Tuesday, March 7, 2023

A Year Later, Ski Looks at the War in Ukraine

Ski, aka Colonel Andrew Dziengeleski (US Army, retired) takes a look at the Russo Ukrainian war after the first year, From the Cheap Seats: The Russia-Ukraine War After a Year. Some extended excerpts.

In April 2022, I wrote a column on the different forms of military strategy, and this included a quick paragraph about what strategies were being undertaken by the Russians and Ukrainians. In this paragraph, I stated, “I believe the Russian strategy has shifted from the decapitation strategy to a strategy of attrition against the Ukrainians.” Now that we are approaching March 2023, it's crystal clear that the Russians are conducting a strategy of attrition toward the Ukrainians, especially their forces in the field. Attritional strategies have a real downside if you don’t possess overwhelming military superiority, and the downside is simple — your forces will also suffer from attrition. How bad is Russian attrition?
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While it’s not much better for the Ukrainian Army, they have the full financial backing of the United States and partial backing from other NATO partner nations as well as a few non-NATO nations allied with the US such as South Korea, Japan, and Australia. So while their original equipment, usually some kind of old Soviet or Russian gear, often with Ukrainian upgrades, has also been attrited in depth. The difference here, of course, is the replacement Western equipment, although older in nature, is still equal or in most cases, superior to what the Russians are fielding.
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At this point, the Ukrainian strategy over the winter has been one of exhaustion, as they cannot afford to adopt an attritional strategy as Russia is a much larger nation with greater financial and manpower resources. The overwhelming hope is that the Ukrainians will have used the winter and mud seasons to refit, train and produce new or modernized units capable of maneuver warfare once the ground hardens in the late Spring. It’s not so much a gamble rather than a “let’s see how they do” approach because if there is one major battlefield lesson to be drawn here, it’s that the defense has regained its superiority over the offensive. Much of this has to do with modern artillery, drones, and anti-tank missiles, backed by armor and dismounted infantry, with occasional helicopter and fixed-wing strikes in support of ground ops. What really makes this all work is the Starlink communications network combined with innovative Ukrainian artillery tactics. While these tactics have worked very well on the defensive, the jury is still out on whether they will work on the offensive supporting maneuver forces. Time will tell, either way.
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Anthony Cordesman, a long-time and respected military analyst at the Center of Strategic and International Studies, is one of the few voices in DC actually thinking about how this war ends. In his recent column, Cordesman states that “The only time Ukraine and the West will be able to seriously claim a true victory is when, and if, the fighting ends in an acceptable peace.” I cannot understate the importance of this sentence. Wars have to be terminated with concessions on all sides, and the resulting peace treaty MUST be acceptable to all sides.
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The post-war Ukraine-Russia situation must be thought through seriously, and now would be a very good time to start doing such thinking. The State Department and Department of Defense have a series of heavy tasks ahead of them, as they must consider rebuilding the physical infrastructure of Ukraine as well as its military forces. Before that, both Departments, along with the National Security Council and Congress, need to start drafting war termination criteria to end this war and stop the foolish blather about letting the Ukrainians determine how to end the war.
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This is realism 101, and unfortunately for Ukraine, they are stuck between the world’s strongest nuclear powers in the U.S. and Russia. Ukraine rightly sees the war as an existential threat, however, they will not dictate how this war ends, even if it is on favorable terms.
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A year later, there are still no easy answers on how this war ends, and quite frankly, the end of the war seems quite distant at the moment. Neither country has lost the will to fight, Western arms, money, and supplies are pouring into Ukraine, and now there is at least a possibility the Chinese will start providing weapons and supplies to Russia. Iran has provided drones and ammunition to Russia, and North Korea has sent ammunition to Russia as well. The world has already seen Western volunteers fight for Ukraine, and there are reports (less reliable) that the Russians have also accepted foreign volunteers. Two obvious escalation measures could occur — the use of “special weapons” which is a poor euphemism for nuclear, biological, chemical, or radiological weapons, or the direct deployment of Western forces into Ukraine to fight against the Russians. While both remain highly unlikely at this time, the longer this war continues, the likelihood of one of these two escalations increases.


1 comment:

  1. I remember when you published him before. We will see how this ends. I am not sure china will be a good ally in the adventure.