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Politics

Ukraine: the beginning of the end (I)

Fernando del Pino Calvo Sotelo

April 5, 2024

Just as the morning sun slowly but inexorably dissipates the fog, the passage of time ends up clearly drawing the lines that separate truth from deceit, fact from fiction.

Almost a year ago, on the very day it began, I predicted the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, so much extolled by the voluntarist Western media, and added that it would end in the worst-case scenario “like the suicidal Charge of the Light Brigade”[1]. The disaster has been shocking and will probably go down in the annals of military history as one of the greatest and most futile losses of human life in modern warfare. The Ukrainian forces, armed and trained by NATO, were thrown to their deaths by short-sighted geopolitical interests without in many cases even reaching the Russian first line of defense, whose effective static defense strategy decimated the attackers, who could have suffered up to 160,000 casualties. Instead of realistically building sustainable defenses, Zelensky, encouraged by the West and acting from the safety of his bunker in Kiev, ordered an absurd offensive in which he lost his army and his morale for victory. These are the consequences of devoting oneself to winning the war of propaganda instead of devoting oneself to simply winning the war, as Russia has done. Soon the only viable defensive line will be the Dnieper River.  

The loss of Avdiivka

The resounding failure of the Ukrainian offensive and the subsequent loss of the fortified town of Avdiivka has irreparably weakened Ukraine’s position and hastened its defeat. To be the defenders, Ukrainian troops suffered a disproportionate number of casualties in Avdiivka. The reasons for this were varied.

The first has been the overwhelming enemy artillery advantage, which even the Ukrainian high command already quantifies at 6 to 1 (the real figure being perhaps double). “Artillery is everything,” said Napoleon, especially “when it converges with heavy fire on one point.” Two hundred years later artillery fire still causes up to 75% of battle casualties.

The second has been the remarkable increase in Russian air activity with massive precision bombing by exploiting the ingenious UMPC system to convert “dumb” (free-fall) bombs into guided bombs on the cheap. Like the American JDAM, it consists of a glide system using deployable wings and an attached control unit that precisely guides the bomb. Thanks to the glide, the bomb can be dropped from high altitude at a safe distance of up to 70 km from the target, i.e. beyond the range of Ukrainian air defense. This use has given a second useful life to Russia’s vast arsenal of heavy bombs of great destructive power and psychological impact.

A third cause is that, by all accounts, the Ukrainian positions were abandoned in a chaotic retreat to avoid the imminent closure of the encirclement of the city. A disorderly or panicked retreat is one of the most dangerous situations in which an army can be involved, as it causes a huge number of casualties and facilitates the taking of numerous prisoners, as happened in Avdiivka.

Finally, the unjustifiable dismissal of the competent General Zaluzhny, decided by the still President Zelensky for purely political reasons (polls showed that the former was much more popular than the latter[2]), has also contributed to a logical deterioration of the Ukrainians’ will to fight. That a competent general should be dismissed in the middle of the war and sent to a faraway embassy is yet another indication of the shore-less amorality of the puppet Ukrainian government and its puppet master, the Biden Administration, ultimately responsible for the destruction of Ukraine, as we will be able to analyze in the second part of this article.  

Russia’s next step will probably be the seizure of the Chasiv Yar stronghold, which would imply practically the end of the conquest of the Donbass. It is also possible that Zaporiyia and Kherson will again become key theaters of war action before the summer.

The possible collapse of the Ukrainian lines

Zaluzhny’s replacement, General Syrsky, recently acknowledged in an interview that the situation was “really difficult and tense”, and that Russia was “conducting offensives on a very broad front”[3]. He barely mentioned the weapons sent by the West, which naturally have not changed the course of the war but its duration (to Ukraine’s misfortune). He also tacitly admitted that Ukraine had not built fortified lines between Avdiivka and Kharkov (where did the money for this go?), a city which the West may well consider lost. Perhaps that is why Macron omitted it in his recent bravado about supposed red lines that France would not tolerate (Kiev and Odessa), bravado that he calls, with very French elegance, “strategic ambiguity”.  

Finally, the new Ukrainian commander-in-chief also admitted the lack of vehicles (which has led to the transformation of mechanized brigades into infantry brigades[4]), the lack of ammunition and troops and the lack of rotation and rest of these. For example, the 110th Mechanized Brigade has been uninterruptedly on the front line in Avdiivka since the beginning of the war, two long years ago.  

Ukraine may have lost since the beginning of the conflict more than 450,000 men, against a minimum of 60,000-75,000 Russians, orders of magnitude (precision is impossible) inverse to those publicized by the clueless Western press. In any case, a horror, like any war.

Ukrainians’ fatigue and waning will to fight is also reflected in polls in Ukraine itself, despite its government’s propaganda. According to Gallup, support for a continuation of the war is only 52% in the Eastern regions and 45% in the South. Even in the West, more nationalistic and farther from the front, support for a continuation of the war has dropped to 70%[5]. Nor is there any evidence that Ukrainians who emigrated at the beginning of the war are returning to fight for their country, and the new law passed by Zelensky to lower the conscription age has proved hugely unpopular.  

