War strategy. Why does Russia keep resisting?

10 May, 08:27 AM
REUTERS/Stringer

REUTERS/Stringer

Ukraine is stronger than Russia expected. For the latter, this is unexpected, for the former – it's logical.

So far, a lot of criticism is being said about the West. Many Ukrainians believe the West could supply more weapons that our country needs to win the war.

The waves of criticism are really strong, sometimes. If they would be an instrument for diplomacy – a lot would have been different right now. But the opinion of a private individual – that’s just the opinion of a private individual, even if there are plenty of those individuals.

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Let me offer my explanation of what is really going on with the planning of military aid, and why it’s being supplied according to the timelines that we have seen.

The main question of Ukrainian society – according to my understanding – is as follows: if the West would supply us the right amount of weapons, and even if it would send its own volunteers to fight the war, Ukraine would beat the Russian army in a week. Why doesn’t West do this?

There are two strategies to fight the Russian invaders. The first strategy could be implemented only if you apply it from day one of the war. It’s hard to use it at a later stage.

The first strategy is simple: you spend as many resources as needed to keep your defense operation as close to the state border as possible. That would allow you to control almost all your sovereign territory and keep the battlefields closer to Russia.

The second strategy – that’s the strategy that Ukraine’s Armed Forces are applying. It includes several measures. The Ukrainian army allows Russian invaders to come to Ukrainian territory, making them targets for annihilation. To put it differently, the Ukrainian army wants to destroy as many Russian soldiers and officers as is possible.

The first type of strategy makes life easier from the short-term perspective. The second one – exhausts the enemy to a degree where it won’t be able to conduct any offensive operation anytime soon. And having a full-scale war will just become impossible for Russia.

What we need to understand is that choosing the strategy is a complicated thing. You can’t just invite the generals to your office and have a discussion over a coffee. You choose the strategy only after you held consultations with international partners that take part in the anti-Russian coalition.

The West will supply as much assistance as needed to destroy as many Russian soldiers as possible. The goal of such a strategy is obvious – to bring Russia’s defense capabilities to a minimum and stimulate the political processes that would change the Russian Federation from the inside. The greater number of dead among Russian soldiers and officers – the faster Russian society will realize what kind of political regime they have.

Still, Ukrainians keep asking: how come? We are going through the tragedies of war, we are experiencing problems with our personal comfort. If the Ukrainian army would push away the Russian invaders next week, life would definitely get better. Millions of refugees would start thinking about going home. The economy would start to revive.

If you don’t calm down Russia now – it will keep spreading fear with its own “special military operations” among its neighbors. Both the Eastern European region and Central Asian region will be scared to death to do something that Russia might get mad at.

This is a very pertinent question. It’s exactly the case: Ukraine has to conduct its political role that will calm down Russia for many years in the future.

That’s why after agreeing on its strategy with Western partners, Ukraine’s Armed Forces are systemically destroying the personnel of the Russian army. For that, it needs time and territory for operational activity.

That’s why Western programs of military assistance are calibrated in the way that they are calibrated. It follows the general line of this strategy.

To involve more Russian troops in the war, it’s necessary to create the illusion that the Russian army still has the chance to at least increase the geography it controls in the Donbas region. But as soon as Russian soldiers enter the sovereign territory of Ukraine – they are being eliminated.

At the same time, the Ukrainian army cannot conduct that sort of operation on the Russian territory – in that case, it would be considered an aggressor that invaded the sovereign territory of a neighboring state. This is what international law tells us – and international law has a setup of rules for understanding the war and its diplomatic definitions.

If you take the situation in Mariupol, it’s an interesting case. According to the statements made by the leaders of the Azov regiment during a news conference on May 8, it's due to a tactical mistake of Ukraine’s defense operation, that made encirclement of the city possible. You can’t really be totally mistake-free during a war. But that doesn’t mean that mistakes should push you to change your strategy, if it will eventually lead to the nation’s victory.

Another question that Ukrainians are having these days has to do with the Black Sea. This particular question has gotten more popular after sinking the Admiral Makarov military vessel with the Neptun anti-ship missile.

Why don’t you destroy the whole Russian Black Sea Fleet, so the Ukrainian economy would regain its capabilities to conduct exporting activities through the seaports in Mariupol, Mykolayiv, and Odesa?

Indeed, Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, with the support of the NATO countries, could be destroyed in quite a short period of time. Its ships are poorly protected and repairing them takes time. The closest repair base for Russian vessels is located in Sevastopol, a city in Crimea. That’s why Russians will do all they can to protect Sevastopol from Ukrainian liberation.

It's hard to address the question about the Russian Black Sea Fleet because war is a complicated art. Let’s imagine: Ukraine destroys all the Russian cruisers, frigates, rocket-carrying vessels and submarines that are operating in the Black Sea and in the Azov Sea. It will definitely have a reason for a day-long celebration, while Ukrainians on Facebook will post extensively on how heroic Ukraine and its Armed Forces are.

But the very next day Russia will strike back. It could be anything, including nuclear and chemical weapons. If one’s analysis of nuclear weapons is based on movies about Hiroshima, then it’s wrong. Modern nuclear warheads have a different caliber and don’t necessarily lead to the elimination of all the structures in a targeted territory. Even the famous “nuclear mushroom” is not something that necessarily happens each time you use the nuclear warhead.

