So the Russians finally did what the Ukrainians had feared they would. They blew up the Kakhovka dam, which in one fell swoop has caused ecological devastation on a scale unparalleled since Chornobyl, which in an ironic twist of fate, also happened in Ukraine. The sheer callous nature of the Putinist regime means that the majority of flooding is taking place on territory under their control, consigning those under Russian rule to be at best homeless, and at worst dead. However, this will only stiffen the resolve of the Ukrainian nation to drive the Russians out, and it will make a negotiated settlement increasingly hard. No room for apologists when the Russians are prepared to do this, just for the purpose of slowing down the Ukrainian counter-offensive.
So what next?
- It is estimated that the Russian Army is decimated with even the elite legions made up of up to 80% conscripts.
- The Russian Air Force remains a threat but does not press its numerical advantage, maybe due to a lack of qualified pilots. Hence they mainly focus on long-range bombing runs.
- The main threat seems to come from missile strikes and drone attacks, however, the implementation of PATRIOT amidst other AAMs has rendered them mostly impotent.
- Nonetheless, the Russian troops have fortified heavily, perhaps in the hope of securing a frozen conflict. Arguably that is Putin’s best possible outcome as things stand, both sides wear each other down, where the Russians are able to hold fortified positions and lock in territorial gains, with facts on the ground.
Indeed, the best parallel for this war may end up being the Korean War of 1950-53. For students of history, they will know that the war began when North Korea invaded the south and in the first instance made huge territorial gains, even capturing Seoul. An American-inspired response resulted in the South pushing back and in the end winning back the land lost before an armistice was signed. However, that took 3 years, where in simple terms it can be segmented into three phases. Phase 1, North Korea makes big territorial gains. Phase 2 South Korea stabilizes the front lines with Western aid. Phase 3 South Korea pushes back. Interestingly, the Korean War itself was a war of attrition on the ground. Where the war was ultimately won was in the air. North Korea became one of the most bombed countries in history, where along the way there were 3 million fatalities, with all the major cities ending up being impacted.
What insight can this give us about the Rus/Ukr war?
Up to now, airpower has not been a big factor in this war. Expect that to change soon. Across the west F-16s are being prepared to be sent. From Australia to the USA, the signs are that they will be given a significant number where already, Ukrainian pilots are being trained. As that happens, the only element in which Russia has had an advantage up to now will evaporate. In the here and now, the ground offensive will no doubt make some gains. However, without air support, tanks will be heavily exposed, hence expect the real counter-offensive not to be now, but when the air power is in place. In the immediate, therefore, expect the Ukrainian army to make incursions, but not to commit fully anywhere, until they have the airpower ready.
In the meantime though Ukraine is getting ever better at building its own long-range suicide drones. The strike in Moscow is just the beginning. Expect this to ramp up as Ukraine gets mobilized. Similarly, all the Russian territories bordering Ukraine will become ever more dangerous. This will act to prick the bubble of Putin’s propaganda, that all is well. Quite the opposite. Following the pattern of the Korean War, this war is about to escalate where already Ukraine has stabilized its front lines, fortified its positions, and is now operating with technologies 20+ years ahead of Russia and with an Army motivated and ready. I don’t expect Russia to be driven out of Ukraine this year, but soon enough they will be. As long as the West holds its course supporting Ukraine, this outcome is inevitable. And in the process, I doubt Russia as we know it, will continue. We just must remember the lessons of Versailles when it comes to forming a new peace settlement.