Nonetheless, during the first weeks of the war, Russian forces gained significant territory in eastern Ukraine. However, the Russian advance was soon halted and the war turned into a pitched battle that continues to this day. Ukrainian forces also quickly recaptured the territory they lost in 2022, but their advance is also over for the time being. Neither side has been able to gain a decisive advantage on the battlefield. Despite the predictions of many Western observers, Russia’s military in Ukraine has not collapsed and shows no signs of doing so. Here we explain why it is so. Redeployment of forces The Russian attack north of Kyiv was undoubtedly a fiasco and was aborted, resulting in the redeployment of Russian forces to the east. This greatly simplified Russian supply lines as well as increased the number of troops in the east.
The Russian withdrawal from the area near Kherson in southern Ukraine had the same effect. Russia invaded Ukraine with such a small force that it was not possible to wage a major war there. Although Putin was unable to admit for several months that his so-called special military operation in Ukraine was in fact an all-out war, he certainly has now – in both words and actions. With the change in their behavior, the Russian army in Ukraine has gained a lot of strength. The deployment of reserve troops has given the Russian military far more human resources than before. Russia’s reserve troops are concentrated in the east of Ukraine, and they are on the defensive along most of the front lines. This defensive posture meant that the loss of life and resources would be less than in broad front offensive operations nearly a year earlier.
Russian offensive operations are now primarily focused on trying to secure the remaining area of Donetsk and Luhansk. Securing that area was the main justification for the invasion. Changed course of progress Russia’s current operations in the region of Bakhmut in Donbass are not progressing rapidly, but are making limited progress, which is in many ways better for the Russian military. The problems with the “command and control” of the Russian troops at the start of the war have been reduced with the troop operating in a limited radius. Generally less experienced and lacking extensive training, Russia’s reservists are better suited to today’s more limited and methodical tasks. Russian forces have a lot of experience fighting in the heavy artillery-based battles being fought now. As the war progresses, both sides will face shortages of manpower and material. Russia has large reserves, as well as a handful of allies such as Iran and North Korea – while Ukraine has the NATO alliance on its back.
Prolonged fighting is likely therefore both sides have the potential to keep fighting for the foreseeable future. More Western equipment, including some of the latest Russian tanks and other armored vehicles, will undoubtedly strengthen the Ukrainian military in the short term. But the wide variety of vehicles complicates the issues of training, maintenance and supply. If the war continues along its current trajectory, neither side is likely to gain a decisive advantage. One side or the other may gain a temporary advantage, but either Russia or Ukraine is unlikely to maintain any advantage. Sadly, in the absence of any talks – and certainly meaningful talks in which both sides have to give and take – the bloodshed is likely to continue for some time yet.
(Alexander Hill, Professor of Military History at the University of Calgary)