The cold logic behind Russia’s crude nihilistic tactics in Ukraine | Jack Watling
sThe US offensive in the Donbass region is making slow progress. After Russia scrambled to launch the operation to avoid giving Ukraine time to bring in new weapons from the West, Russia found its exhausted and exhausted units unwilling and unable to attack Ukrainian positions without incurring unacceptable losses. Therefore, the Russian army retreated from the extensive use of artillery, destroying village after village, which it occupied after the withdrawal of Ukrainian units.
For the Ukrainian army, current Russian tactics may be uncomplicated and nihilistic, but they are also dangerous. To prevent the Russians from advancing, the Ukrainian armed forces must occupy the land. This subjects their units to intense bombardment, and leads to a steady build-up of Ukrainian casualties. The Ukrainians are trying to reduce the weight of Russian fire by raiding and knocking out the logistical support of Russian artillery.
The challenge for the Russian military is maintaining troop levels. Moscow began an unannounced mobilization of citizens from former military service, completing the campaign to recruit volunteers for short-term service contracts. Short-term contracts are intended to maintain the strength of the units until the mobilized personnel are organized and equipped. But with poor training, low morale, poor unit cohesion after major casualties and a constant influx of new personnel, Russian units continue to perform poorly and suffer disproportionately in engagements.
Although Ukraine is currently favored by short-term military trends, the country faces difficult choices. As long as Russia has a large number of artillery systems and its air defenses blocking Ukrainian air support, the Ukrainian army is forced to remain dispersed, limiting its available combat power at any point and slowing the rate of land liberation. Ukraine should also warn of the danger of Russia’s transition to a larger and more overt mobilization of its population which, though politically risky, would threaten a major offensive late in the year, requiring Ukraine to keep its forces in reserve.
If the Ukrainian army cannot liberate large swaths of territory or the Russian army bleeds this summer, there is a risk of a protracted conflict. The main security concerns of Kiev are economic and political. Without a peace settlement, Ukraine will remain economically paralyzed, its ports blockaded, its cities badly damaged, and investment or reconstruction deterred by the looming prospect of missile strikes. Kyiv is expected to lose nearly half of its GDP this year. Many internally displaced Ukrainians live off their savings. This will start to run out.
The protracted conflict also threatens to damage internal cohesion. So far, Ukraine has been politically unified, with Russian sympathizers in the Ukrainian state remaining out of sight or enthusiastically supporting the war effort. It would be dangerous to do anything else. As curfews and movement controls are lifted, and the political clarity of the need to defend Kyiv has dissipated, there are renewed opportunities for sabotage. The way in which the government ensures it can provide heating to citizens far from the front as winter approaches, for example, is an issue on which criticism may be justified. But Russia can also exploit such issues to undermine the country’s internal unity.
In the event of a protracted conflict, Ukraine is likely to rely on financial assistance from abroad, but it is also likely to need that help precisely when its international partners are under greater economic pressure. The UK inflation rate is close to 10%. There is a serious risk of stagnation. If job losses come in the fall, it will coincide with people’s renewed need to heat their homes. Meanwhile, energy prices are expected to remain high, and Russia has so far continued to supply Europe. Under these circumstances, European citizens may become less supportive of helping Ukraine fight a brutal war in the Donbass when they feel acute pain back home.
With these dark clouds on the horizon, Ukraine’s partners must follow two courses of action. First, Ukraine should improve its security situation as much as possible during the summer. To do this, it requires long-range artillery that can challenge Russia’s fire dominance. The US provision of the M777 155mm howitzer is a good start. Ukraine’s partners should also help train new Ukrainian brigades so the country can withdraw and reconfigure some of its units. It is also important that the Russian army not be given the opportunity to regain the initiative. To prevent this, it is important to keep the rate of Russian losses in the Donbass high, so that the mobilized personnel will have to be promptly paid to maintain the Russian positions rather than organize into new units capable of opening new axes.
The second line of effort should be to take a coordinated approach across Europe to build resilience this winter and start working on the best means to provide economic support to Ukraine. There is also a need to inform the public early and clearly about the direct relationship between Russia’s actions and the economic pain to come. Russian disinformation will inevitably depict economic pain as a result of Kyiv’s support. These distortions must be proactively undermined.
Finally, there is the matter of the unity of the alliance. There are increasing calls across NATO to consider negotiated solutions, often based on swaps of Ukrainian territory for peace. While negotiations should never be abandoned, pressing for a ceasefire that would yield Russian gains, allow the Russian military to recover and prepare for a renewed offensive and leave Ukraine in economic paralysis is too naive. It is important to clear and resolve disagreements over objectives among the main European partners as soon as possible. Since Ukrainian citizens are being subjected to camps of liquidation, and Russia plans to annex more of its territory, it must be understood that peace on Russia’s terms would be a very violent act.
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