The Israel-Hamas conflict is threatening to evolve into a multi-front Middle East conflagration. Policymakers, weary of the long war between Russia and Ukraine, have been suggesting cutting down military aid to Kyiv in favor of Tel Aviv.
However, a recent analysis advises against it, as the Ukraine-Russia war has reduced Russia to a “third-rate” military power without a single US casualty.
A new Center of Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) analysis dubs the war in Ukraine as “a test of political will and industrial capacity” between two competing blocks: allied countries aiding Ukraine, such as the United States and numerous countries in Europe and Asia; and axis countries aiding Russia, such as China, North Korea, and Iran.
“Despite Ukraine’s efforts to liberate territory illegally seized by Russia, offensive operations have been slow,” the analysis titled “Seizing the Initiative in Ukraine Waging War in a Defense Dominant World” said.
As clamor is rising in certain sections of the US to divert the military aid from Ukraine to Israel, the assessment contends that the Western countries should provide long-term aid packages to help Ukraine strengthen its defense and prevent or deter a Russian counterattack in the future. Based on current trends, continuing aid to Ukraine may cost roughly US$14.5 billion annually.
They should also provide additional aid to help Ukraine on offense to maximize the possibility that it can retake as much territory as possible from Russia, the report said, adding: “After all, one of the United States’ most significant adversaries, Russia, has been reduced to a second- or third-rate military power without a single US military casualty.”
As many as 120,000 Russian soldiers have been killed and over 300,000 wounded. Ukrainian soldiers have destroyed many Russian weapons systems, from main battle tanks and fighter aircraft to submarines and landing ships.
The US aid to Ukraine should continue even with US support for Israel likely to grow following the October 2023 Hamas attack since Russia, Iran, and their partners represent a significant threat to US interests.
The analysis is done by Seth G. Jones, senior vice president, Harold Brown Chair, and director of the International Security Program at the CSIS in Washington. Jones makes a case for the US and other countries to provide “sustained military aid and other assistance.”
Russian Fortifications Slow Down Ukrainian Offensive
The Russian invasion of Ukraine brought war to Europe over a year ago. While the Ukrainian forces continue to retain the initiative in the war, their summer offensive between early June and late August 2023 has been slow-moving, averaging only 90 meters per day on the southern front.
This highlights the “superiority of defensive strategy” deployed by Russia, entailing “extensive fortifications” including minefields, trench networks, and support from artillery, attack helicopters, and fixed-wing aircraft. Russia has expanded the size of its minefields from 120 meters to 500 in some areas, making Ukraine the most heavily mined country in the world today,
Attrition ratios also suggest that the cost of seizing terrain has increased. Ukraine suffered more significant attrition in its summer 2023 counteroffensive than in its previous offensives. According to open-source data quoted by CSIS, Russia lost only two fighting vehicles (a tank, armored fighting vehicle, or infantry fighting vehicle) for each Ukrainian fighting vehicle destroyed, captured, abandoned, or seriously damaged in its current offensive.
“This ratio is less favorable to Ukraine than the 3.9 Russian vehicles lost per Ukrainian vehicle during its summer 2022 counteroffensive and 6.7 Russian vehicles lost per Ukrainian vehicle during the counteroffensive that drove Russia back from Kyiv in early 2022,” said the analysis.
This change in the rate indicates that it is increasingly becoming difficult for Ukraine to take territory. It also underscores the delicate balance between “offense and defense” in warfare. The CSIS assessment stems from open-source data on fortifications, unit positions, and the attrition of military equipment, along with satellite imagery and drone footage of the battlefield in eastern and southern Ukraine.
Some policymakers interviewed for the assessment suggested that the Ukrainian strategy of fighting on multiple fronts slowed the pace of its operations. The assessment, however, arrived at a contrarian conclusion. It blames the changed Ukrainian tactic of employing small units without key technology like fighter aircraft to suppress enemy air defense and close air support.
In addition, Russia constructed substantial defensive fortifications, including minefields, and utilized attack helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft, and unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) against advancing Ukrainian forces.
Ukraine changed how it used its forces to reduce its losses while accepting an advance rate much slower than its leaders may have initially desired.
The war is now, in part, a contest between the defense industrial bases of the two sides: Russia and its partners, such as China and Iran, and Ukraine and its partners, including the United States and other Western countries.
Contending that “a decision by the US to reduce military aid significantly would shift the military balance-of-power in favor of Russia and increase the possibility that Russia will ultimately win the war by seizing additional Ukrainian territory in a grinding war of attrition. Too much is at stake.”
Jones rests his case by quoting what former UK prime minister Margaret Thatcher said to President George HW Bush in the leadup to the First Gulf War after Iraq had invaded Kuwait, “This is no time to go wobbly.”
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com
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