And are the Pentagon's criticism's of its strategy fair?
There are some serious problems with the article.
First of all, it is plagued with straw man's arguments. Some examples are: "Putin’s reluctance to admit defeat even when his army suffers setbacks." and "We can see a similar mass army mentality displayed by Russia. It has always gone for the numbers, assuming a plentiful supply of troops and armour, sufficient to crush opponents, while adopting an unsentimental attitude to the human costs of war."
Let's do a reality check:
* When the initial 4 axis attack failed, Russia did not opt to reinforce each axis, but rather concentrate forces to more limited goals and territory.
* When the Ukranian offensives at Kherson and Kharkov bared fruit, Russia accepted the lost territory, the new reality and moved to mobilize 300K troops to be able to stay in the game.
* When the state of the troops at Kherson became unbearable, Putin did not order them to fight to the last man but rather moved them at the other side of the river and blew up the bridges.
* During '23, Russia used its military to create defensive lines and train while it mainly used the Wagner prisoners to attack Bahmut. It was not its military that was suffering the major losses at that battle.
Ukraine on the other hand decided again and again to fight to the last man every time a major city was under siege, either Mariupol, Bahmut or other ones. It consumed limited and valuable resources (especially its men) to fight basically hopeless battles instead of retreating to more defensive positions (from which it could inflict heavy casualties to the Russian army).
I really don't see how Russia is the side that is over-stretching its forces, trying to achieve goals for which it does not have the means or does not care for its military. On the contrary, it is Ukraine that has wasted many lives in lost battles.
Regarding the current offensive, the author seems to examine the whole operation as if only ammo and tanks are the things that are expended. On the contrary, what is more important is the men dying and injured in the offensive.
You cannot create an offensive force within months, it takes years of training and experience. What is far easier is to have a large defensive/territorial defense force. What this means is that Ukraine is using up resources it cannot replace. It might be able to mount a sufficient defense, even if its offensive utterly fails, but that does not mean that it only needs to get a few more rounds of ammo and wait for the weather to clear in order to launch its next summer offensive. Military personnel capable of conducting combined arms offensive operations does not grow on trees.
The Washington Post is playing an important part in all this, as you note. I am a subscriber - it’s a way to keep in touch with the world of my American family. The Post is quietly committed, I think, to a Land for Peace deal as soon as possible and it interprets events in that spirit. What most concerns is that, since they obviously have friends in the highest places, they may be reflecting the real policy preferences of Biden and his government
What do these nameless American sources hope to achieve with these leaked criticisms of the Ukrainian military?
Rather than reading appeasenik publications, such as the Washington Post or New York Times, or their German and French equivalents, it is probably better to follow Bronk, Evans, Freedman, Gady, Galeotti, Geopolitics Decanted, Kofman, RUSI, Watling, WOTR, et al. and from this multitude of generally sober sources construct one's own picture.
I recently drove from Odesa to Sloviansk, and one thing became clear - the original sin was the West allowing Russia to build the "Scholz-Biden-Line" of massively mined field fortifications across the by and large flat open steppe, easily surveiled by Russia, saturated with Lancet-3 drones. To this day, hardly any matériel that Ukrainian infantry needs for protection, de-mining, surveillance and transportation has been delivered by the West, which is enamoured with "big ticket items" and self-congratulatory backslapping. And so it is up to us supporters to finance and/or procure many essentials our governments stubbornly refuse to be concerned with.
My humble opinion is that until UAF has a credible air dominance, the analysis form the unnamed sources at Pentagon will be wrong.
The US/NATO perspective of a fight always include air superiority or parity. At this time, UAF cannot commit deep strikes to disrupt RU forces or provide top cover for assaulting defensive positions because they simply don’t have the air assets.
This is not a well considered article.
Among the more egregious oversights:
That Ukraine has unlimited capacity to sustain losses. Whether human, material, economic - these are all enormous. It is certain by now that there is no family in Ukraine that does not itself or directly connected close contact who does not know someone killed in the fighting. Cemeteries are full.
Similarly, Ukraine air defense is exhausted; replacement Western systems are few, far between and horrifically expensive as well as being undersupplied with missiles. Ukraine started with something like 100 batteries of S300s; I doubt there are more than 1 or 2 dozen western systems that have replaced those losses much less the thousands of missiles in those batteries. Ammunition is another, very publicly documented shortfall. The US started in 2022 producing 2 days of Ukrainian artillery consumption per month; the present production is up to 3 days of Ukrainian consumption. In 2025, the US military industrial complex will be up to 11 days of Ukrainian consumption produced per month. Europe's capabilities, collectively, are even worse - a literal small fraction of US capability.
