It feels like it has been years since the beginning of the Ukraine War. The Russians spent the first few weeks stepping on their own…toes…and it seemed that anything could happen.
It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when you are involved in a long-running event.
With almost all of the Donbas under Russian control and Kyiv apparently preparing for an August offensive to the south, let us take a look at the winnings and losers in the five-month-old Ukraine War.
Initial Objectives: To ensure the survival of the Russian regime and national survival, to keep Russian territorial gains at a minimum.
Current Objectives: Ukraine seeks to retake Russian-occupied territory, at least in the south, and not minimize Russian territorial gains.
What have they done?
Ukraine is now smaller, but it still has the same government that it was founded. This is a win or at least not a loss.
Russia’s humiliating refusal to take Kyiv was the first sign that things were not going as planned in the Ukraine War. Russian forces did not just fail, they also left behind a convoy covering 40 miles of their most valuable men and equipment, vulnerable and unable to move.
A few A-10s and that convoy would have been yet another Highway of Death.
Another important sign is that Ukraine failed to capitalize on Russia’s huge mistake. The Highway of Death scenario could have been a victory — or close enough. For a few weeks, the world waited with bated breath. But Kyiv didn’t make it happen.
President Volodymyr Zeleskyy has promised a south offensive (when he’s not posing for Vogue), while the UA has feigned interest in Russian positions. Even the most optimistic Ukraine war assessment wouldn’t call such modest gains a counter-offensive.
Ukraine has a strong national identity, which this war helped to birth. Western war material. If anyone doubted the impact of a few modern HIMARS launchers and how much they have made, then you should now see how slow and costly the Russian advance is.
Against Ukraine: The Ukrainians are suffering from 100-200 casualties (KIA/MIA, wounds) every day and this is not sustainable. The West is also short on attention so we don’t know how long our generosity will last.
Assessment: It’s a shame that they didn’t capitalize on Russia’s early failures. What a miracle that they are still fighting so well.
Initial Objectives: Capture and eventual annexation in a short time of the Novorossiya region (the east- and south-east of Ukraine), decapitation and destruction of Ukraine’s Army, and installation of a friendly regime within Rump Ukraine
Current Objectives: Annexation and depopulation of the remainder of Ukraine, as well as the alleviation of Russia’s demographic crisis caused by the influx of Ukrainian citizens through “filtration camps”.
This is a significant step down from Russia’s original goal to its current aims.
However, the current goals are more realistic and, even if Ukraine spends a generation rebuilding its country and inviting millions of refugees back, Russia’s power will be increased vis-a-vis Ukraine.
Russia has been and will continue to be reduced as a regional force with global pretensions. This is because Russian arms, regardless of where they are drawn, have been shown unworthy of being a Great Power.
Russia made notable advances in two regions that were small. Worse, Russia’s obvious pincer movement, which was located north of Crimea and south of Kharkiv, in the war’s opening days, completely failed. The success would have been to encircle the vast majority of Ukraine’s east-bound Army, cutting off supplies and allowing Russia the opportunity to destroy it. This failure was the beginning of a long Ukraine War.
Ukraine was pushed back, yes, but in good order, and often after they gave as much as they could.
Russia’s first success area was the Donbas, where Russia holds most of it. It has been a brutal conflict. The Russian KIAs are estimated to be around 15,000 with another 30,000-45,000 injured. However, the majority of these were lost in the conquest of a smaller area than New Jersey during the five-month period.
That’s not an impressive performance.
(I’m not buying the high-end estimate of 30,000 Russian KIA.)
Russia’s progress has slowed further since Ukraine received HIMARS rocket launchers. These have had a devastating effect on Russian ammo stores and have complicated Russia’s already stretched logistics.
The second region of Russian advancement is the south. They have captured everything, from Mariupol to Kherson. Odesa is still far away.
Russia has taken a lot more territory in the south than it did in the north, but it’s only been against token resistance. Kyiv decided to send the majority of its small forces into the Donbas.
It’s not impressive. Despite Russia’s limited, modified goals, the Russian Army in the south needs to keep what it has.
Russia’s advantage: Russia has more men and materials, a bloody-minded determination, and time to win as it integrates the occupied territory.
Putin lacks the political will and ability to mobilize. This is why middle-aged men join “volunteer battalions” and are rushed to battle instead of young conscripted soldiers. Russia is also running out of modern weapons systems. It deployed aged T-62 tanks (first deployed 61 years ago) and pulled 2S7 tracked howitzers from storage.
Assessment: Russia doesn’t need to worry about Ukraine joining NATO. It has caused so much destruction, and displaced so many people, that it may be a generation before Moscow needs to worry about Ukraine joining NATO. Even though Ukraine will not be joining NATO, Sweden or Finland will. Another bad news is the fact that Russian arms have been seriously lacking in their defense against a smaller, more modern foe with little military history. Some reports state that Russia is surviving the sanctions economically well while others claim the contrary. Whatever the truth, the China-Russian-Iran Axis is not as great as Russia’s glory days in the West.