w/e 4th November 2022
As winter fast approaches and land operations in the Ukraine war stall in the autumn rains and mud, it is perhaps timely to review where we are after just over eight months of conflict. We appear to be at a natural pause in proceedings with little change in the front lines, although combat continues with marked ferocity in places.
From the Russian point of view things aren’t looking too good. After early reverses in Kyiv and Kharkiv they’re now increasingly under pressure from Ukrainian forces in the Donbas and Kherson. In the east Ukraine looks like it will continue making ground and recapturing settlements lost only a few months ago to the Russians. In the south, around Kherson city itself, Putin looks in danger of having his forces cut off and isolated.
The scale of Russian losses to date is jaw-dropping. Although it is always difficult to obtain independently verified figures, there seems to be a general consensus across all observers that they have lost, since the start of the conflict on February 24th, over 2,500 tanks, in excess of 5,000 other armoured fighting vehicles, approximately 270 aircraft and 243 helicopters, and somewhere in the region of 70,000 personnel killed, wounded and missing.
This is an enormous casualty bill by anyone’s reckoning, and probably unsustainable for very much longer at the current rate. No doubt the casualties suffered by Ukraine are equally appalling in proportion, but figures here are much harder to come by and closely guarded, for obvious reasons. No point in encouraging the enemy.
The very real question now is, though, whether Russia is losing momentum through running out of weapons and personnel. There are signs, for example, that their stock of long range, precision guided missiles and rockets is running low. Much of this may be attributable to western sanctions, as much of the technology required for such weapons was previously sourced from outside Russia.
But the main reason would seem to be that they have expended much of their armoury and industry has not yet geared up to replace what has been used. We have seen surface-to-air missiles used against ground targets, for example, which is hardly the most economic use of such expensive items.
All of which might explain why Russia is now sourcing attack drones, the infamous Shahed-136 and its cousins, from Iran. They may have received as many as 2,000 of these to date, if not more, and they have been launched as we have seen in mass swarm attacks against Ukrainian civilian critical infrastructure. Rumour has it that Iranian ballistic missiles with a 700 kilometre range, sufficient to cover the whole of Ukraine from Russian home territory, may be on their way too.
It’s a similar story with personnel. After Russia’s regular troops were “used up” in the initial stages of the war, Putin issued a decree calling up 300,000 reservists to fill the gaps and bolster the front lines. Despite the fact that many of these troops allegedly arrived in theatre with minimal training and in some cases without useable weapons, the call up has been deemed a success and the draft has come to an end. We’ll see how good these reinforcements are in due course I suspect.
In addition, Russia has made much use of the Wagner Group, a “paramilitary organisation” which is to all intents and purposes Putin’s private army run for him by one of his chums. They too have taken a bit of a pasting at the hands of the Ukrainians and are not in as fine shape as they once might have been.
And now we hear that Russia is attempting to recruits former Afghan special forces commandos, in exile from their own country, and offering inducements like passports and accommodation for them and their families in return for lending a hand against the Ukrainians. No doubt Putin takes great joy from the fact that many of these were trained by the Americans as part of the now basically defunct Afghan National Army, but such a move shows the Russians are indeed desperate.
So, against this background, what are the scores on the doors? Well, as I have said before, Ukraine will win if it doesn’t lose, and Russia will lose if it doesn’t win. Much depends on whether the Russians have the wherewithal to sustain their operations into next year, and whether the west is true to its word and continues to support Ukraine to the end.
I think we’ll get closer to the answer to this conundrum in 2023.
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