For close to two years, Project Ukraine has been the fashion statement for all of the best people in the American empire. Celebrities from all over the West have made the trip to Kiev to be seen with Zelensky and Zelensky has toured the world to be seen with the most important people and ask them for money. Now all of a sudden Zelensky is finding it hard to get anyone to take his calls, much less visit. The war in the Levant has made him and Project Ukraine last year’s fashion.
This may be difficult for Zelensky personally, but it is probably for the best in terms of present politics, as things are not going well for Ukraine. The long-promised offensive that kicked off in the summer has ground to an ignominious halt. Ukraine lost most of the equipment sent from the West and tens of thousands of men in order to capture a few square kilometers of land. Russia actually captured more territory overall than the Ukrainians during the Ukrainian offensive.
Now the war is about to enter a new phase. With Ukraine having lost much of its offensive potential in the counter-offensive, it will have little choice but to settle back into defensive lines and hope for the best. It is hard to know how many men Ukraine has in its army, but even if the high estimates for losses are correct, they probably have a force of about 150,000. They also have to conserve ammunition and equipment as shipments from the West are slowing.
In the south, the line of contact changed very little. This is where the Ukrainians ran into the massive Russian defenses during the offensive. There is some speculation that the Russians could stage a winter breakout from this area, like they did against the Germans in the battle of Kursk. This is where the Red Army withstood a massive German offensive and then launched a counter-offensive, defeating the Germans in one of the biggest tank battles in history.
There is no evidence to suggest the Russians have such a plan. Instead, they appear to be content to reduce their losses to the absolute minimum by grinding down the Ukrainians with superior artillery and air power. The one exception is a heavily fortified town in Donetsk called Avdiivka. The Russians are executing an encircling operation against some of the best Ukrainian units. This is one of those key strongholds along the line of contact that Ukraine will defend to the last man.
Where things have changed the most over the last several months is in the north where the Russians have made big gains. The Ukrainians stripped these lines for the offensive in the south, which allowed the Russians to break through to a city called Kupiansk, a key logistic hub for the Ukrainians. If the Russians are able to secure this city over the winter, it sets them up to move south towards Izyum and Kramatorsk, where the command and control of the Ukraine army is located.
In a war of attrition, however, territory is secondary. The game is to kill as many opposing men as possible while losing as few men as possible. The same logic holds for equipment, logistics and industrial capacity. This is the game the Russians have been playing for over a year now. As a result, their casualties have fallen sharply since the early days of the war. Ukraine, in contrast, has been trying to take territory, which has resulted in huge losses in men and material.
This is going to be the story for 2024. The Russians have been slowly building their forces over the last year. They probably have three quarters of a million men in and around the front. Ukraine is probably down to 150,000. The Russians are also well supplied with ammunition and an increasing variety of weapons with which they can strike Ukraine from a distance. The Russian air force is now operating with little resistance over the entire battle space.
This means there is one very large, well-supplied army on one side, content to pound away at a smaller army from a distance. That smaller army is also finding it difficult to maintain its supply lines and keep its suppliers happy. This rather frank story from Time hints that the army is no longer following orders from the government. Add in the sudden disinterest from Washington and things look bleak for Ukraine. They are facing a slow death at the hands of a superior army.
This is where things get interesting. If victory is off the table and stalemate unlikely, that leaves one option for the West. The problem is Washington has boxed itself in with its rhetoric and actions. This may not be an accident. If in the end Ukraine collapses and Russia installs a new government, Washington will declare it all illegal and refuse to recognize the new government. They will treat Ukraine like North Korea and shift to a law-grade war to keep the place in chaos.
Ukraine has no good options. Zelensky may have gone mad under the pressure of the last two years. Regardless, it is unlikely the Russians will agree to deal with him in a peace settlement. Of course, if he reaches out to Moscow, his own people will kill him, probably at the request of the CIA. On the other hand, if they fight to the last Ukrainian, the army will eventually revolt and kill the political leadership. The only hope is some new event forces the Russians to end the war on their own.
As for Russia, the war is just one part of a larger geopolitical strategy that looks far past the Ukraine situation. The cost of the war in terms of men and material is manageable so they can continue it as long as needed. They see the impact it is having on the European political class and their relationship with Washington. It is also slowly draining the EU economically. For now, the best option for Russia is to keep doing what they are doing and prepare for the inevitable breaks in the opposition.
What this means for Ukraine is it becomes something of a tar baby. With a presidential election coming up in 2024, Washington is trying to flick the Ukraine problem off, hoping it sticks to the Europeans. The Europeans are noticing this and are starting to look for a way to avoid having Ukraine stick to them. Russia is not about to help and allow the fate of Ukraine to become their problem, at least not yet. The result is Ukraine becomes an economic, demographic, and social catastrophe.
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