Dragging On

The Ukrainian counter     offensive, under way since the spring, is slogging through miles of trenches and minefields But Western impatience is visible in NATO capitals. They want quick victory for Ukraine. It is not happening. Their capacity to finance the proxy war against Russia seems to be exhausting quickly. The corporates in Europe are too eager to start reconstruction business in Ukraine. But stalemate doesn’t mean war is over. In truth regrouping is taking place on both sides. As a negotiated settlement is not in sight Ukraine cannot avoid more destruction. Capturing a village or two in Donbas region is not going to change the ground reality. Ukrainians living as refugees in Europe have no hope to return to their country anytime soon. They are in a hopeless situation. Zelensky is lucky that he has not yet faced mass upheaval though anti-war opinion is growing. The extent of damage to Ukrainian infrastructure is yet to be assessed.

Attacking an entrenched force, as the Ukrainians are doing now, is the stuff of military nightmares. ‘The opposite side knows you’re coming, they’ve prepared for your attacks, and their objective is to cede back as little ground as possible while making you pay in blood for every inch’. After all Russian military strategists are not fool—they know their strength and weakness.

In its wars over the past 30 years, the US has had almost every edge over its battlefield opponents, including superior firepower, complete control of the skies, advanced technology, and a superbly trained force.

The Ukrainians have almost none of these advantages. Their weaponry, including tanks and air defences, has been getting better, but not fast enough. They are outnumbered by the Russian army that uses untrained troops dredged from prisons as bullet sponges.

For one thing, the fact that the Ukrainians are on the offensive at all is something of a miracle. Americans tend to think of military conflicts as having the same narrative are as action movies—dramatic blowing of a whistle and a charge from the trenches. It is unlikely to happen in real theatre of war.

No doubt Ukraine survives and is taking the fight to Russia’s capital city. The original Russian plan, more than a year and a half ago, was to erase Ukraine as a state in a matter of days. Instead, the Russians are now complaining about repeated Ukrainian drone strikes in the heart of Moscow, while President Vladimir Putin’s forces, however slowly, are ceding back some occupied territory. Zelensky is happy that war has finally come to Russia. But these drone attacks had been very small and ineffective—so small that they appeared to be a Russian false-flag operation. But they have had an outsize psychological impact on Putin’s regime. And the western propaganda machine has some materials to sell.

The latest drone in Moscow struck a skyscraper housing some government agencies. It produced no casualties but broke a lot of glass; apparently, it also broke the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova, who compared the attack to 9/11. The compraison was ludicrous!

The Poles have reported that roughly 100 men from Prigozhin’s Wagner Group, the mercenaries who have been effective fighters in Ukraine and who nearly marched to Moscow in June, might be approaching the Polish border from their new home in neighbouring Belarus. (Poland has also accused Belarus of violating Polish airspace.) The possibility of a second front cannot be ruled out if Ukrainian counter-offensive poses an existential threat to Russia. It is unlikely to happen despite inflated aid package to Ukraine.

“If there’s anything that Ukraine can use in any NATO warehouse from Vancouver to Vilnius, that’s a scandal”. An unnamed Western intelligence official summarised recently both the hope and the danger in the current battle: “There is no reason why the Ukrainians cannot break through the Russian main defensive line”, the official said. In the same breath he said “It’s not going to be easy, so we shouldn’t shy away from that.”

In the meantime, the summer of drones and trenches will drag on.


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Vol 56, No. 8, Aug 20 - 26, 2023