Why Russia Is Now Betting On A Long War In Ukraine
After its initial blitzkrieg failed, and with Ukraine gearing up for a counteroffensive, Russia sees its best hope in holding out for a protracted conflict. Kyiv, instead, is trying to convince its Western allies that achieving victory as soon as possible is the only path forward.
KYIV — There has been a lot of talk about prolonging the war in Ukraine and about who benefits from that situation.
British General Rupert Smith defined war as "collective killing for the sake of a collective goal" and advised focusing on political, strategic, territorial and tactical aspects.
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From this perspective, let's try to answer question "who benefits?"
First, we can exclude the U.S. and the "collective West" because they are not participating in the war.
The second important aspect is that Ukraine is not Iraq or Afghanistan. We are defending ourselves against aggression on our land; we are defending our sovereignty and our territorial integrity; we are not trying to spread the war to other territories or export it anywhere in the world. Our enemy, on the contrary, ignores all the existing norms of international humanitarian law, the laws and customs of war, and uses the practice of genocide both openly and covertly.
According to the founder and chairman of Genocide Watch, Gregory Stanton, “the Russian army actually intends to partially destroy the Ukrainian nationality.”
Two factors influence the duration of the war: Russia's ability to conduct sustained hostilities, which depends on whether there are temporal-spatial conditions to restore its ability to fight. Another factor is the ability of Russia to threaten the "collective West" and separately the United States, which depends on the achievements and losses of Russia in Ukraine.
The results and consequences of this war also depend on these two factors.
Best of the worst
The Russian blitzkrieg failed. Now the Kremlin has gone to the other extreme — a protracted conflict. Waging a long war is not the goal of Moscow because they must realize that they cannot afford a long war. However, their military-political leadership is forced to adapt to the situation that it created: the professional pre-war army is practically defeated, the professional personnel is less than half of what it was before the invasion, the best and latest combat equipment has been lost, there are fewer combat-ready vehicles in the reserves than those that already out of order.
Gaining time is the main Russian reason to drag out the war.
Against this background, the goal of the war is clearly visible — to dismantle Ukrainian statehood and maintain geopolitical control over its territory. To achieve this goal, the Kremlin will need new efforts, the preparation of which requires the restoration of combat-ready groups, and this takes time. Gaining time is the main Russian reason to drag out the war.
And the Kremlin constantly falls into the same trap, taking half-measures instead of general mobilization. According to the Russian army, aggressive advertising of military service, aimed at the poorest sections of the population, allows you to work with 4-5 million people burdened with loans and other material problems, which will become a group of 800,000 people. That is, there is even an opportunity to choose the best of the worst.
Ukrainian volunteers on a break during a military training program in Kyiv.
The Ukrainian counteroffensive
The Kremlin launched a powerful information operation, trying to break the unity of the countries that supported Ukraine in its struggle, primarily the EU countries, by promoting the narratives of "tactical nuclear weapons", "ceasefire", "long war". One of the goals of this operation is to buy time to recover and build up their potential.
On the other side of the scale is the Ukrainian counter-offensive. It should be understood that the stamp "counteroffensive" means a whole range of operations: offensive, defensive, special, information-psychological, stabilization, the ultimate goal of which is to restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine. The sooner it is launched, the less time our enemy will have to restore its potential to continue the armed hostilities.
That is why every weapons delivery makes the war cheaper and shorter. It is clear that for the West, the current difficulties in supplying what we need are temporary, while for Russia, the limitation of military potential is insurmountable or can be eliminated only in the long term.
Instead, the West must reformat and revive its defense industry to ensure a series of successive operations of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, plan for constant supplies to compensate for their losses and restore combat capability. Helping Ukraine achieve a decisive victory as soon as possible is a better investment in security than allowing Russia to achieve its goals at least partially.
Another version of the protracted war
Any territory of Ukraine that remains under the control of Russia will later become a springboard for new aggression. Freezing the war without the full return of the territory of Ukraine under its control will only increase the time interval between aggressions. That is another version of the protracted war.
The Russian Federation turns any occupied territory into a military base. An example is the occupied Donbas. The world, being half-heartedly worried, allowed the invaders to keep what they had seized and eight years later there is a full-scale war. The attempts to put the Russian Federation at the negotiating table immediately after the Ukrainian counter-offensive will lead to the same dead end.
During the year, the Kremlin only imitated its desire to seek agreement, a strategic goal unattainable for the Russian Federation and in the future will not allow changing its strategy. And here is the icing on this cake: imagine that the West bowed to the Kremlin's demands for fear of nuclear blackmail.
And now let's guess what conclusions China will draw from this lesson? And this is a very significant factor not to push Ukraine to sign any agreements with the Russian Federation, except for the document on the complete and unconditional surrender of Moscow. The means of armed hostilities used by the Kremlin to destroy the Ukrainian nation leave us no other choice.
President Vladimir Putin during a May 2 meeting from the National Congress Palace in Saint Petersburg.
In the long term, Russia has a chance to keep what it has seized in Ukraine, to recover enough to resume the offensive in Ukraine. This is a completely different level of armed confrontation in Europe, which will create new threats and challenges for the U.S. partners in NATO.
And these challenges will have to be responded to. To this should be added Russian attempts to control Belarus, develop its expansion into Moldova and, possibly, the Baltic states. The Russian Federation will certainly resume hostilities in Ukraine sooner or later, but this will already be subject to U.S. obligations to NATO partners.
The post-war architecture of security in Europe, and possibly in the world, directly depends on the victory of Ukraine, which will determine the distribution of forces. Therefore, the US and the West not only have the resources to influence the outcome of the war but are also capable of doing so.
It is here that the basic building blocks of the future world security system are laid – providing assistance to Ukraine in maintaining sovereignty will make it impossible in the long term for another Russian aggression against our country.
*Viktor Kevlyuk is a fellow at the Centre for Defense Strategies.
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