Ukraine could win its war against Russia this year but may not be able to do so due to Western military support being ‘too little and too late’, a military expert said today.
JUSTIN BRONK, a research fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute, has analysed the latest situation in an article for MailOnline today as Ukraine prepares for a crucial spring and summer offensive.
It comes as Germany finally agreed to supply Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2 tanks after stalling on the decision for months. An announcement from the US is expected later today.
Mr Bronk said being able to operate new armoured vehicles by early spring could allow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s forces to ‘achieve decisive breakthroughs’ against Russia without suffering ‘crippling infantry losses’.
The expert said Ukraine has a chance to win the war in 2023 but ‘if it cannot seize it due to Western support arriving too little, too late’ then ‘the chance may not come again’.
JUSTIN BRONK, a research fellow at London’s Royal United Services Institute, has analysed the latest situation in an article for MailOnline today as Ukraine prepares for a crucial spring and summer offensive
After almost two months of brutal but more geographically limited battles in Ukraine, both sides appear to be massing forces for new offensives.
Russian forces have lost many thousands of dead and wounded in repeated attacks against the towns of Soledar and Bakhmut.
They have used heavy artillery and infantry assaults to force slow, extremely costly advances across shell-pocked muddy trench lines which in many ways resemble the First World War.
But Ukraine has also suffered heavy losses defending these areas of the Donbas, but nevertheless one of the key elements of both sides’ strategies has been to try and limit how many forces they commit.
Ukraine ended 2022 with two resoundingly successful counter-offensives, in the north and south. In the north, Kharkiv Oblast was liberated along with towns of Kupiansk, Izyum and Lyman.
Meanwhile in the south, the bulk of the Kherson region was liberated including its capital, as the Russian army was ground down and ultimately forced to withdraw from the Western bank of the Dnipro river.
But the effort cost heavy casualties, especially in Ukraine’s elite brigades capable of mobile offensive operations at scale.
Likewise, Russian casualties have been extremely heavy, with recent Norwegian intelligence estimates suggesting that around 180,000 Russian troops have been killed, badly wounded or captured since the start of the invasion.
Mr Bronk believes Ukraine could defeat Russia this year but Western support would be vital. Pictured: A Ukrainian artillery crew fires towards Russian positions near the town of Bakhmut in Donetsk region yesterday
Smoke rises after shelling in the town of Soledar, the site of heavy battles with Russian forces in the Donetsk region, Ukraine
Therefore, both sides have tried to disrupt each other’s attempts to rebuild their forces with fresh recruits and new equipment this winter, in a bid to regain the initiative first in spring.
Russia mobilised around 300,000 fresh recruits from late September, with about half being sent immediately to Ukraine to stabilise the front lines that had been so successfully rolled back.
Those troops who were sent in rapidly had very little opportunity for training and often very poor equipment, so have suffered appalling casualties in winter battles and have poor morale.
However, the other roughly 150,000 have been training since September and been receiving tanks, artillery and armoured vehicles to form fresh units.
These will likely be used to conduct a new Russian offensive push in February, with a more ambitious goal than the grinding fighting around Bakhmut and Soledar in recent months.
They will not have had time to become good soldiers or professional units, but will be far more capable than the fresh conscripts thrown into the lines before Christmas.
Furthermore, Russia is preparing to begin another wave of mobilisation, reportedly aiming to generate up to 500,000 additional recruits for generating more units.
Russia’s military industry is also belatedly being put on to a war footing in response to a serious current shortage of ammunition of all types at the front.
Since Russian president Vladimir Putin did not plan for a long war, his country’s industry was not mobilised to meet the sudden demand until it was clear that things had gone very wrong in Ukraine.
A woman walks in front of a damaged house in Bakhmut – a town that has been a focus of vicious fighting
Justin Bronk said being able to operate its new armoured vehicles by early spring could allow President Zelensky’s (right) forces to ‘achieve decisive breakthroughs. Putin is pictured on the left
The result has been an increasing lack of modern equipment and even artillery ammunition for Russian units at the front and those being trained to form new units.
Now factories are being concentrated on building large quantities of fewer types of ammunition, vehicles and weapons, which over time is likely to result in significantly improved quantities reaching Russian troops.
Ukraine mobilised around 700,000 people when it was invaded in February last year, and has also spent the winter training and equipping as many as it can to be reinforcements for depleted units and to form fresh ones.
However, equipment is a key bottleneck, since much of Ukraine’s defence industry and economy has been badly damaged by Russian missile strikes.
Western partners have provided vital aid on a huge scale to supply Ukraine’s heroic defensive struggle, with anti-tank missiles, air defence systems, artillery ammunition and the HIMARS rocket artillery system being among the most important deliveries so far.
But what they need now is heavy equipment to take back as much of their stolen territory as possible while Russia is in a weak position.
The Kremlin’s anticipated offensive in February will fail to defeat Ukraine and likely suffer further terrible casualties as relatively poorly trained units attempt to storm Ukrainian lines that have been fortified over the winter.
A German Leopard 2 tank at a German army demonstration event. A total of 14 will now be sent to Ukraine
America is expected to supply M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles. Mr Bronk says having modern tanks will be vital for Ukraine
The decisive question is how successful Ukraine’s own counter-offensive in spring and summer will be.
What Ukrainian troops need are hundreds of armoured vehicles – with firepower that can protect them from artillery as they cross muddy battlefields to assault Russian positions – and main battle tanks and mobile artillery systems to provide the fire support and anti-tank punch.
If enough units can be trained, supplied and supported to operate vehicles such as the American M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle and German Leopard 2 main battle tank by early spring, then they may be able to achieve decisive breakthroughs without suffering crippling infantry losses in the process.
This should be the West’s goal – to help Ukrainian forces take back as much of their territory as possible before Russia’s next wave of conscripts and renewed military industrial production starts to change the balance of forces in the Autumn.
If Ukraine is not supplied with the heavy equipment and supporting fuel, maintenance, assault bridging and engineering vehicles to use it effectively at scale by spring, Russia may yet be able to force a grinding stalemate that will go on well into 2024.
Ukraine has a chance to win the war in 2023, but if it cannot seize it due to Western support arriving too little, too late then the chance may not come again.
For the West too, a stalemate that drags on into next year and potentially beyond will be far more expensive and destabilising in the long run than supplying Ukraine with what it needs to win now.
Ukrainian forces make their way to the frontlines yesterday. Mr Zelensky has repeatedly asked for modern battle tanks