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The War in Ukraine Is Far From Over

Ukraine Map 9 2022
Ukraine Map as of September 9, 2022. Image Credit: UK Military.

When Russia took Lysychansk on July 3, it was the third major Ukrainian city to fall in as many months, and by all appearances the Russians would continue their methodical march through the Donbas. Instead, Ukraine stiffened its defenses and limited Russia’s eastward advances to a slow crawl, and then earlier this month Zelensky unleashed twin offensives that have thrown Russia’s entire operation on the defensive – casting Putin fully into crisis mode.

It is clear that the Russian leadership has, from the outset, underestimated the Ukrainian capacity to resist and overestimated the ability of the Russian army to prevail. It was seen in the initial strategy of splitting a relatively small force of less than 200,000 into four axes, making it easier for Ukraine to defeat the initial thrusts, observed in tactical blunders in the early phases, and in Russia’s failure to recognize or prepare for Ukraine’s offensive in the Kharkiv region. It appears, however, Zelensky now has Putin’s full attention.

Russia’s strategy in the second phase of the war had been to focus on the Donbas and relegate the Kharkiv and Kherson fronts to secondary status. That may have made sense early, but over time Russia’s generals failed to make any changes to their plans – and more critically – failed to recognize Ukraine had been building capacity in the north.

Compounding their error, Russia’s leaders thought they had the luxury of slowly grinding down Ukraine in the Donbas and believed Russia’s economy-of-force missions in Kharkiv and Kherson would not be tested by Ukraine. When Zelensky’s troops overwhelmed smaller Russian forces in the Kharkiv region and drove them back to the Oskil river, Russia’s plans throughout the theater were thrown into complete disarray.

Putin belatedly recognized that his plans could not work on any level. He was faced with three stark options: a) continue to ignore reality, make no changes, and watch as his forces were slowly ground down, b) withdraw his forces from Ukraine while he could still move them out in some kind of order, or c) escalate. Even Putin could no longer pretend option A was viable. Withdrawal would almost certainly end Putin’s reign in power (and possibly his life via a coup). The only viable option left to Putin, then, was to escalate.

His first step was to announce sham votes in four regions (Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporezhia, and Kherson) as a precursor to formal annexation into the Russian Federation, potentially as early as this Friday. This was forced on him for several reasons. First, his whole justification for the war was the preservation of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine. He had already abandoned tens of thousands of Russians in the retreat from Kharkiv region, and to shore up the support of the Russians in other parts of occupied Ukraine, he needed to demonstrate he was committed to them.

Second, Russia has already signaled that after the annexation, Moscow will regard the regions as Russian territory and will consider any attempt by Kyiv to recapture them as tantamount to seizing Russia-proper and would respond accordingly. Likely, he took this step primarily to try and garner more support from Russia’s domestic population, so that they would believe this wasn’t a war-of-choice by Putin, but a “Great Patriotic War II” to preserve the motherland.

The second major action Putin took was to order the mobilization of 300,000 reservists to active duty. This has predictably unleashed a torrent of protests in cities across the Russian Federation and a mass exodus out of the country (by some estimates, almost 200,000 men have fled Russia). Without question, Russians do not have the same motivation in the war as do the Ukrainians, as the latter are fighting for their literal lives and existence as a nation. The question arises, therefore: has the war turned decisively against Russia and is it now inevitable that Ukraine will win?

The answer: its impossible to tell at this point.

That is unsatisfying to many, as the momentum is presently on the side of Kyiv and a natural tendency among those in the West is to conclude that the recent successes portend an irreversible trend toward a Ukrainian win. Unfortunately, that is unlikely to be the case, as the course of wars frequently tilts back and forth before finally settling in one direction. Consider the U.S. experience in the Korean war.

