S. military units that also operate these systems,” Inspector General Robert Storch said in a statement. 

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