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Call Of Duty: When Will The Russia-Ukraine War End?

Is the endgame of the Russia-Ukraine war near, or will Russia continue with land-based military operations to capture more Ukrainian territory in the eastern industrial, mining and agricultural heartland of Ukraine? Lt Gen (Retd) Philip Campose’s Take.

In the Russia-Ukraine war, the Russian attacks continue despite both sides having lost thousands of troops, armoured vehicles and artillery pieces. Is the endgame in the war near, or will Russia continue with land-based military operations to capture more Ukrainian territory in the eastern industrial, mining and agricultural heartland of Ukraine?

At the time the war started, Russia was already in control of about 7 per cent of the Ukrainian territory, including Crimea. Since the start of the war, Russia, by militarily extending its control over the entire Luhansk province as well as about half of the Donetsk province, is in control of more than 20 per cent of Ukrainian territory.

As per the latest reports, after capturing of Lysichansk, the Russian Army, emboldened by the sudden shortening of the frontline, has continued with intermittent artillery shelling of cities to the west of the current frontline, namely Sloviansk, Kramatorsk, Siversk, and Bakhmut in Donetsk province. The Russian Army appears to be continuing with its strategy of wearing down Ukrainian resistance in targeted towns and cities, through suppressive rocket artillery barrages, followed by small but deliberate advances by its ground troops, to capture them.

At this point, the Ukrainian forces would be trying to discern whether the next objective would be the industrial pocket comprising the cities of Siversk, Sloviansk and Kramatorsk towards the north, or the strategic hub of Bakhmut towards the South. Clearly, the economic sanctions by the US, UK and their EU partners, as also the massive supplies of artillery, missiles and another armament, including the HIMARS, to the Ukrainian military, have not worked. Slowly but surely, the Russian land operations are making progress and the capture of the entire Donbas region may not be far away.

The larger question at this point is, whether Russia would stop its war after the capture of the Donetsk province, or before that, or would it continue operations further westwards to take control of entire Eastern Ukraine, including the provinces of Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhya on the Dnieper river, concurrent with efforts northwards towards Kharkiv, Poltava and Sumy, as also along the Black Sea coast, westwards from Kherson province towards the coastal provinces of Mikolayiv and Odessa. And, what would it take Russia, politically and militarily, to stop its campaign which it started nearly five months back? So, which way will the war move now?

There appear to be three possibilities. Let us take a look at them one by one.

Possibility One :
The Ukrainian Govt accedes to Russia’s demand for providing an undertaking that Ukraine will not join NATO and consequently, Russia agrees to stop the war. There is a related implication that Ukraine will have to concede Russian control permanently over areas under the Russian military’s control at this point in time.

What are the chances of this happening? At this point, this appears to be the only development which may influence Russia to call off further operations in an early timeframe. On the other hand, the chances of Ukraine calling off its commitment to join NATO appear remote, considering that it did not take such a decision earlier, to avert the war and prevent it from starting.

Now that Ukraine has already lost a lot due to its determination to join the EU and NATO, in terms of massive destruction of its population centres as well as large-scale death and displacement of its people, it may not be inclined to change its stance at this point. Such a decision would see Ukraine as accepting defeat, which also precludes the recapture of areas lost already. It would also show Ukraine as having lost confidence in NATO’s ability to assist it to bring the war to a favourable close. Thus, this possibility is the least likely to happen.

Possibility Two:
After the capture of the Donbas region and parts of Southern Ukraine which are already under Russia’s control, Russia continues operations to establish control over entire Eastern Ukraine, i.e. all territory to the east of the Dnieper River, while extending control along the Southern coastline up to Odesa, even linking up with Transnistria in eastern Moldova. This possibility pre-supposes that Russia will capture the entire Donbas region soon and will continue to retain control westwards up to Kherson on the Black Sea Coast.

On analysis, though such enhancement of Russian aims and objectives is possible, it would entail a massive requirement of political and economic capital as well as military resources and time. This has to be seen in the backdrop that Russia would already be feeling the pinch economically and militarily, with serious adverse effects on its future political status as a major power as also on the quality of life of its people.

Would it risk its current military gains in the war by extending it beyond a point that can be explained with any semblance of logic? Such an ambitious aim may gain it some extra territory but it would come at the risk of suffering serious losses, politically and militarily. It would also risk the goodwill and support it still enjoys in some parts of Europe as also in other parts of the world.

Also, it would incentivise the West and NATO, particularly the US and UK, to continue to fight proxy military operations against Russia, conventionally and sub-conventionally through the Ukrainian route. In sum, it could extend the military operations indefinitely, invite defeat and also the related possibility of becoming a global pariah state. To that extent, this possibility appears unlikely at this stage.

Possibility Three:
Russia sees better sense and calls off further military operations on its own, possibly after the capture of some more parts of Donetsk province, or the whole of it. Let us examine this possibility. Russia has already lost a lot over the past five months in terms of its economy and its image as a formidable power on the global scene. It has lost billions of its foreign exchange reserves. It has also lost a lot in terms of military personnel, equipment and resources.

Its military reputation has taken a huge beating. To that extent, Russia could stop the war now or, more probably, after capturing Donetsk. Any decision by it to stop its military operations before capturing Donetsk, without taking physical control of the Donbas region and strengthening its control over Crimea would be interpreted by many in the Russian leadership as a failure.

Moreover, any cessation of operations before Donbas is fully captured may be projected by the West and Ukraine as a victory of sorts, though pyrrhic, and even encourage them to project this as a defeat of the Russian military. Nonetheless, such a cessation of operations is a distinct possibility, especially after capturing Donetsk, even if Ukraine does not provide public assurance of not joining NATO in the future.

To sum up, as of now, it appears likely that Russia will continue its deliberate land-based operations against Ukraine, till its aim of capturing the parts of Donetsk province which remain under Ukrainian control is achieved. Ukraine may continue the brave defence of its homeland, but it is unlikely that its counter-attacks will be successful in reversing Russia’s military gains. Thus, the earliest end to the war appears to be still sometime away, i.e. unless there are some surprise political or military developments that bring about a sudden cessation of hostilities.

In the meanwhile, Ukraine’s people will continue to directly suffer the ravages of this war. Also, the world, especially its poor, will continue to bear the ill effects of this war, whether it be rising fuel and gas prices, food shortages or rampant inflation. On the other hand, many in the corporate world, especially within the arms industry, must be laughing all the way to the bank!