Ukraine is currently lining up one military success after the next. But the situation in the country is far more precarious and complicated than many current reports suggest.

Anyone following the current war reports can quickly get the impression that everything in Ukraine has long since been decided. One strategic mistake by Russia follows the next, the Russian losses due to the bitter resistance of the Ukrainian army are clearly considerable. After the rapid conquest of Kiev failed in the first weeks of the war, the Russian offensive in the Donbass was also sluggish compared to the proclaimed goal of occupying the entirety of eastern Ukraine in the shortest possible time.

But just because Ukraine isn’t losing doesn’t mean, conversely, that it’s about to win the war. On the contrary.

Experts are now assuming a long and grueling conflict, possibly spanning several years. And the Russian army still clearly outnumbers the Ukrainian one. Under this premise, Ukraine finds itself in a far more difficult position than one would think in view of recent military successes.

How the war goes in Ukraine in the medium term depends above all on one factor: massive arms deliveries from the West. The influence of Western weapons on the conflict is already obvious. Anti-tank, anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, air defense systems and other weapons came to Kyiv from Great Britain. Slovakia sent the strategically important S-300 air defense system, the US drones, howitzers, missiles and anti-tank systems. Without those supplies, where would the Russian troops stand today? Possibly much further northwest, maybe even in Kyiv.

However, according to military experts, heavy weapon systems in particular, above all the tanks now so urgently required by Ukraine, require longer training on the equipment. Given the ongoing war of attrition, it is uncertain whether Ukraine will have time for this. At the same time, “Time Magazine”, citing sources from the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense, reports that there is already a lack of capacity to use all of the military aid that has been provided so far.

Without the delivery and above all the use of heavy weapons, military successes will hardly be possible in the medium term, agrees Markus Reisner. Reisner is a colonel in the Austrian Armed Forces and head of the development department at the Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt.

“For a war of attrition, as the name suggests, you need a lot of material, and it’s no coincidence that Ukraine started demanding heavy weapons just as Russia was focusing on eastern Ukraine,” he says Conversation with FOCUS Online. Both sides would hit each other until one of them gave way. “It’s simply a matter of who has the staying power,” he says.

It could become increasingly difficult for Ukraine to get weapons from the West to where they are needed. The rail network is the decisive factor here, and Russia knows that too.

“The Russian armed forces are systematically destroying the railway infrastructure,” wrote the head of the Ukrsaliznitsia state railway, Olexander Kamishin, in mid-April. The army leadership in Kyiv said the Russians wanted to “destroy the supply routes for military-technical support from partner countries. To do this, they focus their attacks on railway junctions.

The example of Odessa is currently showing that Russia is targeting neuralgic points in war logistics. There, the Russian army cut the central train connection to the port city, with the result that fuel can hardly be replenished from the west.

Whether Ukraine ultimately gets enough heavy weapons to the front will also determine whether the country as such can survive on its own economically. Despite all the reports of success, the territorial losses that Ukraine has suffered in the south-east are massive and hit the heart of the country’s economy.

Putin’s troops hold the metropolitan cities of Kherson and what remains of Mariupol, and the regions in between. In the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts, the borders have shifted far inland compared to pre-war times. For example, before the war an estimated 60 percent of Luhansk was in Ukrainian hands, but Russia now holds a good 80 percent.

All of this is crucial because the south-east is extremely important for the economy of Ukraine – from wheat to oil production to the ports. These areas are either already in Russian hands or are at least contested. All of this is essential for Ukraine’s economic survival, agrees military expert Reisner. So it was only logical that Ukraine declared the reconquest of the occupied territories as a war goal.

The economic damage caused by the war in Ukraine can also be seen in the bare numbers. While Ukraine’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew at an average annual rate of seven percent before the war, it has plummeted by a devastating 45-50 percent since the war began. The dependency on Russian energy imports is having a massive impact. In addition: Due to the Russian naval blockade, the country can no longer export goods via the Black Sea. This costs the Ukrainian economy $170 million a day.

At the same time, Russian GDP “only” fell by 7 percent under the weight of the sanctions. Whether and for how long Russia’s economy can withstand Western sanctions in the medium term remains one of the crucial questions of the war.

What does all this mean for the fate of Ukraine? The question cannot be answered seriously, says Markus Reisner. “How high is Russia’s mobilization potential really – i.e. how many troops can Putin push in? To what extent is the EU fully prepared to impose an energy embargo? How quickly can more weapon systems be delivered to Ukraine?”

All of these open questions would have an impact on the outcome of the war.

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