Why Ukraine can inflict great losses on Russian troops despite an unfavorable balance of power

March 2, 2022 12:02 pm

In February 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean, Ukrainian troops showed no resistance in a devastated state. In the next few years, this motivated but unequipped army lost thousands of soldiers fighting separatist forces in the eastern part of Donbus. At the same time, the country embarked on an often chaotic reform of its military tools. The Ukrainian army has been significantly strengthened, even if it remains vulnerable in certain respects.

Balance of power in favor of Russia

From 2014 to 2015, Ukraine sought to triple its defense budget and not only defend against Russia, but also modernize its troops to meet the criteria NATO requires as a condition of entry.

The results are mixed. On paper, the Ukrainian army is impressive, with about 800 heavy tanks and thousands of other armored vehicles that protect and transport about 200,000 regular troops. The soldier is much better trained than in 2014. They are well guided, especially by the important corps of noncommissioned officers, the backbone of every army. Importantly, most observers report high morale and motivation.

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However, it does not solve the problem. Most of the armor and equipment available in Ukraine is relatively old, and the factory produces modernized versions of older models such as the T72 tank, but these cannot effectively compete with tanks and armored vehicles. .. Better than the best NATO equipment.

In addition, the Ukrainian army is vulnerable to both Russian artillery (traditionally the Red Army’s most formidable weapon) and threats from Russian attack aircraft. The supply of recent weapons and portable anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles determined by NATO will cost the Russian army, but will not radically change the situation on the ground.

The Ukrainian Air Force has a large number of Cold War aircraft and well-trained personnel. However, Russia has organized its “Aerospace Force” in a way that ensures control of the airspace by using the formidable S400 long-range anti-aircraft missile, among other systems. These missiles are considered to be the most advanced in the world and are formidable to the most advanced NATO Air Force, not to mention Ukrainian fighters and bombers dating back to the 1990s.

Russian fighters and missiles guarantee Moscow’s victory in the air, but contrary to all possibilities, the Ukrainians have had some success there. According to credible reports, Ukrainian fighters are still in flight and have shot down several Russian planes. Their anti-aircraft missiles (old but still effective) also caused losses to the Russian side, according to Ukrainian sources.

The Ukrainian Navy is not important from a military point of view, especially as most of its buildings appear to have been sunk in the harbor within 24 hours of the onset of hostilities.

Advantages and disadvantages of both parties

Still, the consequences of the conflict are not pre-written. Ukrainian generals are unlikely to step into Russian games and deploy their troops, which will be wiped out by enemy artillery and the Air Force. They had a bitter experience about it in the past. In July 2014, a rocket launch in eastern Ukraine destroyed a Ukrainian detachment. These rockets were guided to the target by a drone operated by a Russian-backed separatist army.

For example, British military thought explains: “Three elements of combat power”.. These are morale (morale, unity, motivation), concepts (strategy, innovation, military “doctrine”) and equipment (weapons). It is one thing to gain an advantage in the important elements of war. It’s another thing to turn that benefit into success. Therefore, Ukrainians try to take advantage of the fact that Russia probably does not have the idea that it needs to carry out long-term military operations, but it risks suffering great losses, which is a political view.

Many Ukrainians have a basic knowledge of the handling of weapons-this is certainly the case for the hundreds of thousands of reserves summoned during the Russian invasion. They may not have modern tanks or sophisticated weapons, but they can dominate in moral and conceptual issues.

Ukraine has a strong tradition of the partisan war, the concept of “territorial defense”-a group of rebels performing small actions on the terrain they are familiar with and, if possible, supported by the army-regularly- Is deeply rooted there. At the beginning of the Cold War, after the country was released from the German occupation, the “Ukrainian Insurgents” launched a guerrilla war against the Soviet Union. It was finally defeated in 1953. During this period, it claimed tens of thousands of casualties. This conflict is very present in Ukrainian memory if it is largely forgotten by the rest of the world.

The Russian army has already deployed most of its ground forces, occupying the ground where armed groups are competing, and more importantly, it is very difficult to maintain operations beyond the first stage of the war invasion. prize. Putin’s last hope is a protracted war with bloody urban warfare reminiscent of the Chechen countryside. But the Ukrainian army could offer just such resistance.

For a long-term guerrilla warfare?

For Ukrainians, a rational approach may be to try to trade land for time. They would want to draw Russian troops into urban areas and their superiority would be less noticeable and therefore cost them. If defeated on the ground, Ukrainian defenders could possibly turn into a western-backed, armed, motivated, protracted rebellion. This scenario is Putin’s nightmare.

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The other side of the coin is that Western support for what Moscow does call “terrorism” can provoke an unpredictable and very dangerous reaction. In the declaration of war, Putin threatened: “I never knew a result like you in your history.” Who does “Try to disturb us”, Clearly refers to Russia’s vast nuclear weapons. Faced with defeat and humiliation, it can be irrational.

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