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  • Writer's picturePhilip Ammerman

Ukraine Day 25

Although the outlook in Ukraine looks bleak, the message I am getting from a very wide range of sources is that the majority of Russian forces are no longer capable of offensive action in many areas. This applies particularly to those forces with a supply chain of over 150 km from their border.

In the N/NE, Sumy and Kharkhiv are still holding out. The Russian fighting there is mainly long-distance fires, including surface-to- surface missiles (many launched from Russia); air-to-ground bombs (including dumb bombs), and tank and artillery fire. The Ukrainian resistance there is succeeding in holding ground and mounting local counterattacks with devastating effect.

I’ve worked extensively in both cities. Kharkhiv is a major urban obstacle. Sumy is a small town. It is relatively low-rise and dispersed in terms of urban buildings. If Russia has not managed to take this town, or eliminate the threat to its supply lines originating from it, then the situation on the ground is extremely bad (for Russia).

In the south, the fact that Ukrainian forces are in the process of counterattacking on an axis towards Kherson, and the fact that the Odessa naval invasion has now apparently failed – twice – confirms the situation in the north. The further Russian forces go into the interior, the less able they are to operate using combined arms. The less able they are to guard their supply lines. And their morale must be at rock bottom.

Two massive columns north west and north east of Kyiv appear to have stalled entirely. They are over 200 km from their staging areas and their supply lines are being hit every day. Russian troops in both have been sleeping in their tanks and APCs for 25 days now in sub zero temperature.

The fact that Kyiv has not been fully encircled by day 25, and that earlier this week the leaders of three EU countries visited it, indicates again that Russian strategy is seriously failing.

The strategy of rolling up the Ukrainian Joint Forces along the Line of Contact by striking south from Lugansk, north from Mariupol, and west from the LPR and DPR is still stalled despite 25 days of combat. This strategy will also only work if combined arms are used, and Ukrainian troops are flushed into the open and then destroyed by artillery, armour and air power. So far, this is not occurring.

Russia started with about 190,000 troops, of which about 150,000-160,000 started in locations outside the LPR and DPR. As I mentioned in my first article, 190,000 troops is nowhere near enough to prosecute this invasion.

The ratio of armed forces may be tilting in favour of Ukraine. As of earlier in March, my understanding (from public sources) is that Ukraine now has the following minimum effective forces:

Regular Army 204,000 (low end of estimates)

Territorial Army 160,000 (minimum)

This does not account for at least 1,000,000 volunteers, of which I estimate at least 10% are engaged in front-line or front-line equivalent positions. This also does not include at least 50,000 (some say 300,000) Ukrainian males who have returned to Ukraine to support in the war effort. This also does not include other units, notably the Border Guards, the International Legion, and others.

So the number of Ukrainian active combatants is increasing. Ukrainian forces are now probably around 500,000, although many are not equipped.

Russian forces are now almost certainly below the 190,000 initial force, if we count active forces capable of offensive operations. And they face dramatic shortages of food, fuel, ammunition and other supplies. I would be surprised if half were operational and ready for an active offensive.

Given that most doctrine points to a 3:1 or 5:1 numerical advantage for the offensive force, it is still difficult to see how this invasion can succeed.

This problem is reflected in President Putin’s attempt at rallying Belarussian troops, Wagner mercenaries, Syrians, Chechens and others to fight in Ukraine, as well as reports that additional garrison troops are deploying from other parts of Russia towards Ukraine.

It has been widely forecast that as conventional armed warfare fails, Russia will turn increasingly to long distance fires. This in turn will cause an increase in civilian casualties. This is what is regrettably causing the majority of the tragic headlines we see today.

In my opinion, it is clear that any cease fire at this point is as much about saving face for President Putin as it is about actually “solving the problem” he announced when launching the invasion. He has not “solved the problem” – especially since none of the conditions or solutions he held up as reasons for the war actually exist. And he is now trapped.

The tragedy is that he has trapped 44 million Ukrainians and 144 million Russians along with him.

As such, I expect Russia to come under increasing pressure to declare a ceasefire and withdraw to lines before 24 February, with potentially some battlefield gains included. (That includes “keeping” Crimea, LPR and DPR).

Should a ceasefire not be forthcoming in the very near future, then we will see further Russian troop surrenders, withdrawals, and stops in place. This in turn will create the opportunities for Ukrainian counterattacks, hastening the process.

It is also important to recognize that a cease fire is not necessarily a prelude to a formal peace. It is impossible for any Ukrainian elected leader to formally accept and recognize the illegal annexation of Ukrainian territory.

This will also not result in an immediate cessation of western sanctions against Russia, although maintaining the sanctions will become more difficult over time through the simple entropy that governs agreements of this kind.

It anything, I expect a cease fire to take place, a partial Russian withdrawal, and Russia announcements to its captive population that Russia has achieved its objectives and “pacified” (or “de-Nazified?”) Ukraine. This will then result in a frozen conflict, sanctions in place and the eventual further alignment of Russia with China and other allies of convenience.

One last point in this post: On 21 February, the Russian Duma recognized the independence of the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics (LPR / DPR). This bill was signed into law by President Putin. On 24 February, he ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

My point is the following: it is a long way from recognizing two break-away states in a Russian Federal legal act to authorizing a full-scale invasion. This invasion has obviously not been implemented in a fully legal manner. (Yes, I know how absurd that sounds in the context of today’s Russia, but please hear me out).

As a result, a further face-saving mechanism to resolving sanctions would be to remove Putin and make the invasion look like the unilateral act of a madman. Such an act, if sincere, would be one means of norrmalising Russian relations with Ukraine and the west.

Unfortunately, I assess almost no chance to such a scenario emerging.

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