Saturday, March 12, 2022


If the past three weeks in Ukraine have proven anything it's that the much vaunted Russian War Machine is still prone to the same old errors its historical predecessors were (in)famous for. As in the past, the Russian military top brass have again shown themselves to be slow learners and fast forgetters. The performance of the Russian army in Ukraine is eerily reminiscent of another invasion of a weaker neighbour possessing numerically far inferior forces - which nevertheless acquitted themselves well. I am talking about the Winter War of 1939-1940, when the USSR invaded tiny Finland, yet got its armies clobbered by small Finnish units almost devoid of armour.

Certainly, what is noteworthy of the conflict is the emerging role of tank busting drones. At the start of the conflict, the Ukrainian military reportedly boasted an altogether modest force of 12 Turkish-made Bayraktar drones, but in three weeks of combat these exacted a heavy toll:

Just like in World War Two, Russian commanders make the same obvious tactical errors time and again, like e.g. lining up their armor in neat rows on obvious avenues of approach. See for yourself the effect of Ukrainian artillery:

But old habits die hard, and among those is the deliberate, blind use of brutal power when things don't go according to plan:

It is hard to fathom how the war in Ukraine - Europe's biggest one since World War Two - will develop from here. The Ukrainian military has shown remarkable resilience, helped in no small part by their sky high morale. That of their adversaries may very well be vastly lower. I suppose even ardent chauvinist Russian troopers will have a hard time kidding themselves that they are fighting for a good cause. Next, while generally armor on both sides is roughly similar, the steady supply of modern, man-portable Western weaponry like the British Javelins and NLAWS, or the German Panzerfaust 3, has the potential to turn into a game changer. It can no longer be denied that these weapons are exacting a heavy toll on Russian armour.

Even so, I fear that in the end numbers will tell the tale. If you put a welter boxer against a heavyweight, the former may initially score a number of successes... but ultimately, the heavyweight will have the upper hand. At some point, Russians forces may elect to bypass Kiev and simply push south, while those at Kherson may advance north. When they join up, they will have bagged an enormous chunk of the Ukrainian military in an area that has seen a mass encirclement before.

A possible scenario thereafter is that the remaining UA forces conduct a fighting withdrawal to the West, where they either may make a brave last stand, or else perform so well that the Russians consider the cost of subduing them simply too high and allow them to keep Western Ukraine. All the while, Putins divisions may have to cope with isolated small pockets and an insurgency behind their backs.

As dreadful as these scenarios sound, I fear that for the West the sending of weaponry and supplies, and maintaining the sanctions, will remain the most it can do. Ukraine is no NATO country, and therefore Article V cannot be invoked. Active military engagement, like e.g. imposing a No Fly Zone, is totally out of the question. As hard as it may be to watch the Ukrainians fight and suffer for their country, under no pretext can a nuclear war be risked - because that's what NATO engagement would inevitably lead to.

We can and should support Ukraine where we can - sending tank busting weaponry, ammo, take in their refugees, lending financial support, fastening the economic screws on Russia, but in the end, out there in the field, I see no other sensible option than that it's the Ukrainian soldier who must bear the brunt of this foul war.