That’s why Russians might deploy their nuclear weapons of smaller calibers – and this is a realistic, not a theoretical scenario.

Let’s go on with the Black Sea. Oleksiy Danilov, Ukraine’s defense secretary, made a statement not so long ago that Ukraine is planning to destroy the Kerch Bridge that connects Crimea with Russia. Therefore, Ukrainian society has a question: if Danilov said this, why does the Kerch Bridge still exist?

The answer to this question is the same: Russia will hit back. It’s not that hard to destroy that bridge, but for that type of operation, you need to have good timing and good planning. It needs to be a part of a larger strategy that is being deployed by Ukraine’s Armed Forces.

The next question that Ukrainians have is rather emotional: when this nightmare will end?

If one tries to address this question, he or she needs to understand that Ukrainians are tired of living under the conditions of uncertainty. They want to make their plans – when they will be able to go back to work, when the news will be full of positive developments, not tragedies, like the ones in Bucha and Mariupol.

According to the UN estimates, over 5.8 mln Ukrainian refugees left the country. Another 6.1 mln live abroad and are considered to be the Ukrainian diaspora. If you sum it up, this is almost 12 mln Ukrainians who decided to set up their life in different countries, and almost half of them did this because of the ongoing war.

Some of these people would be happy to come back to Ukraine as soon as possible, because they have property here, they have families here. Some even still have their jobs here. For these people, the question about when the war will end is especially sensitive.

No one really knows the exact answer to that type of questions, while the forecast varies. Not many doubt that Ukraine will win this war and will regain its sovereign territory, but this mission requires resources and Western support.

My personal belief, based on talking to a number of experts including Pentagon analysts, is the following: Ukraine will start going back to normal in the fourth quarter of 2023.

For us to start our movement to the “new normality” we need to do several things. First, we need to finish this war with a victory. Second, we need to have a sustainable peace in the country’s entire sovereign territory, which should include the demining of those regions that need it. Third, key humanitarian missions should be conducted – like housing, food, and medical supplies for those who lost everything during the war. Fourth, we need to create a basis for rebuilding our economy and that requires a strategic plan.

I don’t mean that battlefield action will be going on until the end of 2023. It might be over sooner, even much sooner. And that depends on many things. But was isn't only fought on the battlefield. War – it’s also a state of revival for the country. The beginning of the revival stage is not much different from the battlefield stage, in terms of the comfort of everyday life.

Let me make a comparison. When a hurricane hits an island in the Caribbean, in a single day it is able to destroy more property than a full-scale war would do in a month. That’s why an emergency like that has a very short time period for action, while the revival period is long and complicated. Rebuilding the property ruined by the hurricane takes time and money – provided by the humanitarian funds of the UN and the World Bank.

That’s why Russia’s war against Ukraine won’t end quickly. It will have a second stage. The revival stage. This stage might take more time than we expect, even if the Western democracies and international development institutions will provide as much support as they are able to.

The economic revival of Ukraine will firstly be based on the leading role of the government in Kyiv, on the growing input of the public sector in the GDP, but in the future is unlikely to develop properly without a contribution from the private sector.

Ukrainian companies should start making their long-term revival plans now so they would be able to go back to normal as soon as the security situation allows them to do so. The corporate sector shouldn’t just sit there waiting for an order from the government to restart its activities. It’s necessary to have private initiative, entrepreneurial spirit, and their own creative ideas for business.

The U.S. Embassy, as well as more than 30 other embassies, are back in Kyiv or will be back by the end of May. That means the security situation will allow for conducting commercial activity in Kyiv without substantial restrictions. Business is going back to work. Kyiv residents are back to taking loans – at least those employed in the public sector.

The hand-made pizza that I ordered on Saturday at a pizza place located at Velmart, a grocery store in western Kyiv, tasted like the good old pizza from the peaceful times when I ordered them regularly.

If we go back to Western military supplies, then we need to pay attention to the Phoenix Ghost drones provided by the Pentagon. This is top-notch innovative technology. The Russian army doesn’t have anything of that type.

It’s a very expensive product, which is why Rusoboronprom, a Russian state-owned defense manufacturer, is not able to copy these drones, even if the Russian army captures one of them on the battlefield. Given restricted access to the global market for technological solutions for the defense sector, Russia won’t have the capabilities to recreate the Phoenix Ghost drone at its plants.

Russia can be hard with its propaganda, trying to scare us. To scare us in a way that Petr Tolstoy, deputy head of Russian parliament, attempted recently. In his interview with the Italian media, he said the Russian army won’t stop until it reaches the Polish border.

That’s practically impossible. I don’t think Tolstoy himself believes in what he is saying. This kind of propaganda is a technology of spreading fear that even the Russian propagandists don’t sincerely believe in.

Ukraine is stronger than Russia expected. For Russia, that’s a surprise, but for us this is something that we’ve had trust in previously and now just have more evidence for understanding: The Ukrainian army is truly heroic. Its actions on the battlefields made our country unique. Ukraine has things to teach NATO, admitted William Burns, CIA director in his commentary for the Financial Times, a British newspaper.

At the end, let me leave a warning for all of us. The final stage of the war is the most complicated one, since it involves a certain degree of emotional exhaustion. Let’s not allow ourselves to be emotionally exhausted. If Mariupol's defenders are still able to keep their morale high, why shouldn't we?

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