Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has thrown down the gauntlet for the U.S. and allies to help Kyiv bring an end to Russia’s war by December.

Zelensky challenges world to help end Russia’s war by December

Zelensky challenges world to help end Russia’s war by December

The imperative is to stop the bloodshed – Ukrainian forces are suffering as many as 200 casualties per day and Russian artillery has killed dozens of civilians in recent attacks, with hundreds more injured.

But Zelensky is also under pressure to keep the focus and support of the U.S. and Europe — allies that are being pulled away by domestic crises including worsening inflation, exorbitant energy prices and fears of a global recession.

Shifting political dynamics are also playing into Zelensky’s calculus.

Boris Johnson has promised the strong support of the United Kingdom despite his recent resignation as prime minister. In Italy, pro-European Prime Minister Mario Draghi is under attack over a debt crisis in the country.

And in the U.S., Republicans are set to make gains in the November midterms, potentially strengthening a small but provocative group of GOP lawmakers that criticize America’s support for Ukraine.

Under these pressures, Zelensky is setting a six-month timeline to get as many heavy weapons to the country as possible and push back Russian forces battling low morale and exhausted manpower.

“We can achieve a lot of things before the end of the year and we can stop this war,”  Zelensky said in an interview with CNN last week.

“We are going to fight for every inch of our territory. It’s clear that we can’t get it all back.”

Ukrainian forces have launched an offensive against Russian-occupied Kherson, a strategic city west of the Dnipro river that, if retaken by Kyiv, would shore up defenses around the southern port of Odesa and weaken Russia’s land bridge from the occupied Crimean peninsula.

In the northeast, Ukrainians continue to defend Kharkiv from Russian shelling, depriving Moscow from taking over the country’s second-largest city.

“The Ukrainians basically have stopped the Russian advances for now,” said Kurt Volker, who served as U.S. envoy for Ukraine negotiations between 2017 and 2019 and is a distinguished fellow for the Center for European Policy Analysis.

“They feel that they need more of the assistance, more quickly, because they need to build momentum and push the Russians back more quickly and not give the Russians time to recover.”

The U.S. has provided Ukraine with $2.2 billion in military assistance over the past three weeks.

This includes 12 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and two National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (NASAMS) – the heavy weapons most prized in taking out Russian artillery depots and command centers.

But only four HIMARS have made it in country and are operational, and Ukrainians are frustrated at the pace of delivery.

“[The Ukrainians are] frustrated we’re putting things out in dribs and drabs,” Volker said, but added that bureaucracy and the need to keep U.S. stockpiles full are slowing down distribution.

“Then there’s also these policy issues that come up,” he added, referring to the Biden administration decision to handicap weapons systems from shooting their full range.

“We keep telling Ukrainians we’re not going to give the longest-range artillery, saying ‘we don’t want you firing into Russian territory,’… which is insulting,” he said.

“The Russians are firing at Ukraine from Russian territory, they’re supplying the effort from Russian territory… Russians don’t have any problem crossing the border, why are we telling the Ukrainian’s not to?”

Zelensky, in speeches on the global stage and with international media is pounding a repetitive drumbeat: send more weapons, send them faster, increase sanctions against Moscow and label Russia a terrorist state.

“This day once again proved that Russia must be officially recognized as a terrorist state,” Zelensky said in a speech Friday, directing his address to the “Democratic world.”

The Ukrainian president was speaking one day after a Russian missile attack against the western Ukrainian city of Vinnytsia killed 23 people, including three children, and wounded hundreds more.

Ukrainian officials pushing for the U.S. to designate Russia a State Sponsor of Terrorism (SST) say that it will send an unequivocal message that Moscow is a pariah on the world stage.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who met with Zelensky in Kyiv last week, said the Ukrainian president described the SST designation as a “game changer, and he thinks it would get other countries more involved, it would be a momentum builder.”

Graham has co-sponsored bipartisan legislation to designate Russia a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

But the Biden administration is rebuffing those demands, arguing the sanctions already in place go farther than an SST designation demands, according to Ukrainian officials.

Experts say the SST designation could be more hurtful than helpful. One concern is that victims of Russian atrocities could sue the Russian government under the terrorism designation and freeze assets in courts, handcuffing the U.S. and other governments from using those assets as bargaining chips in a negotiation for peace.

Melinda Haring, deputy director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, said it’s unlikely that either the Ukrainians or the Russians are “going to be willing to negotiate by Christmas,” but added that both sides are facing challenges.

“To my mind, the question is which side burns out faster? And we honestly don’t know the answer to that question,” she said. “It’s really a war of attrition and a race to resupply at this point.”

For Ukraine, this includes the heavy losses they are suffering on the battlefield, but also the cost of keeping the country running. Haring said Ukraine needs an estimated $5 to $6 billion a month to pay government salaries, maintain the banking system, keep hospitals open, and provide for trains and buses to run, among other challenges such as reviving their economy.

“At a certain point, if it doesn’t have the budgetary support, and it can’t keep getting the arms that it needs, Zelensky’s going to be forced to sit down and try to come up with an agreement,” she continued.

“But I think we’re pretty far away from that point. I think the world’s empathy is still on his side.”