No winner in Russia Ukraine War after six months: Contest is – who will lose less?


Russia Ukraine War entering a deadly phase with nuclear hangover, after six months, with both sides blaming each other on targeting Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant and UNSC finding it difficult to control. While the nuclear catastrophe in Europe may have been averted for now, with Power supply resuming to the plant, the crisis is not yet over as UN could not reach the site. The parties to the war continue to increase their pain with a hope of inflicting bigger pain to the adversary. The talks are nowhere in sight. The content of proxy war in ongoing hybrid war is increasing, as war fatigue decreases the tempo of conventional ground operations. Ukraine has stepped up standoff strike with newly inducted arsenal given by USA, together with proxy, clandestine operations. Russia too is sucked in prolonged attrition warfare and making extremely slow progress after pulverizing targets to minimize its casualties.

Stakes/Strategic Compulsions of Parties to Russia Ukraine War

The war is making everyone in the world vulnerable to inflationary pressures, triggering an unprecedented energy catastrophe, having doubled the figures of global food insecure population due to acute food shortages. While the kinetic, contact, hybrid war is ongoing between Russia and Ukraine, the US led NATO is also fighting a non-kinetic, non-contact, undeclared war in economic, information, diplomatic and political domains, against Russia, which makes them de-facto parties to the conflict. This conflict won’t have a winner. Who will lose less will be the object of the contest.

Russian Stakes and Compulsions               

Russia can claim to have made significant territorial gains by capturing approximately 20 percent of Ukraine’s land, but at extremely high casualty rate and unprecedented financial strain, being most sanctioned nation. It is yet to achieve its strategic aim of liberating complete Donbass Region with Ukraine still holding out in some parts of Donetsk. Russia is yet to landlock Ukraine as its Odessa port continues to function and grain exports continue, although under global/UN watch. Russia might end up with extension of direct land border with NATO by over 1000 Km in terms of Finland joining it and becoming junior partner of China, which it dominated in greater part of history. It also continues to suffer standoff attacks from Ukraine’s recently acquired long range capabilities including drones and clandestine raids of special forces and non-state actors to include blasts in Crimea and targeted killings like that of Daria Dugina, daughter of Putin’s aide.

Russia realizes its limitations in economic, diplomatic, information and political warfare domain; hence it is likely to pursue achieving the desired end state in Ukraine by more physical gains on ground and retaining the existing ones by establishing friendly governance structure, to gain better bargaining position on the negotiating table to have the sanctions lifted.

Ukrainian Stakes and Compulsions            

Ukraine on its 31st Independence Day finds itself devoid of 20 percent territory of what it had when it became independent, struggling to celebrate it. It finds itself with devastated townships, over nine million refugees, heavy casualties, surrender of its overhyped Azov Regiments and hyped democracy under Martial Law. While military aid and arsenal from US led NATO can boost its combat power to launch standoff attacks, but regaining lost ground from Russians is going to be extremely difficult, as they will use built up areas for defending their gains in the manner it was used by troops of Ukraine. The aid worth $56 billion from US and $16.4 billion from EU to continue the bloody war is not going to buy peace for Ukraine, but it may end up with significant change in its territorial configuration, proxy war and Russian threat in long term. President Zelensky knows that neither he is going to get NATO seat, nor the western narrative and information war of making him hero and outright winner is sustainable, but he has no choice but to continue the war for his survival and continued aid.

NATO’s Stakes and Compulsions            

USA may gain in arms, energy sales and post war contracts, and may justify recent additional aid of $3 billion to seek its ambition of weakening Russia to ward off its potential challenger in Europe, but its biggest strategic loss is getting Russia-China-Iran together in strategic partnership, closer than ever before, a challenge too big for Washington. It may be beginning of US decline and quest for alternate global/localised financial systems, undermining its grip on current global financial system. UK being second largest user of yuan outside China is a point to ponder.

NATO, encouraged by soft Russian response to the bid of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, is keen to add both with strong militaries, to secure its northern flank for better collective security posture in the long run. It also makes sense in context of Sino-Russian footprints in Arctic region and North Atlantic Ocean. Its keenness to prolong war to weaken Russia continues. Towards that aim, it has signalled readiness to sacrifice some of its energy and economic interests, but the disagreement regarding long term energy security may not be easy to handle, once the rhetoric of united NATO starts fading with economic fatigue, energy deficit, cold winters, protests and frustration, as Russians tighten the taps of gas pipelines.

It is too early to predict how long this show of unified strength will continue, because the war is certainly not making Europe more peaceful, with millions of refugees mixed with activated mercenaries and a longer border with belligerent Russia, which will reorganize itself learning from its miscalculations. EU will have to spend more on its defence, with some sovereign choices’ hostage to USA, to counter hostile Russia.

Way Ahead

Notwithstanding western narrative and rhetoric, Ukraine may not regain sizeable territory but standoff attacks, proxy war, clandestine operations with some ground operations to cause casualties to Russians will continue in coming days, which will invite equivalent Russian response, if not more.  The bombardments near Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, the largest nuclear plant in Europe is causing a major risk of nuclear contamination and neither side is keen to back down, especially after alleged attack on Crimean Air Base.

In the Big powers’ contestation in Ukraine, the global need is that this war should stop, but the possibilities of talks are remote, because Russia has not yet achieved its strategic goal on the ground, which is crucial to compel NATO to lift sanctions. On the other hand, US led NATO doesn’t have any leverage to rein Putin, so it finds weakening Russia by ongoing proxy war, with no burden of body bags, as the most convenient option. This is especially true when Zelensky is willing to pursue this course of action because he is aware that he will lose his position of power without US assistance.

Major General S B Asthana

(The views expressed are personal views of the author, who retains the copy right). The author can be reached at Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ as Shashi Asthana, @asthana_shashi on twitter, and personnel site shashiasthana29@gmail.comLinkedIn link

This article of authored by me was originally published in Financial Express, the URL of which is attached below

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