By Tom Squitieri
Red Snow News
BRUSSELS – In 1914, as troops invading France moved through this very region, those in charge of the defense of Paris scrambled to rush men and material to blunt that offensive. They had little time to react and threw everything they could find — including taxicabs — to get what was needed into the fight to counter that offensive.
Now, from the NATO secretary-general on down, many here acknowledge that the Russians have either started — or will soon begin — an offensive of some proportion before the Ukrainians can do the same.
So a similar scramble to that of 1914 appears to be looming.
Defense ministers have outlined a deep and wide range of military support pledged to Ukraine; yet — with ports jammed and railways clogged, with some production off pace — the question is how certain are they that this support will get to Ukraine in time?
Asked that question point blank on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the goal is to give what Ukraine needs — but he passed on the “get there in time” part of equation.
“Our goal is to make sure that we give Ukraine additional capabilities so that they can be — not only be marginally-successful, they can be decisive on the battlefield in the — in their upcoming offensive,” Austin said.
“What we’re seeing from Russia is Russia is — continues to pour large numbers of additional people into the fight. And those people are ill-trained and ill-equipped. And because of that, we see them incurring a lot of casualties,” Austin said. “And we’ll probably continue to see that going forward. That’s — that’s their strength: They have a lot of people.”
The latest thinking — that means in the last 24 hours — is that the Russian offensive will happen in different ways, on different parts of the front line and at different times, not as one single thing.
Russian forces have mounted probing attacks in the north around Kreminna, and the south around Vuhledar. Russian artillery strikes are also running at their highest rate since last summer, with as many as 100 strikes a day.
U.K. Defense Minister Ben Wallace said, “We now estimate 97 percent of the whole Russian army is in Ukraine.” He also said that its combat effectiveness has decreased by 40 percent due to an “almost First World War level of attrition” that measures Russian advances in meters in human wave attacks.
Russia is positioning fighter jets, bombers and helicopters to potentially provide air support for a land offensive. Moscow has also established new army field camps at Voronezh and Kursk, near Ukraine’s north-eastern border, exactly where it positioned troops a year ago before the invasion.
Eleven countries have signed on to send tanks to Ukraine; 22 countries have pledged infantry fighting vehicles, 16 nations have committed to send Kyiv “artillery and munitions” and nine countries are supporting the supply of air defense systems.
“Ukraine will integrate recent commitments of armored vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles and tanks with fires that achieve the effect of synchronized ground maneuver,” said Gen. Mark Milley, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier in the week.
For months, Ukraine has expended significant resources and troops defending Bakhmut in the eastern Donbas region. U.S. military analysts and planners have argued that it is unrealistic to simultaneously defend Bakhmut and launch a spring counteroffensive to retake what the United States views as more critical territory.
One possible goal: empowering Ukraine to retake as much territory as possible in coming months before sitting down with Russia’s Putin at the negotiating table.
On Wednesday, the think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies said Russia has likely lost 2,000-plus tanks in the Ukraine war—more than half of its operational fleet. However, while the battlefield losses are notable, Russia retains a large number of old tanks in long-term storage, currently estimated at 5,000, meaning Moscow can continue to pursue an attritional strategy for some time to come.
Ukraine has seen its tank count rise from 858 to 953 by partly offsetting its own losses by capturing an estimated 500 from Russia, of which it has “pressed a fair amount into service,” according to the IISS.
Many analysts suggest that the Russians are going to make sure they have overwhelming superiority to advance a couple of kilometers, capture a village, and keep going with a step-by-step kind of progress.
This strategy has the gamble for Russia of grinding Ukrainians down knowing that the equipment Ukraine has been promised is not likely to show up until the summer.