The world is waiting for a new Russian offensive against Ukraine, but this one does not have to be spectacular and resemble the beginning of the invasion in February 2022 – writes Mariusz Marszałkowski, editor at BiznesAlert.pl.
Russia will not let go of Ukraine
Since the autumn of 2022, we’ve been hearing more and more about the prospect of a new Russian offensive in Ukraine. The Russians, after underestimating the Ukrainian forces and suffering several shameful defeats (including the withdrawal of troops from Kiev, Kharkov, Chernihiv, then the retreat from the Kharkov region and finally the abandonment of Kherson) for months have been preparing for another offensive. To this end they launched a draft at the end of September. The official plan was to mobilize 300,000 Russian citizens to go fight in Ukraine, however, according to British intelligence sources, the number of conscripts may reach as much as 500 thousand.
The human factor is key. In February 2022 the Russians reportedly invaded Ukraine with forces not exceeding 200,000 soldiers, officers of Rosgvardia of the Ministry of Internal Affairs or mercenaries from the Wagner group. During the military operation, it turned out that these forces had been significantly underestimated in relation to the Ukrainian resistance. Ukraine began the war with an army of just over 240,000 soldiers. This number quickly went up thanks to the growing ranks of the territorial defence troops and an influx of volunteers. According to official data, more than 750 thousand people serve today in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, National Guard, Territorial Defense and other armed formations . The fact that Russia amassed a very small invasion army becomes apparent when those figures are contrasted against the US army that used over half a million soldiers to invade Iraq in 2003. After the invasion, during the occupation of Iraq, the troops of the international coalition at its peak numbered more than 120,000 soldiers.
The Russians, who, according to American estimates, lost in 11 months of fighting about 200 thousand people-killed, wounded and taken prisoner, were forced to mobilize and recruit prisoners from penal colonies, to the tune of 40 thousand, according to estimates. In addition, since the beginning of the war, virtually continuous mobilization was announced in the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, which are Russian puppet states on the territory of Ukraine. However, the number of people who were forcibly included in the separatist army is unknown. Faced with losses since the beginning of the invasion, the fierce resistance of the Ukrainians, supported by constant supplies of equipment and weapons from the West, the mobilization of personnel in Russia was inevitable, given the fact that the Kremlin does not want to fail under any circumstances.
Growing hardware problems
The second factor is the technical aspect, that is, the mobilization of the arms industry. In addition to numerous personal losses, Russia has lost a huge amount of military equipment. Losses confirmed visually, i.e. those that have been recorded in the form of video or pictures, have already exceeded more than 9 thousand units of equipment. However, it is worth noting that not every lost tank, armored car or aircraft has been recorder, so these losses may be higher. To continue to be able to wage war, Russia not only needs to make up for the equipment losses suffered during the 11 months of fighting, but it also needs to build up an adequate surplus so that it can continue to think about future offensive operations. Officially, since September, the Russian government has been talking about the mobilization of the military armament industry. However, already in the summer of 2022, there had been signals that Russian arms factories were increasing their production capabilities. Some of the plants and repair bases directly under the Ministry of Defense of Russia are dedicated exclusively to the repair of damaged and destroyed equipment. Some plants are engaged in the restoration of equipment from long-term storage warehouses. This equipment has worse quality and is not as modern as what was used in the attack in February 2022, but the numbers are enough to facilitate the tactics used by Russia. I wrote about the Russian war machine elsewhere on BiznesAlert.pl. Russians are facing increasing difficulties, including wearing down barrels in cannons and howitzers, failures of control systems and engines, as well as inability to acquire matrices for thermal imaging cameras and sights. To meet these challenges, the entire effort of the Russian apparatus was diverted to ensuring that the army was adequately supplied with the equipment necessary for further acts of aggression.
Ukraine’s problems in the East
The question is when the Russians will attack. According to official data, in early November they managed to collect the expected number of conscripts. Some of them, according to estimates of Ukrainian intelligence from 40 to 70 thousand, have been already sent to different sections of the front, but without proper training. The rest is still participating in military exercises at training grounds in Russia and Belarus. This means it’s now been four months since they started preparing for combat. This is enough time to master the basic military craft, which includes the use of weapons, communications, or unmanned aerial vehicles. According to the Ukrainians, such trained people are already arriving in Donbas. And this worries Ukrainian planners. On the one hand, in our heads we already see another Russian offensive on Kyiv. On the other hand, even with a force of 300-500 thousand soldiers, Russians cannot be sure that their ambitious plan will succeed. The Ukrainians have been preparing trenches and fortifications on the northern border since the spring of 2022, which in the event of an invasion will have to be captured, which means losing the momentum of the attack and suffering losses. Every kilometer of occupied Ukrainian land, and especially every captured city, means it will be necessary to maintain an appropriately sized garrison, to prevent a guerrilla style war from emerging, and secure communication and supply routes. In order for such an operation to be successful, the Russians would have to have two to three times more armed people than Ukrainians do, which is even up to half a million soldiers. However, at least at this point they do not have such numbers and without more drafts it will be impossible to even come close to this amount. Yet, a painful, bloody, but effective offensive in the East is possible and is actually already underway. Without fanfare, the Russian army is advancing in several areas. Ukrainians have completely lost the initiative. Where in December they carried out offensive operations, i.e. in the Swatowe area and the city of Kreminna, the Russians managed to repel them and are pressing on. The same is true of Bakhmut and Soledar. They managed to conquer the latter city in early January at the expense of many convicts mostly from the Wagner Group. Bachmut is still holding on, but the situation is deteriorating every day. If nothing changes, the Russians can expect to capture this city before the first anniversary of the invasion. While Bakhmut is not Kyiv, but when it comes to propaganda this would be promoted probably as a success. The Russians are also pushing in the direction of Zaporozhye, where they are constantly trying to storm Wuhledar.
The time for action is now
Ukrainians are in a tight spot. On the one hand, they cannot withdraw their forces from the northern border with Russia and Belarus, because there is still a risk of invasion from that side. On the other hand, they are slowly losing more kilometers of land in the Donbass. The situation will become more and more difficult with the arrival of more trained conscripts from Russia. Despite this, Ukraine still has a chance to defend its independence and stop the march of Russians to the west of Ukraine. For this, however, equipment is required – long-range artillery, ammunition, as well as tanks and armored cars. Only the West is capable of providing this. Let’s not wait with the help, the training and equipment. Let’s not waste time discussing. We must act now and knock the Kremlin off its feet.