Ukraine is winning through attrition

The second conclusion is that conditions on the ground should increasingly favour Ukraine because of the quality of the systems now entering service and the effectiveness with which they are being used. The Russians are finding new recruits to send to their front (including press-ganging individuals in the occupied territories) but they can no longer be fussy when it comes to their age, education, background, or training. Life at the front for ill-prepared troops is becoming more desperate.

The most striking feature of the fighting since late June has been the demonstrable vulnerability of ammunition dumps, command posts, air defence units and now airfields. The strike against the Saki air base in Crimea was an enormous blow not only to Russian capabilities – with at least nine and possibly as many as 27 aircraft and helicopters destroyed along with airport facilities and ammunition – but also to Russian self-confidence. The Ukrainians are being very coy about how they mounted the attacks, preferring to leave the Russians guessing, (and the guesswork continues on social media). They have said it was not a foreign-supplied system. Was this a one-off operation or a new long-range capability? If the latter then it warns of many ways in which Crimea, Putin’s great gain from 2014, might now be in play. It also serves as a reminder of the curious ineptitude of Russian tactics, constantly underestimating their opponent. The Ukrainians dispersed their aircraft from the start so that they were not caught at their bases.

What we have not seen is Ukraine mounting comparable attacks to those mounted by the Russians in the Donbas in May and June. In this respect defence remains dominant. Ukraine is having to follow a strategy that works round its weaknesses while exploiting those of Russia. This was dubbed back in May as ‘corrosion’ by General Mick Ryan. Ukraine, he noted, has sought to hollow out ‘the Russian physical, moral, and intellectual capacity to fight and win in Ukraine, both on the battlefield, and in the global information environment.’ This is essentially a form of attrition, broadly framed.

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