Let’s be very clear, strategically Russia has lost its war against Ukraine. Russia’s main effort was to topple the West leaning Zelenskyy Government and replace it with a Moscow centric puppet, as in Belarus. Not only has it failed in that effort, but part of the reason was to stop any potential for NATO to expand and Ukraine to join. With Finland and Sweden applying to join NATO he has lost that strategic objective.
In his initial operations, Putin has lost many of his best military units, caused the expansion of NATO meaning the Baltic Sea is now almost completely NATO territory. He has emboldened the people of Ukraine, brought the EU together, focused the international community and has China, India and Pakistan nervously watching as events unfold.
Militarily, the Russian forces have failed to achieve any operational objectives in a timely manner and their taking of the Southern Coast along the Sea of Azov has been very costly. Ukraine was forced to give up much of the additional territory captured by the Russians, by fighting a well planned and executed defensive battle trading space for time. That space was the coastal ground, the time was used to defeat the Russian aggression against Kyiv and to the Northeast of Ukraine.
The cost to the rest of the world has been heavy. Cutting the reliance on Russian oil and gas has been costly and shocked global economies. The impact on the closure of the Black Sea for Ukrainian food exports, in particular wheat and oils, is only just being realised and hasn’t yet translated into effects on the ground in different countries, but it is coming. Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine is just starting to have a global impact and potentially the worst is to come.
However, what is happening in Ukraine will dictate how long the global impacts are likely to continue. The oil and gas shock to Western economies will be absorbed relatively quickly but will impact less well-developed countries for a longer period of time. The food export difficulties will have an impact on the less developed areas of the globe as Western countries will be able to absorb any shock. Sanctions on Russia are having an effect but will take time to really change attitudes and cause pain to the Russian people, that time is measured by calendars, not watches.
With military operations, Russia is pushing hard to capture the final areas of the Donetsk and Lushank Oblasts and has probably decided that with its coastal gains opening a land bridge between Crimea and Russia, these will suffice as a ‘victory.’ If Putin is able to achieve that he will then be likely to propose a peace settlement. He will do this to try and wrestle the initiative back. I suspect he is getting bored with what is happening and bored, rather than concerned, about hearing of continuing Russian losses, that is a measure of the value he holds against Russian soldiers’ lives. Of note at the lower estimated Russia has 20,000 dead and that means probably another 80,000 at least with life changing injuries, off the battlefield.
However, he will have calculated that by proposing a peace settlement he can break the international community’s support for Ukraine. He will already have seen the Italian peace plan proposal what ceded territory to Russia, he will calculate that Germany, Austria and Hungry will all support any peace proposals he puts forward as will China, India and Pakistan. He will want to split NATO, the EU and create global division if he can.
Getting to the point where he can propose a peace settlement is still some way off and whilst Russia has been hit hard and suffered horrendous losses at the hands of the Ukrainian defenders, it has much more it can and will throw int the fight to achieve its objectives. Fighting in the East is ramping up and will likely become more intense. To make up for a lack of ability to carry out true armoured manoeuvre warfare, and a poor logistic tail, Russian advances will be preceded by use of heavy indirect fire and where possible air attacks. Drones, battlefield surveillance and EW, as well as sympathisers, will continue to provide targeting information.
Only when they believe Ukrainian defences have been neutralised will ground forces move forward. The Ukrainians may withdraw faster to additional pre prepared defences, trying to extend Russian lines of communication, knowing that will put pressure on incompetent logistics, as they prepare for potential counter offensives.
All of the time the Ukrainian defenders will be gathering intelligence on where the Russian Artillery Regiments are operating from and, with their new longer-range artillery, be preparing for concentrated counter battery fire. This will only really become apparent when the Ukrainians have armoured manoeuvre formations reedy to counterattack and try and disrupt the Russian plans. That is likely still some time off as there has been no evidence of armoured formation level attacks to date. Until then we will likely continue to see the intense fighting we are today, where every field, hedgerow, track, road and village is being hard fought for.
Russian objectives will be to encircle Ukrainian forces in a cauldron and then destroy them however, the Russian ambitions have been decreasing with each month of the war and it is probable they are not far off having to transition to a defensive posture. That gives the initiative back to the Ukrainian’s, who have been defending against Russian attacks and having to be ready on multiple fronts. Ukraine will then be able to choose the time and place for its counterattack(s). This transitional phase will see large artillery exchanges and use of air power if available with attrition being the aim rather than capturing ground. Ukraine will want to weaken any Russian defences and set the conditions not to let the Russians know where and when they will counterattack.
This unfortunately means a period of not massive moves but lots of attrition on the ground. When Ukraine will be fully ready is unclear and whether it will wait for further Western supplied equipment is again unclear. What is clear, is there will be no quick solution on the ground and Putin’s inner circle seems relatively secure. The people of Ukraine and the international community have a lot ahead with this conflict. The most important thing is that we maintain international unity as if cracks appear, Putin will enlarge them, and the war will go on longer.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former Colonel in British Military Intelligence and NATO Planner and is available for comment
Putin has lost his war in Ukraine and created Toxic Russia.
by Philip INGRAM MBE
No matter what the end state is on the ground in Ukraine in the coming weeks there is one simple fact that cannot be disputed, Putin has lost. So, how can I be certain?
