Day 730 of Vladimir Putin’s 10 Day Special Military Operation

By Philip Ingram MBE

Day 730 of Vladimir Putin’s 10 Day special Military Operation, its second anniversary passes with little indication of how the conflict will end. The doom merchants are calling it a Ukrainian failure and anticipating a potential Trump Presidency bringing an end to the conflict by imposing a settlement, in order to “stop wasting US Taxpayers Dollars.”

From a one-dimensional perspective, where success is measured purely on the changes in the land based front line, Russia seems to have regained part of the initiative with the capture of Avdiivka, defended by Ukraine since 2014.  Russia has, with the help of North Korea and Iran, regenerated some fighting capability and is probing across various parts of the frontline; Ukraine seems unable to respond through lack of artillery and other ammunition as the Wests defence industrial base is found wanting and element of political “Ukraine fatigue” sets in.

However, this conflict is far from one dimensional in its nature. Measuring overall success by purely using land operations movement simply ignores the complexity of modern warfare and the situation on the ground. From a land perspective, every meter will continue to have to be hard fought over.  Casualties on both sides will remain huge, we forget this is the most bloody conflict we have seen since the second World War.

If we look at what has happened to date from strategic, operational and tactical perspectives:

Strategic Objective: Putin re-invaded Ukraine on 23rd February 2022 to try and topple the Zelensky government, put a puppet regime in place and reduce the potential for NATO expansion.

Outcome: The Ukrainians pushed Russia from Kyiv, forced their withdrawal to the eastern part of Ukraine, re captures thousands of square kilometres of land, destroyed thousands of tanks, artillery pieces, armoured vehicles and hundreds of thousands of Russian service personnel, stopped Russia gaining Air Superiority and sunk almost a third of the Black Sea Fleet. NATO has expanded welcoming Finland with a land border with Russia and will soon welcome Sweden. The Wests Defence industrial base has been shocked into expanding production capability to meet war needs. Russia’s defence industrial base is suffering such that supplies from North Korea and Iran are essential to the Russian war effort.

Result: Russia has refocused its main effort to the East and set new success criteria as holding onto the land it has captured to date by forcing Western ‘Ukraine fatigue.’ This is enhanced by Western focus shift to the Middle East.

Strategic Objective: Dislocation of Western and wider global support for Ukraine, collapse of NATO, further division within the EU and greater US isolationism.

Outcome: NATO has come together politically and militarily better than it has been before. It has recognised many of its shortfalls and in particular relationship with its defence industrial bases. Not only is it growing but it is slowly regenerating a better conventional capability. However, the EU is becoming increasingly politically polarised and elements of UK politics crave greater isolationism, and we are seeing a growth of right-wing politics. The UK has lost its influence and ability to bridge between EU and US politics. US support for Ukraine is being held up by the Speaker of the house alone as he focuses global issues for domestic purposes!

Result: Putin sees political weakness as the way of increasing ‘Ukraine Fatigue’ and gaining his objective of a settlement at current boundaries. He will increase destabilising activities across Europe, the UK and USA, in the run up to elections. He will pull every lever he can to cause controversy in the EU, UK and then US elections. He will continue to aid further destabilisation in the Middle East and Africa in order to create further political dilemmas and refocus attention away from Ukraine.  This will be Putin’s MAIN Effort through 2024.

Operational Objective: Putin’s Operational Objective is securing the territory he has gained, increasingly try and integrate captured regions including Crimea into Russia, influence Ukrainian exports through the Black Sea. He will try and do what he can to reinforce ‘Ukraine Fatigue’ as he sees this as his only path for a clear victory.

Outcome: Ukraine retains the operational initiative with Special Operations Executive (SOE) type operations happening across all of the occupied territories and into Russia itself. Trains are being derailed, factories catching fire, oil refineries being attacked by drones and of course huge success in sinking almost 1/3 of the Russian Black Sea fleet.

Result: Russia if having real difficulty defending against Ukrainian Operational level activities and until Ukrainian tactical supplies reach the levels needed to regain the tactical initiative, this is where the Ukrainian Armed Forces will continue to operate and have significant success, it will be Ukraine’s Main Effort through 2024. These operations are being headed by General Budanov who leads the GUR, Ukraine’s Military Intelligence. They are designed to and are having success in hollowing out Russia’s ability to sustain its tactical operations whilst influencing Russia strategic decision making.

Tactical Objectives: Russia is attacking across the whole front-line area and is having success at huge cost in manpower and equipment. Putin wants to capture as much of the Donbass as possible and right up to the Dnipro River if possible. He is heavily reliant on overmatching artillery fire supported by air and thousands of troops flooding the area. He remains reliant on North Korea and Iran to supply the necessary ammunition, as his defence industrial base is struggling. Ukraine remains reliant on Western Supplies but a lack of capacity in the Wests defence industrial base combined with political hiatus is impacting Ukraine’s ability to respond in any meaningful way.

 Outcome: Russia continues to make small gains but at huge cost. Ukraine continues to hold the Russians and heavily attrit their forces. However, neither side can yet generate sufficient combat power to create decisive conditions tactically.

Result: Once Western supplies started to be delivered at volume and Ukraine can regain some control of the airspace with F16s then the tide will turn, however this may not be until the summer at the earliest. Putin will recognise this and once his election if over in March, we may see political changes putting Russia on a greater total war footing.

Western Defence Industrial Base. What had been forgotten by the West is how important the ability for its defence industrial baes to expand ammunition production in time of war actually is. Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine has brought this to the fore but it will take 3-5 years and possibly longer to rebuild production capacity for ammunition, and equipment’s. This is being funded by the huge sums we hear being ‘donated’ to Ukraine. The reality is these huge sums are being spent in home countries like the USA, Germany, France, UK to increase the capacity of their defence industrial bases to manufacture and deliver ammunition to Ukraine but it has the added benefit of jobs and tax revenue in home countries and rebuilding a vital part of countries overall defence capability. Putin has forced and is helping the West prepare for the future.

The West is just beginning to realise the same with its armoured vehicles and aircraft but there seems to be little immediate impetus to restart tank and Infantry Fighting vehicle production lines in any meaningful way to increase over current capacity. As the Ukraine conflict continues, this will probably change.

I would see towards the second half of 2024 if the internal politics in the US can be sorted that resurgent Western supplies with allow Ukraine to regain a multidimensional initiative; but will it bring a quick end to the war? Highly unlikely, unless there is a major change in Moscow, we will be talking about the Russia Ukraine war in another 730 days I believe. However, in another 730 Days Russia will be significantly weakened, it simply can’t afford much more, whereas the West, affordability is merely a political decision as the price for Ukraine losing is significantly greater. It is that that will ensure continued Western support no matter what election outcomes unfold.