Western weapons supplies cannot change a situation caused by poor leadership and political division
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
One of the things I learnt during the fighting last summer is that in assessing the state of the battle it is important not to lose sight of the whole wood by focusing too much on individual trees.
A great deal of energy was spent last summer discussing whether this or that village or settlement had been captured by the Ukrainian military or by the rebel militia and what this meant in strategic terms and what it showed about who was supposedly winning or losing. In reality, as became obvious if one looked at a map, from the first week of July until the last half of August, the position of the front lines was essentially stable.
In the end what decided the course of the battle was not minor movements backwards and forwards across the battlefield but the sheer scale of the losses the Ukrainian military was suffering. Quite simply, the Ukrainian military bled to death, or at least to the point where when the militia launched its offensive in the second half of August it had no strength left to resist it.
The sheer scale of last summer's losses has never been recognised in the West. However it is undoubtedly known in Ukraine itself. It is surely what lies behind the mass resistance to the latest calls in Ukraine for mobilisation this winter.
In the nature of things rumours about losses when they happen on such a scale spread, especially in the small towns and villages from where most conscripts come and where news spreads quickly. This is so even or rather especially if the authorities try to suppress such rumours. As anyone familiar with life in small towns and villages knows, the invariable consequence of attempts to suppress rumours is to fan rumours and exaggerate them further.
Not surprisingly many of the men who are being called up do not want to be sent to the slaughter in the Donbass meat grinder, which is why there are reports of whole villages fleeing en masse to avoid the mobilisation.
I suggest that what happened in the summer is happening again now.
This report suggests that the Ukrainian army has lost 1,100 men in the last 2 weeks of fighting. Since it appears to be based on hacked official documents it is probably reliable. It is anyway consistent with militia claims of the number bodies that were found in the ruins of Donetsk airport.
Assuming that 700 or so of the 1,100 men who are reported to have been killed in the last 2 weeks died in the battle for Donetsk airport, then that means that the "normal" tempo of deaths in the Ukrainian army in this conflict still runs at a rate of hundreds a week, even when (as has been the case since the end of the fighting at the airport) the intensity of the fighting dies down.
It is an error to think that in war fighting continues at the same level of intensity all the time. If the Debaltsevo “cauldron” collapses the number of deaths will spike as it did during the battle for the airport and as it did following the collapse of similar “cauldrons” (eg. the so-called “southern cauldron” or the one at Ilovaisk) last summer. At that point we could see the level of casualties starting to approach the level of the summer.
Of course the rebel militia also suffers losses. However it seems these are on a much lesser scale than those suffered by the Ukrainian military. A militia spokesman has put the ratio at four to one.
If this is correct then I suggest that events are following a similar course to the one they did last summer.
I am not sure how many troops Ukraine has presently deployed in the Donbass but assuming the numbers are roughly the same that they were in the summer, then the total number is probably in the region of 60-80,000. No military of this size can absorb losses at the level that is being reported for very long.
To get a sense of what I mean, try to imagine how the British or US militaries or populations would react to losses of 1,100 killed in action in a period of just 2 weeks. The total number of British troops killed in Afghanistan in over 10 years of war is 453 whilst for the US it is 2,245. The total number of British troops killed in Iraq over a 7 year period was 179 whilst for the US it was 4,421. These casualties were enough to cause demoralisation in the British and US militaries and to discredit the British and US politicians most identified with these wars. Yet based on levels of casualties, Afghanistan and Iraq are small wars for Britain and the US compared to the one Ukraine is fighting in the Donbass.
What this probably means is that if this rate of loss continues then unless there is direct military intervention to rescue the Ukrainians by the West (something which the US administration has repeatedly ruled out) then at some point we can expect the Ukrainian military to collapse suddenly as it did last summer.
I am not going to try to guess how long this will take. Both the Saker and I made similar predictions in the summer based on information we were getting about the rate of casualties the Ukrainians were suffering. The collapse duly came as we predicted. However it happened much sooner than either of us had expected.
Everything I have heard about the Ukrainian military suggests it is weaker than it was in the summer. In contrast to the summer, this winter the Ukrainian military has proved unable to sustain an offensive for any length of time. Whereas in the summer the mood amongst Maidan supporters was buoyant with expectations of victory, this winter the mood in Kiev seems to be one of deepening pessimism and gloom. If losses are mounting on the scale reported then that would explain why. All this may suggest the collapse this winter may come faster than it did last summer.
As for the militia, it is significant that its armoured forces do not seem to have been involved in the fighting this winter to any great extent. This suggests they are being held in reserve, as they were last summer, to exploit the Ukrainian collapse when it comes by going on the offensive.
We have previously published reports that suggest that the Ukrainian army’s losses in the summer were far more than the Ukrainian government was admitting to and were between 8,000 to 12,000 men killed. As I recall these reports provoked something of a storm. However, if the Ukrainian army has indeed suffered losses of 1,100 men killed in just 2 weeks this winter, then given the scale of the collapse last summer an estimate of a total loss of 8,000 to 12,000 killed in the fighting last summer does not look excessive or unreasonable.
Losses on this scale are not just or primarily a military disaster. Much more importantly they are a humanitarian catastrophe, which forms part of the greater humanitarian catastrophe that is the war in the Donbass.
This situation urgently calls for an end to this war. The failure of the Minsk process (something predicted by every objective observer of the Ukrainian conflict) shows this can only happen if the Ukrainian military withdraws entirely from the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. The Ukrainian government should then do what it committed itself to do on 21st February 2014, 17th April 2014 and 5th September 2014, which is enter into serious constitutional negotiations with its opponents without preconditions and without attempts to preordain their outcome.
As I have discussed previously, there is not the faintest chance of the Ukrainian government of its own volition ever agreeing to do these things. The only thing that might cause the Ukrainian government to change its position would be concerted Western pressure on the Ukrainian government to seek peace though a genuine ceasefire and constitutional negotiations.
Of that there is no sign. On the contrary, far from the Ukrainian government being put under pressure by the West to negotiate, we hear growing calls from its supporters in the West for weapons to be sent to Ukraine. Latest reports suggest the US government may be about to heed these calls.
The only effect of these calls - or of the Western weapons if they are supplied - is to embolden the Ukrainian government to continue the war regardless of the numbers killed and regardless of the fact the IMF has warned the war is making Ukraine’s economic position unsustainable.
Stepping up supplies of Western weapons to Ukraine cannot change the military situation or the military outcome. As I discussed in a piece I wrote in October, the Ukrainian military’s problem is not lack of weapons. It is poor leadership in a situation where the local people support the militia and oppose the new Maidan government of Ukraine.
The Ukrainian military failed to win the war in the period from April to July when its margin of superiority over the militia in weapons was overwhelming. That margin of superiority is lost forever. Supplies of Western weapons will not change that or claim that margin of superiority back.
Western supplies of weapons will not enable Ukraine to “achieve victory” (as Ukraine’s Western champions hope) or “deter Russian aggression” (as they pretend). Rather they - and the calls to supply such weapons - merely prolong the war, causing more Ukrainians to be sent uselessly to their deaths. By making such calls Ukraine’s Western champions are not helping “to save Ukraine”. They are making themselves complicit in the slaughter.
This post first appeared on Russia Insider
Anyone is free to republish, copy, and redistribute the text in this content (but not the images or videos) in any medium or format, with the right to remix, transform, and build upon it, even commercially, as long as they provide a backlink and credit to Russia Insider. It is not necessary to notify Russia Insider. Licensed Creative Commons