Ukraine's Spring Offensive
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Net Edition | Date : 24 Apr , 2023

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin said on April 21, 2023, that the West has transferred more than 230 tanks and 1,500 armoured vehicles to Ukraine to equip nine new armoured brigades, and American Abrams tanks, on which the personnel of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will be trained, will arrive in Germany in the next few weeks. Austin said, “All of this is tremendous progress, and I am confident that the equipment and training that accompanies it will allow Ukrainian troops to continue to succeed on the battlefield.”

French President Emmanuel Macron’s view supporting China to broker a peace deal in Ukraine had hostile response from European leaders. The US naturally would not want a ceasefire in Ukraine because its arms and oil industry are raking in billions, much larger than any war that the US sponsored till now. When SIPRI says global defence spending has broken all records since the end of the Cold War, the US is financially one of the major beneficiaries, if not the largest.

The US views two Russian IL-76 aircraft being purchased by China for mid-air refueling as closer China-Russia military cooperation. But this is not the first time China is importing Russian armament. China’s recent acquisitions from Russia include the Su-35 fighter aircraft and the S-400 Triumf missile air defence systems. But what is pinching the West is the statement by the Chinese ambassador to France Lu Shai telling a media channel that Crimea was originally Russian, and the former Soviet republics do not have “effective status” in international law. Shai said, “Under international law, the countries of the former USSR do not have, how shall I put it, an effective status in international law. Since there is no international agreement specifying their status as a sovereign country,”

It is interesting to note that Europe and China want to increase economic engagement with each other even though the US wants EU to break economic ties with China in order to make Europe more dependent on Washington. Beijing wants to prevent Europe from following Washington, particularly on measures like export controls of key technologies, while the EU wants to balance engagement with China on trade and investment. The dilemma of European leaders is whether to give precedence to their country’s economy or allegiance to the US-led Anglo-Saxon front.

Italy is under pressure to pull out from an agreement to join China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which has funded $900 billion in infrastructure projects globally. European countries want to retain economic relations with Beijing but the US is implementing increasingly confrontational policies against China even though annually benefits China of over $385 through balance of trade in China’s favour.

A fresh wave of tensions is in the offing with the G7 nations considering near-total ban on exports to Russia. In response, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has stated that that if the G7 moved to ban exports to Russia, Moscow would respond by terminating the Black Sea Grain deal that enables vital exports of grain from Ukraine. Should the G7 enforce the ban, there could be hostile actions at sea. Already the Russian Baltic Fleet has repelled a Ukraine drone attack on the Crimean port of Sevastopol and an explosive-laden drone has crashed in the Moscow region.

Foreign media reports of April 6, 2023, revealed that Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky may be willing to negotiate on Crimea depending on the outcome of the spring offensive. Andriy Sybiha, deputy head of Zelensky’s office, told media that Ukraine would be willing to discuss the status of the Crimean peninsula if its army reaches Crimea’s borders. He said, “If we will succeed in achieving our strategic goals on the battlefield and when we will be on the administrative border with Crimea, we are ready to open a diplomatic page to discuss this issue.”

Ukraine denies Russia has captured Bakhmut while Russian forces are reported to be advancing on Artyomovsk. Speculation is on why Ukraine’s counteroffensive is delayed, when it would be launched, what are the targets and what would be the likely outcome. One thing is certain that Zelensky wants more weapon platforms. Ukraine has received the Patriot missile air defence systems and Leopard tanks but Kiev would likely wait for the Abrams tanks.

However, strategists estimate that Ukraine would need 500-600 tanks to make any significant headway – a number Ukraine will not have even with the delivery of Abrams tanks. More significant are reports that Zelensky is frustrated with the lack of ammunition and European nations unable to keep up ammunition supply. Ammunition reserves would need to be built up for the counteroffensive lest it peters out soon after launch.

For Zelensky the civilian population in the Donbas region (Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk) is expendable. The genocide perpetrated against the Russian speaking population by the neo-Nazi Ukrainian troops under his tutelage has reached a crescendo where given a chance he would not mind massacring the combined civilian strength about 845,000 in this region. On the other hand, Russia is committed to protect these civilians.

The US and NATO are intimately engaged with Zelensky’s operations against Russian forces; operational planning, operational support (including intelligence, cyber operations, space operations, electronic warfare, information operations), supply of arms and ammunition, logistics support and the like. Zelensky is regularly advised on the next action he should take. The timing for launch of Ukraine’s counteroffensive, therefore, would perhaps be decided in Washington.

Ukraine’s counteroffensive would certainly be directed against the Donbas region even though French President Macron and German Chancellor Olof Scholz have privately told Zelensky that he cannot win against Russia. But Zelensky’s major dilemma would be whether to include Crimea in his counteroffensive. His US-instigated stance all along has been to refuse any talks with Russia and throw all Russians out of Ukrainian territory. The US also wanted Ukraine to keep attacking Crimea although the official line was that the decision is left to Zelensky.

A Ukrainian offensive against Crimea would certainly cross Russia’s redlines and expand the war. That is why US-NATO has been preparing Poland to fight Russia. But the Chinese ambassador to France talking of the status of Crimea and ex-Soviet Union countries not having  effective status under international law has brought in another dimension – indirect support to Russia?. It would be naïve to think that this was an off-the-cuff remark not vetted by Beijing.

The West must ask itself whether a Ukrainian offensive against Crimea, particularly Russia’s only warm water port of Sevastapo, would force Russia to exercise the nuclear option – so should Zelensky’s inner coterie before such a pig-headed move is made. At the same time, Ukrainian plans to sever the land route from mainland Russia to Crimea could also trigger nuclear exchange depending on the criticality of the ground situation.

Unfortunately, Zelensky has boxed himself into a rigid situation, the US is in political turmoil preparing for the presidential elections next year and the West is in shock with the Middle East getting together with Chinese assistance. That is why Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for foreign affairs and security policy says that Taiwan is part of the EU’s geostrategic perimeter and European navies should patrol the disputed Taiwan Straits.

Would the Ukraine war escalate? The chances are it would although to what extent is anybody’s guess. If the US is not bothered about the adverse effects on the European economy, it cannot be bothered about the global economy at all. Hopefully, the Biden Administration is not looking to engineer more hotspots around the world.

Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left

One thought on “Ukraine’s Spring Offensive

  1. This is a very good analysis by a high ranking military officer unlike the views in writings on the same topic by other officers which have appeared to date in IDR and I agree fully here. Surely, Russia has already geared up for flexing its nuclear muscle not to be taken by surprise by the Western Powers unlike India was in 1962 against China. But I do not think a nuclear war is going to happen in the present context and strategic environment however long the Ukraine war will go on. The Russian conventional fire power is massive and can deliver a devastating blow to Nato on its own.

More Comments Loader Loading Comments