Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleskii Reznikov has hinted that Ukraine’s Spring Offensive may be imminent. President Zelensky acknowledges the importance of Western weapons and training to continue resisting Russia but warns of potential defeat if Ukraine doesn’t receive more support. However, if a successful Spring Offensive could even set the stage for a Ukrainian defeat remains the prominent question.
Currently, the Ukrainian Armed Forces (UAF) are reported to be up to 700,000 strong, whereas the Russian army in Ukraine is estimated to be up to 300,000. However, that numerical advantage for Ukraine is misleading. The UAF has to defend the northwest quadrant of its country opposite Belarus border, and it depends on keeping the western corridor open from Poland through which NATO supplies and arms flow. If the path is cut off, the war is all but over for Ukraine. Also, Ukraine must keep a strong defense against any new Russian incursion. Unfortunately, there is an approximate 1,000km long frontline that absorbs the lion’s share of all Ukrainian troops and supplies in northeast Svatovo-Kreminna, central east Bakhmut/Donbas, and south Avdiivka. Russia is building elaborate defensive works behind the frontlines.
Since the majority of Ukrainian troops trained by the West from 2014-2022 have died or wounded, Ukraine must rely on mostly conscripts to fight. Even though they have fought bravely, trench warfare relies less on skills. If Ukraine prefers an offensive, they may not be considerably effective, and the casualties may be higher than previously.
Russia is striving to increase its active forces by 400,000 by the year’s end, whereas Ukraine is critically low on available manpower and having difficulty mobilizing additional troops. Even if a Spring Offensive is successful, Ukraine may have used the last offensive capacity with fewer and often conscripted fighters. If Ukraine refuses any negotiated settlement that results in Russian control, the Ukrainian Army may collapse as an institution, and Kyiv may be at risk again from Russia.
Best Case Scenario for Ukraine’s Spring Offensive
If Zelensky’s offensive succeeds, it could punch a hole in the Russian lines and potentially cut off the land bridge to Crimea, trapping many Russian troops in Melitopol and Kherson. However, this may leave Zelensky’s army weakened and unable to defend the new frontier, let alone organizing manpower to drive the remaining Russian army out of Ukraine.
Hoping to win a decisive victory on the battlefield while ignoring Russia’s power dynamic and military infrastructure and refusing any consideration of a negotiated settlement appears futile. Ukraine may not possess the capacity to drive Russia from its territory, considering short of NATO’s ground forces’ direct intervention. Instead, Ukraine may want to seek the best diplomatic end that puts an end to the destruction of Ukrainian cities and preserves Ukrainian sovereignty as much as possible.
Daniel L. Davis, a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army and a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities, wrote this article.
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