A year after Russia's invasion, what now for Ukraine?

Friday, February 24, 2023 marks a year of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.

Russian president Vladimir Putin thought Ukraine would be easily subdued and a puppet regime would be installed in about three days.  He also probably believed that Ukrainian civilians would welcome the Russian soldiers with open arms and offer little if any resistance.  Even many Western military leaders and politicians thought Ukraine would quickly fall and even suggested that that Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelensky, could leave for the West at any time.

Well, surprise, surprise!  Zelensky didn't leave, and the Ukrainian military let the Russians hold on to only about a fifth of the eastern and southeastern part of the country.

Zelensky now wants Russia to leave all occupied Ukrainian territories, including Crimea, a strategic location on the Black Sea, which was forcefully annexed by Russia in 2014.

As of Feb. 3, the estimated number of Russian soldiers killed is about 200,000, with at least twice that many casualties if you include the wounded who can no longer fight.  The Russian mobilization in September added many poorly trained recruits, some of whom were criminals from jails, sent to the front line with poor military equipment who just became cannon fodder for the Ukraine defenders.

According to Russian propaganda, about 500,000 new conscripts for military service were planned, starting on Jan. 15, for a second mobilization.  So far, no second mobilization has formally been announced.

As you can see, the Russian military thinks that hordes of human soldier bodies will make up for an inability to use smart offensive military strategy, hampered further by acute logistics and tactical problems.  The tactical approach is a little reminiscent of the Russian hordes charging German positions in the city of Stalingrad in World War II, where Russia lost about a million soldiers and finally defeated the Germans who probably ran out of ammunition.

Recently, in fierce fighting in Bakhmut, which once had a population of about 70,000 in eastern Ukraine, Russian soldiers outnumbered Ukrainian soldiers by about a factor of 10 to 1.  The battle for Bakhmut has been going on for about 8 months now, and it is mostly a symbolic political rather than strategic necessity for Russia and Ukraine.  So far, Ukraine still holds on to Bakhmut but may eventually withdraw to avoid continuing, relatively large losses of soldiers and military equipment.

Rumors of massive Russian offenses and Ukrainian counteroffensives abound, but basically the war is largely a stalemate, a trench warfare–type scenario.  Yes, Ukraine pushed back the Russians from the area around the capital, Kyiv; Ukraine got back some territory in northeastern Ukraine; and Ukraine got back the city of Kherson and the surrounding area west of the Dnieper river because the Russians withdrew from the area, which was a unique tactical retreat in the war.

Russia had minor successes in the Donbas area of eastern Ukraine by reducing small villages and towns to rubble with brute-force artillery shells and then occupying the area with troops, who dug more frontline trenches.

Overall, the Russian use of artillery shelling has decreased by about 75%, highlighting the fact that Russia is running low on military hardware and shells, which Ukraine has been rather successful in destroying with their own artillery, anti-tank precision rockets, and Himars longer-range precision rockets obtained from the West.

Russia recently tried to destroy the electrical infrastructure of Ukraine before the onset of winter.  Russia failed to totally destroy that, but Ukraine was forced to suffer from big blackouts and intermittent electrical service in the winter months.  Many of the Russian-launched missiles or rockets were destroyed, and few hit their targets.  It seems that for the time being, Russia is out of rockets and missiles.

Ukraine has three large working nuclear energy electrical plants, which provide a lot of power, and fortunately, Russia did not target them as part of its nefarious destructive plans.

Because this is basically a war of attrition of soldiers and military hardware, both sides are running low on both.  Ukraine desperately needs Bradley or similar troop carriers and tanks, like the Leopards made in Germany, to go on an aggressive strategic offensive anywhere on the front line or it will have no chance of taking back any more occupied territory belonging to Ukraine.

Western military aid has been promised to Ukraine, but the situation so far is too little and too late.  Neither Russia nor Ukraine is good at aggressive strategic planning because of the dwindling number of trained professional soldiers, commanders, and military equipment.  Russia has lost over a dozen generals in combat and has failed miserably in tactics, strategy, and logistics.  How much the same situation applies to Ukraine is unknown, but Ukraine is still suffering from poor military leadership, Russian-style tactics, and Russian-style military equipment, which includes some Western military equipment.

So what we see is a seemingly endless war with neither side making any decisive aggressive strategic that which could quickly alter the state of this largely trench warfare scenario.

The war will last many more months, if not years, unless there is an economic or political collapse in either country.  Placing your bets on an end to the war is currently unpredictable, and only time will tell whether either country has any kind of victory.  Perhaps something will radically happen and lead to a compromised peaceful negotiated settlement of the war, with Russia consolidating most of its military gains.

Before the war, at least on paper, Russia was the second most powerful military in the world.  Largely due to a corrupt, incompetent military and a tyrannical, corrupt, and incompetent oligarchy, Ukraine's third-rate military, with a corrupt political oligarchy, has so far survived the seemingly more powerful Russian onslaught.

Only time will tell if a continuing potpourri of Western economic aid, military aid, and military equipment training for Ukraine will succeed in taking Russia's choking foot off of Ukraine's throat.  Ukraine may get some more of its territory back, but it will take a lot more dead and wounded soldiers, suffering, human sacrifice, time, and courageous aggressive strategic fighting to do so.

The worst possible future scenario is a split of Ukraine into a Russian-controlled eastern part and a Ukrainian-controlled western part with a demilitarized zone dividing the two areas, much like the stalemate situation with North and South Korea.  If that happens, then the world will see that tyrannical military might makes right and national sovereignty is meaningless into the foreseeable future.

Can you really blame many Ukrainians, Belarusians, Chechens, Georgians, and other ethnic minorities yearning to live a relatively free Western European lifestyle rather than an oppressive Russian lifestyle?  Just compare the average standard of living of Western Europeans and that of the Russians, and you will better understand what is really going on in the world they see around them.

Image: mvs.gov.ua via Wikimedia CommonsCC BY-SA 4.0.

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