As the combat operations and political maneuvers of Russian President Vladimir Putin's attack on Ukraine drag on, where is it now that we're 98 days into the four-blitzkrieg campaign to bring down Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s government? Let's take a look back at what happened in the initial 90 days of Putin's war.
Foreign weapons continue to arrive on the battlefield. It is the US M-777 towed howitzer, with its upgraded ammunition of 155mm, that is making an impact. Additionally, the French-built CAESAR self-propelled howitzer of 155mm has been launched. US trainers have taught hundreds of Ukrainian troops in Germany to operate the M-777 platforms. The French provide training to the CAESAR teams in France.The first photo of lost equipment that was donated to Ukraine has been released; it's of the Australian Bushmaster MRAP equivalents in the Donbas.
The most striking thing is that the Russians have not been able to stop the flow of Western weapons and haven't even tried to strike any air or ground resupply lines in Ukraine. The United States has decided to supply Ukraine with an undetermined quantity of M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS). HIMARS not only surpasses other artillery weapons in use during the Russian war, but it's also an incredible leap in technology.
The comparable Russian rocket launcher needs an auxiliary fire direction center. It's loaded manually and can shoot around one volley per hour. The HIMARS self-locates and calculates its own firing strategies to strike targets. All the rockets are replaced after the process of reloading, which can take approximately five minutes. It’s difficult to comprehend why many pro-Putin accounts say that Russian technology is superior. It’s not. It’s clear why they do it. They realize that the people who read these accounts for any other reason than entertainment are ignorant.
Denmark is providing Ukraine with land-based Harpoon anti-ship missiles. Meanwhile, Alexander Dvornikov, the general chosen by Russian President Vladimir Putin to run the entire conflict, has vanished. No replacement has been declared. This does, however, align with information received in May concerning the chief of the Russian General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, directly overseeing the conflict.
On the political front, Henry Kissinger, following the same strategy he used against Vietnam in 1975, was quoted as saying that Ukraine should be willing to give Russia the things it wants. But the “Ukraine needs to settle for whatever crumbs Russia wants to dole out” train is now gone. However, it could turn into an issue in the next couple of months. There's an indication of a shift in the political direction of NATO as well, with Eastern Europe pulling away from seeking Germany and France to lead.
An Overview of Combat Operations
What are the crucial theaters of operations in the conflict? One of these must-win battles is over, and that's the destruction of Mariupol. There is intense fighting taking place in Kharkiv. Russia has two wars it has to win to gain something that appears to be victory in Ukraine.
It is believed that the Kharkiv theater has relieved some pressure from the Donbas theater. Russia has withdrawn troops away from the pincer attack that is in progress on Izyum (this could be the site of the Russian headquarters that the Ukrainians pounded, injuring General Gerasimov) to respond to the Ukrainian advancement.This area isn’t a major source of conflict in Ukraine. However, the Russians cannot ignore what's going on there. Barring the unforeseen, the Russians will be forced back to their Vovchansk-Kupiansk-Izyum line of communication. Once HIMARS arrives, the line of communication will cease to be viable.
As of the last update, Kherson was relatively quiet. In reality, as the weekend ended, it was clear that the Russians were focusing on building multiple defensive lines while each side exchanged gunfire. On Sunday, when the Ukrainians began a small offensive in the north of Kherson, it is believed that the Russian lines in the region were stretched to support the major Russian operation in the Donbas. The Ukrainians have blocked a river crossing at Davydiv Brid, despite the Russians having damaged the bridge.
A major initiative from Davydiv Brid to Nova Kakhovka seems to be developing. The fight to the north of Davydiv Brid will freeze Russian reinforcements and increase the pressure directed towards Kherson. This effort is crucial for two reasons. The first is through the river crossing, where the Ukrainians are located on one of the main transportation routes used by all the Russian forces located north of the Kherson-Nova-Khovka line. In the event that Nova Kakhovka falls, everything north of the Kherson-Nova-Khovka line will be left lacking fuel, food, and ammunition and must retreat. The second reason is that Davydiv Brid and Nova Kakhovka are connected via a major highway. Ukraine could have embraced the flexibility and tactical scalability of Western armies, but its logistical tail is heavily influenced by its Soviet model. This major road will serve as the main supply route (MSR) for the Ukrainian offensive.
