This week, the fighting in Ukraine entered its eighth month. That is most noteworthy as the Kremlin likely expected to roll over Ukraine’s military, roll into Kyiv, install a pro-Moscow puppet government, declare victory, and hold a parade to celebrate, all in the first month. Instead, it has become one of the bloodiest conflicts since the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88), which quickly bogged down into a virtual stalemate that lasted nearly a decade, and cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
The great fear is that the fighting in Ukraine is now taking on a new shape, and while it has been routinely compared to the fighting that took part on the same ground during the Second World War – when German forces conducted an early “Blitzkrieg” style campaign before being stopped and then slowly driven back. Instead, throughout the summer, as the current war in Ukraine became one of artillery duels, and the resulting trenches, as both sides were increasingly digging in, the fighting increasingly echoes the horrors of the First World War.
The great danger is that the weapons employed during that horrible conflict, which resulted in mass carnage, primarily consisted of bolt action rifles, heavy machine guns that were nearly impossible to use in an assault, and artillery that – with a few exceptions such as the Paris Gun – had a range of tens of miles. Today, troops are armed with actual assault rifles, and the mobile rocket launchers can strike upwards of hundreds of miles or more – while missiles can be fired from even greater distances.
Then there is the concern that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be so desperate he may actually opt to employ a nuclear weapon. This week, the Russian leader oversaw the annual exercises of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces, while the Kremlin has issued a completely unsubstantiated warning that Ukraine is planning to detonate a dirty bomb, designed to spread radioactive material, on its own territory. The UN has aimed to “cool” such fears with inspections of Ukraine’s nuclear facilities.
Russia’s Losses Continue
Where the current fighting in Ukraine also increasingly resembles that of the First World War, is in how Russia is bungling it so badly. During that horrible war more than a century ago, several Russian Armies were completely annihilated, and the losses were eventually so great, the battlefield failures even led to the collapse of the centuries-old monarchy.
Though it is unlikely that Putin could face a general revolution, there is now growing opposition to the conflict as Russia is again facing massive losses and is losing ground.
However, those Cold War-era tanks are clearly not up to the task, and many of the crews may feel they’re using little more than death traps when facing western-made man-portable anti-tank weapons. Instead of facing the enemy, the Russian crews are abandoning their vehicles. According to David Axe, writing for Forbes.com, Ukraine has even captured enough T-62s to equip an entire tank battalion!
The abandoned tanks serve as a reminder to the Russian troops who literally threw down their rifles and refused to fight as the German Army launched its 1917 summer offensive. By autumn of that year, an estimated 2 million men had unofficially left the army.
The issue is whether Ukraine will actually make use of those recently captured tanks. Perhaps many could be used as a propaganda coup – highlighting just how badly Russia is losing the war. However, victory for Ukraine still won’t come easy or cheap.
A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.