Russo-Ukraine War: The Story So Far

Our attention may have been diverted to the Gaza conflict for the past fortnight, but in the meantime the other war in Ukraine has ground relentlessly on. Twenty-one months into Vladimir Putin’s much vaunted three-day “special military operation” and there is still no clear indication when the conflict might end.

What can we say about the progress of this modern European war so far? Well, first of all that it has not gone as Putin planned. Few military operations do, because the enemy gets a vote on what happens too.

As the famous military theorist and Prussian Field Marshall and Chief of the Prussian General Staff Helmuth Moltke the Elder (1800-1891) is believed to have first said; “No plan survives contact with the enemy”. And so it has proved to be in Ukraine following the Russian invasion of February 2022.

The initial Russian idea was to surprise the Ukrainians, drive straight down the roads to the capital city Kyiv, and decapitate Kelensky’s government and replace it with one of their own choosing. This came rapidly unstuck in the face of fierce and unexpected Ukrainian resistance.

Since then we have seen the ebb and flow of battle across the east and south of Ukraine, sometimes one side winning, sometimes the other. Ukraine managed to clear the invaders from around Kharkiv with a spectacular advance early on, but since then the thousand kilometre front line has settled down to static warfare reminiscent of the First World War.

In particular the much anticipated Ukrainian summer offensive this year has made little progress, bogged down in the extensive Russian defence lines and hampered by Ukrainian lack of equipment and training in all arms tactics above company level.

In the air there is also stalemate, for although the Russians have an absolute numerical superiority in aircraft and helicopters they seem reluctant to stray forward of their own front lines, whereas the Ukrainians will not risk their smaller inventory against the comprehensive, layered air defences. What activity there has been is mainly limited to missiles and drones. The Ukrainians must be itching for their American F-16 fighter jets to arrive as promised.

At sea the Russian Black Sea Fleet has suffered a bit of a bloody nose, most notably when their flagship the Moskva was sunk by a combination of Ukrainian aerial and surface sea drones early in the war. More recently similar attacks on their main base at Sevastopol have disabled a number of vessels and forced many to relocate to the major port of Novorossiysk on the Black Sea within Russia proper.

So, where are we now in the war and what happens next? There have been two interesting recent developments in the ground war. In the east, there has been fierce fighting near the much fought over city of Bakhmut as Russian forces continue to attack. They may have committed some three battalions plus supporting tanks and armoured fighting vehicles to repeated assaults in the vicinity of the town of Adviivka..

These appear to have been repelled with heavy losses, yet the Russians have not been deterred from their attempts to capture the town. A more intriguing development has been reports that the UkrAF have established a bridgehead over the River Dnipro near Kherson. The river is a major obstacle to further Ukrainian advances towards Crimea so this may prove to be significant.

If the UkrAF have managed to gain a toehold across the Dnipro here it could possibly allow further exploitation by their follow up troops and reserves, threatening the north of Russian-held Crimea. Time will tell.

A boost to Ukrainian morale and effectiveness has come with the recent arrival of the American ATACMS long range precision missile systems. These have allowed the UkrAF to target deeper into their enemy’s rear areas and may have been partly instrumental in Russia moving the majority of its Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol to ports further away out of harm’s way. This weaponry was also responsible for a spectacularly successful strike against two airfields in Russian occupied territory.

As for what might happen next, well, winter is almost upon us and all bets are off. I see little evidence of the stalemate being broken over the next few months, with military operations by both sides constrained by the weather. Long range aerial attacks will continue, and Ukraine will still persistently challenge Russia’s navy in the Black Sea.

Both sides must now be war weary and will welcome some breathing space over the next few months, building up their strength once more for renewal of operations in 2024. Sadly it looks like there is only more death and destruction ahead come the New Year.

Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at



Tank CommanderLt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now

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