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Why Ukraine’s Spring Counteroffensive Failed and What Lies Ahead in the Russia-Ukraine War

Why did Ukraine’s spring counteroffensive fail this year? Who is responsible? After reading various information, I think the United States must bear some responsibility. The Biden administration regards Ukraine as a pawn in the international strategy and election chessboard. The Republican Party does not support aid to Ukraine at all and is eager to stop aid and stand with Putin.

The United States and Western countries did not provide enough assistance to Ukraine. This was the fundamental reason why Ukraine’s spring counterattack failed and suffered heavy casualties.

1 There are differences between the top brass of the U.S. military and the Ukrainian military

A few days ago, the Washington Post published a 16,000-word article detailing the differences between senior U.S. military officials and Ukrainian Army Commander-in-Chief Zaluzhny. Although the position in the article is biased towards the top brass of the U.S. military, after reading the whole article, I feel more sympathetic to the Ukrainian army. The United States always thinks about the battlefield situation from the perspective of its own interests and has always lacked awareness of the difficult situation of the Ukrainian army.

According to the information in the article, U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin seriously overestimated the combat effectiveness of the Ukrainian NATO brigade. Americans believe that even without air force assistance, the Ukrainian NATO brigade can break through the Russian defense line from the front. Therefore, strategically, the U.S. military High-level officials suggested that the Ukrainian army concentrate all its forces and equipment and launch an insertion from the southern line to the Sea of ​​Azov.

Zaluzhny, the commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian army, disagreed with Austin’s strategy. He believed that the Ukrainian army was simply unable to carry out this task for three reasons.
First, the Ukrainian army relies entirely on assistance for its equipment, and there are not enough personnel with military experience. If it takes the risk to make an insertion, it is likely to suffer heavy losses. Facts have proved that Zaluzhny’s judgment was correct. In this year’s spring counterattack, the Ukrainian army’s offensive was far less powerful than Austin expected, but it still lost billions of dollars in military aid. If the Ukrainian army had attacked with all its strength at that time, regardless of whether If you succeed, you will lose a lot of vitality. The US military seriously underestimated the resilience of the Russian defense line and the power of mine arrays.

The second is that the United States has seriously underestimated the role of drones, and such large-scale penetration will only create targets for the enemy. Zaluzhny mentioned that with the widespread use of drones, any large target will be immediately discovered and destroyed. In the early days of the war, the Ukrainian army used drones to effectively attack the penetration of the Russian army. Now that the Ukrainian army is intersecting, the Russian army You can also use drones to severely damage the Ukrainian army.

In order to avoid the Russian drones and artillery fire, Zaluzhne did not adopt the method of interspersing mechanized troops, but let the infantry advance in small groups. Although the results were average, it did effectively reduce losses.

Zaluzhny believes that before the Ukrainian Air Force takes shape, one should not place too much trust in the role of NATO mechanized forces, and believes that the most critical thing for the Ukrainian army now is to preserve its effective strength.

Third, Zaluzhny believes that the Ukrainian army currently lacks manpower. If it concentrates its forces to attack the front line, other defense lines will be empty and it is likely to be broken through by the Russian army.

This actually makes sense. Ukraine has now mobilized 1.5 million men of school age, and up to 4 million more can be mobilized. Although the losses of the Ukrainian army are less than those of the Russian army, (according to leaked US military documents, as of early 2023, the death toll of the Ukrainian army is 15,000 to 17,000 people, with about 120,000 casualties, and 35,000 to 42,000 Russian casualties, with about 200,000 casualties.) But Russia’s demographic advantage cannot be ignored.

Zaluzhny said that Russia’s population is three times that of Ukraine, and Russia is a feudal country where human lives are very cheap. Putin can continuously send soldiers (especially soldiers from ethnic minority areas) to the battlefield. He believes that the Ukrainian army must preserve its strength as much as possible before establishing its advantage.

Based on these considerations, the Ukrainian army did not choose Austin’s strategy, but carried out a more conservative three-sided counterattack, and the intensity of the attack was much lower than the United States expected.

Because the counterattack led by Zaluzhny only captured 500 square kilometers of land and did not achieve much results, Zaluzhny was also under pressure from Zelensky. For Zelensky, he needs more political achievements to convince the West The allies have regained their confidence, but from Ukraine’s perspective, if Ukraine suffers excessive losses in a radical counteroffensive, it will also shake the confidence of the West.

It is not unreasonable for Zaluzhny to wait until the air force is formed before attacking with all his strength.

