Ukraine’s offensive has reached a tipping point. Russia’s military lines will snap, if given enough time. But this requires more military support from the U.S. If Kyiv is to succeed, Washington needs to supply it with critical weapons and supplies, not gratuitous military assessments.
Western media commentary and professional analysis of Ukraine’s efforts is deficient owing to a lack of operational experience. This problem dates to the Cold War. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. and Russian militaries ended rigorous intellectual analysis of combat, as they both lacked sophisticated adversaries against which to measure themselves. Both militaries began to focus on politics, informational manipulation and integrating technological change to facilitate military force.
Flawed analysis now disrupts the war in Ukraine. In February 2022, both countries had warped visions of the burgeoning conflict. The Russians’ was based on the Soviet pacification campaigns in Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan, along with more recent Russian campaigns in Georgia, Syria and Ukraine in 2014. The Americans were convinced of Russia’s military superiority over Ukraine.
The current view among American military leaders that the Ukrainians should concentrate on a single decisive city in the Zaporizhia oblast, similarly, is nonsense considering the enemy has thick defensive lines and mobile reserves and neither side can gain air control. A breakthrough attempt absent the manipulation of Russian force dispositions would have been disastrous, no matter how many Western exhortations demanded an American-style push.
Ukraine has been executing a progressive campaign of erosion and operational manipulation for the past four months. The country’s fundamental dilemma—and Russia’s greatest advantage—is that its forces can’t achieve operational surprise. Ukraine’s goal is to cut the land bridge between Crimea and Russia proper, thereby isolating the Russian-occupied peninsula and transforming it into a vulnerable island.
Faced with these conditions, Ukraine must manipulate Russian logistics and reserves while applying pressure on the front line to develop an opportunity for a breakthrough. This has led to a campaign that imposes a lateral stretch on Russian lines from the front line to the Russian deep rear through long-range strikes, supply hubs and road-and-rail links. These strikes alone won’t collapse Russian defenses, but they will weaken its front-line forces, allowing Ukraine to make progress at a steady rate and push into Russian trench systems.
Conducting a linear defense is risky. If the enemy breaks through—and one’s units aren’t equipped for mobile counterattacks—then even an inferior adversary can be successful. Russia has based its entire defensive strategy on preventing a Ukrainian breakthrough and any subsequent Russian withdrawal to a new defensive line to consolidate and respond to an enemy breakthrough. Retreating under fire is difficult, particularly with disorganized, exhausted and demoralized forces.
Read the rest at WSJ.
Seth Cropsey is the founder and president of Yorktown Institute.