In the war’s opening round, North Korean armor ploughed through the South’s defenses – including the infamous U.S. “Task Force Smith” – and almost drove the Americans and South Koreans off the peninsula. But the allied forces stood firm at the Pusan Perimeter and drove North Korea all the way back to the Yalu River at the border with China, with nearly everyone in the West believing the war would be over by Christmas 1950.

Instead, China and North Korea sprung a surprise and flooded the war with 300,000 Chinese, driving the South Korean and American troops hundreds of miles back. Then the war settled into a protracted stalemate along the 38th parallel, eventually resulting in the signing of an armistice in 1953 that remains unresolved to this day. There may well be just as many major shifts to come in this war.

For all the desertions and mass exodus of Russian men fleeing to escape the draft, hundreds of thousands are obeying the call and showing up for duty. There can be reasonable debate over the quality of those new troops, but the reality is that adding even another 100,000 combat troops to the Russian side could have a dramatic effect, especially if they are paired with experienced troops and concentrated in their employment.

Moreover, Putin is not likely to remain passive in the face of his many setbacks and can be counted on to escalate the war on his terms. He may also expand the target list beyond the current frontlines to western Ukraine, and significantly ramp up his destruction of Ukrainian power stations, rail junctions, more dams, bridges, and other infrastructure that would seriously hamper Ukraine’s ability to move its troops around. Desperate men are capable of significant escalation, and we should not disregard the number of recent warnings from senior Russian leaders that, in a worse-case scenario, nuclear weapons could be used.

Artillery

Image of similar artillery being used in Ukraine. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

How this war eventually turns out is impossible to predict at this point. There are a myriad potential outcomes, and likely a host of dramatic twists and turns yet to come. One thing, however, seems clear: there won’t be an easy end, neither side will get a satisfying result, and no matter what, the conflict is likely to drag on for the foreseeable future – taking the lives of tens of thousands more Ukrainian and Russian troops and civilians.

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis.

Written By

Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who deployed into combat zones four times. He is the author of “The Eleventh Hour in 2020 America.” Follow him @DanielLDavis1.

16 Comments

16 Comments

  1. Michael Droy

    September 29, 2022 at 3:17 pm

    Such a shame. For a few months Col Davis was a genuinely independent voice naively stating it as he saw it.
    Now he writes like a state department stenographer.

    He is wrongly supporting the “Russia attacked Kiev and failed” nonsense from March. He even thinks Ukraine achieved something beyond the loss of 10k wounded and dead in Kherson. The success of driving out the lightly defended Kharkov region he declares while maintaining the media black out on the other 10k dead and injured.

    There you go – either fall in line or disappear from all media like Col McGregor.

    BTW the 300k being mobilised are all experienced reservists selected out of a 25m theoretical reserve in Russia – 1.2%. They will be considerably more experienced and useful than 90% of those that remain in the Ukrainian forces.
    The mirror talking claim that says Russians are avoiding call ups is a clear signal of an intelligent man writing against what he knows – plenty of young Ukrainian men here in London right now even though they have called up every male to age 60 and many women too.

  2. Roger Bacon

    September 29, 2022 at 4:43 pm

    When Putin has lost his biggest cheerleader here at 1945, you know he’d done.

  3. Jon

    September 29, 2022 at 5:38 pm

    As close as you’ll come to seeing a guy eating crow.

    Remarkably balanced assessment.

  4. Begemot

    September 29, 2022 at 8:17 pm

    The author states that the Russian mobilization order spurred “… a mass exodus out of the country (by some estimates, almost 200,000 men have fled Russia). Without question, Russians do not have the same motivation in the war as do the Ukrainians”

    The author may want to reexamine this assertion. When this war began within a few weeks over 6 MILLION Ukrainians had fled Ukraine. How much devotion to country and cause does this signify?

    6 million Ukrainians out of a population estimated to be about 40 million is a 15% loss of population. 200,000 Russians leaving a country with a population of 145.8 million is a loss of 0.14% of population.

    Again – who is showing a higher degree of commitment?

