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Ukraine: A Year After, No Light At the End of the Tunnel

February 24 will mark one year of launch of the war in Ukraine by Russia which Moscow has named as a, “Special Military Operation” [SMO]. The war has caused turbulence across the globe in multiple ways political, diplomatic, economic, energy and food security amongst others, yet only a Black Swan event can bring it to a close in the coming year.

It has also upstaged the belief that in the post Second World War and Cold War era, states do not go to war to achieve strategic objectives and will adhere to the principles of the United Nations charter to stick to diplomacy.

Sadly a year after the outbreak of war in Ukraine there is no end in sight to the immense human suffering that it has caused given political and military realities.

Here is a review-

Firstly war objectives have hardened while Russian aim at the beginning in February last year was assessed to be varying from achieving what diplomacy could not through the Minsk Agreement and talks to re-establishment of the “Czarist Empire,” what ever it means.

Today Moscow may be compelled to restrict this at least for the time being to consolidation [partial] over the four annexed Ukrainian provinces – Donetsk, Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia.

On the other hand, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaking at the Munich Security Conference via video-link last week has indicated that Ukraine will not stop the war until all territory is won back including Crimea, people return and the bodies of war dead retrieved.

Ukraine has also set the aim of a war crimes trials of the Russian leadership seemingly unachievable objective but necessitated by the human distress that has been caused to Ukrainians at home.

There is widespread support to the leadership in Kyiv as the people having suffered such heavy loss of kith, kin and territory are unwilling to compromise.

Clearly this is an indicator that the War is unlikely to terminate in the coming year for the military capability on both sides at present is limited to maintain a stalemate much less to achieve the war objectives.

What then are military capabilities in general?

Russia has the latent military power to sustain a long war with the large military industrial complex sustaining the heavy expenditure of munitions and missiles.

The reservoir of reservists is also huge but effectiveness of mobilised manpower and what some western reports have claimed convicts recruited in the Wagner Group the Russia Private Military Corporation lacks the training and operational effectiveness to achieve a major breakthrough on the ground and enforce a defeat on Ukraine.

Russia’s change in leadership in the front line with the Chief of General Staff Valery Gerasimov taking over operational control has failed to deliver the desired results and is unlikely to for a general requires forces which are capable enough to redeem his reputation, the reality is operational and tactical performance of Russian forces continues to be low.

Gerasimov may be able to rig up more resources to the front lines given his clout in the military hierarchy but that may not turn the tide.

Ukraine has multiple military advantages such as morale, high level of motivation to defend the homeland and redeem sacrifices of men and women soldiers and civilians who have shed blood.

The hardships of winter are behind them and there is hope of better weather for the spring and summer. More over electricity infrastructure that has been the main target of the Russian missile strikes appears to have been restored and there are limited power cuts endured by the people at large. Thus, there is no pressure from the civilian side on the government to make a compromise.

Ukrainian military capability appears to be adequate for now to prevent an initial breakthrough by the Russians, but is not sufficient for launching multi front offensives. There are gaps even in the defensive potential which will be partially made up by the inflow of equipment from NATO members such as the German made Leopard 2 armour.

However the Ukrainian forces are looking into a kitchen sink so to say with equipment of multiple types from countries of different makes requiring varied training and administrative support. This will require time to be effective and to ensure sustainability.

Moreover, the numbers flowing in are one third of the requirement projected. For instance,

Ukraine has sought up to 300 tanks while only 80 have been provided so far.

Thirdly the scope for mediation appears to be restricted even as trial balloons have been floated from time to time including the Indian Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi’s name coming prominently cropping up at number of forums.

As India is the Chair of the G 20 there is no doubt an imperative to achieve successful conclusion of this once in two decades opportunity for mediation in a war where one of the members Russia is involved and which has impacted major economies of the World.

However, given political objectives of the two antagonists the scope for successful mediation remains limited.

Fourthly, the world appears to have sadly so adjusted to the situation in Ukraine despite millions of refugees in Europe and stresses on economies and energy resources, thus the fighting may dangerously assume as a new normal.

Fifthly hopes rest only a Black Swan event in the coming year for a breakthrough in Ukraine, what that will be remains to be seen?


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