Russia’s first military campaign against Ukraine has culminated without reaching its objectives: the overthrow of the government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the installation of a pro-Moscow puppet regime.
Incapable of defeating the Ukrainian military, Russia now seeks to destroy Ukrainian cities, killing as many civilians as possible to force a surrender. It won’t happen, as each barrage steels Ukrainian resolve to resist.
As Russia’s war on Ukraine enters a new phase, here are four things to watch.
Ukraine has 7 million people fit for military service and is seeking to mobilize them for the defense of the nation. Ukraine can draft more military personnel than can Russia, as Ukraine is in an existential fight and has virtually unlimited financial backing from the EU and America.
By mid-April, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians will have received enough training to competently serve as infantry, allowing Ukraine to replace losses and increase the size of many units. This will give Ukraine the option to increase counterattacks – if it has tolerance for the higher losses that might entail.
Until the fields dry out in late May or early June, allowing for rapid cross-country mobility, Russia will only have one viable option: to pound Ukrainian cities with artillery. To do so, Russia needs to secure supply lines to within 10 to 20 miles from city centers – the range of its rocket launchers and artillery. And it needs to protect them from increasingly effective Ukrainian drones.
Russia has a bigger challenge with mounting something more than harassing bombardment against Ukraine. The abysmal state of their maintenance practices has stripped them of the trucks needed to ship the thousands of tons of artillery ammunition to the front.
Belarus recalled its ambassador from Ukraine a few days ago and is making noises that it might send troops to help Russia. There are three problems with that. First, the Belarussian army isn’t very good—its main job is to cow its own citizens into not overthrowing Belarussian strongman president Alexander Lukashenko.
Second, the border between Belarus and Ukraine is defined by the extensive Pripyat Marsh, one of the world's largest, making military movement south difficult.
Third, if Lukashenko does commit a significant portion of his army against Ukraine, he risks domestic unrest that threatens his own regime – and by extension, Russian President Vladimir Putin. That risk outweighs any gains that would be expected on the battlefield.
Putin has asked China for help. The areas in which Russia has the greatest need are precision-guided munition resupply and new trucks. America and its allies need to make it very clear to China that seeing equipment of Chinese manufacture in Ukraine will trigger significant sanctions on the Chinese economy. The West cannot afford to allow Beijing to bail Moscow out of its Kyiv quagmire.
The last thing the free world needs is an ascendant alliance of dictatorial states.