A Russian offensive is coming

The Economist interviewed Ukrainian generals about the situation at the front and the danger of a new Russian outpost (Klawe Rzeczy/Getty Images)
The Economist interviewed Ukrainian generals about the situation at the front and the danger of a new Russian outpost (Klawe Rzeczy/Getty Images)

Russia it is concentrating men and arms for a new offensive. As early as January, but more likely in the spring, he could launch a big attack from Donbasin the east, from the south or even from belarus, a puppet state in the north. Russian troops will try to push back the Ukrainian forces and could even organize a second attempt to take kyivthe capital.

This is not said by us, but by the head of the Ukrainian armed forces, General Valery Zaluzhny. In a series of unprecedented briefings over the past fortnight, the general, along with Volodymyr ZelenskyPresident of Ukraineand the general Oleksandr syrsky, head of its land forces, warned us of the critical months ahead. “The Russians are preparing about 200,000 new troopsthe general told us Zaluzhny. “I have no doubt that they will attack kyiv again.” Western sources claim that the Russian commander, General sergey Surovikinhas always considered that this is a multi-year conflict.

This is not the opinion outside Ukraine. In the frozen mud, the conflict is believed to be at a standstill. For a month there has been practically no movement along the nearly 1,000 km of battle front. the admiral sir Tony radakinthe most senior British officer, said this week that, at the moment, the shortage of artillery shells means that the margin of Russia for ground operations is “declining rapidly”.

The appearance of stalemate is fueling a new interest in peace talks. The president of France, Emmanuel Macronthe American Joe Biden and (for very different reasons) the Russian aggressor, Vladimir putin, have spoken in recent days of a diplomatic solution. Many in West, horrified by the suffering and, more selfishly, fed up with high energy prices, would welcome it. But the Ukrainian commanders argue that it should not happen too soon, and they are right.

Yes Ukraine tried to stop the war today by freezing the battle lines where they are, the Russians could better prepare for the next attack. The generals of putin they have gone ahead with their program of training and deploying newly mobilized troops and re-equipping industry to contribute to the war effort, including, according to Ukrainian commanders, the production of artillery shells. A freeze would repeat the mistake of the three years leading up to the invasion on February 24, 2022. In that time, putin he talked endlessly with Western leaders, who he was pleased with, while preparing his armies for the invasion.

The greatest responsibility of West is to ensure that any Russian counteroffensive fails. For it, arms supply must increase, and fast. Ukraine has used HIMARS, a rocket system that the Americans have supplied since June, with devastating effects against Russian ammunition depots and command and control centers, allowing rapid advance first in the northeast and then in the south. But Russia has moved many of those targets out of battery range HIMARS ukrainian So Ukraine need more powerful artillery, like missiles ATACMS, which could hit targets at least twice as far away. And you need a lot of them, as well as normal ammunition and artillery of all kinds; plus tanks and helicopters and many other things.

Ukraine it also needs help to repel Russian attacks on civilian electricity, water and heating systems. Their goal is to destroy the Ukrainian economy and undermine the morale of Ukrainian troops at the front, worried about their families.

As the general explains Zaluzhny, Ukraine it is running out of ammunition for its current defense systems (mostly Soviet-era anti-aircraft material repurposed against missiles). It also needs much more and better anti-missile defenses; the patriots Americans that look like they are about to arrive will be a big boost, but training soldiers to use them takes time and should have been supplied months ago.

Yes Ukraine wants to come out of this conflict as a prosperous democracy, even air defense will not be enough: it also needs to retake more territory. Although this year Russian forces have seized only a small portion of the Ukrainian coast of the Sea Black, they are close enough to all major Ukrainian ports to threaten shipping. Apart from limited amounts of grain under an agreement, Ukrainian exports remain largely cut off.

Taking more territory also helps to avoid a frozen conflict, by showing that putin you risk losing even what you have gained. With the current border, Russia It has a land bridge that can resupply crimea annexed and threaten the south of the country. On the contrary, if Ukraine cut the land bridge and retake the north coast of the sea ​​of ​​azovyou can negotiate from force, putting even crimea within artillery range. In this way, you can discredit in Russia the idea of putin it can be imposed simply by launching another attack in a few years.

Ukraine she remains willing to make the sacrifices that the fight demands. Mr. Zelensky he told us that “95 or 96% of the people want to vacate all their territory”, recovering everything that Russia took hold in 2014, as well as what it has taken this year. He argues that Western promises of security guarantees are a poor substitute for his country’s territorial integrity. After all, similar guarantees offered to Ukraine by state Joined Y Great Brittany in 1994, when it gave up Soviet nuclear weapons on its soil, they proved almost useless 20 years later.

supporters of Ukraine they will have a slightly different point of view. They believe that taking it all back is a maximalist goal that Ukraine will have a hard time achieving, especially since in some places it will mean freeing people who do not want to be freed. nuclear threats from putin are a reason to ensure that Russia not be victorious, but also to demand that Ukraine does not appear to threaten the recognized frontiers of Russia. Ukraine it also has to understand that the flow of military and financial aid depends on avoiding any infighting that may be brewing and ensuring that it curbs long-standing corruption.

That being said, the entire world – including Russia– would benefit from the failure of the revanchist idea that the old Russian empire can be recreated. Yes Ukraine receives proper support, his commanders can make a lot of headway to the coast, and possibly recapture most of what Mr. putin It has taken over since February. The more territory I can take back Ukrainethe better your chances of lasting success.

© 2022, The Economist Newspaper Limited. All rights reserved.

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