  5. Walker

    September 29, 2022 at 8:56 pm

    After months of full on BS. Davis finally writes an accurate article. Well except for the last paragraph.

    Perhaps it’s because after months of making completely wrong predictions, he decided to stop.

    But the truth is that we can make some really accurate predictions based on history.

    Every time in history when we have a large army go against a smaller one, if the larger one doesn’t win quickly, the smaller one will. The only time in history that I can find opposite to this is the Romans against Carthage. Which was a long drawn out war. Nothing in modern times has gone this way.

    So I can list three possibilities.

    1.) The west stops supporting Ukraine. This is the only chance that Russia has to “win”. In this scenario. Russia is able to hold on to Luhansk and Donetsk for a few months and hold Ukraine off. The west start to think that the war is a waste of time and money and stops giving Ukraine arms. The war then becomes stagnant and Russia may be able to slowly build back up enough to go on offensive. At which time the west then starts to aid Ukraine again and Russia gets locked into a quagmire. This is the best Russia can expect.

    2.) The west sees that Ukraine can win and increases aid to Ukraine. Ukraine slowly pushes Russia further an further out of Ukraine. The Russian people tire of losing the war and losing soldiers. A coup in Russia removes Putin. A stronger person comes in and continues the war, and starts terrorizing the people of Russia. This person also faces a coup and finally Russia retreats from Ukraine. This is the most likely outcome except for possibly the third scenario which the final outcome is much harder to determine.

    3.) the west continues to provide aid to Ukraine. Russian Attempts to stop Ukraine fail and Putin realizes he has two options, the one I already gave or use nukes in Ukraine. For this scenario let’s assume he uses Nukes. The outcome is much harder to guess. Other than The US using nukes in Japan, we have never seen this before. So we are in all new territory. But we can make some educated guesses. Ukraine itself has to give up, or else Russia nukes Kiev. Either way, the large scale war against a unified Ukraine is over. But it doesn’t end there. The world can not allow any country to terrorize the world with Nukes. NATO most likely goes in to stop Russia and this likely escalated to full nuclear war and we all die. End of story for everyone. Hopefully Putin realizes this and realizes that still option 2 is better. And if he still thinks it is personally better for everyone to die than lose control, hopefully the Russian military and the rest of the Kremlin refuse to use nukes and goes for option 2.

  6. 403Forbidden

    September 29, 2022 at 9:06 pm

    I predict the fightin’ & clashin’ will be done by spring 2023.

    This coming winter will force people to truly do what they have to do. Finally, kill in order to survive.

    Ukraine won’t be another nam. Hell, it won’t be even afghanistan. It will very possibly be like another may ’45 or aug ’45.

    The more pertinent question is which way for dems after the coming midterm elections this november. The way forward being all-out civil war in washington, 1,000x worse than january 6 2021, or peace on earth.

    Since when has there been peace on earth after 1776. Only 400 years after 1776, and zero peace.

  7. TrustbutVerify

    September 30, 2022 at 10:17 am

    Currently the Ukrainians have surrounded the 20th Guards BTG and reserve elements in Lyman. While this is significant in and of itself, it also gives them access to the North/South R-66 Highway, behind the Oskil River and Northern Russian troops. Ukrainian troops are already across the Oskil in the North, so a larger pincer movement is possible rolling up the Russian right flank. Why? Because the R-66 also give access to the East/West roads to the Russian border – all lightly defended areas behind Russian front lines. So it is likely, if the Ukrainians can link up N/S, that they will be able to roll the Russians back to Donetsk if not further.

    What Putin does about that is a question. He is either crazy and will use tactical nukes or rational and he will try to consolidate his gains and make noises about nukes to get a negotiated settlement. Ukrainians will want them out of the East and South and have to give up a land corridor to Crimea with the Crimea staying with Russia…for now. Probably a demilitarized zone for some distance from the Russian border, maybe no NATO bases East of the Donets River. Oh, and there is no way Ukraine is entering ANY agreement without US/NATO bases IN the country to ensure against future Russian aggression.

