After more than two and a half months of combatof enormous losses in air, naval and land equipment -including the 73 vehicles lost in the attempt to cross the Donets River at Bilohorivka last Tuesday-, and an estimate of 20,000 casualties (up to 27,000 according to the Ministry of Defense Ukrainian), the advance of Putin’s troops can be measured right now in a few hundred kilometers northwest of the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk and a vast corridor northeast of Crimea, linking both pro-Russian territories by land.
In total, since the beginning of the war, Russia would have advanced about two hundred kilometers north of Lugansk, another two hundred from the border to Izium and approximately five hundred from Donetsk to Kherson. The conquest of these territories made the New York Times He spoke last Tuesday of a momentary “Russian victory” in the war and, without a doubt, it is a victory in the sense that they now control something that was not theirs before… but it is difficult to find a victory more bitter than this.
First of all, as we said at the beginning, we must take into account the enormous price that Russia is paying in the form of lives and military equipment. That, without mentioning the amount of money that this war is costing him and that it will continue to cost him during the following months.
In early April, the high command circumscribed the “special military operation” to conquer Donbas, understanding as such not the entire Donets basin but only the administrative regions of Lugansk and Donetsk, a third of which were already under the control of the pro-Russian militias before February 24. However, this was not Vladimir Putin’s original intention, or it certainly did not seem so.
A first week of heart attack
As can be seen in the following map of the Institute for the Study of Warthe first week of the invasion invited us to think of a “blitzkrieg” scenario with the idea of occupying the decision-making centers of the neighboring country. In just seven days, Russia had already conquered Melitopol and Kherson in the south, creating a good part of the current corridor, had expanded to the north of Lugansk, without closing control over the province, and, above all, had surrounded the capital kyiv and the second most important city in the country, the Russophone Kharkov. In fact, as you can see, there is more occupied territory around these two cities than in Donbas itself.
These were the days of “better give up”, of “the military superiority is overwhelming” and of threats to the Baltic countries, Moldova, Poland and even Sweden and Finland, in case they thought of asking to join NATO. The days when the possibility of a direct conflict with the Atlantic Alliance was feared more than ever, with the nuclear connotations that this entailed. It is ironic that, almost three months later, we are analyzing whether Russia will be able to take Limán or not… something that, for the moment, it is not achieving.
A month after the war began, it began to become clear that Russia had reached its maximum operational. Tanks followed one another on the access roads to kyiv without the possibility of protecting them from attacks or repairing the damage. Kharkov, massively bombed from day one, did not give up, and there only seemed to be significant progress in the city of Mariupol.
The moment of maximum expansion of the Russian army in Ukraine coincides with that of the collapse. Some will say that, in reality, everything was planned from the beginning, that both the attack on kyiv and the attack on Kharkov were “feints” to divert attention from the Ukrainian defenses. If so, Russia would be almost worse off.
A tactic marked by possibilities
The third map Institute for the Study of War it shows us how things were on March 24, exactly fifty days ago. It is enough to compare it with that of Wednesday (see first epigraph) to verify that the loss of positions in kyiv and Kharkiv has not translated into progress on the other fronts.
In these fifty days, Russian soldiers have continued to die, their tanks have continued to be disabled, their ships have ended up at the bottom of the Black Sea, their generals have suffered all kinds of attacks… but progress has been minimal. In the south, in fact, there has been no, rather the reverse, with slight counter-offensives from Mikolaiv towards Kherson.
In the east, the pressure on Severodonetsk has intensified… but Severodonetsk was already the border between the Russian and Ukrainian sides of Donbas two months ago. It is likely to fall sooner or later, as perhaps Kramatorsk or Sloviansk will, completing Russian control over Ukraine’s two eastern provinces.
However, is a win at that price really a win? Russia can continue to send people and weapons to the front until it literally breaks it down, but that means jeopardizing any subsequent military action and continuing to add casualties.
If the Russian army was scary after its interventions in Ossetia, Georgia, Chechnya or Syria, now things have completely changed. An army with so many limitations only has a differential element in nuclear deterrence. Hence, probably, that Finland has requested its entry into NATO despite continuous Russian threats. They know that the Kremlin is not in a position to open another front. I would have no one to send there. Let’s remember that just to start the invasion, Putin sent almost two hundred thousand men to Ukraine. After two and a half months, some eighty thousand are dead or wounded.
There remains only the appeal to a massive levy, but it would be an army without the necessary weapons to fight face to face with a country supported by NATO. Russia can protest and complain all she wants, but in sin she has had penance. Not only has he confirmed to his neighbors (Finland and Russia share more than a thousand kilometers of border) that he is not to be trusted, but, despite all the bravado used, his military possibilities are very slim.
The general feeling is very different from that of February 25 or 26: yes, Russia can win its battle in Donbas, but has lost the war with the West, which, along the way, has seen how its two great institutions – NATO and the European Union – have been strengthened. To win like this – and it remains to be seen – perhaps Putin would have done better to keep quiet.