Ukraine: Preparing for a Long War


Its May Day and the Sixty Seventh day of the War in Ukraine. Multiple predictions that the War may not happen at all made in February, to a short and swift “Special Military Operation,” a Russian assessment, end of the War by May 9, the victory day circa Second World War celebrated by Russia are going askew.


Increasingly there are predictions of a long war.


The portends are ominous and can be ignored at peril for a long war will have wider ramifications not just for Europe but globally including India.


For India sitting on the fence with armchair strategist’s pontification on why and how the war has gone so far may have to be prepared for the impact that this will have not just on the military with surfeit Russian military equipment but economic as well as food security.


Why a Long War – Ukrainian Perspective


For Ukraine the War can be expected to bring economic ruin with devastation that has been unleashed as Russian missiles and artillery shred through infrastructure military and civilian alike. World Bank President has estimated $60 billion in damage to buildings and infrastructure so far while IMF forecasts that Ukraine's economy will shrink by 35% in 2022 and beyond.


But the issue is existential for Ukraine, there are no options but to fight for survival not just for territorial sovereignty but also national identity for recent Russian statements seem to target the uniqueness of Ukrainian character which has made sustaining the war even more significant for President Volodymyr Zelenskyy , the people of Ukraine and the armed forces.


In this survival Ukraine is being supported by the United States and Europe at large, hence an early or even a capitulation may not be on the cards for the Ukrainian President now.


So far we know very little of the state of the Ukrainian forces, for Ukraine has very smartly withheld information of casualties suffered though sporadic inputs are being fed.


Some Russian sources have indicated Ukrainian military losses which may not be alarming.


More over the type of warfighting adopted by the Ukraine forces, casualties may be lighter than what the Russians are suffering though we never know.


Importantly as many military savants of the past remind us – moral is to material is to three is to one.


And clearly here Ukraine has the edge, witness the long siege of Mariupol with Russia attempting to use all tricks in the book so to say including the Chechnyan guards to control the city port which is elusive in parts.


But material needed is “one” and not “zero or near zero,” and here is where assistance being provided to Ukraine by the United States and Europe will make the difference and a factor that will also lengthen the war.


US and European Material Support to Ukraine


The material support that is being envisaged for Ukrainian armed force can be seen from the budgetary demands by the US President Joe Biden to the American Congress.


$6 billion are to arm Ukraine directly, while $5.4 billion to replace U.S. supplies sent and,

$4.5 billion for other security assistance for Ukraine and U.S. allies.


$ 15 billion is a lot of military and security assistance for Ukraine which will certainly boost up the material requirements for Ukrainian forces to survive and fight through another year at least.


But U.S. objectives have shifted to neutering Russia at least as a military power.


This is no doubt a dangerous proposition in the sense that Moscow will be inclined to rely on the considerable nuclear assets that it possesses for use against what will be perceived as an existential threat.


Hopefully when US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin III said in his remarks to the Press on April 25 after meeting President Zelenskyy that he wants to see Russian forces degraded to a degree that they would not be able to threaten other countries hereafter was well thought out.


Just to quote the operative parts of response to a question, Austin said, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine. So it has already lost a lot of military capability, and a lot of its troops, quite frankly. And we want to see them not have the capability to very quickly reproduce that capability”.


Importantly the same phrases were repeated in the news conference following the Ukraine Defence Consultative Group Meeting at Ramstein Air Base in Germany the next day.


The Russian Perspective


Having started the War and achieved some of the war objectives such as territorial consolidation in Donbas, land corridor to Crimea and partial blockade of the Black Sea, Russia is faced with hard choices given the perceived challenges in pursuing further goals.


Some Russian observers in the West see an expansion of Mr Putin’s objectives to uniting the Russian people including diaspora across Eastern Europe such as in the breakaway province of Moldova – Transnistria.


There is also a cultural dimension being pitched as a war between Russia and the West.

To achieve these goals and indeed if these are a part of the aims, then an extensive campaign can be envisaged.


Secondly Russia cannot be seen as losing from the war in Ukraine and if the West supports Mr. Zelenskyy with a huge tranche of weapons, Russia will be committed to a long war.


While many envisage a deleterious impact of sanctions on the economy and the defence industry, yet Mr. Putin in his initial statements had mentioned the ability of the Russian people to withstand great hardship demonstrated many times over in the 20th Century.


And then Russia has the largest assemblage of nuclear weapons in the World.


Strategists have talked about tactical nukes and the circumstances under which these will be used given knowledge of Russian nuclear doctrine so far and certainly when perceiving an existential threat – to Russia or the current regime in Moscow is not clear?


Russia can also muster considerable international support which is evident from almost 35 countries which abstained in two UN General Assembly resolutions in March.


Clearly putting down Russia can be a grandiose objective which may be militarily unachievable as history teaches us but can only be envisaged through a prolonged grand strategic campaign on multiple fronts – military, political, diplomatic, economy and so on.


India Preparing for a Long War


India has been able to manage the last two months of politics and diplomacy from the War in Ukraine fairly well, but going ahead will be difficult.


Just the military dimension with large dependency on Russian military industrial complex under sanctions could be a worry.


This year the series of Commander’s Conferences of the Army, Navy and the Air Force were held in April for the first time in many years.


One of the main subjects of discussion was to manage consequences of the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia as indicated by multiple media sources.


A detailed review of the consequences face by New Delhi of a protracted conflict in Ukraine is necessary as “jugaad,” or improvisation the proverbial Indian response to a crisis may not work always and every time and certainly not in the long term.

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