  8. OIF Combat Vet

    September 30, 2022 at 11:18 am

    This will be Biden’s Afghanistan…wasted years, wasted money and a horrific surrender.

  9. Gary Jacobs

    September 30, 2022 at 4:38 pm

    LoL, Interesting to see this author Davis go from being total defeatist on Ukraine to now being forced to acknowledge success while still grasping at pessimistic straws.

    Of course Russia still has the ability to inflict casualties, and 300,000 reservists is a large number.

    That said, Ukraine is on the march again in the east and another Russian collapse/defeat is unfolding as I type. TrustbutVerify covered some of the gains being made. More expected soon.

    As well, plenty of pictures circulating today of the other type of munition for the HIMARS that the US has now provided Ukraine. The now famous type previously provided is the high explosive warhead designed to destroy ammo depots, bridges and other high value targets.

    The other munition now provided is meant to replace cluster bombs so that unexploded submunitions dont litter the battlefield and become a danger to civilians later.

    The M30A1 round replaces the smaller explosives with 180,000 tungsten steel bee-bee-sized balls. This particular round will be effective against light armored vehicles and personnel.

    At the US military testing of this new munition some observers initially thought the rounds had missed because of the lack of structural damage observable from a distance. A closer look revealed the silhouette ‘human’ mockups, and the vehicles, were pierced through from the impact of the flying tungsten projectiles.

    A high explosive round is very impressive because it produces a giant explosion and sometimes secondary explosions as an ammo depot cooks off, but this round is small pellets and covers a much larger area.

    A single pod of 6 of these munitions in a HIMARS salvo would unleash roughly 1 Million tungsten pellets upon Russian troops.

    I see no information yet on just how many of these the US has provided. However, This could be another level of morale busting and mass surrender, if not actual deaths, of Russian soldiers.

    I look forward to the distinct Mr. Davis being forced by events into adjusting the tone of his future articles accordingly.

  10. Freeborn John

    September 30, 2022 at 5:28 pm

    The war in Ukraine is over for you Daniel; your credibility is at rock bottom. Comparing the situation now to the Korean War is ridiculous unless you expect the Chinese army to wade into this combat.

  11. Paul

    September 30, 2022 at 6:38 pm

    Since all are offering their predictions on how this Special operation will end, I’ll give it a go as well:

    A. The Russian army receive a steady stream of low quality fresh troops that is enough to avoid a collapse in the front line. They are however still pushed back in a slow and grinding retreat. Casualties are high, especially on the Russian side. The Ukrainians take their losses because they have no alternative. The Russians on the other hand get fed up with the war. Eventually the Russian army get pushed back to its pre 24. february positions. Soon after in the Kremlin, a general holds a press conference informing that he is the new president of Russia, following the tragic accident at a Moscow hospital, where Putin, while receiving his routine botox treatment, mysteriously fell out of a 7th floor window. Moscow sues for peace.

    B. The Ukranian army captures Lyman and pushes rapidly further behind the Russian lines. Russias northern flank collapses. From here the Ukrainians slowly gain more ground south in to Donetsk. Meanwhile in the Kremlin, a general holds a press conference informing that he is the new president of Russia, following the tragic accident at a Moscow hospital, where Putin, while receiving his routine botox treatment, mysteriously fell out of a 8th floor window. Moscow sues for peace.

    C. The Ukranian army captures Lyman and pushes further behind the Russian lines. Russias northern flank collapses. From here the Ukrainians slowly gain more ground south in to Donetsk. Putin, now hard pressed, decides to use a tactical nuke on a Ukranian force consentration. Nato responds by blitzbombing the remaining Russian troops in Ukraine into a general retreat. Soon after in the Kremlin, a general holds a press conference informing that he is the new president of Russia, following the tragic accident at a Moscow hospital, where Putin, while receiving his routine botox treatment, mysteriously fell out of a 9th floor window. Moscow sues for peace.

