With the Failure of Putin's Winter Offensive, Ukraine's Future May Hinge on Their Spring Offensive
Russia's winter offensive failed despite throwing everything it had into the fight including thousands of convicts recruited by the Wagner Group. They conquered almost no additional territory and suffered losses in the tens of thousands. It's Ukraine's turn now to demonstrate that they can employ the new equipment, such as tanks and armored personnel carriers, they recently received from NATO countries to make significant gains.
It's really impossible to overestimate the importance of Ukraine's spring offensive to reclaim more of the territory Russian captured in the early weeks of the war. The risk is that Western backers start to perceive the war as a stalemate in which neither side can make gains on the battlefield. If Ukraine fails, it will amplify the voices abroad that call for negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, arguing that the conflict can't be solved militarily. In the United States, MAGA Republicans would be emboldened to push for a ceasefire and threaten further military assistance.
So far in the war, Volodymyr Zelenskiy's forces have performed much better than anybody predicted, but they face numerous challenges in the coming months. Ukraine has suffered heavy losses in the past year; between 124,000 and 131,000 killed or wounded. That's far less than Russian losses [about 220,000 dead or wounded], but the toll is significant.
Ammunition and equipment are also an issue. Western nations are racing to ramp up supplies, but Ukraine is burning through ammunition faster than the US and NATO can replace it. Even if Ukraine is fully equipped as it launches its spring offensive, it's unclear whether the US and its allies can continue to supply Ukraine with what it needs to push further into Russian-held territory throughout the summer and fall. And, the Ukrainian military must still prove that it can master and integrate all the different weapon systems they’re getting from Western allies.
Still, Ukraine has numerous advantages. Zelenskiy's forces have generally been much more disciplined, motivated, and willing to fight than Russia's. They are fighting for their homeland and protecting their families. They are also fighting on their home turf with the help and support of the civilian population. And, the armaments they are now getting from the West are generally superior to Russia's.
Despite these advantages, Kyiv's spring campaign is likely to be a bloody affair. After Russia's failure to capture territory over the winter, it's digging in and fortifying its postions in occupied territory. Putin hopes that if he can withstand the coming offensive Western nations may tire of the fight.
Moreover, Putin understands that his hold on power is increasingly tenuous. Moscow's once-feared military has been embarrassed on the battlefield, the Russian economy is in freefall, and as many as 700,000 young men have fled the country to evade conscription into the military. The majority of Russians tell pollsters that they still support Putin's war in Ukraine ["How much can we trust Russian opinion polls on the war?"], but more setbacks on the battlefield this spring and summer could change that quickly, especially if Putin is forced to conscript more young men into the fight and the economy slips further into recession.
By: Don Lam & Curated Content