Western arms, brutal pushback, faulty Russian strategy: How Ukraine is turning the tide on Moscow
A massive Ukrainian blitzkrieg over the last few days saw it recapture around 6,000 sq km of land, forcing the Russians to make a hasty retreat along its eastern and southern frontiers. The lightning advance in Kharkiv region also saw a number of Russian soldiers and high-ranking officers being captured, so much so that Ukraine is “running out of space” to accommodate POWs.
The latest setback for Russia came after a botched attempt to capture the Ukrainian capital of Kiev in the early weeks of the invasion. So what seems to have turned the tide in what was presumed to be an easy victory for Russia?
Western artillery and sanctions
Given Moscow’s superior firepower, most defence analysts predicted that Ukraine would fall in weeks. On the contrary, the war is dragging out and no clear winner has emerged in the seven months since the fighting erupted.
So did Russia, like most of the world, underestimate Ukraine’s resilience? Did it lack a proper analysis of Kiev’s defence capabilities before pushing for an invasion? In fact, the turn of events would suggest that Vladimir Putin also underestimated the West’s support for Kiev, both in terms of sanctions imposed on Russia and the financial and military aid provided to Ukraine.
The United States has pledged $25bn in military aid to Ukraine, the highest, while the United Kingdom has pledged $4bn. Almost every European country has sent advanced weaponry to Ukraine, including its smaller neighbours Poland and Estonia. The artillery includes armoured personnel carriers, mine-resistant vehicles, anti-tank weaponry, reconnaissance UAVs, radars, anti-aircraft guns, rocket launchers, missiles and choppers of all shades, to name a few.
On the other hand, Western sanctions have so crippled Russia that it now seems to lack the ability to manufacture weapons and components, forcing it to turn to China, and even North Korea, for a steady supply of munition.
Contractors vs nationalists
Since the beginning of the war, Russia seems to have relied mainly on volunteers and young conscripts rather than battle-hardened soldiers. It has avoided going all out, and sent in barely 1.5 lakh soldiers unfamiliar with Ukrainian terrain to invade the entire country. Not just that, it largely outsourced the war to separatists from Donetsk and Luhansk regions, local Chechen militias, Wagner Group mercenaries and contractors, and even anti-ISIS fighters from the Gulf.
These fighters were in the action for money and were faced by Ukrainian nationalists out to defend their land at any cost. Pro-Russia militias lacked spirit and conviction when faced with the fight-to-the-death attitude of Ukrainians, who do not wish to part with more land after the 2014 Crimean annexation by Russia.
Russian war strategy found wanting
The purpose of the Russian invasion lacked clarity from the very beginning. Did Moscow want to take over the entire country? Or did it want to exert enough pressure so that Volodymyr Zelenskyy reverses his decision to join NATO? Or was the purpose to install a pro-Russia government in Ukraine? Or was it merely a show of strength before the West to shore up Putin’s domestic popularity?
In the early days of the campaign, Russian forces encircled Kiev for days but avoided an all-out assault on the Ukrainian capital. Days later, the thousands of men and tanks retreated without any achievement to show for it. This prompted defence experts to opine that the siege was merely an optics, and Kremlin had no intention of being stuck in a long urban war in the heavily fortified zone.
However, this provided an opportunity for Kiev to trumpet that Russian forces withdrew in the face of Ukrainian resistance. This, coupled with the incessant Russian bombing of hospitals and other civilian infrastructure, stirred many Ukrainians into joining the conflict. On the other hand, opposition against the war grew in Russia, and Putin started losing public support.
As Moscow went slow, Ukraine took the opportunity to regroup and strategise, as military aid poured in from across the globe. It seemed that Russia was waiting for Ukraine to tire out, a strategy that backfired. Ukraine kept rotating its frontline forces, and it was Russian fighters who started facing fatigue.
Read: Ukraine Says It Pushed Back Russian Forces, Reclaimed Territory
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