We are just short of a year to the day when Russia invaded Ukraine. We all know what happened next. The Russians were rebuffed at Kyiv and Kharkiv but made modest gains elsewhere in the teeth of furious Ukrainian resistance. And, while serious fighting goes on around Bakhmut and elsewhere, the front lines have not shifted much recently. A kind of stalemate has settled on the battlefields. Now we are being told that the long-mooted Russian spring offensive is already under way. I’m not so sure of that. The ceaseless and increasingly senseless Russian attacks in the Donbas look more like spoiling operations to me. They’re trying to distract the Ukrainians from their own counter-offensive, soaking up troops and materiel that the UkrAF would probably prefer to safeguard for advances to come.
Be that as it may, it’s not easy predicting how the war will develop as we look forward. Much depends on how quickly and efficiently the Russians can reconstitute their formations and make ready for renewed combat. Their losses have been grievous and their expenditure of materiel colossal, and it takes time to make that up.
In this they may be assisted by China. According to US Secretary of State Blinken, Beijing is now considering sending “lethal aid” to Russia in addition to the other support it has been sending so far. If true it could make a significant difference.
On the Ukrainian side I think it’s fair to say that everything depends on the continuing support of the west. Outnumbered from the start, the UkrAF have outfought and outsmarted their foe so far, but have arguably not yet been provided with the equipment to win this war. Zelensky’s continuous requests for fighter aircraft amply demonstrates this.
There are other questions to be asked too. What role, if any, will Belarus play in the future. Will its be used again as a launch pad for a future Russian offensive? Or will it, as some have suggested, be annexed by Putin in the manner he had planned for Ukraine?
Others have warned of the danger of the war escalating and spreading to neighbouring states. I think this unlikely, because almost all of Ukraine’s bordering states are now members on NATO, in which famously an attack on one is regarded as an attack on all. Above all else Putin will want to avoid a direct confrontation with the Alliance, because he knows Russia would lose.
Sticking with NATO, the war has brought some sacred cows home to roost, if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor. European states which had used the end of the Cold War to draw down their militaries have no realised how exposed they have made themselves to the direct threat of conventional warfare in their backyards.
Nowhere has this been more true that in the UK. Historically, Britain has relied on the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force to protect its territorial integrity. Our army has been small, professional, and expeditionary in nature with it numbers only boosted by conscripts in times of dire national emergency. But our army would now be hard pressed to put an operational brigade in the field, compared to the four divisions we had in the 1990s.
However, one thing is very clear. Putin’s “special military operation” has been a spectacular failure and a total embarrassment for both him and the Russian people. His initial strategy for attack proved to be disastrous and mainly based on wishful thinking, and one wonders where his military advisers were when he first proposed it. Most students at any junior defence college in the world could have planned it better.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by this, for Putin’s back ground is not in the military. He was a spy, working his way up in the KGB as a foreign intelligence officer for sixteen years before entering politics and ending up in Boris Yeltsin’s administration in Moscow.
His character, therefore, is deeply tainted by the dishonesty, skulduggery, and casual betrayals of his previous trade, and it’s obvious such traits have not deserted him. Like all dictators, he surrounds himself with a self-serving coterie of acolytes and yes men whose only purpose is to stroke his ego and enthusiastically support his flights of fantasy, otherwise they will quickly find themselves out of their jobs.
The war in Ukraine will last for as long as Putin is still in power; his ego will not allow defeat. How long will it be before his inner circle turn on him and force his retiral? That is the great unknown, but for the rest of Europe it can’t come fast enough.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now