Is Russia’s Military Too Broken to Fight a Decent War in the East?
It’s been two weeks since NATO last released its estimates of Russian military losses. Since then…crickets. Why?
I have come to the conclusion that NATO simply can’t keep up with Russian losses. The Russian military is hemorrhaging equipment as they flee from Kiev and surrounding areas, ostensibly to regroup and reposition to the east. Twitter is awash in burned and bombed husks of Russian armor. Videos show Russian tanks firing wildly as they race through towns or simply being picked apart methodically by Ukrainian artillery. My gut tells me: take any estimate you’ve heard before, double it, and you might have a handle on Russian losses. That would put the dead and wounded well above a quarter of the force Russia inserted into Ukraine. I’m going to say even higher — 30,000 dead and 60,000 wounded, approaching half the invading army.
I don’t think Russia is really going to fight for Donbas. They’re going to park troops in the separatist-controlled areas in Donetsk and Luhansk and pretend to fight. Russian media will be awash in video of “special operations” (read: show training), but the front will remain where it is. This isn’t 1943. Russia can’t simply send endless numbers of soldiers into a meatgrinder until Ukraine leaves…Ukraine? Even with the blackout of social media, Russians will know. The thin veneer of respectability still matters, even in Putin’s Russia.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Russia may continue its lumbering, inefficient offensives. They will try to maintain the land corridor between Crimea and the east, as well as the water supplies to Crimea. They will also continue striking Ukrainian fuel supplies with cruise missiles whenever they can. They will probably maintain their reign of terror by hitting “military” targets, like apartment buildings, shopping malls, and hospitals.
NATO — if you’re listening — the priority from here on out will be maintaining Ukraine’s ability to intercept missiles and aircraft (although it sounds like Russia is launching from outside Ukraine, which speaks to the failure to make Ukrainian airspace safe for Russian planes and helicopters, and given what has happened to Russia’s Ka-52’s, that seems like the right call). Ukraine will need to keep the skies as clear as possible and protect civilians from indiscriminate missile attacks. Perhaps, if Russia can be kept far enough away from the border with Poland, Ukraine’s air force can be resupplied quietly with additional aircraft.
Ukraine will also need steady supplies of anti-tank weapons and conventional armor to keep Russia and the separatists in a stalemate along the existing eastern front. They’ll need to keep Russian forces at bay and far enough away from major cities for life to return to something like normal.
I am still worried that Russia will try to squeeze and divide Ukraine, and I worry that — unable to fight a decent war — Russia will continue fighting an indecent one. Other countries have to continue to support Ukraine in limiting the potential of that callous strategy and give Ukraine time to strengthen itself and maintain its hold on self-determination.