With news that Iran will construct a drone factory in Tatarstan to supply Russia more effectively, it is abundantly clear that Tehran views itself as a Eurasian power. Meanwhile, China is hedging, engaging with the Gulf Arabs and publicly avoiding direct links with Iran.
The U.S. should manipulate this situation to its benefit, while identifying the danger of Chinese penetration in the Middle East.
Iran’s large-scale industrial support for Russia is the most striking example of horizontal escalation thus far in the Ukraine War. In strategic context, it demonstrates the degree to which Iranian involvement has qualitatively shifted the conflict’s character.
Russia’s initial campaign failed to achieve its political objective, the collapse of Ukraine and its absorption into Russia. It nevertheless achieved subsidiary operational objectives, namely the capture of the cities of Mariupol, Melitopol, Berdyansk and Kherson. This forced Russia and Ukraine to continue the war politically. Neither Kyiv nor Moscow could accept a halfway compromise — Kyiv because of the obvious political, strategic and moral implications of allowing Russia to conquer half the country, and Moscow because it had not articulated a political narrative that would accept anything less than Ukraine’s subjugation.
Russia then shifted strategies, hoping to drive Ukraine from the Donbas and extend a ceasefire offer. This ceasefire would have been as genuine as alchemy; Russia would have bought time to rebuild its forces, reengage with Europe and resume its offensive at a more advantageous moment. But Ukraine held onto even the smallest bits of the Donbas, shattering the Russian army in the process; it then began an interdiction campaign that leveraged long-range Western artillery and, in early September, conducted a sweeping offensive against Russia in the northeast.
This offensive triggered a partial Russian mobilization of some 300,000 or more, an indication of the scale of Russian casualties. It also forced a Russian operational transition. The Donbas offensive was slow, grinding and ultimately unsuccessful. But it was nevertheless a strategic-level offensive insofar as it had direct political implications on the war’s course. Russia has not staged an offensive at the strategic level, then, since early July when it captured Severodonetsk and its offensive culminated. It still hammers Bakhmut, but that is for specific operational reasons — driving Ukraine from this strongpoint will protect Russian lines of communication and improve its long-term offensive and defensive prospects — rather than political-strategic ones.
Read the rest at The Hill.
Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute. He served as a naval officer and as deputy Undersecretary of the Navy and is the author of Mayday and Seablindness.