2 The battlefield enters garbage time

After the failure of the spring counteroffensive, the Ukrainian army began to suspend large-scale offensives. The Russian army also attempted to counterattack after a successful defense, but quickly retreated after suffering heavy losses.

Now the Russian-Ukrainian battlefield has entered garbage time, and neither side wants to take large-scale military operations. This can also be seen from the number of Russian casualties.

As shown in the figure below, the peak of Russian military deaths was from November last year to May this year, which roughly corresponds to the time when the Ukrainian army regained Kherson and the Ukrainian army began its spring counterattack at the beginning of this year. As of recently, the number of Russian military deaths has been relatively low, with deaths in one day There are only 10-20 people, and it can be 80-120 people at the peak, which marks a sharp reduction in the intensity of the battlefield.

Taking into account the political needs of both parties and the progress of Western assistance, further changes may not be made until all Ukrainian F-16 fighter jets are in place and the air force is formed in May next year.

The movements of the Ukrainian army from May to September next year require special attention.

3 Considerations between the United States and Russia

The Ukrainian army’s counterattack failed and the battlefield entered garbage time. In addition to the limited capabilities of the Ukrainian army, the most important thing is the considerations of the United States and Russia.

Let’s talk about Russia first. After Putin experienced the defeat in 2022, he gradually recognized the reality. He realized that annexing Ukraine was unrealistic, so he switched from offense to defense, and his strategic goal became to defend the territory he had occupied.

Putin used trenches, mine arrays, and layers of defenses to consume the strength of the Ukrainian army. Putin also obtained drones and artillery shells from Iran and North Korea. Although the Russian army has many shortcomings, and its elite troops also suffered heavy losses in 2022, and many battalions are now new recruits, defensive warfare does not require much combat experience.
Russia will hold a general election on March 17 next year. No domestic opponent can threaten Putin. Putin does not need a victory to consolidate his power.

For Putin, as long as he keeps the territory he currently controls and waits until Western countries lose patience, he can force Ukraine to return to the negotiating table and recognize his control over Ukraine and Crimea. If this goal is achieved, he can exit the war with dignity .

The wind this year seems to be in his favor. Europe is turning to the right. The far right in the Netherlands won the election and advocated reducing aid to Ukraine. Trump is also gathering strength in the United States to try to regain the White House.

If the far right in Europe and the United States can come to power next year, the Western camp will be completely defeated and Russia will win a great victory. Although I think this possibility is very small, this is indeed Putin’s biggest chance of turning defeat into victory. Putin looks to his Western allies to make progress.

The demands of the United States are more subtle.

The Republican Party has always opposed aid to Ukraine out of opposition to the Democratic Party and sympathy for Russia (both oppose the white left and support Christianity and white supremacy). The Democratic Party also has no demands for Russia to be defeated quickly.

Regarding Biden’s personal interests, his aid to Ukraine is to serve the election. He hopes that Ukraine will win during the critical period of the election, not earlier, so he continues to delay the delivery of weapons to Ukraine, including M1 tanks and F-16s, and even The United States is not willing to do its best to supply artillery shells. Ukraine needs more than 90,000 155mm artillery shells every month, but the United States provides less than one-tenth.

The United States began to propose that South Korea provide ammunition, but its law prohibits the provision of weapons to war zones. If South Korea is convinced, Ukraine will be able to obtain 330,000 artillery shells. A better solution is to directly use the US military’s 155mm artillery shells, many of which are cluster bombs. , the Pentagon has thousands of these artillery shells, which have been gathering dust for decades. Despite Ukraine’s repeated requests, Blinken has always been hesitant.
In addition to Biden’s own electoral interests, in terms of the US’s diplomatic strategy, it is also unknown how much motivation it has to defeat Russia.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has been in decline and has long ceased to pose a threat to U.S. hegemony. The United States even needs Russia to deter Europe and force the latter to rely more on American protection. Compared with Russia, the United States has always been more concerned about China’s challenges.
In addition, if Russia really collapses, it will leave behind many legacy problems and may have a greater impact on the international order. These impacts will be largely borne by the United States. Whether Russia’s collapse will benefit the United States, I am afraid that the U.S. strategic community I can’t reach a consensus myself.
In this war, only Ukraine has no way to retreat. Both the United States and Russia have too much room and bargaining chips. Ukraine has always been a pawn on this chessboard. Although it has a strong self-awareness, it is not enough. Break free from the shackles of chess players.
Zelensky and Ukraine are destined to endure more hardships.

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