The Ukrainian conflict is approaching a turning point

By Ahmed Salah, Syrian journalist
Article The Ukrainian conflict is approaching a turning point

For more than a year, Ukraine has been at war. At present, the situation on the front is essentially a living representation of the First World War with the sides exchanging artillery fire and digging in the trenches. it is virtually a stalemate: Russian forces hold most of the broad front and push the line back into the Bakhmut and Avdiivka areas. While the Russian offensive which has lasted more than 10 months without significant gains remains at a standstill, at the same time the Ukrainian armed forces are trying to gather resources for a counter-offensive in the Zaporizhzhia region. Statements by Kiev officials and media leaks suggest that Ukraine intends to cut off the land route from Russia to Crimea and retake the peninsula. Besides, the operation is said to be scheduled for the beginning of April. This could be the turning point of the conflict, but if the Ukrainian counter-offensive fails, it will have disastrous consequences and could even lead to a crushing defeat.

The three most important resources in this war can be roughly defined as money, weapons and soldiers. All three are interconnected: you need money to produce or buy weapons and soldiers to exploit those weapons.

A wide range of financial instruments have been developed and implemented by the West to target the Russian economy and reduce its ability to prolong the Ukrainian invasion. Between February 2022 and February 2023, states and international organizations imposed 10,608 restrictions on Russian residents. Additionally, 3,431 list-based sanctions were imposed on Russian-affiliated entities during this period, making Moscow the holder of the most sanctions in history.

Sanctions have undoubtedly dealt a heavy blow to Russia. Yet the Russian government has managed to keep the economy afloat. He sought to minimize the damage by doubling trade ties with China, India, Turkey and other states that bought Russian products (mainly oil and gas) at a high price. Russia has also tried to make payment in rubles or national currencies of its trading partners. Experts also spoke of Moscow's intention to reorient the economy towards the military-industrial complex. Currently, economists predict Russian GDP growth for the next two years, which means that Russia is capable of sustaining this war, even at the cost of impoverishing its population.

As for Ukraine, its economy was not in good shape even before the invasion. Naturally, it was crippled by war, but kyiv found strong allies in the United States and Europe. Ukraine's economy would have collapsed without foreign financial aid. The Ukrainian Armed Forces were struggling to acquire weapons, equipment, food, etc. President Volodymyr Zelensky had no choice but to reach out to the West to properly fund the war effort. As long as the allies support Ukraine, kyiv will not have financial problems, but it is impossible to guess what the Ukrainian economy will look like at the end of the conflict.

As of spring 2022, it is assumed that Russia has run out of missiles, artillery ammunition, armored vehicles and personnel. However the Soviet stockpile proved to exceed most analysts' expectations even though it lacked modern weapons. Many viral videos show Russians transporting old World War II tanks, guns and rare specimens of equipment likely redeployed from remote parts of Russia, including the Far East and the Arctic region. The Russians were able to make up for outdated weaponry in sheer numbers, reallocating old stocks and buying modern systems from the few countries willing to meet Moscow's needs.

During the most turbulent period of the conflict, Russian artillery fired up to 20,000 shells per day, compared to 7,000 fired by the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The problem still persists today, since even European and American ammunition manufacturers combined have not been able to increase their shell production capacity to the same level as Russia.

The Russians also used S-300 air defense missiles on ground targets. Missiles used in this way lack precision but since they are available in large quantities. Another way to reuse existing weapons has been demonstrated by converting aerial bombs into guided munitions with GPS and an inexpensive control kit. On the other hand, modern systems, such as hypersonic Zircon missiles, were also tested during the conflict.

In addition, Russia is counting on the use of Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 combat drones acquired from Iran. The drones, renamed Geran-1 and Geran-2 in a feeble attempt to obscure their origin, are deployed by forward units to target Ukrainian Armed Forces vehicles, positions and even infrastructure objects deep behind the front lines .

Ukraine was unable to match the amount of Russian weapons. Instead, kyiv sought to gain a quality advantage by relying on supplies of advanced weapons from Western allies. ATGM launchers, such as the American Javelin and the Swedish-British NLAW, Turkish Bayraktar TB-2 combat drones performed well in the initial phase of the conflict, but so far HIMARS systems have proven to be the most effective. The Russian units were totally unprepared for their long range and struggled to rebuild their logistics with the possibility of HIMARS strikes in mind.

The newest addition to the motley crew of Western equipment promised in kyiv are 400 NATO tanks, mostly German-made Leopards. Ukraine, and especially President Zelensky, insists that this is not enough. In his speeches, the Ukrainian leader constantly demands that the West increase its reserves of ammunition, long-range missiles and fighter jets.

As far as troops are concerned, both sides have suffered considerable losses, and at present each side has practically gone through the forces with which it started. Initially, Russia deployed 150,000 troops and Ukraine had around 200,000. Soon after the war began, Zelensky ordered a general mobilization. Recruits eager to fight for their country joined the military to fight the aggressor. This allowed Ukraine to slow down Russia's offensive and counterattacks in important directions, including the successful recapture of Kherson.

However, as speculation of the counter-offensive intensifies, further evidence shows Ukrainian men being forcibly taken to the military surface via the internet. The pool of motivated recruits has been drastically reduced and authorities are scratching the barrel now. Unlike money and arms, the West cannot supply Ukraine with sufficient draft-age people without a large-scale foreign military presence on Ukrainian soil, which the United States and the European Union are reluctant to risk. Zelensky was said to be asking foreign states, including Poland, to help him identify and deport Ukrainian citizens eligible for service.

Russia, meanwhile, did not mobilize until September. Despite strong migration to neighboring countries, such as Armenia, Georgia and Kazakhstan, 300,000 people were reportedly mobilized for the Russian army. Half of them are currently stationed in Belarus or along the Russian border.

This brief comparative analysis shows that Ukraine currently finds itself in a difficult situation. President Zelensky facilitated the provision of significant military and financial aid to Ukraine. Now he must deliver results or risk losing all foreign support. At the same time, the President of the United States, Joe Biden, must make the counteroffensive a victory in order to justify all the aid sent to Ukraine for the American taxpayers, especially with the election next year.