Putin’s objectives for his further invasion of Ukraine (remember he started this in 2014 with the forceable annexation of Crimea and then FSB led, with GRU support, activity to generate the breakaway Donbas Region), were to topple the Ukrainian Government, as it was becoming to EU and NATO focused, and replace it with a more Russian focused and sympathetic government that would fall into line as Lukashenko does in Belarus. His secondary objective was to open a land bridge between Crimea and Russia including the disputed Donbas region, setting the conditions for autonomous Donetsk and Luhansk.
To achieve his objectives, Putin will have wanted a rapid surgical operation into Kyiv to achieve his objective and a then slower mass movement of Russian troops into Ukraine to ensure compliance. He will have expected a rapid reinforcement of the Donbas region, welcomed capitulation by the local people and a rapid progression along Ukraine’s Southern coast. In any final settlement with a new government, he would likely have wanted the disputed regions of Donetsk and Luhansk to be recognised as independent along with any additional captured territory linking them to Crimea.
Looking at the military operation around the invasion so far. Russia has failed to achieve air superiority as Ukrainian Airforce and Air Defences are still operating; gaining air superiority is a precursor to any lightening strike. Rapid special forces and elite military operations to capture key terrain around Kyiv in the first few days of the invasion were repulsed by the Ukrainian defenders. A ground convoy aimed at linking up with the captured key terrain coming from the North on Kyiv became fixed for many kilometres on roads, unable to manoeuvre through Ukrainian resistance and poor Russian logistic support.
Progress has been slow through poor equipment’s availability, poor logistic support, bad planning, poor command and control and massive resistance from the Ukrainian defenders.
To date Russia has failed to capture what would be assessed as any of its key objectives. In essence all of these suggest a complete failure in the planning, execution and therefore command and control of the first stage of the operation. The Ukrainian Government remains active, President Zelenskyy is clearly in charge and is giving global leaders a masterclass in leadership. His approach has been key to uniting the Ukrainian people in a tighter national bond that they have ever had. That bond will be almost impossible to destroy.
Russia has been forced to move to its classic play book actions mirroring what happened in Grozny in 2000, Georgia in 2008 and more recently in support for Assad in Syria. The surrounding of built-up areas and their gradual destruction through indirect fire from aircraft, rockets, missiles, and artillery – this is exactly what is happening in the cities of Kherson, Mariupol, Donbas and more. Given a complete loss of initiative moving into Kyiv and the way urban warfare soaks up experienced troops, the same fate will be the only option for Kyiv should Russian forces be able to encircle it. That still remains in doubt over 2 weeks into the invasion.
Strategically Putin has set the conditions for the EU to come together in a way no one could have predicted. Defence spending and focus in EU countries is going up rapidly and as a block its political and economic reach is likely to expand. The same can be said for NATO, member countries traditionally reluctant to meet the 2% GDP spend on defence are doing so now with some haste and more expenditure to deliver real capability back into their militaries. Some countries who work closely with NATO and in particular Sweden and Finland but have never sought membership are now seeing a swing in public opinion supporting membership.
Putin has galvanised the EU and NATO and set the conditions for both to expand.
Global diplomacy, economics and politics are reined against Russia with sanctions biting deep, international companies and brands are removing any association with Russia to protect their reputation; historic votes in the UN General Assembly condemning Russia’s action have happened and the look of disbelief on world leaders faces, every time Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov says anything is palpable. China and India will be concerned at the speed the international community reacted with economic sanctions and be wary of ending up on the wrong side of international feelings.
Putin has galvanised the international community against Russia in a way never seen before. Putin has created Toxic Russia.
Inside Ukraine, pre-invasion, politics was confrontational, the people happily existed together, and the former actor President was tolerated. However, since the invasion, the Ukrainian people have come together as a single entity with a spirit and belief that is electric. President Zelenskyy has galvanised a national spirit focused against Putin in a way no one would have expected, he continues to give a master call in leadership under adverse conditions to other global leaders.
Putin has galvanised the Uranian people against him in a way no one would have expected.
I suspect the Russian people are in a mixed emotional bag at the moment, some angry at the international community and Ukrainians because they believe the disinformation fed to them through state media; some are shocked and don’t know where to turn, some are beginning to hurt and see the real damage Putin has caused Russia on the global stage. It is too early for the impact of what is going on to have a real effect insider Russia and the thinking of the Russian people but more importantly those with access to power, Putin’s closest aids.
It is clear that the Russian military are beginning to hurt on the ground, and Putin’s initiative to start peace talks was a classic effort to create breathing space for elements of his war machine, even though their activities haven’t stopped. However, he is likely looking for his get out options. The most likely before the conflict started would have been rapid seizure of ground and a negotiated pull back to the disputed Donbas region, with Donetsk and Luhansk being recognised as truly independent and the land bridge between Crimea and Russia maintained. However, it is too late for that. Even if President Zelensky agrees to discuss the possibility to stop the slaughter of civilians, even if there is a Minsk type agreement, Russia will never be allowed fully back onto the international stage and global brands will abandon Russia for fear of untold damage to their reputation. NATO would still be expanding, the EU and much of the globe galvanised, Defence capability focused against Russia would be growing.
There is no winning scenario for Putin, even if he could take the whole of Ukraine. The only way for Russia to come back is Putin’s demise. The only question is what cost till then? The sad thing is that a long-drawn-out war, achieving nothing for Russia and delivering untold death and destruction to the people in Ukraine, and increasing Russian casualties, remains on course to be where this invasion is going.
Philip Ingram MBE is a former senior British Military Intelligence officer and NATO Planner. He is available for comment.