Will the aggression stop, when will Ukraine retake Crimea, what does the Ukrainian army need for the counteroffensive, and how long will the war last?
These questions were answered by Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi and first deputy head of the Committee for National Security, Defense, and Intelligence of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine Mykhailo Zabrodskyi in their article published in Ukrinform. has selected the key points from this piece.
Valerii Zaluzhnyi on how long the war will last and what Ukraine needs to win
Today, the full-scale war in Ukraine can no longer be comprehended in terms of both the "blitzkrieg" announced by the Russians and the duration of active combat phases of other early 21st century wars, Zaluzhnyi and Zabrodskyi write.
We have every reason to believe that the war in Ukraine will still last into 2023, so the question is, what aid from the partners do the Armed Forces of Ukraine need for the year to come?
Valerii Zaluzhnyi on what the terrorist country Russia wants
Russia might have some prospects for the Izium and Bakhmut axes. The ultimate aim of its operations there can probably be considered as reaching the administrative borders of the Donetsk region.
Advancing in the direction of Zaporizhzhia might look even more compelling for the enemy. This would ensure further operations northward and create a direct threat of capturing the cities of Zaporizhzhia and Dnipro, which, in turn, would result in Ukraine losing control over a large part of the left-bank half of the country.
The renewed intention to capture Kyiv and a threat to mount an assault from the territory of Belarus also haven’t been put off the agenda.
However, the biggest opportunities would be secured by further advancing on the Southern Buh axis from the operational bridgehead on the right bank of the Dnipro river.
By gaining success in the South, provided that it’s leveraged promptly and properly, Russia would achieve a double effect. On one hand, the prospects of seizing Mykolaiv and Odesa would become entirely realistic. On the other hand, it would create a threat directed toward Kryvyi Rih and further threaten the central and western Ukrainian regions.
Besides purely military benefits, such a course of strategic operations in the East and South of Ukraine would additionally benefit Russia politically and economically. Among the gains would be ensuring the security of the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk republics, marking a logical, albeit belated, conclusion of the so-called "special operation", depriving Ukraine of access to the Black Sea, control over the South Ukrainian NPP, which is a key element of the country’s energy system, etc.
Valerii Zaluzhnyi on why it is important for Russia to retain Crimea
In order to achieve these optimistic goals, the aggressor crucially needs to retain control over the temporarily occupied territory of the Crimean Autonomous Republic.
"Crimea was and remains the basis for supply chains on the Southern strategic flank of Russian aggression. The territory of the peninsula can accommodate significant formations and stocks," Valerii Zaluzhnyi and Mykhailo Zabrodskyi explain.
Finally, the main base of the Black Sea Fleet and the network of airfields used to conduct airstrikes across virtually all of Ukraine are also located in Crimea.
"Some analysts are inclined to believe that it is control over the territory of the Crimean peninsula that makes up the center of gravity for the Russian forces in this war," the authors point out.
The frontline now has an extremely disadvantageous shape on the Izium and Bakhmut axes. Significant enemy’s wedgings constrain any operational maneuver for the Ukrainian army and require twice the complement of forces to contain the adversary. It is particularly acutely felt due to insufficient firepower and air defense.
There is also a threat of the enemy advancing toward Zaporizhzhia and achieving partial success on the Huliai-Pole axis, which under certain conditions could pose a threat of encirclement for the whole formation of Ukrainian forces in the East. The enemy’s operational bridgehead on the right bank of the Dnipro river requires additional efforts to prevent its expansion.
Valerii Zaluzhnyi on what the Ukrainian army needs for the counteroffensive
The only way to fundamentally change the strategic situation is for the AFU to mount several consecutive or, ideally, concurrent counterattacks during the 2023 campaign, Zaluzhnyi emphasizes.
However, this requires determining Russia’s center of gravity in this war.
If we consider the 2023 campaign as the pivotal point, it is logical to assume that an operation or a series of operations to retake Crimea will be planned for 2023. This requires an appropriate complement of personnel, which cannot be the same units and formations of the AFU that are currently operating along the 2,500 km of the frontline stretched from Kherson to Kovel.
The preparation of an offensive campaign requires the creation of one or more operational (operational and strategic) formations composed of ten to twenty combined arms brigades — depending on the intention and ambitions of the Ukrainian command.
It is also important to obtain weapons for defending Ukraine from the partners — additional supplies of missiles and rounds, artillery and missile systems, electronic warfare systems, etc. This all requires joint efforts from all of Ukraine’s partner countries, a long period of time, and significant expenditures.
The success of the Ukrainian counteroffensive depends on the available resources and only on them. And while the strength of the AFU personnel is likely to be sufficient enough, the situation isn’t so good with respect to heavy weapons and ammunition.
Why retaking Crimea is not enough to win
Let’s assume that the AFU achieve complete success in the 2023 campaign and retake Crimea.
