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A waiting game

Aug 10, 2022 | Featured, The View From Here - Walter Kish, News, Opinion

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It has been a month now since my last op-ed as the paper I write for has been on its annual summer recess. During that time, the war in Ukraine has ground to a virtual halt, at least as far as movement is concerned. Since the Russians captured Slovyansk and Lysychansk almost a month ago, they have been unable to make any further headway, seemingly dispirited, exhausted, and running out of both men and materiel. The shelling and bombing continues of course along the whole line of contact, though it is apparent that they are running short of the more modern, precision-guided munitions and are resorting to aging stocks of cold war era ammunition.

The Ukrainian forces on the other hand, are beginning to take the offensive, and are making slow but disciplined progress in recapturing occupied territories in the Kherson and Kharkiv sectors. Bolstered by fresh supplies of high-tech weaponry from the west, they are inflicting significant damage to the Russians. They have mastered the art of using the new howitzers, HIMARS rocket systems, as well as armed drones, and are wreaking havoc to Russian supply lines and logistics infrastructure in particular.

What is encouraging is that the Ukrainian side has not yet deployed most of the huge reserves of conscripts and manpower that have been called up since the war started and who have been undergoing training and preparation for combat. When that happens, the Ukrainian side will enjoy a significant manpower advantage over the Russians who are struggling to replenish their depleted ranks. The Ukrainians claim to have killed over 40,000 Russian soldiers and wounded or incapacitated several times that number since the war started.

Also encouraging is that contrary to all predictions when the war started, the Ukrainian air force has not been incapacitated by the superior number of Russian aircraft but is operating effectively on all fronts and shooting down an impressive number of Russian aircraft. The Russians have failed miserably in trying to impose air superiority over the skies of Ukraine.

The Russian navy has also learned that though they may control a good chunk of the Black Sea, they need to keep their distance from Ukrainian coastal defences who have demonstrated quite graphically that they are more than able of destroying any Russian craft that ventures within their firing range. The Russians attempt to blockade Ukrainian grain shipments has also come to naught, as diplomatic pressure from the rest of the world has forced it to allow grain shipments to leave Ukrainian ports. Over the past week, four grain carriers have been able to break the blockade and Ukrainian grain is now once again flowing to global customers and starting to alleviate the threat of global famine.

So, what happens next? The Ukrainian government has made no secret of its plans to retake Kherson and has been preparing the groundwork for a major assault there. In response, the Russians have been shifting some of their units from the northeast to bolster their defensive lines around Kherson. With their current manpower limitations however, this poses a significant risk since the Ukrainians could launch an attack on the newly vulnerable Izium area and reverse the Russian gains in the Luhansk oblast over the past few months. The Russians do not currently have sufficient manpower to effectively defend all the territories they have gained since the war started.

Time appears to be on Ukraine’s side, and the momentum has definitely shifted in its favour. Military aid and supplies continue to flow in large volumes from NATO, Europe, and the rest of the free world. The Ukrainian military is growing in strength every day, while Russia is having serious difficulties in finding reinforcements for its badly battered armed forces. The sanctions, despite any Russian claims to the contrary, are effectively strangling the Russian economy. As Europe weans itself off Russian oil and gas supplies, Russia will continue to suffer severe declines from its biggest source of revenue, making it increasingly unable to finance its costly war on Ukraine. Its loss of access to western high-tech components, also renders it unable to service and re-supply its vast, albeit overrated military machine.

We are now in a waiting game, and specifically waiting to see what Ukraine will do next and when. A major Ukrainian counter-offensive is now due, and I believe it will happen soon, likely in the next few weeks. If successful, the war could be over quickly, Putin would suffer a painful and likely fatal exit, and Russia could disintegrate in the chaos that would follow.

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