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Ukrainian forces last week launched a counter-offensive operation that has forced the withdrawal of Russian troops, mainly in Kharkiv, specifically in the towns of Balaklia and Izium, near the Donesk region.
According to The Economist, this Ukrainian operation has been leveraged on the so-called HIMARS system (basically a highly mobile all-terrain truck armed with medium tactical missiles) of American manufacture and donation. However, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has boasted that the Ukrainian success is due to the donation of German Leopard 2 tanks.
At least, to this late delivery of German armament, will be added the shipment of 50 transport vehicles (Dingo type) plus two Mars-II rocket launchers with 200 rockets, as announced this Friday by Chancellor Scholz.
On the other side of the war, that is, on the Russian side, the spokesman of the Russian Ministry of Defense, Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov announced that “the movement [i.e. withdrawal of troops] is made to achieve the objectives of the special operation to liberate Donbas”, with the Russian troops being “regrouped” in Donesk.
Basically, it is the public admission of the withdrawal or retreat of the invading Russian forces to the southeast, after losing an important operational enclave such as Balaklia, as already happened months ago, when Konashenkov himself admitted the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kyiv to “regroup” in the Donbas.
This “withdrawal” is the second time that the “powerful” Russian troops are forced to withdraw from the invaded Ukrainian territory, which is a huge humiliation not only for the Russian Army, but also for President Vladimir Putin himself, as these were the first territories occupied by Russia at the beginning of the invasion. This has an enormous highly strategic value, in addition to the moral damage it inflicts on the Russian army, which shows that Russia is not capable of maintaining the territories where it started the invasion.
All of this has a negative and powerful impact on Russia and on Vladimir Putin’s own government, which underestimated the defensive capacity and the internal cohesion of Zelensky’s government in Ukraine. This forced Putin to change his strategy in the military field and abandon the conquest of Kyiv to settle for the Donbas.
This also forced Putin to give an image of Russia’s invulnerability in the face of the cataract of sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union plus the United Kingdom.
One thing is certain: there are serious discrepancies between the level of impact or damage that Western sanctions manage to do on Russia. Prominent Yale professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld recently asserted that Russia has the capacity to “survive with tremendous difficulty for two years or so.” However, the German expert, Rolf J. Langhammer, considers that Russia has been building a war shield for several years, which is why he assured that “the collapse will take much longer.”
The truth of the matter is that Russia has reserves estimated at $600 billion, half of which have been blocked by the West, and Putin has spent about $80 billion so far in the conflict.
Politically, financially and militarily, Putin is prepared for a protracted conflict. The recent Ukrainian conquests so highly publicized by Western television media as Ukraine’s victory over Russia does not mean that Putin is going to surrender or back down from the invasion.
On the contrary, we must be very clear that Russia is not a democracy and that its government cares little or nothing about public opinion or the unease of broad sectors of the Russian people in the face of an imminent economic recession resulting from Western sanctions. Unfortunately, all this increases the risk that the authoritarian Russian leader will use nuclear weapons to finally force a capitulation by Ukraine.
Nahem Reyes is a PhD in history from the Andrés Bello Catholix University and associate member of the American Studies Center of the Central University of Venezuela. // Nahem Reyes es doctor en Historia de la Universidad Católica Andrés Bello y miembro asociado del Centro de Estudios de América de la Universidad Central de Venezuela.