Well, spring is here and everyone in the Biden White House, the halls of NATO, and the newsrooms around the world are waiting on the long-anticipated Ukrainian Spring Offensive. But will it be the decisive knock-out blow Western Europe is anticipating or a big nothing burger that just creates more casualties, destruction, and the endless vacuuming of American dollars into the current sinkhole?
Surprisingly Vox…yes VOX, has an excellent article describing the situation (I do give credit where credit is due) which is well worth the read:
The long-awaited, long-expected, much-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive is looming, forthcoming, set to happen, or happening imminently — go ahead, pick your preferred word combo. But the message is the same: The next stage of the Ukraine war is Kyiv’s spring push.
The Russians are readying for it. Western governments provided training and new military equipment in advance of it. Ukraine has promised it’s happening. But the timing, the strategy, the specific terrain or territory: the only people who really know that are the Ukrainians themselves.
The author provides a good analysis of what’s been happening through the winter, particularly the meatgrinder of the city of Bakhmut which has become, like the city of Stalingrad was in World War 2, a contest of wills between Vladamir and Volodymyr using thousands of troops out of proportion of any actual military utility of the city itself.
The ability of the Ukrainians to generate new combat power based on the massive resupply of Western tanks and ammunition over the winter is still in question. How will these new units conduct real combined arms operations to drive back heavily entrenched Russian units? This remains a big question among Western military analysts. The Vox article provides an excellent summary:
Ahead of the counteroffensive, Western governments have reiterated their support, both political and practical. But the longer a counteroffensive takes (and it could take a long time), and the more costly it is (and it could be costly), the greater the potential that the West starts to question whether Ukraine can really win this war.
The risk right now is not that the Ukraine war becomes a stalemate. The risk is that observers and Western backers start to perceive it as one. “If Ukraine does not succeed, it will amplify the voices abroad that call for negotiations with Russia, basically saying that the conflict cannot be solved militarily,” Beliakova said.
A little history might be instructive here. Most people don’t remember the Iran-Iraq War, although it was one of the bloodiest and longest conflicts of the 20th century and can be called a direct cause of America’s intervention on the Middle East, first with Operation Desert Storm and then Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Iraq invaded Iran during the turmoil immediately after the fall of the Shah (thanks to Jimmy Carter for that debacle) thinking the country would be an easy target for what Saddam thought were limited war aims. Of course, this was the first of Saddam’s many strategic blunders during his military career as a dicator as Iranians rallied to defend their country and fought the Iraqis viciously, at times using human-wave attacks to overwhelm Iraqi defenses. The world ironically mostly sided with Saddam (even the U.S. which provided him with intelligence support) against the radical regime in Tehran, but the Iranians not only held on, but began a series of counter-offensives to drive the Iraqis out. Of course, both sides soon ran out of offensive firepower and began to wage a war of attrition, with the Iraqis even using poison gas, and unleashing a war of terror on civilians and cities, raining down ballistic missiles in an attempt to drive the other side to the peace table.
More importantly, each side began attacking international shipping carrying oil from the region, setting up a little-known naval battle between the U.S. and Iran called Operation Praying Mantis.
The intervention of the U.S. in protecting tanker traffic in the Persian Gulf and the exhaustion of both sides after hundreds of thousands of casualties eventually led to a cease-fire. If all this sounds a little like what’s going on in Ukraine, well, it should. An aggressive country seeks a quick war of conquest, only to be stopped. Yet the invaded country doesn’t quite have the military ability to drive the invader completely out so they seek other ways of inflicting damage, leading to an escalation that kills or injuries thousands and draws the attention of the world as a vital resource is threatened. Of course this time one of the combatants has a huge nuclear arsenal that they are probably willing to use, so there’s that factor to consider.
Make no mistake, if Kyiv doesn’t achieve a remarkable battlefield victory, this conflict will settle into a stalemate. Yet what exactly constitutes victory? Only the most optimistic person thinks Kyiv can recapture all of its territory. They simply don’t have the logistics and manpower to support that. Will they capture enough to convince Russia that Putin needs to suffer a case of lead poisoning? Will Putin do the unthinkable and use small tactical nukes if he feels cornered?
This remains, and will always remain the great unanswered question that the Biden Administration doesn’t even want to ask or have asked of them and NATO appears to be strategically adrift as well. How much is enough? When does reality set in that a cease-fire and negotiations of the situation on the ground are needed? Sadly it appears China may end up being the key broker in a cease-fire, and how dangerous is that?
The West is literally running out of capacity to resupply Ukraine without completely draining their own wartime stocks. And at some point, that will be a critical factor, even for a strategically clueless Administration as ours. The cupboard will eventually be bare and then what? Who will have the courage to say that this war is an unwinnable stalemate for both sides and billions more American taxpayer dollars will not change that? If the war drags into 2024 and Biden promises billions more dollars while the U.S. economy sinks into recession, expect a lot of hard questions from Congress (I hope).