By Carl Parkin || Contributing Writer

Despite aid continuing to flow in from NATO, Ukraine’s attempt to take back territory in the country’s East is failing to make meaningful progress. Ukrainian forces have been pushing up against heavy fortifications; miles of barbed wire, concrete teeth, land mines, and other defenses have made progress nigh impossible.

These defenses pose a particular problem to the largely ground-based Ukrainian military. While the United States has pledged to send F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine, training Ukrainian pilots to fly these aircraft is projected to take many months — despite National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s claim that the aircraft are being sent “as fast as possible.”

Russia currently holds air superiority in the conflict, with its wide array of fighter jets and highly trained pilots. However, if Ukraine were to prevail in air combat, its planes could assist in destroying Russian ground defenses and artillery, the main obstacles to the counteroffensive’s progress.

The urgency of progress has been highlighted by a number of regional developments. Most notably, each side of the conflict has been making claims that the other will soon intentionally cause a disaster at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.

While Zaporizhzhia is currently under Russian control, the counteroffensive’s front is not far from the plant. Russia has recently denied plant access to the U.N. atomic watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). IAEA access would be critical in determining the plausibility of Ukraine’s claims of an imminent Russian attack.

There is a recent precedent for the destruction of civilian infrastructure in the war. While the Ukrainian counteroffensive began in June, it was delayed by the destruction of the Kakhovka dam, which caused widespread flooding across Ukraine’s South-East. Just as with the supposedly imminent attack at Zaporizhzhia, each side claimed the other was responsible — though Russia was likely the true culprit.

While the Zaporizhzhia plant’s reactors have been shut down, each reactor still requires a continuous flow of coolant, as the Uranium fuel within remains hot for years after the plant’s deactivation. Should the plant be left without coolant, the Uranium could grow so hot that it melts, releasing dangerous radioactivity. 

Recently, the Kakhovka dam’s destruction has left continued cooling for Zaporizhzhia in jeopardy, though United Nations atomic energy head Rafael Grossi states that the plant will have secure cooling for “some time.”

Another factor encouraging haste in Ukraine’s counteroffensive is the hesitance of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in bringing Ukraine into its mutual defense alliance. While NATO’s July summit at Vilnius centered around promises to Ukraine and hosted Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, NATO extended no direct timetable or plan for welcoming Ukraine.

The major factor in NATO’s rejection of Ukraine’s entry is, undoubtedly, the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war. NATO’s Article V consists of a mutual defense pact, stating that an attack on one is an attack on all. Ukraine’s entry into NATO would force either an immediate withdrawal from the conflict by Russia or a full-scale war between Russia and the alliance, both of whom have nuclear weapons in their possession.

Ukraine’s response to the decision has been negative, but ultimately NATO’s statement aligns with the stated interests of its strongest member — the United States. President Joe Biden stated in July that Ukraine’s war with Russia must end before it can enter NATO.

While Ukraine’s entry into NATO would constitute a major shift in the war’s dynamics, right now there is no end in sight for the conflict.

That conclusion is bad news for Ukraine. Over time, support among the American public for arming Ukraine has steadily waned. As the U.S. shifts toward strategic competition with China as its primary priority, it will likely find less and less reason to continue spending billions defending Ukraine.

Sophomore Carl Parkin is a contributing writer. His email is