The first anniversary of the Russian war on Ukraine has raised a lot of questions ranging from the operational and tactical domains to those related to strategy and geopolitics. Since the conflict is ongoing, some lessons have come in, but a final word is yet to be said about others.
The war that is being fought in Ukraine has been very different for the two sides. The so-called 'Special Military Operation' of the Russians is nothing but an outright invasion of another country. It uses artillery barrages and massed infantry attacks and has not hesitated to attack civilian facilities and areas.
Ukraine, on the other hand, has largely avoided hitting back at Russia, leave alone civilians there. Its focus has been on dealing with a numerically superior enemy through maneuver and innovative tactics which aim at minimising destruction of its homeland.
The war that is being fought in Ukraine has been very different for the two sides. The so-called Russian 'Special Military Operation' is nothing but an outright invasion of another country.
Ukraine’s “classic war” has sought to win battles on the ground through superior tactics and has avoided striking at civilians.
It's not going to be easy for the Ukrainians to merge different western systems into its army and use them effectively and soon.
The war will have lasting consequences for the relationship between Europe and Russia. The break in the energy supply relations is just one aspect of this.
India and China continue to straddle the geopolitical divide created by the war. Officially they are neutral, but China is finding itself pushed to up its support to Russia.
So while all of Ukraine, its infrastructure and people are a target in what Lawrence Freedman calls Russia’s “total war”, Ukraine’s “classic war” has sought to win battles on the ground through superior tactics and has avoided striking at civilians. Since most of the fighting is on its territory, it is in its own interests to visit needless death and destruction in its own cities and people.
Can Ukraine Incorporate West's Weapons in Warfare?
In the opening months of the war, the western hand-held anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons like the Javelin played havoc on Russian tanks and led to many questioning the utility of tanks in military doctrine. But the issue was really the quality of the tanks.
The fact is that given the balance of forces on each side and the strong, prepared defences, both sides need tanks to advance across the contested territory. This is what has persuaded the West to provide tanks to Ukraine along with infantry combat vehicles, better air defences and longer-range shells and missiles.
But it is not going to be easy for the Ukrainians to merge different western systems into its army and use them effectively and soon. In the meantime, Ukraine has been hard put to defend itself against Russian attacks which are consistent and continuous and hammer the front continuously in the Bakhmut area. The Russians are using attrition as the means of moving ahead and have shown little regard for their own losses which have been considerable.
A major development has been the integration of drones into what is called 'combined arms warfare'. Earlier drones were used to track down terrorists, but now used in combination with manned fighter jets, helicopters, loitering munitions, artillery and missiles, they are a feature of the modern battlefield as evidenced by the Azerbaijan-Armenia war and the Ukraine war.
The Ukraine war has seen extensive use of UAVs for situational awareness— tracking enemy and friendly forces—as well as electronic warfare, strike and targeting.
Geopolitical Impact of the Ukraine Conflict
At that strategic level, the most significant development has been the reshaping of global geopolitics. Primarily, this is a war that has changed Europe and given a second life to the US-Europe alliance.
Countries which had a history of neutrality decided to join NATO. The UK which had been a stomping ground for Russian oligarchs cracked down on Russian money and adopted an uncommonly tough posture on Russia.
Germany which was Russia’s closest friend in western Europe has somewhat reluctantly shifted ground and announced a new era of rearmament and cut off Russian natural gas supplies. The EU emerged as a coherent geopolitical actor, pressing tough sanctions on Russia and channeling large amounts of security assistance to Ukraine. One year of the war has shown that its unity has remained intact.
The war will have lasting consequences for the relationship between Europe and Russia. The break in the energy supply relations is just one aspect of this and as sanctions do their work, the Russian economy will be set back by decades.
India and China continue to straddle the geopolitical divide created by the war. Officially they are neutral, but China is finding itself pushed to up its support to Russia. Further, the Ukraine events have acted as a tripwire to warn the US and its allies as to the vulnerabilities of Taiwan. As a side event, perhaps, it has led to a hardening of Japan’s defence posture.
India's G20 Presidency & US Response to Crisis
The continuance of the war has undermined Prime Minister Modi’s belief that this was not “an era of war.” Modi’s comments were an admonition of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But with the presidency of the G20 have come suggestions that India play a role in mediating an end to the conflict. This could well be an early test of the country’s self-proclaimed Vishwaguru status.
As far as the military is concerned, their staffs and training institutions have taken a hard look at the lessons of the war. It has sharpened India’s resolve to become self-reliant in all important areas relating to the military.
Meanwhile, there are also warning bells ringing. Support among the American public to provide aid to Ukraine has been slipping. A new poll by Associated Press and NORC Centre for Public Affairs Research said that 48 per cent favoured the US providing weapons to Ukraine while 29 opposed and 22 said they had no opinion.
On May 22, three months after the Russian invasion, 60 per cent of US adults supported providing Ukraine with weapons. In part, this is an outcome of the partisan divide in the US where elements of the Republican party are reluctant supporters of Kyiv. But the shift also arises from the domestic concerns of the average Americans who are worked up over migrants, the opioid crisis, and homelessness in many states.
The writer is a Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.