This means Russia loses its base for the Black Sea Fleet, the network of airfields, large amounts of stocks, and, most likely, significant numbers of personnel and equipment.
At the same time, nothing can significantly impede the painful but absolutely achievable redeployment of the Black Sea Fleet to the Novorossiysk navy base on the eastern coast of the Black Sea. Therefore, the aggressor will maintain its military presence in the region, as well as the threat of missile strikes.
This can be assumed similarly with respect to Russian air forces using, for example, Primorsko-Akhtarsk and Yeysk airfields. The loss of significant amounts of stocks would only have a temporary effect on Russia’s armed forces, while personnel and equipment can be replenished over time, at least with respect to their quantity.
This is why Zaluzhnyi and Zabrodskyi suggest that a different enemy’s center of gravity should be determined.
How the difference between Russia’s and Ukraine’s firepower can be eliminated
A decisive disproportion in capabilities is the determining factor in war. It’s most obviously manifested in the difference in the firing range of weaponry.
While for the Russian armed forces, the range is up to 2,000 km given the flight range of air-launched cruise missiles, for the AFU, it is limited to 100 km due to the missile range and the deployment positions of obsolete tactical operational missile complexes.
Thus, since the beginning of the full-scale aggression, the range of Ukrainian weaponry is almost 20 times less than that of the Russian one. Speaking in terms of military practice, this means that the AFU can at best strike with obsolete weaponry to the depth limited to the enemy's operational rear.
Meanwhile, the enemy is able to make unpunished targeted strikes across the whole territory of the country.
While this situation persists, the war in Ukraine could last for years.
How Ukraine can inflict a crushing defeat on Russia
The partners shall provide the AFU with weapons systems and ammunition with an appropriate firing range. This isn’t limited to MGM-140B ATACMS Block 1A for the Himars system. There should be a holistic approach to the re-equipment of artillery, missile forces, tactical air forces, the Ukrainian Navy, and other components of Ukrainian military strength.
There should be talks about creating and building up capabilities rather than just the quantities of weapons and equipment for the brigades that are to be re-equipped.
This is the necessary prerequisite to talking about affecting the real Russia’s gravity center in this war. It consists in the war’s "remote" nature, as perceived by most Russians. Because of this distancing, Russian citizens are less keenly sensitive to losses, failures, and, most importantly, the cost of this war in all its senses. The successful efforts of the AFU with respect to physically carrying the war into the territory of the temporarily occupied Crimea is one convincing example supporting the rightness of this approach.
The efforts in question are the series of missile strikes on the enemy’s air bases in Crimea, primarily the Saky airfield. The objective of the AFU for the 2023 year is to make these feelings more acute, natural, and entirely tangible in Russia and other occupied territories, despite the significant distance to targets.
For the Russians, the main thing is precisely the impunity ensured by physical remoteness. This is the real center of gravity of the enemy.
Appropriate planning and proper work with Ukraine’s partner countries can radically change the whole picture. Equipping and re-equipping the AFU with long-range weapons systems comprehensively and with a proper vision of the perspective will become the long-awaited game changer.
Ukraine crucially needs Western weapons — Valerii Zaluzhnyi
There are many in the West who still have a wrong idea of the scale of Ukraine’s war with Russia, Zaluzhnyi and Zabrodskyi explain.
The frontline is extended for thousands of kilometers, military equipment numbers in the tens of thousands, and over a million armed people take part in this war either directly or indirectly.
There are air raid alerts and airstrikes jolting civilian cities, refugees and prisoners of war, river crossings, and attempted tang breakthroughs. For the people and army of Ukraine, all of the above has become an integral part of everyday life.
In fighting off the aggression of a superpower, Ukraine needs significant material resources and financial expenditures and will need them further for a long time. In 2023, military and technical aid from the partner countries has to remain the material basis of Ukraine’s resistance.
After all, despite their own losses resulting from economic sanctions, dependence on Russia’s energy exports, and sporadic attempts to "appease" Russia, the world’s history won’t forgive any country for condoning the bloody predator, which runs amok when it tastes blood.
Another factor is the direct threat of Russia using tactical nuclear weapons under certain circumstances. Fighting in Ukrainian territory has already demonstrated the extent to which Russia disregards global nuclear safety even in a conventional war.
It’s hard to imagine that Ukraine’s will to resist could be broken down even by Russia’s nuclear strikes. However, a possible threat to the whole of Europe cannot be ignored. The possibility of direct involvement of the world’s leading countries in a "limited" nuclear conflict also cannot be ruled out completely, which could be an immediate pretext for the Third World War.
Again, it is imperative to recur to the origin of Russia’s self-assuredness, which is impunity. Any practical attempts to use tactical nuclear weapons must be interdicted using the whole arsenal of means available to the world’s countries.
Starting from that moment, Russia would become not only a threat to the peaceful coexistence of Ukraine, its other neighbors, and a number of other European countries, but a terrorist country on a global scale.