The Russian invasion, which began with a double attack from the north and from the south of Ukraine, has turned into a war throughout the country and on almost all possible fronts. However, progress on the ground has stalled and Russia may be preparing for a long conflict.
Next, we review the general map of the war during these four weeks and analyze and where the next stages of a war whose end is guessed far away could unfold.
From the “lightning war” to the strategy of attrition
Apparently, the “special military operation” with which Vladimir Putin wanted to “demilitarize” Ukraine was a quick offensive. But it quickly turned into a conventional war, unfolding more slowly than the Kremlin had possibly envisioned, the retired admiral says. Angel Tafallawho was Second Chief of the General Staff of the Spanish Navy, in declarations to DatosRTVE.
“The first movements, which at first were very blitzkrieg —for example, with the seizure by special forces of paratroopers of an airfield near Kiev— seemed to indicate that the initial hypothesis was that the Ukrainians were going to receive the Russians with the open arms and that it was going to be a short and very successful campaign, but that has not been fulfilled. Ukrainians are responding with surprising heroism and with a tremendous value, which no one expected”.
Matches this balance Francisco Jose Gan Pampolslieutenant general in the Army Reserve: the initial approach of “a very rapid and forceful action that would sow panic among the Ukrainian political class and population, reaching the centers of power” and several of the main cities has failed and now what you are seeing is a “reconfiguration of actions”.
“For reasons of logistics, replacement of casualties and what are called operational pauses, we will probably go to a war of attrition that is going to be longer, much more painful and where the advances are going to be small”, considers the lieutenant general .
The unlikely siege of kyiv
The effects of this war of attrition will be seen clearly in the battle for kyiv, which has overcome the initial offensive and “has fortified itself,” says Gan Pampols. The 60-kilometre military convoy that was seen approaching the capital in the first few days suffered from logistical problems that have surfaced in the Russian offensive.
Unsuccessful attempts to completely encircle kyiv have led the Russians to try to secure and strengthen their positions in the northwest and northeast already remotely bomb civilian buildings or commercial areas to try to intimidate the Ukrainians. A destructive strategy that can be counterproductive for Moscow’s objectives. “Putin is wrong”considers Admiral Ángel Tafalla, by indiscriminately bombing cities with artillery, and resorting to “medieval” war techniques of “terror, siege and hunger.”
“He has to understand the damage to the morale of the Ukrainian people that, in the best of cases, will dominate. There will be a resentful people, there will be a guerrilla, there will be ambushes, there will be hell there during a long time”.
Mariupol and the conquest of the Black Sea coast
The biggest humanitarian catastrophe of this war has a name already defined since the first weeks of the invasion: Mariupol, a port city in southeastern Ukraine and an essential enclave to close a territorial corridor from the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia in 2014, to the newly self-proclaimed republics of the Donetsk and Lugansk provinces. The attacks that have raged against the civilian population in a maternity hospital, a mosque or a theater and the images of a city almost razed to the ground also show the strategic importance of this population of almost half a million inhabitants
The south is the only part of Ukraine where an offensive is maintained, says Lieutenant General Gan Pampols. Once Mariupol is conquered, Russian troops will be able to “increase the effort along the Dnieper River” to reach Mykolaiv, which they have also failed to take, and later reach Odessa, the country’s main seaport.
With this, Russia would strangle Ukraine’s trade capacity through the Black Sea and consolidate territorial dominance in the south and east of the country. And losing this outlet would leave the Ukrainians “in a very compromised situation” to maintain their supplies, their economy and their ability to resist.
“Ukraine is a country that exports value-added raw materials and has a lot of weight and volume, with which all the most strategic lines of communication for it will always be by sea, which is the cheapest freight. Without access to the sea, it can do it at through Poland or Romania, but a small ship equals 600 trains. There are no railway infrastructures that can supply a port like the one in Mariupol or the one in Odessa”.
Where is the conflict going?
The analyzes of the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), an American center that analyzes the evolution of the military campaign day by day, suggest that, in a few weeks, the Russian forces will capture Mariúpol or force its surrender. And that they will expand their attacks with artillery, missiles and air force to other Ukrainian cities.
The logistical problems, the unexpected resistance of the armed forces, of the civil population and the international arms support to Ukraine are taking effect. The missile attacks on weapons and fuel warehouses, such as the one in Deliatin, near Romania, or the Yavóriv military base, very close to Poland, seek to undermine these reinforcements – and in the process cause alarm over a possible international escalation of the war having impacted on the soil of these NATO members.
Russia’s supposed military advantage over land, sea and air is not being realized on the ground. “The Russian Army is disappointing the expectations that were had regarding its superiority” from Western estimates, which “was impressive on paper,” acknowledges Tafalla. “The attacks on Ukraine were also expected to be accompanied by computer attacks“, attacking the networks of banks, water systems or power plants to leave the country defenseless and disconnected and it has not occurred either, adds Gan Pampols.
What none of the military believes is possible is that the conflict escalates to Russia’s use of chemical weapons or dirty bombs (which release radioactive elements into the atmosphere). Among other reasons, because it could cause the same reaction on the Ukrainian side. “There is a very clear experience of international political costs, both in Syria and in Iraq,” says Lieutenant General Francisco José Gan. “These are triggers for actions that no halfway intelligent politician would be able to consider.”
“A free Ukraine is fighting for us”
Although the alleged blitzkrieg that Putin was pursuing with the movements of the first days has failed, Admiral Tafalla does not believe that it can be said that Russia is not achieving its objectives, which only the Russian president really knows.
Some objectives that could not stop in Ukraine if the war ended soon. “Ukraine, unfortunately, is the first step in something that will continue for years and yearswhich is Putin’s dissatisfaction with the prevailing order on the European borders”, affirms Admiral Ángel Tafalla. Everything will depend, he maintains, on the Ukrainian resistance to the invasion, “wearing down the Russian forces long enough for the economic and trade sanctions act and ruin Russia”, while European countries can substitute their demand for gas and oil from this country.
“It is essential that the Ukrainians hold out long enough to be able to stop the Russians,” he concludes. “A free Ukraine is fighting for us to prevent us from reaching a dangerous situation that could, in the worst case, result in World War III.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.