  12. Tamerlane

    October 1, 2022 at 3:37 am

    Odd, Gary, that you’d write: “I look forward to the distinct Mr. Davis being forced by events into adjusting the tone of his future articles accordingly”, when your consistently being wrong for 6 months has done nothing to dampen your regurgitation of anti-American Ukrainian propaganda. I would think you’d write with more humility, having been wrong so substantively go so long, unlike LTC Davis here.

  13. Gary Jacobs

    October 1, 2022 at 12:07 pm

    Tamerlane,

    You seem to be living in Putin’s fantasy world. Considering I havent even been on this site posting for 6months.

    As well, I have correctly predicted quite a bit of Ukrainian advances recently. And when I am wrong, or something changes…I state it clearly.

    In the last week two weeks alone I have been far ahead of anyone on this site predicting the fall of Lyman, and the area east of the Oskil river… and I have been largely correct. And when I was wrong thinking they would pause after that I said so…they have already crossed both rivers where I thought there was a chance Russia would have a stiffer defense. There is a higher chance of another mass wave of routed Russians than even I previously predicted.

    In almost every case where I was wrong, it has been in overestimating Russia’s ability to defend areas it has invaded.

    Except for Kherson, I predicted that Kherson would see a more rapid Russian defeat than is happening…and to be fair… the devil deserves his due for postponing the inevitable. That has largely come as a result of Putin himself denying permission of his commanders to retreat to the east of the Dnipro. And then sending in Chechen goon squads to murder his own commanders who try to surrender or retreat too soon.

    The same thing apparently happened in Lyman with Putin denying permission to retreat. Then Lyman got encircled, and the Ukrainians appear to have left one road open for the Russians to flee east, and then turned it into a turkey shoot.

    Russian milbloggers are up in arms as Ukraine liberates its first “Russian” city after the sham “referendums” Instead of surrendering or conducting a fighting withdrawal, and the Russian mil-bloggers themselves are the ones saying that the Russian Army has lost almost a thousand soldiers in that area alone as they ran through HIMARS/artillery fire and some ATGM fire.

    Numerous geo-located photos, videos, and first hand accounts emerging of Russian soldiers getting cut down as they try to escape from the Lyman pocket, instead of surrendering to Ukrainian forces.

    Expect more Russian defeats coming soon to an unprovoked imperialist invasion near you.

  14. Quartermaster

    October 2, 2022 at 10:32 am

    Gary you’ve said all that needs sating. Tamerlane, and other Putin worshippers have been truly pathetic. Droy is especially pathetic. He simply regurgitates Putinist agitprop and can’t admit that Russia advanced in Kyiv in an attempt to decapitate the leadership.

    It’s laughable how Putin supporters have become more shrill.

  15. Eric

    October 2, 2022 at 11:48 am

    “hundreds of thousands are obeying the call and showing up for duty”
    Is this even verifiable? Hundreds of thousands? Not saying it’s false, just that hundreds of thousands are also fleeing the mobilization in Russia and those numbers have been verified by countries neighboring Russia. Even if “hundreds of thousands are obeying the call and showing up for duty” Russia does not have modern weapons and material to arm them all. So long as western aid to Ukraine continues, Russia is headed for defeat on the battlefield. The only thing remaining to play out is the political battle – how Putin will weather the defeat.

  16. Jack

    October 2, 2022 at 3:40 pm

    It is rather fun watching the ‘realists’ slowly eating their own words when the Russians can’t even equip their new troops properly and are sending them into battle with little to no training you know the game is almost up.

    I note that Davis hasn’t mentioned that the Ukrainians are being reinforced by troops trained abroad to actual standards, that they are taking advice from western generals who weren’t chosen for being able to brown nose and are thus making choices that reflect a strategic outlook rather than just pounding everything in sight to dust

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