Contradictions in Ukraine and how the conflict could end

The bull-headed Russian approach may fetch it eventual domination in the battlefield but this would be the beginning of a proxy war that NATO will launch.

Published: 08th March 2022 01:13 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th March 2022 01:21 AM   |  A+A-

Russia Ukraine War

For representational purposes (Soumyadip Sinha | Express Illustrations)

It’s the first time after 2003 that the world is witnessing a conventional conflict of such proportions. The destruction associated with it is mind-boggling and the imagery from Ukraine is drawing empathy for it from all over the world. A war was not expected but once it did break out, it is progressing much against expectations, making everything unpredictable. Putin’s aim to finish the war in a very short time and brace himself for the post-conflict dynamics in terms of response from NATO has come a cropper. The asymmetry in air power is very high in favour of Russia but it chose not to ape the US ‘shock and awe’ doctrine employed in Iraq in 2003, or so it seemed. The Ukrainian forces responded with an unexpected intensity and it seems that the Russian Air Force, even where it was employed, was not able to create the impact of break-in operations. In the second phase, missiles, rockets and long-range artillery have been used progressively causing intense destruction, with little concern for civilian casualties.

The Russian strategy is flexible as much as its application of forces. Its political aim is identified as regime change or regime displacement, preferably the former; the latter has different connotations that could mean a continuation of Ukrainian resistance in the asymmetrical mode. Russia’s other stated political aim of de-Nazifying Ukraine essentially looks at removing NATO influence. The term de-Nazification has been used to obfuscate and confuse, attempting to take the conflict into the grey zone domain. The military aim appears to be the suppression of Ukrainian forces to prevent their current and future ability to resist.  To achieve this, its concept of operations has included simultaneity and activation of a wide front; the maps seen in television briefs contain red blotches all along the frontiers and include a blockade of the southern ports on the Black Sea. The maritime effort is primarily because many of Ukraine’s manufacturing hubs are located in these port cities or in their vicinity. Ukraine is quite famous for its precision engineering besides being considered the granary of Europe. This is also one of the ways to target its economy so that the will to resist is compromised. The Centre of Gravity (CoG) is usually (although debated by many military scholars) the entity from where the nation derives its strength to fight and around which the resistance is organised. This could be in the political, military or even the psychological domain. Kyiv appears to qualify as the physical CoG, the political one probably being Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the president who has acquired an iconic international status and whose leadership could keep the war going for longer than expected. Both Kyiv and Zelenskyy are being targeted.

Was the limited Russian effort in the identified Phase 1, which lasted till the sixth day, calibrated for ethical reasons? This is hardly likely considering the vicious turn taken by the Russian efforts in Phase 2. It was earlier being presumed that Russia was calibrating because it is not an island unto itself and in the post-conflict environment, it has to co-exist in the international order. No one is any longer attaching that sense of ethics to Putin as he reflects the image of a deranged dictator, something Ukraine has effectively used in its information war efforts. It is learnt that a large segment of Russians is opposed to the war, images of which are being deliberately hidden from the public in that country.

So, is Kyiv likely to fall anytime soon? Ukraine is investing in the defence of Kyiv although its leadership should be fully aware that this would entail its virtual destruction. How a city gets addressed is an interesting aspect of war fighting. In the instant case of Kyiv, a segment of the population appears to have evacuated the city. To maintain the nation’s will, near normalcy of functioning will be depicted by the Ukraine government. The Russians as the attackers and invaders will first aim to ‘isolate’ the city by placing strong dominating teams of tanks, infantry and combat engineers astride all roads and railway lines to prevent ingress into more than egress from the city. They will then attempt to ‘invest’ the city. Investment implies the squeezing of the city so that early warning tank-infantry teams strung all along the periphery by the Ukrainians are driven in and an opportunity is sought to obtain a foothold in the built-up area. The defender will aim to prevent that foothold while the attackers will make every effort to find even a toehold and expand that to create one or two launch pads from where operations can then be launched deeper into the lanes and streets. It may be recalled that the fight for Mosul in northern Iraq lasted over two months and the defence was by a depleted terrorist force of the Islamic State. Kyiv had a population of 2.3 million and Mosul 1.6 million. While Russians employ their attack helicopters of the Mi-24 variety, Ukraine will employ hundreds of Stinger missiles in ambush mode on the approaches leading to the city. The Javelin anti-tank missiles will also be used to ward off the approach of tanks and attack helicopters flying nape of the earth. Even if a break-in is achieved, it will take quite some time before the dogfight in the built-up area is taken to any finality, and the Russians could suffer many casualties considering their proficiency is yet to be proven in this war. The important factor is the logistical sustainability of Kyiv. With severe rationing in place, it can only last till supplies run out.

So, where is the war destined to reach? Prediction can only be done on the basis of known parameters and historical patterns. Putin is in no position to halt operations without achieving his basic objectives now that he has gone to the full extent. In such a war, there is no victor and no vanquished. All are losers. The bull-headed Russian approach may fetch it eventual domination in the battlefield but this would be the beginning of a proxy war that NATO will launch; an asymmetric war of the Bosnia kind will again continue interminably in the heart of Europe. Ukraine can stop, capitulate and save its cities and their people, but has been driven too far by NATO. At the end, its not just the immediate parties to the conflict but the world at large that will suffer the impact of their obduracy.

Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd)

Former Commander, Srinagar-based 15 Corps. Now Chancellor, Central University of Kashmir



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