Op-ed: Prepare for a winnable war as Ukraine enters a period of transformative counter-offensives (The Globe and Mail)

Wars, as Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan has observed, “have repeatedly changed the course of human history, opening up pathways into the future and closing down others.” Russia’s full-scale attack on Ukraine, which followed eight years of ill-disguised proxy warfare, has already been transformative, with more transformations to come as we enter into a crucial period of offensives and counter-offensives.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia has suffered a series of setbacks: losing more than half of its invading force within the first six months; failing to secure air supremacy over Ukraine, despite having 10 times more planes; the misfiring of its efforts to blackmail Europe through energy leverage, with the loss of lucrative gas markets; and the rise of enmity among millions of previously Russia-friendly Ukrainians, who have ended up bearing the brunt of brutal, indeed genocidal, artillery and rocket attacks.
Mr. Putin seems to lack new ideas on going forward, using his annual address this week to fulminate at the wickedness of the collective Western world, and doubling down on the existing formula of an open-ended “special military operation” and internal repression.
Ukraine has surprised itself and the world with its resilience, both in terms of grassroots citizen and business solidarity, as well as the solid functioning of state institutions – from the Zelensky presidency down to local mayors. Chopping up Russian armour and supply columns around Kyiv, followed by fast-manoeuvre strikes to recapture major chunks of Kharkiv and Kherson regions in the country’s southeast, have built confidence that this war is winnable.
Surviving winter waves of Russian missile strikes targeting energy infrastructure has, if anything, toughened civilian morale and a sense of connection to the front lines. And now the lights are back on, thanks in part to deliveries – by partners like Canada – of decentralized generating capacity equivalent to one nuclear power reactor.
Casting a shadow on all of this, though, is the toll in lives lost or irrevocably maimed, and a collective national case of PTSD that gives a raw edge to any discussion on social media, where individual trauma is shared collectively, 24/7. For these Ukrainians, seeing U.S. President Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelensky walk the streets of Kyiv together last weekend was a major mood tonic. And the three-flag backdrop to Biden’s Warsaw speech is a visual cue to the emergence of an eighty-million strong Poland-Ukraine duo firmly allied with the U.S. Meanwhile, Kyiv’s European Union candidacy reflects a broader continent-wise shift to seeing Ukraine as “part of the family.”
Ukrainians know what they want: around 90 per cent of them insist on returning to their internationally recognized 1991 borders. Given the current scenes of grinding trench warfare in the Donbas, this prospect may not seem realistic. But contrary to narratives coming out of Moscow and some restraint-minded Washington think-tanks, Ukraine is not running out of troops. In fact, while frontline units withstand daily attacks, up to 16 new brigades numbering tens of thousands of soldiers are being trained at bases in Central Ukraine, Germany, Poland and the U.K. (with the Canadian Forces making a major contribution in the latter two locations). Combined with the hundreds of tanks and infantry vehicles scheduled for delivery in the coming weeks, the wherewithal to make a difference on the battlefield is on its way.
Russia’s mobilization has helped to plug manpower gaps, but has not addressed the deeply ingrained command, control and logistics weaknesses that make its large force on paper ineffective in real life. Without a major infusion of Chinese weaponry (which the United States has so far successfully dissuaded), Russia is relying on ever-older stocks of 1970s equipment from deep storage to hold off Ukraine’s incoming wave of Leopards, Bradleys, Challengers and longer-range rockets.
Warfare is inherently unpredictable, but on present trends, we may now be seeing the best that Russia can muster in a series of unfocused attacks up and down the eastern front. And we should prepare to be surprised by a Ukrainian counter-thrust, possibly to the south, as the weather warms and the battleground firms up.
Author: Roman Waschuk, Business Ombudsman, Former Canada’s Ambassador to Ukraine (2014-2019)
Read the original publication here.

Next case: After the end of hostilities, Ukraine will be the largest construction site in the world, - Roman Waschuk