Both sides of the ongoing war in Ukraine are preparing for spring offensives. After a hard winter sending troops into the meatgrinder that is the city of Bakhmut, a city of dubious strategic importance that is nonetheless becoming the Stalingrad of the current conflict – a city of political and propaganda importance that neither side can yield. This is causing great concern with Ukraine’s western allies who are desperately trying to get the Ukrainian military ready for their own spring offensive.
As spring approaches, U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about Ukraine’s dwindling supply of ammunition, air defenses and experienced soldiers. Moscow and Kyiv are continuing to throw bodies into the fight for a southeastern city the U.S. does not consider strategically important. But the Pentagon says that regardless of Kyiv’s battlefield strategy, the U.S. wants Ukraine’s soldiers to have the weapons they need to keep fighting.
Once again, the question no one seems to be asking the Biden Administration remains the same- What is the war termination strategy of NATO and its de facto protégé? What is the Ukrainian spring offensive supposed to do besides the nebulous ‘regain lost territory?’ The Politico article continues:
Instead, U.S. officials are more focused on getting Ukraine ready for a major spring offensive to retake territory, which they expect to begin by May. Hundreds of Western tanks and armored vehicles, including for the first time eight armored vehicles that can launch bridges and allow troops to cross rivers, are en route to Ukraine for the offensive. The U.S. and European partners are also flowing massive amounts of ammunition and 155mm shells, which Ukraine has identified as its most urgent need.
Giving the Ukrainians modern armored vehicles, training, and ammunition is all well and good, after all the Russians will be launching their own spring offensive no doubt. But the fact remains that the Biden Administration, supposedly the driving force and leadership of NATO, still has not developed, as least as far as anyone can tell, a coherent plan for what the latest billions in American and European aid are supposed to accomplish.
This is not an idle question. Historically speaking, any offensive will at some point come to a halt. Clausewitz wrote about this two centuries ago:
Indeed, it may even happen that, in spite of the exhaustion of force, the assailant, supported by the moral forces which specially lie in the offensive, like a horse drawing a load uphill, finds it less difficult to advance than to stop. By this, we believe, we have now shown, without contradiction in itself, how the assailant may pass that point, where, if he had stopped at the right moment, he might still, through the defensive, have had a result, that is equilibrium. Rightly to determine this point is, therefore, important in framing a plan of a campaign, as well for the offensive, that he may not undertake what is beyond his powers (to a certain extent contract debts), as for the defensive, that he may perceive and profit by this error if committed by the assailant.
While the Ukrainians may retake some territory, it is highly unlikely they will score a decisive victory that will cause the collapse of the Russian Army. While President Zelenskyy likes to bluster about driving the Russians completely out of Ukraine and retaking the Crimean Peninsula it is more likely that Ukraine will make modest gains and the stalemate will continue through 2024.
But, a decisive Ukrainian victory could set the stage for some negotiations, combined with new sanctions to continue the freefall of the Russian economy. The role of China will be critical, but there seems to be no coherent approach by anyone to plan for battlefield success.
While NATO and the U.S. allow their own munitions stockpiles to fall to dangerous levels, the question will likely remain this fall—what happens next? And the Biden Administration seems to have no answer to that question.