By David Sole
Both supporters and opponents of the US proxy war against the Russian Federation in Ukraine are awaiting the much talked about Ukrainian counteroffensive. The U.S. and its NATO allies have been training thousands of Ukrainian troops and providing tens of billions of dollars’ worth of military armaments over the past months. Visions of success by their Ukrainian client regime and most western media are often wildly inflated scenarios predicting that Ukrainian forces will retake the four provinces incorporated into the Russian Federation in 2022 as well as the Crimean peninsula annexed in 2014 after the CIA engineered right-wing Ukraine coup.
Several obstacles stand in the way of these optimistic forecasts.
It has been estimated that Ukraine has put together from 8 to 12 battalions of fresh troops to throw into battle. If fully staffed that would amount to 32,000 to 48,000 soldiers. While an impressive number, it should be remembered that the Russian Federation called up some 300,000 military reservists last year. These trained personnel have had months to be organized, armed and given refresher training. Most have had time to be integrated into the strong defensive lines established by Russia across the lengthy front lines in the Donbas and southern region facing the Ukrainians. On the other hand the Ukrainians have been widely reported as receiving much shortened basic training.
A considerable amount of heavy armor has also been provided to Ukraine in recent months from many of the NATO member nations. Only a limited amount of this equipment is of the most advanced type and, being of different types, they will require different munitions and spare parts. This is a disadvantage when one considers that supplies have to travel by train hundreds of miles from depots in Poland to reach the front lines. Also the U.S. and NATO are unable to resupply Ukraine in many of the basics, like 155 mm artillery shells at the rate that is required for a major offensive.
Another concern for the Ukrainians is that they have seriously depleted their stock of anti-aircraft missiles. Newsweek reported a “Pentagon document dated February 28 said that missiles for Soviet-era S-300 and Buk air defense mid to long-range systems, which Ukraine relied on early on to target aircraft, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, could be fully depleted by this month.” Until recently the Russian Federation air force has kept away from the front line combat to avoid being shot down. Recently it has been reported that jet fighters are being used more and more in battle.
Ukraine has made much of its ability to hit targets behind Russian front lines with drones. Several fuel depots have gone up in flames. Russia also reported that two Ukrainian drones had been destroyed, apparently targeting the Kremlin in Moscow. The number of these successful attacks is however not nearly enough to affect the overall strength of the Russian defensive lines.
The location or locations of the Ukrainian offensive is unknown. Last summer and fall Ukraine launched two major actions. In the Kharkiv province Ukrainians pushed forward where Russian forces were not numerous. The Russians withdrew to more defensible positions. The Ukrainian advance ground to a halt with no further advances since.
In the southern Kherson province Ukraine met stiff Russian resistance. Wave after wave of Ukraine’s fighters and equipment were thrown into the battle with great losses. Russia then withdrew across the Dnieper River to much more defensible positions. No further Ukraine advances followed.
There is no doubt that if Ukraine is able to amass up to 50,000 soldiers and heavy armor they can pose a serious danger to Russian forces at any point along the front line. If these troops are split they still can possibly punch through Russian defenses. But the Russians have had time to prepare defensive works in depth. The Ukrainians will be advancing against heavy Russian artillery concentrations, missiles, drones and aircraft which could cause serious losses.
If the Russians can absorb the first blows it is unlikely that the Ukrainians will be able to follow up on any gains they make. That would be the time for the Russians to counter attack. Since the Russians are committed to a war of attrition to demilitarize the Ukrainian armed forces, they very well may not seek to advance to seize more territory. In any case, the U.S. and NATO will not be able to restock the Ukrainians to any great degree.
A defeat for the Ukrainian offensive could result in reckless escalation on the part of the U.S. and NATO. That could include commitment of NATO aircraft into the combat zone or Polish or Baltic state troops being sent in. Other scenarios for escalation are also possible, but would be a dangerous gamble. On March 23 Alexander Lukashenko, president of Belarus, publicly stated that NATO has plans to invade his nation from Poland.
The NATO allies have their own problems, however. ABC News reported on April 16 that “Thousands of people rallied again in the Czech capital on Sunday to protest high inflation and demand the government’s resignation….Inflation has been high but on the decline in recent months, dropping to 15% in March, down from 16.7% in February and 17.5% the month before.” The protesters “condemned the government’s stance in Russia’s war against Ukraine” and some were “demanding the country quits NATO.”
Inflation and the huge outlay for weapons being sent to Ukraine are causing many in the west to question the wisdom of unending support for the Ukraine war. This will intensify especially if Ukraine’s counteroffensive fails.
In the last few days Ukraine has launched several attacks against Russian forces that control up to 90% of the city of Bakhmut. Minor gains have been reported, but this does not seem to be the major offensive yet. Russia, meanwhile, has been pounding Ukrainian facilities well behind the front lines, perhaps aiming to disrupt preparations for the Ukraine offensive.
The coming battle may be the decisive turning point in this proxy war that was planned and organized by the US since it staged the 2014 coup in Kyiv.