A question which underlines a dilemma for geopolitics today is 117 days later where is the Ukraine War headed. A phase of negotiations thus may be operationally dictated for both sides – Russia and Ukraine having reached the culmination point.
This is the longest conventional war so far in the 21st Century. The 2003 War in Iraq conventional phase lasted from March 20 to May 01 all of 42 days, of course the sub conventional phase continued far longer.
There are no indications that the War in Ukraine may be coming to an end, however there are sufficient indicators that the culminating point in this phase may be reached by both sides.
In military parlance, a culminating point is reached when combat power of the attacker – the Russians in this case equals or is lower than the defender, thereby negating fruitfulness of further operations.
So has the Russian combat power reached the culmination point, will this lead to an attempt to commence negotiations or will it be a pause for the next phase- here is a review based on open source inputs from social media including channels as Telegram applying CMK – Common Military Knowledge.
Situation on the Front Line
The situation on the frontline denotes that the Russian offensive initially launched on multiple fronts is restricted today to the Donbas in the East with focus on seizure of Severodonetsk, which has been under assault for multiple days and much of the town may be under Russian control.
Russian Armed Forces are planning to advance to Lysychansk from multiple directions, Severodonetsk after its fall in the centre, from Izyum in the North and Popasna in the South.
Ukrainian armed forces have been giving stiff resistance, thus leading to mainly artillery battles on the front line where both sides are suffering heavy casualties, but more on the Ukrainian side.
In the southern front Ukrainian armed forces have launched counter attacks in the Kherson and Mykolaiv front line as well as in the Zaborizhia area.
In the North Russian forces are opening the Kharkiv front again with a view to prevent Ukraine forces from being pulled out to fight on the Central front.
Front Line Losses
Quite apparently the frontline losses on both sides are heavy.
In a battle of attrition, the big guns tend to gain ascendancy and the Russians have had the advantage in terms of artillery and missile fire power.
Ukraine while being provide arms and munitions by many western countries including the US, UK and France must face the inevitable delays in operational employment of these assets which includes familiarization, training and use on the front line.
As a result, Ukrainian forces have suffered heavy losses which have varied from 100 to 200 per day. In a 117 day war these could be thus estimated to be anything from 10,000 to 15,000.
Russians have claimed that they have captured almost 6500 Ukrainian fighters which needs verification.
How far can Ukraine sustain such losses remains to be seen?
While Russian armed forces are also scraping the barrel so to say pushing up reservists and weapons and equipment mothballed in depots, resource availability is far greater than the Ukrainian forces.
Ukrainian estimates of Russian losses in terms of personnel are approximately 37,000. Even if these are halved would come to roughly 17,000 to 20,000.
While the Russian forces are also suffering heavy manpower losses their ability to sustain the same is far greater than that of Ukraine, but lack of national mobilization through declaration of war by the Kremlin would mean that in terms of actual availability these will continue to be low.
Under this situation much will depend on ability for regeneration of forces.
Regeneration of Forces
The capability for regeneration of forces on both sides – Russia and Ukraine appears to be limited. Russia shortened the frontline from a muti pronged offensive concentrating in the Donbas in the Centre which has the advantage of pumping in resources from the North as well as the Southern fronts.
This has enabled the Russians to launch the offensive in Donbas but evidently progress has been slow as the Ukrainian defensive lines in these areas have been fortified. Ukraine is also operating on interior lines thus movement and employment of reserves is facilitated.
More over Russian penchant to get embroiled in urban fighting be it in Mariupol, the Azov Industrial area or in Severodonetsk has meant clearing these requires time.
Russian capability to regenerate forces for launching operations beyond Lysychansk and Slovyansk appears limited, thus reaching the culmination point.
At the same time assessed state of Ukrainian forces would denote that their combat power has been considerably whittled down however morale and motivation continues to remain high which is evident from statements coming from the frontline as well as the rear that, “we shall win,” including the indefatigable President Volodymyr Zelenskyy
Beyond Culmination Point – Strategic Pause or Negotiations
While political developments denote that Kremlin may be extremely upset with the proposal for European Union membership by the European Commission to Ukraine, the finality of which is way off.
This apart the membership of Finland and Sweden to NATO is also awaited. From the political point of view Russian President Vladimir Putin may not be willing to have a strategic pause or a negotiated settlement.
Nevertheless, there have been significant gains from the Russian point of view including opening of a land link to Crimea which was announced by the Russian defence minister Sergei Shoigu on June 7. This gives some justification for declaration of success and cessation of operations.
More over operational factors including need for regeneration of forces for any substantive launch of the next phase may dictate otherwise.
On the Ukrainian side as well, there should be a clear understanding that the gap between assurances of support and actualizing on the ground implies a strategic pause at this stage may be a practical option.
Such a pause can lead to regrouping and reorganizing of forces or a negotiated settlement.
War is politics by other means as Clausewitz said. Much will depend if Russia deems that the political objectives of Special Military Operation have been achieved by securing the Donbas, a land link to Crimea and cutting off access to Ukraine to the Black Sea.
For Ukraine however this may be only a strategic pause for regaining lost territory is the stated objective howsoever impractical this may be at this juncture.
A phase of negotiations thus may be operationally dictated for both sides – Russia and Ukraine having reached the culmination point.