The Eastern Winter Offensive?

Since the beginning of the new year the only event of any significance with regards to international relations is the uptick in fighting in the Eastern Ukraine, between the government forces and the Russian backed proxies.  The attacks in Paris that happened just after the new year, while tragic are not a game changer despite the media hype.  Terrorist attacks happened before and will happen again.  World Trade center 1993, Spanish Train Bombing 2004, London attacks 2005 just to name a few.  We will never be able to prevent every attack, despite what some leaders promise.  What people should take away from the Paris attacks is how quickly the power of the state can hunt down the criminals who perpetrate those attacks.  One day is all it took for the authorities to find those responsible and bring them to justice.  The renewed fighting in the Eastern Ukraine does however raise the specter of state v state warfare, with Russia pitted against Ukraine.

Strategically it makes zero sense for Putin to continue the material and financial support of the insurgents.  The Russian economy is tanking and his continued support only ensures that the West will maintain or increase the sanctions on Russian economy.  Through the cost benefit analysis it is hard to see how Russia benefits from supporting those two enclaves.  The Ukrainian parliament is taking steps to distance Ukraine from Russia, and move towards NATO, and the Ukrainian people will not forget Russian intervention.  Everything Putin has tried to prevent from happening is happening.  Ukraine is moving towards the West and further away from the Russian world.  What remains to be seen is if Putin survives the fallout from this adventure abroad.

Tactically, it will be interesting to see if the Ukrainian armed forces learned their lessons from the summer 2014 fighting.  The need for them to eliminate Russian provided SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles) was clear given their fighter loses.  Any renewed operations will have to start with the destruction of the SAMs controlled by the separatists, which would pave the wave for combined arms operations against the insurgent enclaves.  Based on previous Ukrainian performance the expectations of success are low, but people should hold their judgement until the first few offensives.  The threat of Russian counter-attack will hang over the Ukrainian operation.  By itself tactically that it is tough problem to solve, given Russia’s resources and the need to keep forces in reserve.  However, strategically, the Russian assault it is what the Ukrainians should hope for.  A strong defense against Russian counter-attack which produces massive Russian casualties.

The only way for Ukraine to win this war is to win it in the minds of the Russian people.  Ukraine will never be able to match resources available to Russia without massive Western support, which is not forthcoming.  The way to influence Russian public opinion is to produce massive causalities among the Russian troops operating inside Ukraine.  Some sparks of Russian discontent were evident last summer when Ukrainians captured a dozen or so Russian soldier and killed as many or more .  The Russian government was able to suppress the fallout from those incidents.  However, it is highly unlikely it could do so if the casualties reach in the thousands.  And that is the only way Ukraine can win.  It doesn’t really matter if they loose battles along the way as long as they win the war.  The insurgent enclaves will fall once the Russian support is gone and it is hard to see how Mr. Putin would survive such setback,  especially combined with economic problems facing Russia.