President Zelensky. As he is…
In Ernest Hemingway’s novel, ‘The Sun Also Rises’, a formerly wealthy, now down on his luck character is asked how he went bankrupt. “Two ways”, he replies, “gradually and then suddenly.” Someday we may ask how Ukraine lost the war and receive much the same answer, believes Big Serge, the well-known international blogger. In his article, he analyzes the situation in Ukraine and gives his military-political forecast:
“It is safe to say that western regime media has set a very low standard for reporting on the war in Ukraine, given the extent to which the mainstream narrative is disconnected from reality.
Even given these low standards, the way the ongoing battle in Bakhmut is being presented to the population is truly ludicrous. The Bakhmut axis is being spun to western audiences as a ‘perfect synthesis of all the tropes of Russian failure’. British officials, in particular, have been highly vocal in recent weeks insisting that Bakhmut has little to no operational value.
The truth is the literal opposite of this story.
Bakhmut is an operationally critical keystone position in the Ukrainian defense, and Russia has transformed it into a death pit which compels the Ukrainians to sacrifice exorbitant numbers of men in order to hold the position as long as possible. In fact, the insistence that Bakhmut is not operationally significant is mildly insulting to the audience, both because a quick glance at a map clearly shows it at the heart of the regional road network, and because Ukraine has thrown a huge number of units into the front there.
All this to say, Ukraine has been very anxious to hold the Bakhmut line, as this is a vastly preferable position to hold, and accordingly they have been pouring units into the sector.
Russian forces, primarily Wagner PMC and LNR units, have been slowly but surely collapsing this Ukrainian stronghold by making liberal use of artillery. In November, now former Zelensky advisor Oleksiy Arestovych admitted that Russian artillery on the Bakhmut axis enjoyed roughly a 9 to 1 tube advantage, which is turning Bakhmut into a death pit.
At the moment, the majority of Russian combat power is uncommitted, and both western and Ukrainian sources are (belatedly) becoming increasingly alarmed about the prospect for a Russian offensive in the coming weeks.
In the opening months of the war, the extant Ukrainian army was mostly wiped out. The Russians destroyed much of Ukraine’s indigenous supplies of heavy weaponry and shattered many cadres at the core of Ukraine’s professional army.
In the wake of this initial shattering, Ukrainian combat strength was shored up by transferring virtually all of the Soviet vintage weaponry in the stockpiles of former Warsaw Pact countries. This transferred Soviet vehicles and ammunition, compatible with existing Ukrainian capabilities, from countries like Poland and the Czech Republic, and was mostly complete by the end of spring, 2022. In early June, for example, western sources were admitting that Soviet stockpiles were drained.
With Warsaw Pact stockpiles exhausted, NATO began replacing destroyed Ukrainian capabilities with western equivalents in a process that began during the summer. Of particular note were howitzers like the American M777 and the French Caesar.
Russia has essentially fought multiple iterations of the Ukrainian Army – destroying the pre-war force in the opening months, then fighting units that were refilled from Warsaw Pact stockpiles, and is now degrading a force which is largely reliant on western systems.
This led to General Zaluzhny’s now-famous interview with the economist in which he asked for many hundreds of Main Battle Tanks, Infantry Fighting Vehicles, and artillery pieces. In effect, he asked for yet another army, as the Russians seem to keep destroying the ones he has.
On January 20, NATO convened a meeting at Ramstein Airbase in Germany, against a backdrop of a massive new aid package being put together for Ukraine. This aid package contains a huge amount of artillery pieces. The aid announced includes nearly 200 artillery tubes. Multiple countries, including Denmark and Estonia, are sending Ukraine literally all of their howitzers.
Furthermore, the United States has taken new, unprecedented steps to supply Ukraine with shells. Just in the past week, they have dipped into its stockpiles in Israel and South Korea, amid reports that American stocks are so depleted that they will take more than a decade to replenish.
The number of tanks that can be reasonably given to Ukraine is relatively low, simply because of the training and sustainment burden. All of these tanks use different ammunition, special parts, and require specialized training. Receiving a mixed bag of western tanks will create a difficult training, maintenance, and sustainment burden for Ukraine.
The ideal solution for Ukraine would be to receive only Leopard A24s, as these might be available in decent numbers (perhaps a couple hundred), and at least they would be standardized. But, we should also note, of course, that these western tanks are not likely to be game changers on the battlefield. The Leopard already showed its limitations in Syria under Turkish operation. Western tanks like the Leopard have limited combat value and will be destroyed like any other tank.
It does not appear that NATO wants to give Ukraine main battle tanks.
NATO does not believe in Ukrainian victory.
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