In my opinion, the Russians are in no hurry and do not intend to make spectacular offensives, which are often fragile and may prove short-lived. However, if the larger and more maneuverable Russian troops are able to concentrate their offensive capability at some point on a front that is too long to be defended by the weaker side, there is a chance that Ukrainian resistance will crumble, and events will be precipitated in time and space. As in the field of Physics, the force of war is a product of mass times acceleration. In any case, the Russians will apply their proverb: “If you go too fast you will catch up with misfortune, but if you walk too slow, misfortune will catch up with you.” With their characteristic iciness, they will only undertake a mass offensive if it is clear to them that they will meet no opposition.

Should the Ukrainian collapse occur, this would be the beginning of the end of a war in which the undeniable heroism of the Ukrainian troops has not been able to compensate for the irresponsible and useless political leadership of the country, led by foreign interests and exaggeratedly focused on propaganda successes.

The inevitable defeat

Most of the Western political and military establishment seems to be already aware that Ukraine’s military defeat is inevitable, as leaked by the French press recently[6]. This will come as no surprise to readers of this blog, but it will surprise the unwary media consumers, media that has had to change their triumphalist narrative on the fly. The abrupt departure of Under Secretary of State Nuland, the most fanatical and belligerent anti-Russia neocon figure in the Biden administration (author of the famous phrase “fuck the EU”[7]), is another indication that the West is beginning to smell failure. And despite the propaganda, even in Europe only 36% of Europeans believe that aid to Ukraine should be considered a priority[8] and less than 10% believe that Ukraine will win the war[9].

Contrary to media reports, the Russian advance appears slow and methodical, aimed at conserving the lives of its own troops and systematically destroying the Ukrainian army’s combat capability. Its geographical ambitions seem to be focused on the four regions already annexed to Russia and probably on an additional sizable part of the eastern shore of the Dnieper River, while in the south its maximum objective would be to establish a corridor parallel to the Black Sea as far as Odessa and Moldova so as to isolate the future Ukraine from the sea.

Logic dictates that Russia’s goal was never to conquer the entire territory of Ukraine nor, of course, to attack other European NATO member countries. In fact, the Western’s media continued echoing of such a crude hoax makes one blush, although it is not surprising, since they have spent two years making fools of themselves. More surprising, however, is the fact that it is repeated by the US Secretary of Defense knowing it to be false[10], which shows the extent to which the Biden Administration is wallowing in disrepute.  

In any case, the “Special Military Operation”, as Russia cynically continues to call it, has led to a war of tragic proportions (especially for Ukraine) that will change the world and could mean a strategic defeat for the US and NATO, a possibility that makes this twilight phase of the conflict the most dangerous and unpredictable of the war. Indeed, a West cornered by its own mistakes and crushed by the sheer weight of false expectations of its own making may provoke an escalation of the conflict with unpredictable consequences. This is Zelensky’s last hope, and what we European citizens should fear most.

A new way of waging war

From the military point of view, this war has shown once again that the wars of the future will be very different from those of the past. This is a constant in history which, however, does not seem to modify the (possibly inevitable) pedagogical sclerosis of the general staffs, which in times of peace always train their armies to win the last war.

Falling into the same error and without knowing what the future holds, I allow myself to draw some lessons from the present war. Firstly, in conflicts between modern armies (and not against poorly armed ragtags, which have been the US specialty in recent decades), current technologies allow the contenders to observe each other in real time, making any concentration of forces vulnerable and thus hindering the surprise effect. This fact can only change if effective weapons are created to interfere with, blind or destroy the enemy’s eyes, including satellites, either from ground or orbital bases.

Likewise, real-time integration on the same platform of ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance & Reconnaissance) data together with artillery, aviation, missiles and drones allows the elimination of enemy units seconds or minutes after they have been located, before they can change their position.

Precisely because of this limitation, the mobility of forces has become more important, so that the advantage is on the side of the one who can concentrate more quickly on a given point or even feint to disconcert and exhaust the adversary, as Russia is doing along the front. To this end, logistics and speed of movement – in turn affected by exogenous factors such as terrain and existing infrastructure along the front line – will be key.

Another novelty has been the rediscovered value of strategic arsenals, a Soviet specialty, which make it possible to cover the time interval between the outbreak of hostilities and the increase in the production of armament at rates appropriate to wartime.

Finally, drones have brought about a revolution. Throughout history, technological advances have changed the balance between the offensive and defensive elements of warfare. Just as gunpowder made cavalry obsolete and artillery made city walls obsolete, or just as anti-tank or anti-aircraft missiles reduced the advantage of tanks and aircraft, relatively cheap drones will now pose a very serious threat to heavy hardware, be it battle tanks (in the case of ground warfare) or very expensive, high tonnage combat ships (in the case of naval warfare).

Ukraine, probably with British assistance, has achieved notable successes in sinking Russian ships of the Black Sea Fleet by night use of naval drones with saturation tactics, i.e. through simultaneous attacks. In addition, the drones are directed to the same side of the ship, so that it heels and sinks faster. For the time being, these attacks have not been able to be effectively neutralized either by aerial drones or by curtains of fire from the ships themselves and have contributed to the deterioration of the enemy’s morale. That said, their successes have had more propaganda value than military value, since the Ukrainian war is decided on land and not at sea (unless there is an amphibious landing in Odessa).

The horror of war

In the second part of this article, I will analyze the possible strategic and long-term consequences of this conflict, but I would like to make a reflection first. These necessarily cold analyses should not make us forget the human tragedy of any war and the horror of its devastating consequences.

The way wars are fought may change, but the dead die as they have always died, and the living mourn them as they have always mourned them.

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