In order to provide troops to the Donbas, Russia seems to have reduced this area of operation to its bare essentials. In the event that the Ukrainian advance does gain any momentum, whoever is in charge of the Russian forces in Ukraine will be forced to make a tough decision on the need to reinforce Kherson and continue to expand into the Donbas.
The Russians have seen success in the Donbas in the last two weeks, although in a distinctively Russian manner. They appear to have abandoned assaults by armored vehicles in preference to pulverizing Ukrainian lines with artillery and walking forward. Important points of which to be aware include that although the Russian advance has been constant, it's been restricted to less than a mile per day. The majority of the time, the advance has not been much greater than 500 meters. The fighting has been fierce.
The Russians do not plan to stage a classic breakthrough; rather, they're trying to take control of the entirety of Luhansk Oblast. A breakthrough is unlikely due to the rivers that run through the region (and there are many that run north-south, just like the highways). Moving east requires several crossings over rivers. It also necessitates building an east-west railway line or highway to provide the forces in that direction. Additionally, it demands Russia to possess a logistics capability that it isn't equipped with.
If all else is equal, then the advantages are still with Ukraine. Other than German President Olaf Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, the Western consensus is that Russia should be defeated in all visible ways, and the donations of equipment and money are a reflection of that belief.
However, not all things are equal. Russia is rapidly changing its war objectives. February was the month when Putin promised to release Ukraine from the shackles of “Nazis and drug addicts”; demobilize the Ukrainian army; demand recognition of the autonomy of Donetsk, Luhansk, and the annexed region of Crimea by Kiev; and stop Ukraine from joining a military alliance. In April, the goals were extended to include taking over Ukraine's coastal areas as well as connecting to the Russian puppet state of Transnistria. This is unlikely to happen. What Putin could do, however, would be to take over the whole of Luhansk and Donetsk and hold a fake referendum to annex occupied areas from Kherson Oblast and Zaporizhzhia Oblast and then proclaim “mission accomplished,” playing the victim in the event that Ukraine persists in its war. In the meantime, Henry Kissinger's wish to surrender the freedoms and sovereignties of other nations might be more powerful.
It all comes down to who is determined to win the most over time. Most conservative estimates put the number of dead Russians at around 30,000. This would mean an additional 50,000 to 60,000 wounded. Ukrainian President Zelensky admits that his military is losing about 100 daily. And the loss of equipment is horrendous. The most common stories are of men who were conscripted by Luhansk or Donetsk refusing to engage in combat outside of their home areas.
Russia is avoiding a complete mobilization or conscription attempt by scraping the bottom of the manpower barrel. Be aware that Russia has no reserve element as we do: the National Guard or Reserve. The missing component is the Ukrainian manpower issue. Ukraine introduced universal conscription early in the conflict. We've seen videos of training units that were newly formed. It's not an easy process if you're concerned about your soldiers. In the US, with 12 weeks of infantry and base training, it requires four months of intensive training to reach the point at which the Army is able to say that it is prepared for deployment. The longer Ukraine is able to keep the units it has created for training purposes, the lesser the number of bodies will be. It’s likely we are just a few months away from having these new Ukrainian battalions forming in huge numbers. There have been stories of poor morale among certain Ukrainian units. The question is whether they will remain and protect their homeland in spite of their miserable conditions.
Barring an unplanned event, the Russian Donbas offensive is likely to get stale in the coming weeks. We can expect that regaining the lost Donbas territory will be less important for Ukraine as opposed to reclaiming Kherson, Mariupol, and other cities along the Black Sea under occupation by the Russians. This is important as preventing Putin from establishing a false claim on the Donbas territory is believed to be a crucial strategic goal for the Ukrainian government. Should Western aid continue at present levels, the best Russia will gain is a return to the status quo.