Is the Tide of War Turning in Ukraine?

News & Politics

The war in Ukraine has settled into an old-fashioned, 20th-century war of attrition complete with battle lines and trenches. In this kind of war, it doesn’t matter what kind of tanks Ukraine gets or how many. The war is now a test of wills and will turn on Russia’s ability to kill more Ukrainians than the Ukrainians can kill Russians.

According to the Institute for the Study of War, the long-awaited Russian offensive has begun.

Russian forces have regained the initiative in Ukraine and have begun their next major offensive in Luhansk OblastThe pace of Russian operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line in western Luhansk Oblast has increased markedly over the past week, and Russian sources are widely reporting that conventional Russian troops are attacking Ukrainian defensive lines and making marginal advances along the Kharkiv-Luhansk Oblast border, particularly northwest of Svatove near Kupyansk and west of Kreminna.[1] Geolocated combat footage has confirmed Russian gains in the Dvorichne area northwest of Svatove.[2] Russian military command additionally appears to have fully committed elements of several conventional divisions to decisive offensive operations along the Svatove-Kreminna line, as ISW previously reported.

The fighting has been brutal. Ukraine’s military announced Tuesday that more than 1,000 Russian troops have been killed over a 24-hour stretch. Ukrainian casualties are unknown, but they’re almost certainly less given that Russia is on the offensive. It appears that Russian commanders have committed their forces to the attack regardless of cost.

Russia has three times the number of soldiers as Ukraine and a huge advantage in armor and air power. And unlike the fighting in western Ukraine, where the vast majority of the population was Ukrainian, the fighting in the east is being conducted in far friendlier territory for the Russians. About half the population is either ethnic Russian or speaks Russian.

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Also in the east, Russian forces are being augmented by local Russian-speaking units — the Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) People’s Militia has assumed control over a Russian artillery battalion. Instead of having them man their guns, the DNR sent them into the meat grinder to join infantry units.

The reported subordination of Russian mobilized personnel to DNR formations could also suggest that Russian military command may be continuing efforts to integrate ad hoc DNR and Luhansk People‘s Republic (LNR) formations into the Russian Armed Forces, but will likely face significant difficulties.The Russian Southern Military District formally controls the armed forces of the DNR and LNR through the 1st and 2nd Army Corps, respectively. However, many DNR and LNR formations remain ad hoc units and are not fully integrated into Russian MoD [Ministry of Defense] structures.

Russia may be losing a lot of men, but it’s beginning to make some progress — not a lot. But if Putin is willing to expend Russian lives at the rate he has previously eventually, the Ukrainian military will be worn down. What happens then? Will President Zelenskyy head to the mountains and initiate a guerilla war?

Hopefully, Biden will be able to convince Zelenskyy and Putin to come to the table before then. But Putin will almost certainly be in an ascendant position. Then there’s the question of who should Putin negotiate with — Zeleskyy or Biden? Or both?

New York Times:

But the Biden strategy has a bad name: escalation. Beyond a certain point, the United States is no longer “helping” or “advising” or “supplying” the Ukrainians, the way it did, say, the Afghan mujahedeen during the Cold War. It is replacing Ukraine as Russia’s main battlefield adversary. It is hard to say when that point will be reached or whether it has been already. With whom is Russia at war — Ukraine or the United States? Russia started the war between Russia and Ukraine. Who started the war between Russia and the United States?

If Putin is beginning to turn the tide in Ukraine, it may panic Biden into doing something really stupid, like sending advanced fighters to Kyiv. Whatever happens, it would behoove Biden to start leaning on Zelenskyy to end this war before things get out of control and the world has a catastrophe on its hands.

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