Then there are the platforms. Does anyone dispute that Russia has destroyed - not only most of Ukraine's enormous numbers of Soviet weapons platforms (planes, tanks, IFVs, AFVs, MLRS etc) from before the conflict but has also destroyed most of the Soviet weapons platforms that used to be in the Warsaw Pact countries? And is now in the process of destroying Western ones? And in turn - who is producing more new platforms: the collective West plus Ukraine or Russia? And what does this in turn mean for the conflict going forward?
On the economy side: food and energy inflation have moderated from the worst of 2022, but they are still much higher than at any time in the past generation and a half. Ukraine's economy is obviously in tatters - Western economies are doing badly as well particularly Europe. EU zone, France, Germany and UK are all plunging to COVID lockdown era declines even as Russia's economy is set to grow this year despite all-out sanctions.
Where in all of this litany of publicly documented disparities - not in the favor of Ukraine or the West - is the sense of gloom being overdone?
Ukrainian forces being too risk averse? It is like the neoclassical dogma supposing that any business is maximizing profit. Reality is that a CEO’s most important financial objective is that the business will survive, not that it will maximize profits. Likewise, the Ukrainian general staff will prioritize that the nation survive, not throwing it headless into the fight.
Thank you for your excellent article. The US needs to provide more support for Ukraine. Haven’t we in the US seen enough of Putin’s handiwork?
Thanks so much for this. I read the NYTimes article that is cited here the other day and my heart sank. Talk about Ukraine being risk averse and then the premature assessments, impatience, and in fact immaturity here...comes to mind with these opinions floating around. The Biden fear/hesitancy has been outstanding. I hope the Euros ramp up. It's almost nervy to be so critical of the Ukrainians when we have not given them what they needed faster.. due to fear. And they paid and continue to pay the price while we criticize expecting a grand finale.
Putin's blackmailing and posturing has worked. It's clear he is not giving up. Peaceniks and appeasers get real!
As well I am not confident that our generals or critics here really have that close a connection to the situation...(their people on the ground).
And finally- Donald Trump will not ever see the presidency or any office again!!! We are working on that. Send your blessings.
Succinct summation which l also agreed with. Thanks.
Fascinating read, thank you.
As a totally unqualified armchair observer, is the Ukraine strategy all about surprise, even their attempts to hold towns with little strategic importance was a ploy to tie up the Russians and deflect?
All that has happened recently is confirmation that well prepared defences beat an attacking force without air support. That defence has become increasingly desperate but In this case the air support will come, the distractions will increase and morale is still the key advantage Ukraine has over the Russian army.
The message must be reaching the Russian public and there is only so much that the people can take, or am I an incurable optimist?
Any serious analysis of the defenses facing the counter-offensive and the casualties expended makes it clear that the offensive has been a failure. Have you looked at any maps? Have you seen the compilations of western equipment that's been destroyed? Most of Friedman's writing on the war have been good but random kids on YouTube have a better grip on how much of a disaster this counter-offensive has been. It doesn't have a chance in hell of advancing more than a few more kilometers into the teeth of the next few lines of defense. The counter-offensive is now a firmly counter-productive and political ordeal.
"Ukraine can never fail! Ukraine can only be failed! If Ukraine fails, it's because we didn't sacrifice more of our treasure and more Ukrainian blood!"
That seems to be the mood here, but nobody wants to go themselves.
Concur with Martin about an evident line of thought in Post, and think this is in response to building comments that the West (or Washington) has been too little and too late, and that requests for tanks and planes and deep strike assets are not fulfilled. The leakers/critics are attempting to get ahead of that.
I do wonder if why so many reporters (not just at the WP, nor solely in the US) abandon their critical faculties and don't push back on off-the-record briefings. Could it be the excitement of a scoop? The pressure of the 24-hour news cycle? Maybe that so few, if any, reporters have any military experience, especially at staff level? Or possibly that attritional warfare is not as exciting as hyping 'thunder runs'? I suspect it's likely to be a mixture of all of the above.
For example, CEPA has just published an analysis by Jan Kallberg that focuses on the logistics nightmare Russia faces as a result of ground already lost, and on the consequences if Ukraine advances just another 15km south. If you read 'Ukraine — Victory Is Closer Than You Think' (https://cepa.org/article/ukraine-victory-is-closer-than-you-think/), you should not, as a professional journalist, publish a 'land for peace' article without including assessments like Kallberg's. The sad truth is that most reporters won't even bother skimming it.
Yes, but who is going to stop him?