Is Ukraine about to lose the war? A closer look at the events of the war reveals why this narrative is primarily Russian propaganda. The direction in which the war develops in the coming weeks depends less on Russian strength than on the West’s unity in supporting it.
Since Russia has concentrated its troops in the Luhansk Oblast and reduced the villages and towns to rubble with superior firepower, some observers in Germany have interpreted this as meaning that Ukraine will lose the war and that military measures for Russia are developing well.
That does not do justice to the development of the war. Rather, a daily perception is stylized for analysis. Just to put this in perspective: The upcoming and probably successful conquest of Sievjerodonetsk, which is supposed to bring Russia an important partial victory by taking the Luhansk Oblast, means nothing other than that a city the size of Hanau (just over 100,000 inhabitants) is completely destroyed (like Hanau at the end of World War II).
It is not clear what military-strategic value this conquest can have that justifies the costs. The supply routes to the west will continue to be secured, that is correct. But to do that, Russia must first be able to hold the conquered territory against the expected asymmetric warfare of Ukraine.
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Frederick W. Kagan and his colleagues from the Institute for the Study of War, on the other hand, correctly classified this. They point out that after the battle for Sieverodonetsk, the Russian armed forces will enter a new, even more difficult phase of the war. Because high losses and a decreasing combat power on the Russian side will then increasingly face better-equipped Ukrainian troops. In view of the decimated troop levels, it is also not clear how Russia intends to hold the conquered areas.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Jäger has held the Chair for International Politics and Foreign Policy at the University of Cologne since 1999. His research focuses on international relations and American and German foreign policy.
Because the partisan war that is then to be expected in Ukraine will force Russia to station troops in the order of at least 100,000 soldiers in this area in order to stabilize political rule and secure the border. Russia will not be able to count on the allegiance of the annexed population. But that also means that these troops cannot be deployed elsewhere. The attacks would noticeably die down.
However, it is part of Russian propaganda to now act as if the east and south-east of Ukraine were as good as annexed. As was part of Ukrainian propaganda after the victories north of Kyiv and Kharkiv, to pretend that Russian forces could now be swept out of the whole country in one fell swoop. The Russian armed forces are now moving into defensive positions around Kharkiv and in south-eastern Ukraine. From these, however, Ukraine must always expect attacks over time as soon as Russia has gathered sufficient forces. Analyzing the respective propaganda is important, which is why it must be interpreted in the context of the war.
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Different sources put the superiority of Russia in Luhansk Oblast (where Sievarodonetsk is currently being fought) at between 7 and 11 to one. A successful attack is usually calculated at three to. The fact that Russia is only making very slow progress despite this overwhelming superiority indicates a limited combat capability. The fact that the Russian leadership considers this massing to be necessary at all, after starting the war with the same number of soldiers expected to fight back, indicates a completely new assessment of Russian capabilities by its own military leadership. Russia no longer dares to act with less.
While President Putin maintains his war goals – the total capture of Ukraine and the dismantling of NATO and the EU – he can only achieve them if NATO and the EU dismantle themselves. As long as Western unity is organized and as long as Ukraine receives military equipment from some Western states for its defense against the Russian war of aggression, Russia’s chances of achieving its goals remain very slim.
Therefore, the currently expressed special interests of Hungary and Turkey must not lead to further divisions, but must be captured. And so it is with great concern that Donald Trump remains the leader of the Republican Party and that it could add more isolationist MPs in November. The biggest round of applause for Trump came at the NRA general meeting when he said Biden would spend $40 billion on Ukraine that would be better spent on securing schools. It would be a catastrophe for the EU and NATO if Trump were to move into the White House again.
Should Western support for Ukraine, which extends far into the Pacific, continue and not be politically undermined, the powers between the Russian and Ukrainian armed forces will shift further in time. Although Russia is superior in terms of material, it cannot fill the camps as quickly as the bombs are fired.
The requested Chinese arms deliveries did not materialize. The replenishment of the troops is also not successful on the paths taken up to now. Russia has lost more than a third of its original fighting strength – in a war against a country that posed no threat. What will happen if, while the war continues, Russia faces threats from the south, where political Islamist organizations are registering the weakening of security forces? Or the Chinese discussion about the unequal treaties, when China also had to cede territories to Russia, becomes dominant because the Chinese leadership is trying to capture social unrest with nationalist rhetoric?
Russia’s attack on Ukraine was a serious political mistake. Russia will not achieve any of its political goals. A lot is currently developing against Putin, he is running out of time and the options for action are dwindling. He may also have more followers in the Kremlin and in the major Russian cities than is known to the outside world. The current cynical blackmail with hunger and the continuous verbal escalation of the threat of nuclear weapons are evidence of the Russian President’s limited ability to act.
They are intended to make him appear strong where his materially superior forces, concentrated in a small area, only barely succeed in taking a city of 100,000 inhabitants. And that’s only after it came under heavy artillery fire and was completely bombed. President Putin is unlikely to like the way experts abroad assess Russia’s military capabilities in the face of this approach. After politically rescuing Syria’s President Assad, he appeared as the patron saint of all dictators in danger. The autocratic rulers, who believed they could be rescued by Russian troops if their rule was threatened from within, will look around again.