By David Sole
As the Ukraine military offensive drags on in its fifth month without achieving any of its ambitious goals, or for that matter any real gains, the question arises: “What next for Ukraine?”
The offensive began June 4 with great predictions of breaking through Russian defenses and seizing Crimea. But all Ukraine can show for it is many tens of thousands killed or wounded and much of the heavy Western supplied weaponry destroyed. Even if Ukraine has held back some reserve troops and armor, it is not clear that it can do any better.
U.S. and other NATO allies, at whose bidding Ukraine has been fighting this proxy war, have no prospects of matching the amounts of military equipment supplied in the past 20 months of the war. There are also many reports that Ukraine is having a hard time recruiting and training replacements in sufficient numbers to match its losses.
There have been reports of Ukrainian troops surrendering to the Russians. Most recently the Russian Ministry of Defense released a video of 17 Ukrainian soldiers surrendering in the Bakhmut area. The report said that they took that action after their commander ordered them to hold their position with no ammunition.
In fact, on the battlefields along the 600 mile front line, it appears that the Russian Federation forces are being strengthened in the number of troops and weaponry. In some areas, such as the northern front, Russian forces are making advances toward the city of Kupyansk.
The initiative may be swinging to the Russian high command under these circumstances. They may choose to make slow, incremental advances and strengthen their defensive positions. This is a more defensive posture that is reflected in the relatively low number of casualties suffered by their side over the past months.
However this war of attrition, while it steadily has weakened the Ukrainian capabilities, leaves the Ukrainians free to slowly rebuild their forces and stockpile more weaponry for another offensive in the year to come.
Sooner, rather than later, the Russian military and political leadership will decide to take advantage of Ukraine’s weak position and launch a decisive military ground offensive. This will entail higher Russian casualties but could break the back of the Ukrainian army and lead to their rout and, perhaps, surrender. Of course this scenario assumes that NATO does not directly intervene, thus escalating the conflict to possibly a very dangerous situation.
Support for Ukraine is waning in several NATO nations. Demonstrations against NATO and against continuing to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine took place in cities in Germany and the Czech Republic. A new government in Slovakia was recently elected that opposes continued support of Ukraine. In the U.S., public opinion polls show a majority of people oppose further military aid to Ukraine. Even a popular figure like Senator Bernie Sanders has had protests at his offices because he supports more aid for the Ukraine proxy war.
The coming months may reveal if the war will drag on for months and years or if it will be ended by the overwhelming force of the Russian military. With no sign of Ukraine’s willingness to enter into negotiations it is not clear what will be left of that nation should it suffer a decisive defeat on the battlefield.