A turning point in Ukraine
The standard narrative has portrayed Ukraine as a small, plucky nation bravely resisting overwhelming Russian force. Ukraine’s only hope was to hold out for a time against Russia or perhaps accept some partition of the country. It was a David and Goliath story but without the happy ending.
In late February, this depiction was almost certainly accurate. Russia had more, better weapons and 200,000 trained soldiers poised to attack Ukraine and capture its capital, Kyiv.
A month later, the situation has changed dramatically. Clearly, the Russians were overrated. The troops were unprepared, the weaponry was inadequate, command-and-control spotty, and logistics deplorable. Meanwhile, the Ukrainians proved surprisingly tough and, bolstered by anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons from the US and European countries, managed to stymie the Russian advance.
Moreover, in the last week, the tables appear to be turning. The Ukrainians have been able to take the offensive and recapture towns north of Kyiv, near Mariupol in the south, and on the approach to Kharkiv in the east. David is more than holding his own against Goliath.
How did Ukraine manage to pull it off?
While the Russians enjoyed superiority in numbers in February, the Ukrainians have since enlisted the help of most of their adult male citizens. Consider: Approximately 4 million people have fled Ukraine, principally women and children. If we assume the male relatives of those refugees have taken up arms, then the Ukrainian military may have added 1.3 million soldiers. Include the regular army of 200,000, and Ukraine may have 1.5 million men under arms.
At least some data points in this direction. For example, a Ukrainian military source notes that the country’s territorial defense units are “complete” and “have as much as 150% of what is needed.” Ukraine appears to have plenty of soldiers.
But what of their quality? At the start of the war, new recruits were teachers, salesmen, auto mechanics, and swimming coaches. They were hardly soldiers. In the intervening month, however, the Ukrainians have been bombed, fired upon, and probably engaged the enemy in some form. Some have killed and others have died. They are no longer amateurs but rapidly becoming battle-tested soldiers.
Image: Ukrainian troops. YouTube screen grab.
Moreover, they can build on a solid foundation. According to a different video from the Ukrainian military source noted above, as many as 500,000 Ukrainian soldiers and policemen have been trained to fight the Russian military during joint forces operations with NATO.
How do the Ukrainians compare to the Russians? We know many of the Russians were raw recruits, poorly trained and equipped, and not even told they were going to war. Many were demoralized, fearful, and had no desire to fight in Ukraine.
If one were to choose, the Ukrainians look like the superior bunch. We can therefore compare the current headcount of the Ukrainian military at, say, 1.5 million versus 150,000 Russians fighting in theater. Every Russian may soon be facing off against ten Ukrainians.
Moreover, the Ukrainians can more easily move around the country and concentrate forces where they are needed. The mooted numerical advantage of the Russians is no longer true. They are fighting a large and growing Ukrainian army, one more cohesive, experienced, and battle-hardened with every passing day. Ukraine is no pushover, not by a long shot.
Meanwhile, the flow of NATO arms into Ukraine is becoming a flood. Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby has stated that “the support is going in; it’s going in very fast.” Ad hoc shipments are turning into a steady flow of well-defined arms and other supplies. With every passing day, the Russians will not only be increasingly outnumbered but they will also be outgunned—and by a Ukrainian military fully vested in kicking the Russians out of their country.
Ukraine is not in NATO and probably never will be. But make no mistake, NATO is already in Ukraine and will be entrenched there for a long time. More and more, Russia will be facing off not against a weak, minor military, but rather a huge NATO army in all but name.
Given this reality, the Russians sooner or later will lose the war. We are already seeing the turning point as the Ukrainians go on the offensive.