Foreign Affairs: Ukraine will win the recognition war if it retains the ability to continue the fight
The war in Ukraine turned into a brutal battle for every meter. The sides are firing one medium and long-range artillery. Because of this, already destroyed villages and cities in Donbas found themselves between two fires.
As during the brutal battles of the First World War, in the current conflict only small pieces of territory change hands. Districts are passed under occupation, and a week later they are liberated. Also, talks about a quick victory of Ukraine or Russia have already disappeared from the headlines. However, analysts and officials are still talking about how much heavy weapons and technologies are needed to change the outcome of the war in favor of Ukraine. About this in the article for Foreign Policy write Christine Brathwaite, a professor at James Madison College at Michigan State University and Margarita Konayev, a senior researcher at the Center for a New American Security.
Retired US Army General Ben Godges told the Washington Post last week that an influx of advanced Western weaponry amid Russia’s poor supply and manpower shortages could help Ukraine stop a Russian offensive and launch a counteroffensive. However, this war of attrition will likely depend on each side’s ability to ensure a steady flow of troops, fighters and heavy equipment to the eastern front, especially if the conflict drags on and international attention dissipates.
“Logistics, financial management, personnel services, and health care will play a central role in determining which side has the best ability to replenish its designated units and equipment stocks, as well as sources of food, fuel, and ammunition.“, the authors write.
The Russian army shows clear signs of deficit, especially in the field of replenishment of the military after heavy losses. But this also applies to the Ukrainian side, which in recent weeks has admitted that it is running out of ammunition, and daily losses in battles can reach up to 200 soldiers. In a conflict that will end or at least be stopped through negotiations or a cease-fire, the ability to continue fighting could give Ukraine an important advantage.
Strengthening its army and replenishing the reserves of equipment, Ukraine may or may not be able to defeat the Russian army. But in this way, it will definitely deprive the enemy of great gains, recognize his resources and want to continue the battle. Military assistance from the West, especially the provision of weapons and training, will be critical to such a Ukrainian capability. But no less important are internal factors, such as the return of refugees to their homes, the recovery of the economy, and the strengthening of Ukrainian resistance in the occupied territories. In other words, supporting the battle against Moscow will require political, economic and military determination on the part of the Ukrainian people, as well as on the part of the US and other NATO countries. The challenge, however, was that the ability to continue the battle would become increasingly expensive as the war progressed. And it will be depolitical for Western countries to find freedom to fulfill their obligations to Ukraine.
Signs of deficiency
At the beginning of the war, Russia did not at all consider the possibility of sustaining the fight for a long time, throwing large numbers of troops against Ukraine without establishing supply chains or establishing full control of the skies. The Ukrainian military slowed down the Russian offensive, and the distance and weather conditions complicated Moscow’s logistical problems. So the Russian soldiers paid a high price. Shifting the fighting to Donbas has weakened some of these logistical challenges for Moscow. The front lines are now closer to Russia. The railway network connects the Russian Federation and the occupied territory. But initial Russian mistakes burned a significant portion of resources, reducing Moscow’s ability to replenish and sustain even in Ukraine’s east. Unable to import spare parts and all the necessary components due to Western sanctions, Moscow is deconserving warehouses of old Soviet weapons.
An even bigger problem for Russia is staffing. The authors note that both sides are likely to distort the loss data. But Moscow is definitely experiencing problems with the replenishment of depleted units. The State Duma recently increased the age threshold to expand the range of recruits who can be sent to war.
But Ukraine is also experiencing difficulties. Before the start of the Russian invasion in February, Ukraine had made significant progress in reforming its military, increasing civilian control, curbing corruption and streamlining its command structure along NATO models. All these and other changes allowed Ukraine to repulse the initial Russian blow and destroy the Kremlin’s notorious plan to seize Kyiv and another major city of the country. But the Ukrainian reforms were not completed. And during the great war, of course, they slowed down considerably.
One of the critical elements of sustaining combat capability is moving forces to where they are most needed and reinforcing or replacing depleted units. The forces deployed in the east of Ukraine consist of the most experienced fighters. But they have borne the brunt of the losses since Russia decided to focus on Donbas. The Ukrainian authorities kept secret the data on dead and wounded Ukrainian soldiers. But last month, the Ukrainian president’s staff started talking about the fact that 100 to 200 Ukrainian soldiers die in combat every day. At this rate, it would take significant reinforcements to restore the manpower needed to prevent the hinterlands, let alone regain control of the hinterlands. And Ukrainian reserves are inexhaustible. Volunteers who joined the territorial defense in western Ukraine speak of severe suffering. New units are sent to the front without proper training, weapons or supplies. It is even more difficult to send reinforcements and the lack of materials at the front because of the damage to roads and railways in the east of Ukraine.
It is obvious that Ukraine needs Western military support. In addition, before the start of a large-scale war, the capabilities of the country’s defense industry were limited. And over the past four months, Russia has destroyed or captured a significant part of these capabilities. The enemy also struck many Ukrainian ammunition depots. As a result, Ukraine’s ability to maintain combat capability depends on Western supplies of ammunition, missiles, drones and other heavy weapons. The American military industry is trying to help. In May, Lockheed Martin announced the doubling of annual production of Javelin anti-tank missiles. And Raytheon supplies Ukraine with Stinger missiles. But even the capabilities of the American defense giants have their limits.
Raytheon has already said that no smaller Stinger missile will be produced until 2023 due to a lack of parts. And some American parliamentarians began to express concern that the transfer of arms to Ukraine would recognize US stockpiles. The US Department of Defense has apparently faced its own demons in the area of combat capability support. It is difficult for him to increase the production of weapons due to the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the weakness of the defense-industrial complex in general.
A test of will
The strength of Ukraine’s ability to maintain combat capability will depend in part on events in Washington and other Western capitals. Since January 2021, the US has spent $6.8 billion on defense aid to Ukraine. President Joe Biden announced an additional $40 billion last month. Half of this amount should go to military support. Other NATO countries also provided significant assistance. This was done, in particular, by Estonia, Slovakia, Turkey and Great Britain. But how long this support will last will depend on the mood of society in Western countries. Now it is at a fairly high level in the USA and European countries, as well as in Australia, Japan and South Korea. But views on the war are quite mixed in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa, where Russia has more influence. And her disinformation was more successful. If inflation, food shortages, and disrupted supply chains persist, countries in these regions may lift sanctions against Russia or reduce support for Ukraine.
But not only the international climate is important, but also the events inside Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of refugees have returned in recent months home. Repatriation of this scale may initially put a strain on food and medical resources. But it can also help revive the economy and labor market, improve the flow of supplies and medical support on the eastern front, and boost morale in the country in general.
Already now, the circulation of many goods in the west of Ukraine has significantly increased, which indicates an improvement in the result with logistics. The recovery of economic activity in Western countries, and especially in cities such as Kyiv, will help ease the costs of providing food and medicine in the East. The authors also point to reports of renewed Ukrainian resistance and sabotage in the territories occupied by Russia. This means that the Ukrainians can break Russian supply lines, thereby reducing the enemy’s ability to sustain an offensive.