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The Ukrainian conflict approaches a turning point

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For over a year Ukraine has been at war. At the current moment the situation on the front is basically a vivid depiction of the World War I with the sides exchanging artillery fire and digging into the trenches. It is a stalemate, but not a quiet one: the Russian forces are holding down most of the vast front and pushing the line in Bakhmut and Avdiivka areas. While the Russian offensive that has lasted for over 10 months without significant gains remains stalled, at the same time the Armed Forces of Ukraine are trying to gather resources for a counter offensive in the Zaporizhzhia region.

The statements of the Kyiv officials and leaks to the media create suggest that Ukraine intends to cut the land route from Russia to Crimea and take back the peninsula. Furthermore it is rumoured the operation is scheduled for the beginning of April. This could be the turning point of the conflict, but if Ukrainian counter offensive fails it would have dire consequences and could even lead to a crushing defeat.

The three most important resources in this war can be roughly defined as money, weapons and soldiers. All of the three are interconnected: you need money to produce or buy weapons and soldiers to operate said weapons.

Money

A wide array of financial instruments has been developed and implemented by the West to target Russian economy and curb it’s capability to protract the Ukrainian invasion. Between February, 2022, and February 2023, states and international organizations worldwide imposed 10,608 restrictions on Russian residents. Furthermore, 3,431 list-based sanctions were placed on Russian and Russia-affiliated entities over that period, making Moscow the record holder of the most sanctions in history.

The sanctions have undoubtedly dealt a heavy blow to Russia. Still, the Russian government managed to keep the economy afloat. It sought to minimize the damage by doubling down on trade connections with China, India, Turkey and other states that bought Russian products (mostly oil and gas) at a hefty discount. Russia also attempted to conduct the payment in Rouble or national currencies of its trade partners. The experts have also spoke about Moscow’s intention to redirect the economy towards the military-industrial complex. Currently the economists forecast Russian GDP to grow for the upcoming two years, which means that Russia is capable of sustaining this war albeit at the cost of impoverishing its people.

As for Ukraine, its economy was not in a good state even before the invasion. Naturally, it has been crippled by the war, but Kyiv found strong allies in the U.S. and Europe. Ukrainian economy would have collapsed if not for foreign financial aid. Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) were struggling to acquire weapons, equipment, food provision etc. President Volodymyr Zelensky had no choice but to reach out to the West to properly finance the war effort. As long as the allies supports Ukraine, Kyiv will not have financial issues, but it’s impossible to guess what the Ukrainian economy will look like by the end of the conflict.

Weapons

Since spring 2022 it has been speculated that Russia was running out of missiles, artillery munitions, armoured vehicles and personnel. However the Soviet stock has proved to exceed expectations of most analysts even if it lacked modern weapons. Many viral videos show Russians hauling old WW2 tanks, cannons and rare specimens of equipment likely redeployed from Russia’s remote areas, including the Far East and the Arctic region. The Russians were able to compensate for the outdated weaponry by sheer numbers, repurposing old stock and buying modern systems from the few countries ready to cater to Moscow’s needs.

During the hottest period of the conflict Russian artillery fired up to 20000 shells daily compared to 7000 fired by AFU. The problem persists to this day since even European and U.S. ammunition manufacturers taken together have not been able to raise their shell production capability to match the Russian level.

The Russians have also used S-300 air defence missiles on ground targets. The missiles used this way lack accuracy but since they are available in large quantity. Another way to reuse existing weapons was demonstrated by converting dumb air bombs into guided munitions with an inexpensive GPS and controls kit. On the other hand, modern systems, such as hypersonic Zircon missiles were also tested during the conflict.

In addition to that, Russia relies on the use of Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 combat drones acquired from Iran. The drones, renamed Geran-1 and Geran-2 in a feeble attempt to obscure their origin, are deployed by forward units to target AFU vehicles, positions and even infrastructure objects deep behind the front lines.

Ukraine has not been able to match the quantity of the Russian weaponry. Instead, Kyiv sought to get an edge in quality by relying on the supplies of advanced weapons from Western allies. ATGM launchers, such as American Javelin and Swedish-British NLAW, Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 combat drones performed well in the initial phase of the conflict, but so far HIMARS systems have proved to be the most efficient. The Russian units were completely unprepared to their long reach and struggled to rebuild their logistics with the possibility of HIMARS strikes in mind.

The most recent addition to the motley crew of Western equipment promised to Kyiv are 400 NATO tanks, mostly German-made Leopards. Ukraine, and specifically President Zelensky, insists it’s not enough. In his speeches the Ukrainian leader ceaselessly demands the West to increase supplies of ammunition, long-range missiles and fighter jets.

Soldiers

As far as the troops go, both sides have taken considerable losses. Currently each side has practically run through the forces they’ve started with. Initially Russia deployed 150,000 troops and Ukraine had around 200,000 troops. Shortly after the start of the war Zelensky ordered general mobilization. Recruits eager to fight for their country were joining the military to fight against the aggressor. This allowed Ukraine to slow down Russia’s offensive and counterattacks on important directions, including successful retaking of Kherson.

However, as the speculations of the counteroffensive ramp up, more evidence of Ukrainian men being forcefully taken by the military surface online. The pool of motivated recruits has been severely depleted and the authorities are scraping the barrel by now.

Unlike money and weapons, people of draft age cannot be provided to Ukraine by the West in sufficient numbers without large-scale foreign military presence on the Ukrainian soil, something that U.S. and E.U. are reluctant to risk. It was rumoured that Zelensky was asking foreign states, including Poland, to assist him in identifying and and deporting Ukrainian citizens eligible for service.

Russia, on the other hand, did not proceed with mobilization until September. Despite a surge of migration to neighbour countries, such as Armenia, Georgia and Kazakhstan, 300,000 are believed to have been mobilized to the Russian military. Half of them are currently stationed in Belarus or along the Russian border.

This brief comparative analysis shows that Ukraine is currently finds in a difficult position. President Zelensky has facilitated supplies of a significant amount of military and financial aid to Ukraine. Now, he has to deliver results or risk loosing foreign support altogether. At the same time U.S. President Joe Biden has to make the counteroffensive a win in order to substantiate all the aid dispatched to Ukraine for the American tax payers, especially with the upcoming elections next year.

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