Time and again, Ukraine achieves spectacular successes. This week, ships from the Black Sea Fleet were attacked, then a Russian fighter jet crashed after presumably being hit by its own air defenses. But there are only individual splashes of color, the overall picture is gloomy.

Russian troops have been digging deeper into Ukrainian positions for months. It is a continuous, bloody battle, without brilliant victories. Here a row of trees is lost, there the Russians are establishing themselves in a settlement, elsewhere they are flanking the Ukrainian positions. And above everything lies the thunder of artillery and the impacts of Russian glide bombs. The Russian armed forces are not charging forward, they are crawling – but constantly. In the meantime, the experts who, in the summer of 2024, were still swearing about Kiev’s imminent victory and the liberation of Crimea are also becoming worried.

The ongoing battles for position in Donbass are not the worst thing. President Zelensky says the situation has been stabilized for now. That’s correct. With tough resistance, the Ukrainian soldiers prevented a section of the front from collapsing and thus a Russian breakthrough. The only question is: How long will they endure the losing battle? The London Times has always supported Ukraine unconditionally. Its headline was: “It’s time we talked about the fall of Kyiv.” Iain Martin describes a nightmare scenario there. The USA is blocking the aid, the Europeans are hesitating and Putin’s troops are once again standing in front of the capital Kiev. The text is a warning call and not a serious prognosis, but still. Martin is aware that freezing the conflict is no longer an option at all. Not out of political and moral concerns, but out of the realization that Putin doesn’t want to let victory be taken out of his hands.

The Ukrainian president also expects a Russian offensive, a major operation that will add to the current fighting. The fall of Kiev this year is unrealistic, the distances are too far and the advance is too slow. The situation is different in the country’s second largest city: Kharkiv. In Donbass, Kiev will lose more villages, including the important mountain fortress of Chasiv Yar. But in the background, the Russians are preparing a much larger operation. You can currently see the preparations for this – the so-called shaping phase. This includes attacks on the infrastructure and especially on the energy supply. Moscow has done this before, but the current attacks are different. Previously, they were designed to shut down network nodes. This is limited damage that Ukraine was able to repair with the help of the West. This year the power plants are under direct attack. Widespread devastation destroys the central machine halls. It is not possible to start operations in the foreseeable future.

Preparations are aimed at Kharkiv; before the war, around 1.5 million people lived here. Now the residents’ electricity is being turned off. Presumably the water supply will follow. Worst of all, the Russians have begun attacking the city with their dreaded glide bombs. Still on a small scale. These bombs send a message from Putin: Kharkiv is becoming a frontline city. The civilians should flee the city. The gliding bombs signal that the city of millions is threatened with a fate like Bakhmut and Avdiivka – only on a much larger scale.

If the Russians increase the number of glide bombs, the city will have to be evacuated. That alone would be a psychological victory for Putin and another blow to Ukrainian morale. Domestically, Putin would stick to his word to create a “buffer zone” so that Belgorod can no longer be shelled. If a major offensive were to start in May, it would hit Kiev in the worst possible situation.

The incessant fighting in Donbass is draining the troops. Kiev lacks everything. Air defense systems are missing. Ukraine can either protect a few major cities or the troops at the front. There they successfully set up defensive traps and shot down Russian jets, but also lost their own air defense in the process. President Zelensky keeps desperately asking for more Patriot systems. But it is feared that deliveries from the West will not even make up for the losses.

Things look even worse with the main battle tanks. The Western idea of ​​a “one-time delivery” has failed. As you might expect, these tanks have been destroyed, damaged or are suffering from wear and tear. Only a small part should still be operational. The highly praised Challenger II is said to be almost unusable because of its weight. Kiev had to recognize that the war in Ukraine is not always the first priority in the West. The USA first supplied Israel and then Ukraine. Denmark announced this week that it would not give the remaining F-16 jets to Kiev. They are expected to go to Argentina in a complicated ring swap deal. Probably with the blessing of Washington, which wants to prevent the purchase of Chinese fighter jets.

If Russia opens a new front in the north with fresh troops, it would be a test for the Ukrainian armed forces. Where will the men and the equipment come from to stop Putin? If the Russians apply the recipes they developed in the battle for Bakhmut and Avdiivka to the city of Kharkiv, it will mean the literal downfall of the city.

In the initial phase of the invasion, the Russians drove into the cities with armored forces and were then held up in the thicket of houses and streets and then shot up. Since then, the Russians have avoided this type of urban fighting by destroying the buildings. Where there is resistance, they use glide bombs. Shelters, fortifications and observation posts are reduced to rubble. If Kharkiv falls or is surrounded, Putin will be close to achieving his war goals.

In the next step, the Russians could try to divide the country and cut off Kiev’s troops in the east. Because of the city’s size, the battle would be noticeably different from that of Avdiivka, but Putin will have no qualms about destroying the city piece by piece. The attack in Moscow will justify any escalation of warfare at home.