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Russia Relies on Attrition Against Ukraine, Rather Than Military Triumph

Rusia, El American

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Washington’s shipment of offensive weaponry (cannons and fighter jets) to Ukraine has provoked a harsh Russian response. Moscow declared that it considers NATO a direct player in the war, and reserves the right to respond.

If this response involves attacking Poland, a NATO member, a third world war would be inevitable. Life on the entire planet would be affected in an unpredictable way, but dictatorships have shown that they have a brutal tendency toward destruction. The war has not been the “cakewalk” Vladimir Putin had hoped for.

Two months after the invasion, Russian troops have withdrawn from the Kyiv region, and their criminal attacks have been concentrated in the east of the country. No one can know how and when this tragedy will end. It could be long and stagnant in the Donbas region, which has already been living in conflict since 2014.

President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia of locking up Ukrainian citizens and then sending them to Siberia. Residents who tried to leave Mariupol experienced this situation, after attempts to evacuate failed when prevented by the occupying troops.

“Russia continues to support the activities of the so-called filtration camps. Although the proper name is really different: they are concentration camps. Like the ones built by the Nazis in their time,” Zelensky said. “Ukrainians from these camps —the survivors— are sent to occupied territory and to Russia… to Siberia and even to Vladivostok; they also deport children in the hope that they will forget where their home is, where they are from. And they are from Ukraine,” he added.

The president also reported that new crimes of the Russian military against the inhabitants of Mariupol are being uncovered and mass graves are being created for those murdered. “We are talking about tens of thousands of dead residents. Conversations of the invaders on how to hide the traces of their crimes are being recorded.” Satellite images show apparent mass graves dug in localities near Mariupol.

The current situation could turn into a war of attrition, where resilience is paramount, over attacks. Russia is clearly superior because of the power of its army, but the Ukrainian resistance and the weapons received have been more efficient than expected.

According to U.S. and British intelligence services, Putin’s advisors did not dare to tell him the truth about the difficulties and their calculations have failed. To take in a short time a territory of 600,000 km² with 44 million hostile inhabitants and 300,000 military personnel was very difficult. There was already attrition on both sides, both in resources and human lives. The shelling of Ukrainian civilian areas has resulted in thousands of innocent victims and the exodus of millions of people. On the economic front, the World Bank estimates that the Ukrainian economy will shrink by almost half and Russia will shrink by 11%.

The Ukrainian leader is seeking to gain time, which is why he is demanding more armaments from the West. What Kyiv has received so far is not enough to turn the game around. It does not seem that Putin’s army is really ready to wage a protracted war. The attrition is also visible on the psychological level of the armies. Thousands of Russian soldiers have deserted. As much as both sides present themselves as winners for the moment, Zelensky is winning “by a landslide, at least in terms of communication.”

The Ukrainian leader has won over world public opinion, which is palpable in each of his speeches before various parliaments, and this has a cost for the Moscow regime. “Every day that the Ukrainians don’t lose, they win politically, and the political cost of Putin’s career is growing,” explained Anne Claessen, a researcher at the Royal Belgian Defense Institute. After two months of conflict, the option left to Ukraine in the face of a superior army is not to bet on direct confrontation, but to try to make the invader pay the maximum. In this context, it is worth “any strategy that hinders the advance, lengthens the confrontation, multiplies enemy casualties. That is to say, to slow down as much as possible and prevent the aggressor from achieving his objectives.”

Along with the stagnation of the conflict, there is also the risk of it falling into certain oblivion, as already happened after 2014. And the possibility that the international unity that has so far been shown in support of Ukraine will crack over time. If the conflict persists, the energy issue will become even more pressing, and the unanimity of the countries within the European Union vis-à-vis Russia is endangered.

The strategy being practiced by Moscow is that of “scorched earth.” It consists of the absolute destruction of a territory —hospitals, schools, villages, towns, cities— to prevent it from being used by the enemy, as it has done in Mariupol. Putin affirms that he will not stop until he conquers the Donbas.

The heads of American diplomacy and defense met Sunday in Kyiv with the Ukrainian leader, at the time of Orthodox Easter, and he said in a statement that “our souls are filled with a fierce hatred for the invaders and all that they have done.”

The United States is a key source of economic and military support for Kyiv, and imposed strong sanctions on Moscow. Ukraine, for the moment, continues to resist. A peace agreement is not in sight anytime soon. Objectively, the best way out for Vladimir Putin is to succeed in annexing the Ukrainian east, which has an ethnic Russian majority, and to portray this as a triumph for his people. And for Volodymyr Zelensky, despite an unjust territorial loss, maintaining independence in the rest of his territory and living in peace is the best possible option. NATO must rethink its strategy in the face of this new reality in Europe.

Eduardo Zalovich, Uruguayan-Israeli, is a history professor and journalist. He has written for several media, such as La Vanguardia, El Confidencial, Vozpopuli, Búsqueda and Correo de los Viernes. Zalovich analyzes, from the Middle East, the reality of the region and international politics. // Eduardo Zalovich, uruguayo-israelí, es profesor de Historia y periodista. Ha escrito para varios medios, como La Vanguardia, El Confidencial, Vozpopuli, Búsqueda y Correo de los Viernes. Analiza, desde el Medio Oriente, la realidad de la zona y la política internacional.

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